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With 'Succession', Matthew Macfadyen finds himself a long way from Mr. Darcy

Matthew Macfadyen says of his initial impression of <em>Succession </em>was that it was "fantastically acid and funny and interesting."
Graeme Hunter
/
Sourdough Productions/HBO
Matthew Macfadyen says of his initial impression of Succession was that it was "fantastically acid and funny and interesting."

Before HBO's Succession, actor Matthew Macfadyen was probably best-known to American audiences for his portrayal of the brooding Mr. Darcy in the 2005 film adaptation of Pride & Prejudice.

"Tom Wambsgans is a long way from Mr. Darcy," he says of his Succession character.

Succession follows the corporate in-fighting within Waystar Royco, a family-run conglomerate and media empire. Tom is an outsider — from the Midwest and of modest means — who marries into the Roy family via the sole daughter, Siobhan.

As the four adult siblings (including Shiv) vie for power and influence, Tom wants to be close to the action. His relationship with Shiv is a complicated one, predicated on love and what MacFayden calls the "reflected glory and power" of being part of the wealthy family.

"She'll probably have lots of affairs and one-night stands, but he's never going to let her down," Macfadyen says. "And he's happy to sort of suck that up and shimmy his way up the greasy pole in Waystar."


Interview highlights

On the criticism that none of the characters on Succession are likable

They're not especially likable, but then I don't think there's any barrier to being interested in them. I mean, they're not monsters, so there's always some sort of sympathy there. And I think they're humans, and so there's always a sliver of something. And I think the interesting thing about all those characters — it's those perennial themes of power and love and family. It's a family dynamic and it's the sort of absence of love from the father figure, Logan Roy, who's the sort of center of it all, around whom everyone sort of orbits. I feel a great deal of sympathy for them in a strange way, because often it seems to me they don't have an awful lot of confidence because they don't feel terribly loved by their father — or their mother.

On Tom's relationship with cousin Greg, played by Nicholas Braun

It's certainly a case of kicking the cat with old Gregory. But again, there's just so much there that Nick and I have brought to it. ... There is a circularity with the acting and the writing and I think that longform TV like this is wonderful in that, if it's working well, it becomes symbiotic with the actors and the writers because ... we'll do something which is given to us from this magic writing and then they'll see something else and then it'll feed back into the script and on it goes. ... I think Tom really likes Greg and really needs him and he's quite open with him and quite honest. It's fascinating. ...

The difficulty is not breaking up [laughing]! It's not a secret that [Nick and I] struggle with corpsing, as we say in the UK, which is just breaking up irretrievably and everyone getting annoyed with us and them having to reset – but it's hard when the dialogue is so funny.

On shooting at over-the-top, opulent locations for Succession

The weird thing is how quickly you get used to it. That's the really frightening thing because we all got on this yacht and our jaws were swinging, but like anything after a day or two, it's totally normal. Like, yeah, I'm going to work on the yacht, speedboat to the yacht. We do a day's work and go back to the hotel and it becomes very [blasé]. That's the really alarming thing.

Matthew Macfadyen co-starred with Keira Knightley in the 2005 adaptation, <em>Pride & Prejudice. </em>
/ Focus Features
/
Focus Features
Matthew Macfadyen co-starred with Keira Knightley in the 2005 adaptation, Pride & Prejudice.

On playing Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice

I was quite [intimidated]. I think inevitably you worry about getting it right. I didn't feel I was dishy enough and sort of brooding enough. In your mind's eye, as an actor, you always want to be a little more of this and a little more that and my confidence wasn't great. But again, it was a brilliant adaptation. And Joe [Wright, the director] was great. Keira [Knightley, co-star] was great. It was a lovely thing to be a part of.

I sort of decided that he was like a tortured adolescent, Mr. Darcy, which, in a way, he was. He's grieving his parents. He's inherited this vast estate and responsibility and he's all conflicted and torn up, and so I thought, oh, that'll be my way into him.

Lauren Krenzel and Thea Chaloner produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Natalie Escobar adapted it for the web.

Copyright 2022 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

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Dave Davies is a guest host for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross.