Prior to taking on Tom Wambsgans in Succession, Matthew Macfadyen was perhaps best known for playing Mr. Darcy in 2005’s Pride & Prejudice. And while it may be hard to square the rain-soaked man who declared “I love you. Most ardently,” to Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Bennett with the striving, insult-slinging Wambsgans, the two have more in common than one might think: Namely, an obsession with status and a desire to be loved. The fourth and final season of the HBO Max series saw Macfadyen’s Wambsgans, who’d spent the entire series jockeying for respect from the Roy family, ultimately defying the odds to land the top spot as CEO of the Gojo Waystar Royco empire. Now the 48-year-old British star is competing with his costars Nicholas Braun, Alan Ruck, and Alexander Skarsgård for the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Macfadyen won the category last year). Here, the soft-spoken British native discusses his journey from the London stage to prestige TV and his favorite Tom line.
This interview was conducted prior to the start of the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike.
What did you think of the name Tom Wambsgans when you first got the script for Succession?
My initial impression was that it was the clue to everything. It’s a weird, hard-to-sit-in-the-mouth sort of name. It sounds like “womb” and “glands” mixed together. It’s strange, and not quite right. And he’s a sort of interloper in a family called Roy, which has its roots in the French word for “king.”
Tom has so many brilliant lines. Did you have a favorite?
I have so many favorites that my mind always goes blank, but I love “Buckle up, fucklehead.”
When you were growing up, who were some of your favorite TV characters?
I was a child in the ’80s, so I watched a lot of American TV shows like Knight Rider, The Dukes of Hazzard, and CHiPs. Daisy Duke was maybe my first crush.
Were you a theatrical child?
Yeah, I always wanted to be in the school play. My mother’s father was an engineer, but he was passionate about amateur dramatics, and that was sort of transmitted to my mom and down to me a little bit. I was quite a shy child, so the structure of being in a play and being able to make people laugh, or be in a room where everyone is paying attention, was quite intoxicating and took me out of myself a little bit.
What was your first onstage performance?
The Nativity. That is my earliest memory.
Were you Jesus?
No, thank the Lord. I didn’t have the terrible pressure of playing Jesus or even Joseph or Mary. I was one of the Wise Men, which I was really pleased about because it’s a critical part.
You have to bring a box of something.
Right. You bring the box of frankincense or myrrh or whatever it is. So it’s really important, because you can’t have a Wise Man missing, but without the terrible pressure of it all. I was much happier playing the Mayor of Hamelin, as opposed to the Pied Piper, for example, in another school play.
What was the first paid job that you booked?
When I left RADA [the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art], in London, the idea of doing a film was just an impossibility. You might get an episode of TV, but really, it was the theater. The dream job was at the National Theater or the Royal Shakespeare Company, or touring companies like Complicité or Cheek by Jowl. I got a job with Cheek by Jowl doing a play called The Duchess of Malfi. I ended up at BAM for 10 days around ’95, when I was 20. That was my first job.
Do you ever get starstruck?
All the time. I’m so in awe of musicians and singers that it sort of floors me. We went to a Snow Patrol concert a while ago, and the lead singer, Gary Lightbody, is a lovely man. I didn’t really know what to say to him.
People now probably get starstruck when they see you, which must be interesting.
It’s weird. Sometimes they do a double take, and then look at me and start laughing at me because of Tom. It’s coming from a good place, but it is slightly bumpy sometimes.
Is there a TV show or film that makes you cry?
I’ve cried a lot watching Pixar films, to the disgust of my kids. Like in Ratatouille, when Peter O’Toole’s character, the critic Anton Ego, does that speech, I’m in bits. And the kids are all like, “Daddy’s gone again.”
Grooming by Jessica Ortiz for Tom Ford Beauty; manicure by Honey at Exposure NY for NAVYA Nail Lacquer; Set Design by Spencer Vrooman.
Produced by AP Studio, Inc.; Executive Producer: Alexis Piqueras; Producer: Anneliese Kristedja; Production Managers: Anna Blundell, David Duque-Estrada; Production Coordinator: Ellen Kozarits; Photo Assistants: Matt Yoscary, Josua Jimenez; Retouching: Matty So; Fashion Assistants: Tori López, Tyler VanVranken, India Reed, Tori Leung; Production Assistants: Linette Estrella, Ariana Kristedja, Alan Bell, Nico Marti, Ryan Qiu; Tailor: Lindsay Wright; Set Design Assistants: Will Cragoe, Christina O’Neil, Joseph Ahern.