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With 'Succession', Matthew Macfadyen finds himself a long way from Mr. Darcy

Before HBO's Succession, actor Matthew Macfadyen was probably best-known to American audiences for his portrayal of the brooding Mr. Darcy in the 2005 film adaptation of Pride & Prejudice.


Other segments from the episode on January 26, 2022

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 26, 2022: Interview with Matthew MacFayden; Obituary for Thich Nhat Hanh.



This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in today for Terry Gross. Our guest today, actor Matthew Macfadyen, is one of the ensemble cast members of the hit HBO series "Succession." He plays an aspiring business executive from the Midwest so well that American audiences might be surprised to learn that he's British, with a long list of credits in British stage, TV and film. Many will recall him playing the dashing Mr. Darcy in director Joe Wright's 2005 version of "Pride & Prejudice." He starred in a series which aired on AMC called "Quiz," based on the true story of a man convicted of cheating on the original British version of the TV show "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?" And he stars in the forthcoming film "Operation Mincemeat" about a secret effort in World War II to keep the Nazi invasion of Sicily hidden from the German army.

In "Succession," Macfadyen plays Tom Wambsgans, who's dating and then marries Siobhan Roy, who's one of three siblings competing for control of their aging father's media empire when he retires or dies. Tom is a player in the corporate intrigue, but as an in-law, he's never quite on an even footing with Siobhan and her brothers.

In this scene from the first episode, the family's celebrating the patriarch's birthday with a picnic and a softball game. And Tom, hoping to ingratiate himself with the old man, approaches and gives him a case bearing an expensive watch, a Patek Philippe. And it doesn't exactly go over. The patriarch, Logan Roy, is played by Brian Cox. Matthew Macfadyen as Tom speaks first.


MATTHEW MACFADYEN: (As Tom Wambsgans) Hey. So just wanted to give this to you in person just to say, you know, happy birthday. So...

BRIAN COX: (As Logan Roy) Oh.

MACFADYEN: (As Tom Wambsgans) It's just a - it's a Patek Philippe. So...

COX: (As Logan Roy) It says Patek Philippe.

MACFADYEN: (As Tom Wambsgans) Yeah. It's incredibly accurate. Every time you look at it, it tells you exactly how rich you are.

COX: (As Logan Roy) That's very funny.

MACFADYEN: (As Tom Wambsgans, laughing).

COX: (As Logan Roy) Did you rehearse that?

MACFADYEN: (As Tom Wambsgans) No. Well, no. Yes, but...

COX: (As Logan Roy) OK. Let's play ball.

DAVIES: Oh, boy. Painful. Well, Matthew Macfadyen, welcome to FRESH AIR.

MACFADYEN: Thank you for having me.

DAVIES: That scene is from the beginning of the series. And I'd never heard of a Patek Philippe watch. And I went online, and I discovered that there's one that's a pre-owned - one of them available for $120,000. And poor Tom offers this gift, doesn't even get a simple thank you. Boy, this kind of lets us know it's going to be rough for Tom in this family, doesn't it?

MACFADYEN: I think it does, yeah. That was my first inkling into what might lie await in store for Tom if, you know, if we went - also, when we were shooting the pilot, we didn't know it was going to go on. So I thought, you know, there were these sort of markers about what might happen to him. But that was a really - that was a fun scene to play with Brian. I'm a big watch nerd, so I know all about those Pateks and all those sort of crazy watches and how much they cost. And...

DAVIES: Yeah. How did you get the part on "Succession"?

MACFADYEN: It came from Jesse. I think - it was a pilot. It was pilot season. I just finished a job called "Ripper Street," which had gone for five seasons and shooting in Dublin. It was a Victorian detective show which was great fun. And so I was sort of at a loose end a little bit. I'd done a "Nutcracker" for Disney. And I was sort of floating about, wondering what to do. And I wanted to do something in the States, maybe a play in America. And I hadn't done that before, except on stage at the Royal Court about 10 years previously. And then this pilot came through. And I knew of Jesse. And I loved "Peep Show" and "Fresh Meat" and various things like that. And then you have, you know, he was writing from "The Thick Of It" and other things like that. So it was such a thing to read. It was just fantastically acid and funny and interesting, you know, especially - it was election year. And the Trumps were sort of hoving into view a little bit.

