The actor is back in his best role yet, as Tom, the buffoon son-in-law of a media mogul. It’s a ‘lovely job’...(Sunday Times)s

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The actor is back in his best role yet, as Tom, the buffoon son-in-law of a media mogul. It’s a ‘lovely job’...(Sunday Times)s Empty The actor is back in his best role yet, as Tom, the buffoon son-in-law of a media mogul. It’s a ‘lovely job’...(Sunday Times)s

Message  Luce le Mar 6 Aoû 2019 - 16:36

Matthew Macfadyen interview: the star of Succession and Spooks on how life changed when his wife, Keeley Hawes, made Bodyguard
The actor is back in his best role yet, as Tom, the buffoon son-in-law of a media mogul. It’s a ‘lovely job’, he tells Jonathan Dean

Last year, during the first series of the hilarious, vicious media satire Succession, the actress Keeley Hawes said she fancied the show’s best character, Tom. It was very nice of Hawes to stick up for the lanky buffoon, who happens to be played by her husband, Matthew Macfadyen. “Tom is a really hot guy,” she said. “Though I might be the only person who thinks that.”
“Keeley said that?” the actor asks, embarrassed. Indeed. She said it at the time when everybody was watching her in Bodyguard, too. Would Tom have had a better life with her home secretary, Julia Montague, rather than being shacked up with the tricky Shiv, daughter of his boss, the media mogul Logan Roy? He laughs. “Maybe. But Julia’s still pretty fierce. Tom’s destined to be with someone quite scary.”
He smiles — 2018 was a banner year for the Hawes-Macfadyens, with both making headlines. “For a long time, people would shout at Keeley on the street,” he says. “‘Oi, Keeley, are you dead? Are you dead, Keeley?’” His voice foghorns and goes a bit Cockney, and he laughs loudly.
Macfadyen, though, is at his happiest talking about other people. In our time together, he offers anecdotes about his wife, Jerome Flynn and Damian Lewis (not all together), when he could have spoken about himself. I sense that is his comfort zone, being quiet and observational while others grab attention.

We meet in a cafe in Richmond, southwest London, near where he lives, and he is courteous from handshake on. “Perfect weather. Bit chilly, but sunny,” he says as he puts his phone close to him, explaining that he needs to keep it on because his son has tonsillitis. He has a contained warmth and, coupled with a neat shirt-and-trouser get-up, and a stature that barely quivers, he comes across like a man made in a factory for British actors to play Mr Darcy. As he did, of course, in Joe Wright’s glossy take on Pride & Prejudice.
If Darcy and his MI5 Tom in Spooks are Macfadyen’s best-known roles, then his actual best is his clownish businessman Tom in Succession. Tom Wamsgans — to give him his whole, suitably ridiculous name — is an outsider in the billionaire Manhattan playground of the show. He is ambitious and, via Shiv, marries into the powerful Roy family, which, through its patriarch, Logan, owns a vast array of TV channels and other media. But Tom is a floundering sycophant, all surface and a lot of hidden feeling, always pulling the wool over his own eyes. In other words, he is a fool, and while Shiv, whom he loves very much, is cheating on him, he is stuck, because her father is his boss.

In the first series, a Shakespearean scrap for the hot seat took place between Logan’s four entitled children, with Tom a baffled bystander, one foot in the door, the other being trodden on. As a way to let off steam, he often bullied fellow oddball Greg (Nicholas Braun), who is not only a Roy cousin, but also even taller than Tom.
“It’s a lovely job,” Macfadyen beams, happy to be playing an ass. “Please let it go on!” In that regard, the Emmy-nominated Succession, back next month, is a smarter pick than something like Game of Thrones for an actor who wants a part with life expectancy. As cutthroat as the media is, Tom is unlikely to be offed. “You never know, though. Sometimes he’s so irritating, I think he’ll surely come to a sticky end. He can’t be this much of a w*****.”
So how much of his own personality is in this oddball? “It’s less that,” he says, showing no sign of offence, “more that you recognise behaviour you’ve seen in other people, or yourself, and are given licence to go to town with it. We did worry that the characters are all so desperately unappealing — will people be invested in them? But they are, because of the family. We’ve all got a father-in-law like that. Or you think, he’s like my brother, or brother-in-law. A spooky sister. You relate because it’s family.” Did he relate to anyone in particular? “Er, yes,” he squirms. “Probably. I don’t know, specifically.”

The genius of Succession, apart from its feverish family dynamic, is that it is a fictional drama that boils with current affairs. Written in part by the award-laden British team of Jesse Armstrong, Lucy Prebble and Tony Roche, it is a sort of Drop the Dead Donkey in which Tom is an Eeyore, and provides watercooler catnip, given the debate around partisan media networks and fake news.
Was its pertinence its appeal? “Not really,” Macfadyen says. “That’s a by-product of telling stories. Really good drama makes you think. Like Howards End [in which the actor starred in 2017, for a BBC remake] made me think about Brexit, and I wanted to play Elyot in Private Lives because, yes, it’s fun, but during that lovely evening at the theatre, you also have an insight into marriage. In the same way, Succession allows you to think deeply about huge media empires being in the control of a single family or a single man, and that’s how people get their politics delivered, through local news and papers.”

