Matthew Macfadyen interview: ‘Succession’
“I didn’t know how intense it would be,” Matthew Macfadyen recalls about eagerly opening the script for the Season 3 finale of HBO’s “Succession” to read about his character Tom’s massive betrayal. Unlike the first two seasons, Macfadyen says series creator Jesse Armstrong “rang me before we started Season 3 and gave me a little outline of where Tom might end up.” Even with the idea of the shocking cliffhanger in mind, he admits, “I didn’t feel precious about it” because the writers “may change” the ending as production progressed. Watch our exclusive video interview above.
Before discussing the details of the season finale in depth, Macfadyen talks about his character’s arc this season and the events that slowly led Tom to betray his wife Shiv (Sarah Snook) and side with her father Logan (Brian Cox) on his decision to sell the family company. Early in the season, Tom decides that he will offer to take the fall for the company’s cruise line scandal and go to prison for Logan. “He’s taking one for the company, but he really can’t deal with it,” Macfadyen says. He describes Tom’s need for Logan’s approval as “desperate. It’s pathetic, but kind of sweet.” Macfadyen rationalizes Tom’s choice, explaining, “If the worst does happen then at least he’ll be covered in glory.”
WATCH our exclusive video interview with Sarah Snook about ‘Succession’ Season 3
As the threat of prison grows, Tom goes to some extraordinarily dark places. Macfadyen says inhabiting that state of despair for so long didn’t weigh on him, sharing, “It’s a mask going on and off. I’m quite strict about me, Matthew, and the character I’m playing.” He finds the series’ two-time Emmy-winning writing especially helpful, adding, “The scenes are so well written and so beautifully written, they sort of look after you.”
In “Succession” fashion, the third season is just as hilarious as it is somber. Macfadyen talks about one episode in particular, “Retired Janitors of Idaho,” as a perfect example of how the series balances high stakes drama and “farce.” “That episode is like a Molière [play], like a Michael Frayn ‘Noises Off’” type of show “with the cat in the bag, the imaginary cat,” he says. He describes the process of putting those huge ensemble episodes on their feet as “thrilling,” sharing, “To do those great long takes with eight or nine actors is great fun.”
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Of course, the third season also further develops the utterly captivating relationship between Tom and Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun). In one particularly memorable scene, Tom tells Greg the story of Roman Emperor Nero, who supposedly killed his wife and then castrated and married the young man Sporus. Macfadyen sees in the “batty scene” a “curious mixture of real affection from Tom to Greg, and trust and companionship.” He says both he and Braun thought it “weirdly tender and odd and a little bit scary” and “really ugly at the end.”
In discussing Tom’s betrayal of Shiv in those final moments, Macfadyen thinks Tom’s decision was spontaneous. Rather than a deliberate plan, he says the opportunity instead emerged after an “incremental buildup of layer upon layer, an accumulate of hurt and being let down and being belittled.” One facet of the final scene that he loves is how much is communicated through “very innocuous things,” like Logan patting Tom on the shoulder. “There’s no heavy stuff or great feeling or emotion, but it’s enormous in the context of the story and the narrative and the drama,” he says. He also commends co-star Snook for her “terrifying” performance in that final shot and describes her as “scary, she’s so full of rage and anguish and disbelief.” As for what will happen next in Season 4, Macfadyen reveals that he has “no idea,” continuing, “It’s infuriating because I’m desperate” to know.