DAVIES: Right. You mentioned Jesse. That's Jesse Armstrong, the other creator and showrunner of the show. Well, you know, one of the things that people say about "Succession," especially those who say they don't like it, is that none of the characters are likable. You know, actors like to feel invested in their characters. Do you agree that these people aren't likable?

MACFADYEN: They're not especially likable, but they're not monsters. So they're not, you know, there's always some sort of sympathy there. And I think, you know, they're humans. And so there's always a sliver of something, you know. And I think the interesting thing about all those characters is the - it's those perennial themes of power and love and family. It's a family dynamic, you know. And it's the sort of absence of love from the father figure, Logan Roy, who's the sort of center of it all around whom everyone sort of orbits. And so you sort of - I feel a great deal of sympathy for them in a strange way because they don't - often it seems to me they don't have an awful lot of confidence because they don't feel terribly loved by their father or their mother indeed.

DAVIES: I mean, Brian Cox does this so well. There's - one of the little things he does is when someone will approach him and say something important and he'll listen and just say, mm-hmm, just utterly noncommittal. I know this is - you think this is important. I have power. And you're not getting an ounce of affirmation from me.

MACFADYEN: That's right.

DAVIES: Puts you really off-balance, I think, all the time.

MACFADYEN: That's right. You're always slightly off-balance. They never really have any real confidence.

DAVIES: Well, your character, Tom, has two really important relationships that run throughout the series. One of them, of course, is with his wife, Siobhan, known as Shiv. They actually get married in Season 1. And what a wedding that is. Tom adores her and gets a lot of pain in return, right? And Shiv on occasion tells him she doesn't love him, even though she knows he loves her. She floats the idea of an open marriage. Here's a scene on in the series where you as Tom are at the beach with Shiv, and you're kind of getting fed up with this. And you push back. And we're kind of catching the scene in the middle. Siobhan is played by Sarah Snook. And you, as Tom, speak first.


MACFADYEN: (As Tom Wambsgans) You told me - you told me you wanted an open relationship on our wedding night.

SARAH SNOOK: (As Shiv Roy) So you've been stewing on that?

MACFADYEN: (As Tom Wambsgans) Well, yes, I have been stewing on that, actually. I'm not a hippie, Shiv. I don't want to do threesomes...

SNOOK: (As Shiv Roy) OK.

MACFADYEN: (As Tom Wambsgans) ...On our wedding night. Bang, shanghaied into a open borders free trade deal.

SNOOK: (As Shiv Roy) Oh. It was just an idea.

MACFADYEN: (As Tom Wambsgans) Well, that's a biggie just to throw in at the altar. I don't think it was cool what you did. I think a lot of the time, if I think about it, I think a lot of the time, I'm really pretty unhappy.

SNOOK: (As Shiv Roy) What are you saying?

MACFADYEN: (As Tom Wambsgans) I don't know. I love you, I do. I just - I wonder if the sad I'd be without you would be less than the sad I get from being with you.

DAVIES: That's our guest, Matthew Macfadyen, and Sarah Snook, in a scene from "Succession." So does Tom really loved Siobhan? Does he love - I don't know - everything that comes with it, you know, access to power and wealth?

MACFADYEN: I think both. I think he does love her - Or, I mean, I don't think he knows, you know. It's always that thing. You start asking those questions. But really, I don't think they have any hard and fast answers. He would say that he does. And he certainly loves all the reflected glory and power of being a Roy, you know. But I don't know. It's interesting. Sarah and I are often asked, you know, why are they together? And we talked to Jesse a little bit. And we sort of thought, maybe there's a, you know, there's a nice idea that Tom came along when Shiv was in a very low place, and, you know, they got together. And he's sort of safe. And he's not a threat. And so she'll never leave him. She'll probably have lots of affairs and one-night stands and, you know. But he's never going to let her down.

DAVIES: Right. So she can - someone that she can count on, whether or not she is fully invested.

MACFADYEN: Exactly. And he's happy to sort of suck that up and, you know, shimmy his way up the greasy pole in Waystar and all the rest of it.

DAVIES: You know, one thing that people who haven't seen the series may not be aware of but people who have watched it know is the way extravagant wealth is displayed. I mean, I'm not somebody particularly interested in, you know, rich people's houses and the like. But I got to say - I mean, when I see these Italian villas and this yacht...

MACFADYEN: (Laughter).

DAVIES: ...At the end of Season 2 - that's just - it's wow.

MACFADYEN: I know. The yacht, Dave - that's - well, the weird thing is how quickly you get used to it.

DAVIES: (Laughter).

MACFADYEN: That's the really frightening thing because we all got on this yacht. And this - I'm - this has - you know, our jaws were swinging. But, you know, like anything, after a day or two, you know, it's totally normal. Like, yeah, I'm going to work on the yacht - speedboat to the yacht. We do a day's work and go back to the hotel. And it becomes very sort of, oh, yeah (laughter). That's the really alarming thing.

DAVIES: When I think about this relationship, I would maybe think that, you know, when you're around this and you say, oh, this is pretty cool - and maybe you begin to think, you know, I really wouldn't want to lose this. And if that means I've got to take some crap or a relationship that's less than satisfying or maybe elbow somebody out of the way, man, look at what I get.

MACFADYEN: Yeah. I'd rather sort of - yeah, I'd - I'll take all the crap from Logan Roy, as - you know, rather than take it from somebody else, you know, and be close to the center of power. It's interesting.

DAVIES: You know, the other big relationship - ongoing relationship - you have besides your wife, Siobhan, is the younger member of the Waystar crew, Cousin Greg, who is a terrific character - we sort of - I guess you might say - endowed with more ambition than brains. And you, as Tom, kind of take him under your wing. And you kind of mock him and torture him at times. And it's hard not to see Tom as a guy who is dumped on by others in the family, including his wife, and that he just, you know, sends some of that abuse down to Greg because he can - yeah?

MACFADYEN: Yeah. I think that's - it's certainly a case of kicking the cat...

DAVIES: (Laughter).

MACFADYEN: ...With old Gregory. But also, there's - again, there's just so much there or so much that we, Nick and I, have sort of brought to it and then the writers. There is a circularity with the acting and the writing. And I think that long-form TV like this is wonderful in that it sort of becomes - if it's working well, it becomes symbiotic with the actors and the writers 'cause they see something that we do. We'll do something which is given to us from this magic writing, and then they'll see something else, and then that'll feed back into the script. And on it goes. You know, there's - I think that the Roman-Gerri relationship started like that. They saw a little look that they gave each other and then developed into.

DAVIES: Right - one of the odder (laughter) relationships of the story.

MACFADYEN: But sort of totally - I totally believe it. And, you know, it's - and I think there's a lot of Greg and Tom with that as well - you know, the going into the Nero and Sporus thing. I think Tom really likes Greg and really needs him and, you know, has a sort of - you know, he's quite open with him and quite honest. And it's fascinating.

DAVIES: Yeah. There's some great scenes. You mentioned Nick. That's Nicholas Braun, who plays Cousin Greg, who's a younger guy. And I got to say, I mean what he does in this role - it's pretty remarkable because he's got to appear kind of sort of naive and foolish yet with this sort of, you know, vein of ambition that really comes up. It's kind of subtle. I think he does terrific stuff with it.

MACFADYEN: I think you're dead right. I think there's - it's - because otherwise, it's just sort of goofy and daft. And he really - there's so much there. And he's always watching and always paying attention, Cousin Greg. And he's - you know, he's not a pushover. I mean - and he's not without vanity, either. It's really - none of them - you know, they're not - it's really interesting. It's nuanced, and it's not black and white. Yeah, it's great.