And which people does Macfadyen think the Roys are based on? “Well, they have very strong parallels certainly with the Murdochs and Redstones,” he begins. “And the Mercers and Sinclairs, who are a family who own, I think, 120 local news stations. That’s scary. There was a wonderful article in The New York Times recently about the Murdochs...” He pauses. “This is The Sunday Times, isn’t it?” He laughs. “But it’s fascinating, the perennial theme around fathers, sons, daughters and power. And it’s on Sky. Which is great!”
Series two starts off where the first one ended, with, as Macfadyen puts it, “Chappaquiddick-like events in Scotland. Logan’s got [his son] Kendall by the short and curlies, but the takeover bid is ongoing, so that’s a problem. There’s no pause for breath.” And how are Tom and Shiv? “Well, we’re married now, and have this, sort of, business marriage,” he explains. “Like, we’re going to stay together, but are allowed to sleep with other people.”
Mostly her, though, right? “Yeah. And it’s interesting how he copes with that, because he tries desperately to be cool, but he doesn’t really want to sleep with anyone else and sort of endlessly just wonders where she has been.”
Tom is a fish out of water surrounded by monsters, which is a mix of metaphors, but just about makes sense. He is the show’s twisted soul and, oddly, Macfadyen’s first big foray into either American film or TV (Succession is co-funded by HBO), 14 years after his biggest hit there, Pride & Prejudice.

Surely, I say, offers flooded in from Hollywood after Mr Darcy, as they did for his co-star Keira Knightley? He is, after all, the archetypal Englishman that Americans want us all to be like: well educated, slightly international — he lived in Jakarta as a child — and a graduate of Rada. “After Mr Darcy came out...” He giggles. “Sorry, after Pride & Prejudice came out — Mr Darcy came out! It’s a film about a man called Darcy! Anyway, that came out and I got a load of scripts. A bunch of crappy romantic comedies. A generic Mr Darcy type, but not as interesting.
“So I just went ‘No, no, no’ and waited. I sat on my arse for a year. And then I got panicked, because I wanted to work, and it’s weird — I was on the side of buses, but had run out of money. It doesn’t always mould together. You imagine you’ve made it, but the film was shot two years before and then, when it comes out, you haven’t worked for a few months.
“I’ve just gone day by day,” he continues. “You can decide to go and camp on the west coast of America, but I didn’t want to. I was working happily, doing interesting stuff here. I like just being a working actor, I really do, and the trick is to embrace the uncertainty of it all. Whenever I’ve thought ‘This is what I’m going to do’, it has all gone to shit.”

There is a sense of serenity about Macfadyen, 44, an actor so relaxed, he seems untouched by ambition. His career has been — to use a word he would approve of — lovely, with highlights scattered around theatre, TV and film, including In My Father’s Den and Anna Karenina. One of his favourite movies is Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander, because of the space and time the director allows, but slower films are rare these days and, as a result, much of his past decade has been on the small screen.
“Film has really changed,” he says. “There are either superhero movies or movies made for nothing, which might not get seen. The independent films I’ve made are a shot in the dark. You do it, forget about it, and sometimes it’s a year or two later when it comes out.”

Speaking of which, I tell him I have seen The Current War, the film about Thomas Edison, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the electricity pioneer, Michael Shannon as his rival George Westinghouse and Macfadyen as JP Morgan when he was just a rich man, not a multinational investment bank. The film, out this week, premiered in 2017, but was held back because it was produced by Harvey Weinstein. “Oh, what’s it like?” Macfadyen asks, fascinated. Pretty good, considering. “The director [Alfonso Gomez-Rejon] was a brilliant guy, and I just remember thinking, ‘This could be quite dry, it’s about two boffins talking about AC/DC.’ Does it hang together?” It zips along. Has he seen it? “No. And because of Weinstein, they’ve repackaged it.” Did the producers tell him what was going on with the release? “Not really. It’s often the way. You shoot something, then forget about it. When the Weinstein news broke, it dribbled away.”
Succession, though, is here to stay. The actor is signed up for at least three more series, if they make them. It feels like the job he has enjoyed the most. The ensemble cast act like a small theatre company. He gets to play extremes. The flats they shoot in are some of the most expensive in the world.

“The great thing about doing a show about squillionaires is the locations,” he says, like a man who just discovered a middle-aged fondness for Tatler. “They’re fascinating — and it’s comforting to see how many $30m apartments aren’t nice.” The show has experts on the top 0.00001%. “There is an adviser on how the uber-wealthy operate and, after the pilot, they said that everyone was wearing too many hats, coats and scarves. Just bin all that, because really rich people go from their apartment to the limo to the helicopter to the jet. You just get whisked into the jet and into the boardroom.”
It really is a terrific show — funny and nasty, and showing a different side to the reliable Macfadyen, whose Tom is unpredictable and scared. A lamb in a Wall Street of lions. Has anyone called out to him on the street yet? “I had a guy come up to me in Manhattan the other day,” he says, smiling. “He said, ‘Hey, Greg! Greg.’ This big jock. ‘Greg!’” He laughs. They thought he was his rival from the show and, as such, he is at his most comfortable again. Talking about someone else.
Succession is on Sky Atlantic from August 12; The Current War is out on Friday
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