Jordan Fitzgerald, Contributing Photographer
When Jeremy Strong ’01 was a student at Yale, he nearly bankrupted the Dramat to bring his favorite actor to campus. Twenty years later, Strong returned to campus to deliver a talk about his own acting career.
Kathryn Lofton, professor of religious studies and American studies, moderated the question and answer session, which convened in Sudler Hall on April 1. Strong, best known for his role on the hit HBO show “Succession,” spoke for almost two hours and answered questions from both Lofton and the audience. After the talk concluded, an emotional Strong took photos, signed autographs and then went out to dinner with a select group of students involved with Yale Theater.
James Barringer ’23 organized the event and secured funding from the Elizabethan Club and the Traphagen Alumni Speaker Fund. Trumbull College, Strong’s residential college, provided a guest suite to serve as his home base on Friday.
“To learn about Jeremy was to not only gain a window into thinking about ‘Succession’ but also a window into thinking about Yale, about in-groups and out-groups, about belonging and perseverance,” Barringer said.
Yalies must have shared Barringer’s passion. Tickets to the event — which was nicknamed “Kenchella” after Strong’s character, Kendall Roy, on “Succession” — sold out in 44 seconds. Hopeful attendees lined up almost three hours before the talk commenced.
Audience member Jordan Romano ’25 was among the first people to arrive at Sudler Hall, partly to secure a front-row seat and partly out of sheer anticipation for the event.
“He had such gravitas as Kendall Roy, and to see an alum of Trumbull College, my college, on the screen is really impactful,” Romano said. “I guess we’re all here because of the legend of Jeremy Strong.”
Audience members ranged from curious actors to Strong’s own father, but it was clear that all 200-something attendees held onto Strong’s every word. He received a standing ovation at the conclusion of the event.
Along with “Succession,” in which he has starred since 2018, Strong has appeared in Ava DuVernay’s “Selma,” Adam McKay’s “The Big Short” and Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Strong went viral after the New Yorker published a profile of the actor in December, highlighting — even deriding — the man’s method acting and his devotion to his craft.
Barringer said the profile inspired him to secure Strong as a Yale speaker. He reached out to Strong’s publicity team shortly before Christmas. After taking Lofton’s “Celebrity, Politics, and Power” course in Fall 2021, Barringer felt Lofton would be best suited to moderate the talk.
Lofton said the profile also motivated her to join the event team.
“The celebrity profile is a new political tool,” Lofton wrote in an email to the News. “Jeremy Strong is an electrifying artist who defines what acting is in the twenty-first century.”
For many student actors and theater-makers, the event also served as an educational opportunity to hear a master of their craft talk about his experiences. Adam Shaukat DRA ’22 said he was motivated to go to the talk primarily because he was interested in Strong as an artist.
“It’s just good practice as an artist to learn from and try to understand the processes, journeys and energetic frequencies of an artist who has achieved this thing that we call commercial success that a lot of us are pursuing,” Shaukat said.
Barringer agreed with Shaukat, noting that Strong — as someone who attended Yale on financial aid and did not achieve mainstream success until he was past his 20s— is an especially inspiring figure.
Lillian Wenker ’23 served as house manager of the event. She emphasized Strong’s physicality and intellectualism as a performer as well as how he addressed the challenges of making art at Yale and how to ease them.
“I think the common narrative is that you can be creative or be academic and you can be for Yale or against Yale and he proved that you can do both,” Wenker said.
Both Barringer and Wenker discussed the intimacy they felt with Strong as he spoke. Barringer said he experienced a sense of “tunnel vision” with Strong at the center, and Wenker stressed the rarity of witnessing someone “who is so vulnerable and so present.”
Barringer noted that the event was important for both performers and non-performers alike because of fundamental questions of how one views and presents themself to the outside world. He said that these questions are particularly resonant for college students who are still reckoning with their identities and ambitions.
Strong has not been back to New Haven since he was a college student. He reportedly spent his time on campus before the talk wandering Trumbull College and exploring the Elizabethan Club. Though Strong did not directly tell the News why he decided to return to Yale, Barringer speculated on his motivation.
“I would imagine [Strong] was eager to provide a meaningful experience for students,” Barringer said. ”I think his returning to campus was an act of paying it forward and generously giving the next generation an opportunity to have such an experience with a campus special guest.”
Strong was an English major during his time at Yale.