DAVIES: We need to take a break here. Let me reintroduce you.

We're speaking with Matthew Macfadyen. He plays Tom Wambsgans in the HBO series "Succession." And we will continue this conversation in just a moment.

This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and our guest is Matthew Macfadyen. He plays Tom Wambsgans in the HBO series "Succession."

Well, I want to play a scene of you and Cousin Greg. And this is in the last episode of the season. And it's after the moment when you, as Tom, have decided to make your move against Siobhan, his wife, and the other - her brothers, the other Roy siblings, and effectively switch sides. And in this scene, he comes to Greg and invites him to join him. There's some noise here. This is at an outdoor wedding reception - to just ask Greg if he wants to come along with him in this enterprise. One note for the dialogue - earlier in the series, when the company was in trouble, Greg had to testify before Congress and kind of made a fool of himself. I mention that because Tom is going to bring this up as he has the conversation with Greg.

So this is Cousin Greg, played by Nicholas Braun. And we will hear our guest, Matthew Macfadyen, as Tom, speak first.


MACFADYEN: (As Tom Wambsgans) Greg, listen.

NICHOLAS BRAUN: (As Greg Hirsch) What's up?

MACFADYEN: (As Tom Wambsgans) So things may be in motion.

BRAUN: (As Greg Hirsch) As in - is anyone going to jail?

MACFADYEN: (As Tom Wambsgans) No. No. So do you want to come with me, Sporus?

BRAUN: (As Greg Hirsch) Can I ask for a little more information?

MACFADYEN: (As Tom Wambsgans) No - don't think so. I might need you as my attack dog...

BRAUN: (As Greg Hirsch) Right.

MACFADYEN: (As Tom Wambsgans) ...Like a Greg-weiler (ph).

BRAUN: (As Greg Hirsch) Tom's attack dog - nice. I mean. I have Brightstar Buffalo in my hip pocket. I'm kind of a big deal. So...

MACFADYEN: (As Tom Wambsgans) You [expletive] yourself before Congress, Greg.

BRAUN: (As Greg Hirsch) That's your opinion.

MACFADYEN: (As Tom Wambsgans) I don't recall your honor. I don't recall - you're a joke, man. Who has ever looked after you in this family, huh?

BRAUN: (As Greg Hirsch) All right. Well, in terms of where I could be getting to if I were to come with?

MACFADYEN: (As Tom Wambsgans) You could be heading away from the endless middle and towards the bottom of the top.

BRAUN: (As Greg Hirsch) The bottom of the top? And could I get my own, like...

MACFADYEN: (As Tom Wambsgans) Your own Greg?

BRAUN: (As Greg Hirsch) Yeah.

MACFADYEN: (As Tom Wambsgans) You can have 20.

DAVIES: Heavy intrigue in the HBO series "Succession." That's our guest, Matthew Macfadyen and Cousin Greg, played by Nicholas Braun. It's so funny to hear him, you know? I'm kind of a big deal.


MACFADYEN: I love it. I love it. He's so pleased with himself, and he's so delighted at the prospect of moving away from the endless middle, towards the bottom of the top.

DAVIES: Bottom of the top (laughter).

MACFADYEN: It's just beautiful writing. It's so great. It's so - I mean, not only is it wonderful acting with Nick and everybody in the - you know, they're all sensational actors. But when you've got writing like that, it's just - it's not easy-peasy, but it's just a joy. Because you just sort of trust it to do the work. And, you know, it's just great.

DAVIES: I completely agree. I mean, the writing is so much fun. And I - in fact, that's what I was going to note is how much fun it must be to say things like, you know, you screwed up in front of Congress, blah, blah, blah. You're a joke.


DAVIES: I mean...

MACFADYEN: The difficulty is not breaking up. You know, Nick and I have real - you know, I've said this a lot. It's not a secret that we struggle with corpsing, as we say in the U.K., which is just, you know, breaking up irretrievably and everyone getting annoyed with us and then having to reset and, you know - but it's hard when the dialogue's so funny and...

