Many viewers of “Succession,” HBO’s meditation on family-owned media dynasties, find it hard to keep a straight face whenever the show’s scene-stealing character, Tom Wambsgans, is on-screen. When he isn’t downright slimy and revolting, the bumbling Minnesota outsider marrying into the wealthy Roy family can be quite sympathetic and pathetically goofy, delivering some of the show’s standout lines.
For what it’s worth, Matthew Macfadyen, the British-born actor who plays him, couldn’t stop laughing either.
“I’ve got a real problem with laughing on set,” Macfadyen said when he recently stopped by the L.A. Times video studio. “It’s chronic.”
For the actor, known for such stoic performances as his Mr. Darcy in 2005’s “Pride & Prejudice” and Henry Wilcox in “Howard’s End,” the guffawing usually hit during scenes opposite Greg (Nicholas Braun), the eager-to-please nephew of the corporate tycoon over whom Tom wields a toxic influence. Also, scenes with Sarah Snook, who plays Tom’s fiancée, Shiv Roy. And, actually, the ensemble scenes — like dinner parties and such — could be rather difficult too, especially when he caught sight of Kieran Culkin, who plays heir Roman Roy. So, basically, most of his scenes.
“I can’t look at Kieran,” Macfadyen said. “There’s problems … it’s directly proportional to how much trouble you’re going to get in is your ability to stop laughing. So if someone says, ‘Come on,’ I’m gone, tears.”
Macfadyen describes his character as a “big rattlebag of stuff — kind of like we all are. … Tom is really different with everybody he meets.” The role marks the second time Macfadyen, who had been looking to appear in an American TV series, has played an American (the first was onstage in a London production of “The Pain and the Itch”). Mastering the accent, he said, was “quite scary,” particularly when it involved improving some of the business world lingo.
“When we shot the pilot, it was nerve-racking because we had the amazing Adam McKay directing,” Macfadyen said. “And he would sort of shout out from [behind] the monitor, ‘Matthew, talk about the financial market, the Dow Jones, or something!’ And I would have learned my lines in the accent but then having to improvise in a newly acquired American accent — it was really scary ... . I think I’m getting a bit better as I go on.”
Production on the second season is underway, and Macfadyen was guarded with his words about what fans can expect: Tom and Shiv, now married, had moved apartments, and Tom “is heading toward a bigger job within the family firm … yeah, it’s good.”
And while Macfadyen is committed to that, he’s not opposed to a Tom-Greg spinoff.
“We could open a Waystar in Tokyo or the Middle East maybe,” Macfadyen offered, referring to the massive media conglomerate at the center of the series.
For what it’s worth, we’d be content if it solely consisted of them eating at California Pizza Kitchen.
To watch the full conversation, click on the video below: