Warning: This post contains spoilers for the Succession series finale
The boy from Saint Paul, Minn., did good for himself.
In the Succession series finale, GoJo’s billionaire CEO Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) decides that Shiv (Sarah Snook) is too smart, too pushy, and too pregnant to be his American CEO. Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen), on the other hand, is willing to be the “pain sponge” that Matsson needs to take the company into its new era. In a shocking twist, after agreeing with her brothers Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) to tank the GoJo deal, Shiv changes her mind and votes to sell their family’s company to Matsson, knowing he plans to make Tom her father’s successor.
Tom’s rise to power was perhaps not HBO’s most shocking finale ever, especially for those fans who had been paying attention for the last four seasons. (Tom’s odd last name, as some fans have suggested, may have offered an early clue about Tom’s “triple play,” but, according to Macfadyen, you’ll have to ask the Succession writers about that.) But though Tom has always said he lives to serve, he’s now gone from being the Boar on the Floor to the man at the top.
Hours after Tom became Succession’s successor, Macfadyen got on a Zoom call from his home in London to talk about his character’s power moves (or lack thereof), not firing Greg, and where Tom and Shiv’s marriage goes from here.
TIME: How are you feeling this morning? Did you get a chance to watch the finale?
MACFADYEN: My wife [actor Keeley Hawes] and I watched this morning; they sent a link because it must have been two in the morning, my time, when it aired in the U.S. We shot [the finale] in January or February so you forget the shape of it. I’m always just impressed by how cleverly they fill it, the bits and pieces. How they make it much more elegant and cohesive because it always comes in over [time]. I know it’s a long episode, but I thought it was fantastic, really satisfying.
Creator Jesse Armstrong said that he has known for a while now that Tom would take over Waystar Royco, but when did you find out?
I had a chat with Jesse, around episode four or five [of this season]. He’d always been very open. He said, “If you want to know, come and see me.” I’d always chosen not to know because it’s kind of neither here nor there really. You just sort of play the episodes as they come in. But I thought I would quite fancy knowing because I thought it might very well be the last season. He laid out the story of the season, but then, of course, as an actor, you sort of forget about it. In a funny way you forget the details as a sort of self-protective thing because they may change their mind. Also, it’s really exciting when the scripts come in and you’re like, “Oh my god,” you know?
Tom becoming the CEO sort of made sense in an awful, inexorable way. The Roy siblings were sort of screwing each other over, and Shiv’s double dealing with Matsson and all the rest of it. What was really shocking was the tension of the board meeting and Shiv suddenly changing her mind. The scene afterwards was just magnificent. That was really exciting to read.
The final shot of Tom and Shiv in the car, together, but maybe not on the same page, with her hand resting on his so coldly, is a stunning image to close this chapter of their story. You are known for your impressive hand work in Pride and Prejudice. Did you and Sarah Snook discuss what you would do with your hands?
I think it was the stage direction of Jesse’s. Tom just offers a hand and she just quite regally and coldly places hers on his. I think it’s quite a restrained little moment and I think we sort of shot it as it was written. Tom’s not lording it over her, but I think they’re both quite, I don’t know—it was just a really sort of chilly scene. It’s full of a lot of stuff, which you always play and then you allow the audience to project [their thoughts] onto the scene. Jesse wrote this brilliant bit in the stage direction. He wrote, as they drive off in their SUV, they’re “two bombs being transported.” That’s all you need as an actor, the rest is your imagination.
I did wonder, and this might be me being too much of a romantic, but, by choosing to vote for the deal, does Shiv essentially choose Tom, maybe for the first time ever in their time together?
The truth is, I don’t know, but I never thought that she chose Tom. I thought she had not chosen her brother. I don’t think she knows she’s going to do that until she’s in the boardroom and they’re going around the room asking for people’s votes. It’s not like a rational decision, I think it’s just sort of visceral. “I can’t stomach Kendall.” It’s such a big thing to do, especially after Matsson has dumped her quite appallingly, you know?
Very true. For Shiv, this decision feels like a means to an end, but for Tom, it’s a new beginning. Do you think there is a path forward for them? Where do you think they are days, weeks, months after the vote?
I haven’t given it any thought. I sort of idly wonder, but, I mean, it’s not useful.
I kind of appreciate that stance. Essentially, you’ve done your part and now it’s over.
I don’t know, it’d be good fun [to think about it], but, yeah, it’s done.
Read more: 15 Shows to Watch After Succession
I’ve read that Shiv’s pregnancy wasn’t originally a plot point. It was added once Sarah Snook revealed her own real-life pregnancy. When did you find out that Shiv would be pregnant? Did it affect how you played this relationship?
It’s a great plot development. I don’t know whether they would’ve done it anyway [if Snook weren’t pregnant]. The honest answer is, I don’t know the exact timelines, but I thought it worked really well. It’s a really sort of awful thing to add into the mix, you know? She doesn’t tell him, and then when she does, it’s when he’s at his most fraught and he says, “Is it a tactic? Is it true?” It’s all awful.