DAVIES: Right. Nowhere in my life do I ever hear people insult each other the way they routinely do in this...

MACFADYEN: (Laughter).

DAVIES: ...But it must be so much fun because they are so sharp and clever.

MACFADYEN: It's great. It's extremely satisfying because, you know, like anything, it's like - you sort of think, well, this - I'm getting all this out of my system. It's sort of brilliant. You can just think, well, I am this incredibly witty person. You know, Tom - it doesn't always work with Tom, but sometimes it - sometimes it's very satisfying, especially with Greg.

DAVIES: You know, there is a scene where you go in - it's actually when the company has been under the cloud of a federal investigation, and it looked like you, Tom, and Greg would be the two people most likely to go to prison. And you learn that it's probably not going to happen. It's - you know, there's just going to be a fine. And you go into Greg's office - well, you want to say what happened - tell us about this?

MACFADYEN: (Laughter) So the stage directions are Tom goes in - well, there's a small scene. I say, hi. He says, hi, Tom. And I say, scooch over a bit. And I sort of sit with him by - or I sort of stand by his desk. And then it says, Tom lifts up Greg's desk and smashes his office to bits, and that was it (laughter). So the rest was sort of up to us. So it was just - it was lovely. And we sort of - Lorene Scafaria, the director, and me and Nick and the - our operator - operators, we sort of worked out a rough bit of blocking, and then we went for it. I think we did maybe five or six takes.

DAVIES: They had to put the office back together five times.

MACFADYEN: They put it back together. So they - we - I would sort of say, I'll kick this bin or maybe throw this bit of fruit and I'll hit - you know, I'll do this. And they were like, OK, fine, fine. They put it all back.

DAVIES: You know, I happened to look at that one again when - in preparing for our conversation. And after you throw things around and turn over the desk, you hop on top of a file cabinet and do this Tarzan-like yell. It's so cool.

MACFADYEN: (Laughter) I actually beat my chest.

DAVIES: You beat your chest.

MACFADYEN: That - I think that was a possible suggestion. Like, maybe Tom beats his - you know, but I don't - yeah, I can't remember. It came out of somewhere. It might have been a suggestion from Lorene, the director. I can't remember.

DAVIES: Yeah, the I'm-not-going-to-jail move.

MACFADYEN: Yeah. I'm Tarzan. I'm free.

DAVIES: I read that you don't get the script of the episodes until the day before you shoot or the day before you do a table read. Is that right?

MACFADYEN: (Laughter) Yeah. They come very late. And we're used to it now, but I - it was a little alarming. I think, you know, Brian would get vexated (ph) because, you know, he had more lines to learn, you know? And I was never that bothered because, you know, there'd be a - unless I had an awful lot to say, you know? But I like the freshness of it, and I like the sort of on-the-hoof quality that it brings. But, yeah, they come very late. Sometimes, you know, an hour before the table read.

DAVIES: Are you - I mean, this is a huge hit show. And I know you live in London. But when you're in the states, do you get recognized on the street a lot now?

MACFADYEN: I have to say - and when we were shooting the last season, yes, more than usual. I think only as a function of the show reaching a wider audience and, you know, getting a bit of recognition and all that sort of stuff. So there's, you know...

DAVIES: What do people say to you?

MACFADYEN: "Succession."


MACFADYEN: Or they go, Wambsgans. Or very occasionally they go, hey, Greg.

DAVIES: (Laughter).

MACFADYEN: And I smile and wave and walk on. But it's all good. It's all overwhelmingly positive.

DAVIES: Do they demand to know when the next season's starting?

MACFADYEN: Yeah, that's the other thing. (Laughter) They - so often, you - people would stop and I'd get ready for a selfie or something, and they wouldn't be interested in that. They just want to know when it's coming on again, and then they'd walk away, you know? Sort of brisk New Yorkers.


