Even in remote villages of Italy, the fans find their Tom Wambsgans.
The actor who plays him, Matthew Macfadyen, is quite the opposite of the man he portrays on “Succession,” the smash HBO hit that returns at long last this Sunday. Macfadyen, who previously was best known for his swoon-worthy portrayal of Mr. Darcy opposite Keira Knightley in “Pride and Prejudice,” is therefore a little new to be shouted out in the town square. In real life, the actor is reserved yet charming, and his English accent catches you by surprise when you’re used to his very East Coast finance speak on “Succession.”
The show’s third season, which was set to shoot in April 2020 and finally got to film starting last November, was shot between New York and Italy.
“It always takes me by surprise, because you’ll be in a tiny little square in a deserted part of Siena or somewhere, and someone will go, ‘Wambsgans!’” Macfadyen says. “It’s, like, how on earth does that happen?”
Macfadyen is as excited as anyone to be finally talking “Succession” once again. The show, which follows the Roy family and their closest confidantes and enemies at media conglomerate Waystar RoyCo, has won Emmys, Golden Globes, Critics Choice awards and more since debuting in 2018; Macfadyen, who plays the husband of Shiv Roy and is therefore both family and an outsider, says he knew it was something to pay attention to from the pilot.
“There was a scene in the pilot, right at the end of the pilot, where Tom turns on Cousin Greg, the character of Greg Hirsch, who’s played by Nick Braun. And there’s this sort of awful bullying, sort of weird bullying playground scene. But I thought, ‘Oh, that’s really interesting, because he seems really sort of obsequious and sycophantic up until then, sort of a little bit spineless.’ Then you see a really sort of nasty side,” he says. “And it just continues like that. It’s great to play someone like Tom, because I think with everyone he meets, he’s really malleable and amoeba-like. He’s needy and controlling, so it’s good fun to play.”
He is, he makes clear, nothing like the character though.
“No, that’s the nice thing, cause you can get it all out. Get all those things out of my system. We’re all capable of being obsequious or needy or aggressive, or whatever the character’s traits are that you’re playing. So you sort of just use those and use your imagination,” he says. “It is good therapy, playing Tom.”
Macfadyen says it’s hard as the actor portraying him to have a bird’s-eye view of Tom’s evolution, and points out that while it’s been three seasons in our world, on the show it’s a much shorter timeline, as each season picks up right where the last left off.
“I think he’s just doing his best, Tom. I think he’s struggling with this sort of weird marriage that he’s in, and he’s trying with his father-in-law, and wants to do well by him. He has ambitions in the company, and they’re all trying to survive, I think,” Macfadyen says. “I think he’s quite sweet. I think in certain circumstances he’d be really good fun and he’s not stupid. He’s got a sense of humor, he’s certainly quite good fun, and I think he’s got a lot of not very redeeming qualities as well. But there’s a vulnerability there, and I find him oddly sympathetic. Like everybody, really. There’s no real monster — maybe Logan,” the family patriarch played by Brian Cox.
When “Succession” came Macfadyen’s way, he had just finished a shoot in Ireland, playing a Victorian detective.
“I was just sort of floating around waiting for things to come, and I wanted to work in the States. I hadn’t done a TV show in America, so the pilot came my way and it just checked all the boxes, really,” he says. “I’d also been playing a lot of quite serious parts, serious kinds of roles, so this was a really delightful change. It was a breath of fresh air.”
While fans devour the third season Macfadyen will be at home in London, “working on being a husband and a dad and a dog owner,” he says, waiting for the next thing to come along. He is the father of two teenagers, who might be some of the only people not completely obsessed with the show.
“I don’t think they’re really interested,” he says of his kids. “Because it’s their dad. I mean, it’s sort of weird, isn’t it? I can’t imagine. It must be peculiar watching your parents in stuff.” His daughter, Maggie, would much prefer he was in something of the vampire nature — or the Netflix teen drama “On My Block.”
“You can’t please everybody,” he says dryly. “She says, ‘Why can’t you be in a good show?’ I’m like, ‘My show is doing quite well,’ and she’s, like, ‘Yeah, whatever, whatever.’”
He’ll next be seen in the film “Operation Mincemeat” alongside Colin Firth and Kelly Macdonald, and after that it remains unknown — which he downplays with charming humility.
“I just sort of wait and see what comes my way. And as the months go by I worry more and more,” he says. “Until something happens, and you go, ‘maybe this will work.’”