Matthew Macfadyen Ponders the End and Looks to Life After ‘Succession’
It’s well known by now that Matthew Macfadyen is nothing like Tom Wambsgans. In Succession’s early years, comparisons focused on the juxtaposition between the refined British actor — a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and notorious for his role as one Mr. Darcy — and the bumbling Midwesterner he portrays. But now, as the high-octane family drama launches its fourth season, Wambsgans has climbed the ranks to become billionaire Logan Roy’s double-crossing right-hand man — all much to Macfadyen’s delight. “In a word, I thought it was great,” he says of the season-three cliffhanger that saw Tom cutting his wife out of her family’s company. “It’s such a bold, calculated move for someone so seemingly spineless.”
Tom’s transformation from the good-natured, occasionally bordering on doormat, Son of St. Paul into the calculating and even cold strategist came as a surprise to audiences back in December 2021, but his more ruthless business exterior feels natural through most of the season four premiere. Even the more unseemly behavior of the Disgusting Brothers, the moniker coined by fellow Waystar henchman Greg Hirsh, isn’t far out of his wheelhouse — just think back to that warehouse bachelor party. Macfadyen (who, it should be noted, is an exceedingly polite person) himself sees this most recent version of the character as the product of a season’s worth of betrayals. “It was pretty brave and cool that he was willing to be the fall guy for the family, and [last season] when he sensed that Shiv [Sarah Snook] was disappointed that he got off the hook, and in fact maybe wanted him to go to jail, it was a death by a thousand cuts,” he explains.
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Despite his often outwardly cheery demeanor and constant quips (episode 401’s riff on Greg’s date’s handbag nearly rivals the great deck shoes castigation of 103), Tom hasn’t been a stranger to melancholy. This, after all, is a man who professed to his wife, while on their honeymoon, “I wonder if the sad I’d be without you would be less than the sad I get from being with you.” Season four will, seemingly, show viewers the more vulnerable side of the breakdown of the show’s single successful marriage; Macfadyen is most moved by his character’s attempts to process the abbreviated split. “What Tom really wants is to talk about what happened,” he says. “There’s been no postmortem at all. He didn’t have the chance to explain his reasons to Shiv, or to have the chance to tell her that there wasn’t anything he did that she wouldn’t have done. She shuts it down and it’s quite sad.”
Just weeks before the March 26 premiere, showrunner Jesse Armstrong announced in a New Yorker interview that this would be Succession’s last season, raising the stakes on both the plot points of the unreleased episodes and the conversations around them. There have been various reports about the way the news was delivered — Snook told the Los Angeles Times that she didn’t hear until the final table read — but Macfadyen wasn’t shocked by the decision. He says the cast “sort of knew the end might be coming” and that Armstrong had spoken to them to lay the groundwork for the end while still leaving room to change his mind. “It started to feel like it was more definitive as we got closer to the end, and I trust Jesse and his team to decide how to go out on a high,” he says. “It would be awful to let it dribble on, you know?”
But, that didn’t make the actual goodbye any easier. The majority of the actors wrapped on Friday, Feb. 10, with a group Macfadyen coins “the kids,” meaning Snook, Jeremy Strong and Kieran Culkin, staying on to film a bit longer (extrapolate from that what you wish). He describes a tearful set, the anticipation of knowing it’s the end almost worse than the actual end. Despite long gaps in between seasons, Succession has managed to retain the same crewmembers throughout its run, adding an emotional weight not always experienced on TV sets. “It was sort of awful,” he says. “But I will say that I think it’s a good ending. I think it works.”
The list of things Macfadyen can reveal about the final season is short: No one really knows how much time has elapsed; it doesn’t much matter how much time has elapsed; they filmed a bit in Europe, and Tom goes to California (there’s a Waystar office in L.A.); there are a few epic set pieces that resemble his most cherished on-set memories (like season two’s yacht trip that saw the infamous Chicken Power Play borne out) in their scale. “I love that they’re quite bloody-minded and gladiatorial in that we shoot a 10- or 12-page scene in one continuous take and then do that eight or nine times over,” he explains. Also, he’s pretty sure Mondale turns out just fine. He may not recognize Shiv anymore, but he’s more Tom’s dog anyway, and he’s got very expensive, very good daycare: “We mustn’t worry about Mondale.”
Macfadyen is conducting this Zoom interview from his New York hotel room before heading to the show’s final red carpet on March 20. He spent six years giving a lot of himself to Succession, winning an Emmy in 2022, and says despite the sadness that permeated everyone’s last days on set, he’s enthusiastic about the opportunity he’ll have to play new, different roles. As soon as the premiere is over, he’ll head to Nashville, where he’s filming director Mimi Cave’s follow-up to 2021’s Fresh opposite Nicole Kidman and Gael García Bernal. He views his career like the ocean, where the lulls of looking for the next right project are followed by the crest of a really good moment; the trick is to wait for the wave to come. “It’s just been a really happy time,” he says. “It’s also been great therapy for me because I could be excruciatingly embarrassing as Tom and not as Matthew.”
A version of this story first appeared in the March 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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