DAVIES: All right, let's take another break here. Let me reintroduce you. We're speaking with Matthew Macfadyen. He plays Tom Wambsgans in the HBO series "Succession." He'll be back to talk more after this short break. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. Our guest is actor Matthew Macfadyen, who plays Tom Wambsgans in the HBO series "Succession." He played Mr. Darcy in the 2005 film "Pride & Prejudice," and he stars in the forthcoming movie "Operation Mincemeat."

Just talk just a little bit about your past. You were born in England in a coastal city, I think, right? And your dad was in the oil business. You moved around a lot, right?

MACFADYEN: That's right. Yeah, yeah, he was an engineer in the oil business and we lived on the east coast - well, sort of east of England in the county called Norfolk for a bit. And then we went to London and then we went to Scotland and then came back to another part of the north of England called Lincolnshire. And then we went to the Far East, by which time I was about 10. And I went to - I went from Jakarta in Indonesia to a boarding school back in the Midlands in England.

DAVIES: Your mom was trained as an actress and taught drama, I gather. What got you interested in the business and doing it?

MACFADYEN: I don't know. I think - you know, my mom trained as a teacher at - sort of like a drama teacher, and my grandfather was an engineer. Her father was an engineer. But his hobby and his real interest was the theater and doing amateur dramatics. And, you know, he would take shows on tour with am-dram and they would go to Europe. And so he - that was his real passion. And...

DAVIES: He would go as a performer or...

MACFADYEN: No, he would direct. He would direct and produce these plays. And they would go - you know, they would go to other fests, other am-dram festivals in, you know, France and...


MACFADYEN: ...And places like that - yeah - in the '60s and '70s. So that was his sort of hobby, really. And his father was a Welsh chapel minister. And so there was a sort of tradition of Eisteddfods, you know, the Welsh speaking festivals and poetry. You know, so there was - I don't know. I mean, that had no connection, but I guess it - that sort of - even though it was a family of teachers and engineers and, you know, there was nobody who'd sort of done it professionally, my family was in...

DAVIES: But the spoken word was all around you. Yeah.

MACFADYEN: Yeah. We were encouraged to sort of be in the school play. And then I just - I, you know, like all the - I guess you find something that you really like and that you're good at or people think you're good at. And so it just goes from there. So I was always trying to be in the school play and...

DAVIES: Well, you were accepted at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London at the age of 17 - right? - and then at the age of 21, joined the Cheek by Jowl touring company, which I gather was a pretty serious gig for a young man of your age.

MACFADYEN: That was great. That was a red-letter day. I think - because then - this was '95, I think, and then the most - I never imagined I would do TV, let alone film. And the most exciting prospect, I think, for our year at drama school or, you know, that generation was, I think - a really exciting idea was to go with the Royal Shakespeare Company or the National and do a tour or one of these companies like Cheek by Jowl or Theatre de Complicite. And that was, like, the dream. And I managed to land this tour with Cheek by Jowl in a production of "The Duchess of Malfi." And it was a world tour. We went round - we went everywhere in 10 months. We went to BAM in New York and Italy and Colombia and Australia, and it was nuts.

DAVIES: What did you learn about the craft in those early years?

MACFADYEN: I learned that I wasn't very good (laughter) in my first play. Yeah, I was really bad. I really struggled. It was quite a shock, actually. But looking back, I guess it was quite a good thing because it was a real - it was my first job, and it was quite scary and quite lonely at times. There were lovely people in the company, but it was a sort of difficult part. It was Antonio in "The Duchess Of Malfi," which is quite a - it's not - it's quite hard. It's quite hard to play because there's not a lot of light and love in the play. But I didn't know how to make Antonio interesting, and I just wasn't very good. And the reviewers didn't think I was very good either. So - but that (laughter) - but I think I had enough confidence to know it wasn't - you know, I just needed a different vehicle. But it was really good. It was a real privilege to go and play in these - you know, we'd play in a different theater every week in a different country and, you know, we'd meet other theater companies. And it was - yeah, I mean, I was 20 doing this play at BAM in 1996, and it was - I'd never been to New York before and - amazing.

