Fresh from season 2 of HBO’s “Succession” in which he plays the hapless Tom, Matthew Macfadyen portrays Major Charles Ingram, the “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” contestant accused of cheating, in the new AMC limited series “Quiz.” The BAFTA-winning actor (“Criminal Justice”) speaks about these two very different roles in our exclusive video interview (watch above).
Macfadyen readily admits that he remains on the fence as to whether Ingram and his wife Diana (Sian Clifford) conspired to defraud the show by having a fellow contestant cough at key points in the major’s deliberations over the questions. “The truth is we don’t know. Sian and I would come in every day and say, ‘Do you think they did or not?’ In the end we stopped minding. The interesting thing was their relationship.”
“Quiz,” which debuts on AMC just in time for Emmy consideration, aired in the UK in April to rave reviews and record ratings. Macfadyen credits the show’s success to the crackling script (James Graham adapted his Oliver-nominated play) and the deft direction by Oscar nominee Stephen Frears. “It was just such a fantastic story with an interesting part. There were great actors involved and Stephen. I bit their arm off when they offered it to me.”
The limited series certainly captures the look and feel of the groundbreaking game show. While Michael Sheen embodies the spirit of quizmaster Chris Tarrant. Macfadyen says he adopted a different approach to his part. “I did watch a lot of stuff online with Charles and Diana, including ‘Celebrity Wife Swap.’ But mostly it is the script, and reading and re-reading it a lot. That, along with wonderful actors is your road map.” However, he reveals that filming on an exact reproduction of the set did make his job easier. “It is no feat of the imagination; it is all there for you – the lighting, the music cues, the soundtrack. It was terrifying.”
When he met Ingram for the first time on the last day of filming, the ex-army officer told him he was a fan of “Succession.” Macfadyen recalls how thrilled he was to be offered the role of Tom Wambsgans, the outsider who marries into a media dynasty. The actor had been eager to play a modern-day man after a string of roles in period pieces, including the long-running crime drama series “Ripper Street” and the acclaimed adaptation of E.M. Forster‘s “Howard’s End.” I hadn’t played an American on film; that is such a hurdle to get over. I was such a fan of the show’s creator Jesse Armstrong and his script. When the writing is that good, it looks after you as an actor.”
Tom is married to Shiv Roy (Sarah Snook), the only daughter of a media baron (Brian Cox), who is locked in a power struggle with her three brothers Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Connor (Alan Ruck). Macfadyen describes Tom as “a singular character” and reveals “it is very liberating for a Brit to play an American.” He readily admits that his character engenders both our sympathy and revulsion. “To play that is challenging but wonderful too. You can flip flop. There are moments he is sympathetic, the butt of jokes. But then he bullies Greg in kind. To get those great changes of mood is great fun.” The actor takes us behind the camera to reveal the secrets of filming the memorable moment when Tom pelts Greg (Nick Braun) with water bottles.
As for being in the dark as to what awaits his character until he gets the next script, “It suits me quite well not knowing. Tom doesn’t know. You can’t play anything that is yet to come. I am much happier going episode to episode, being nimble with it.” Macfadyen says that trait is called upon when filming the many group scenes around a dinner or boardroom table. “You are on all the time. Often when you’re filming around a table, the camera will work its way around and do a single on each person. Here, there are three or four cameras. The operators are so skilled and know the scenes so well. It feels like you are in a play and it is energizing for that reason.”
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