For many, the real love story of Succession is between Tom and Greg, played by Nicholas Braun. In the end, Tom keeps Greg around, despite the fact that he sold him out by telling Kendall about Matsson’s plan to ditch Shiv. Tom tells Greg, “I got you,” and puts that purple sticker on his forehead. The same sticker that was being used to divide up Logan’s things. What does all of this actually mean?
I think Tom can’t help but admire Greg’s deviousness. Greg is quite an operator. I think Tom is like, “Well, he’s f-cked me over, but he’s done it really well. I’d rather have him on my side.” I just thought it was great, the sticker. He just kept those stickers after the fight [with Shiv]. But I think the real love story in this show—and it’s been particularly poignant this season—is with Tom and Shiv. They’ve really tried. It’s been very, very sad and then quite hopeful. You think, “Well, maybe they will [figure it out].” [Snook and I] had that wonderful scene on the balcony in episode seven. We’ve had a really lovely journey together since the beginning of the whole show really. It’s been so much fun.
As the actor playing these emotional scenes, were you rooting for Tom and Shiv to work things out?
No, I don’t really root for my characters. You just play what’s in front of you, but inevitably, because it’s sort of flowing through you, you find yourself leaning one way or the other. I guess the writers may pick up on that. The lovely thing about long-form TV is that the writers sort of see how you’re playing certain things and then add it into a theme for the next episode. It’s just been a real pleasure to do, to chart that journey.
Tom and Greg come to blows in this episode. We see these two very tall guys fight in a very tiny bathroom.
It was very, very small. There was nowhere to go and the cameraman, the lovely camera operator, Gregor, was with us in a very small room. It was a temp [room] so the walls are made of cheese. Everything with Nick is a joy and this was no exception. I trust him and he trusts me, and so we just went for it. We did it three or four times; I think they got a good take. The one they used, he really belts me.
I was going to ask, because he looked like he gave you a good shot to the face. I like that you trusted him enough to let him just slap you like that.
To me, as an actor, you’re always pulling back a little bit, but we just thought, “Let’s go for it.” We’re not trying to knock each other’s heads off, but it should be sort of rough and messy and silly.
The dinner scene in which Matsson tells Tom that he wants to sleep with his wife is also a bit rough and messy and silly.
I love the scene. I love acting with Alex, he’s just a fantastic, brilliant, gifted actor. That was a real pleasure and a weird scene. When [Lukas] said, “We have a clickety-click,” and Tom, not missing a beat, [says], “We’re men.” But he’s not expecting that offer [to be CEO], I don’t think. He just doesn’t want to get fired. He wants to keep his job at ATN, so it’s not like he’s angling for it.
It’s funny too because Tom is always telling Greg that he approaches life as if it’s a chess match. The insinuation being that he’s one step ahead of everyone.
There is no chess match; there’s no strategy. I think that’s the same with everybody. You see it with Kendall and I mean, it’s ridiculous. There’s a plan and then it goes wrong and there’s another plan and it gets thwarted and another plan and it’s just not what he wants. It’s the sort of vanity of people being in control and none of them are. Maybe there’s something to be said for Tom who’s like, “Well, I’ll just adapt.” Greg is like that as well.
Succession deals with the 1% of the 1%. For many viewers it’s at once funny, but also horrifying to see the power Logan and his family have over the world. Has Succession changed the way you see the world?
We did the pilot on Election Day in 2016, just before Donald Trump was elected. You’re aware of the absurdity of everything. Of thinking that the people in control know what they’re doing and realizing maybe they don’t. Weirdly, that’s sort of comforting and scary at the same time. Maybe it’s healthy to sort of see it for what it is, and not be afraid to call it out if something feels wrong.
I know you’ve said that saying goodbye to this show is a complicated thing, especially after all these years, and all the bonds that have been formed. I read that the cast would partake in what you called a “Succession supper club” while filming. Can you talk about these special dinners? Did they play a role in the character dynamics we saw on screen?
No, it was just a lovely social [activity]. When you’re shooting a show, you are all a bit separated. You’re doing your thing and you’re not always shooting together so the weeks would go by and you’d think, “Oh, I’m not seeing these people on set.” We all just thought, “Let’s make it a thing that we go out for dinner.” A bunch of us would just go out and try different restaurants. It was good fun.
I don’t want to put you on the spot, but is there a Succession castmate who made for the best dinner companion?
There’s no one particular person, but Jeremy [Strong] was brilliant. He would know the best places. Nick is very good about that as well. Nick and I would sort of collude on ordering things. We’d order a lot because we’d worry about missing out. It’s lovely being with the people you are playing these demented characters with in real life. Inevitably after six years, there’s great friendship and fondness for all those guys. I feel very lucky that it was the rhythm of my life. I still think, “Well, in six months, they’ll get the writers room back together and we’ll go back and shoot another.”
I think there are fans who would love to see what Tom does as the new CEO of Waystar.
Can you imagine?
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