DAVIES: Well, you obviously brought something to the game because you've got a long, long list of work in British television and film and stage. And I got to bring this up. You know, I think - your film - your appearance in "Pride & Prejudice" - you know, I'm sure Siobhan in "Succession" would not take you so for granted if she'd seen you as the dreamboat Mr. Darcy in the Joe Wright production.

MACFADYEN: There's a lot - yeah, Tom Wambsgans is a long way from Mr. Darcy.


DAVIES: You have this kind of - you know, you're tall in this high-collared gentlemen's, you know, dress with the shaggy haircut. He's sort of an aloof, distant character, but there's really a lot more to him. Was it at all intimidating to play this kind of literary figure, which had been done a lot before, you know, by Colin Firth and a few others before you?

MACFADYEN: Yeah, it had. It was quite intimidating. It was, really. I tried not to, you know - but I think inevitably you worry about getting it right, and I didn't feel I was dishy enough and sort of brooding enough. And, you know, in your mind's eye as an actor, you always want to be a little more this or a little more that. And my confidence wasn't great. But, again, it was a brilliant adaptation. And, you know, Joe was great. And Keira was great and the actors were - you know, it was a lovely thing to be a part of.

DAVIES: Yeah, Joe Wright, the director, and Keira Knightley, who was Elizabeth Bennet. So well - so how did you find dishy?

MACFADYEN: Well, I don't know. I just hoped for the best. I don't know. I just - I sort of decided that he was a sort of - he was a bit sort of like a tortured adolescent, Mr. Darcy, which in a way he was. You know, he's grieving his parents. He's inherited this vast estate and responsibility. And, yeah, he's sort of all conflicted and torn up. And so I thought, I'll - you know, that's - that'll be my way into him.

DAVIES: Well, you know, there's an internet meme that developed out of a small, quiet moment in that film early on - I mean, I'm sure you know this - I mean, where you're helping...

MACFADYEN: The hand.

DAVIES: ...Elizabeth Bennet, played by Keira Knightley, out of a carriage. You don't really know each other well, and she didn't particularly like you. But you take her hand to help her into the carriage. And as you're walking away, the camera catches you flexing the hand, you know, having had this incidental contact. She's looking back at you. There's a lot of internet stuff on this. I saw one - I learned this from our digital producer, Molly Seavy-Nesper, who says this has gotten a lot of attention. There was one TikTok of a woman who got a tattoo of your hand...

MACFADYEN: (Laughter).

DAVIES: ...Over Keira Knightley's...

MACFADYEN: You're kidding.

DAVIES: ...On her shoulder. Yeah.

MACFADYEN: He's so buttoned up. He can't show a thing.

DAVIES: Was this scripted? Was this planned all along, that shot?

MACFADYEN: No, it's credit to Joe 'cause he's - I think he just - he doesn't miss a trick, and he's so alive to things. And he saw me do it in a take - in a rehearsal or a take. And he - I remember him just going, get that. So they just did an extra shot on the hand. You know, they were already on a sort of tracking shot. So yeah.

DAVIES: We need to take a break here. Let me reintroduce you. We're speaking with Matthew Macfadyen. He plays Tom Wambsgans in the HBO series "Succession." And we will continue this conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and our guest today is Matthew Macfadyen. He plays Tom Wambsgans in the HBO series "Succession." I wanted to talk about a TV series that Americans may have seen you in. It was called "Quiz." I think it was produced by Independent Television in Great Britain and shown on AMC. Is that right?

MACFADYEN: That's right, yeah.

DAVIES: And it's about the true story of a man in England who happened to be a major in the British Army, Charles Ingram, who appeared on the show "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" which originated in the U.K. And he wins a million pounds and then is accused with his wife Diana and eventually convicted of cheating to get the answers. So this is a real story. It was based on a play by James Graham, right? You want to explain how the cheating occurred, how the couple supposedly - how Charles knew what answers to give?

MACFADYEN: Well, I'm not sure that I can, because he - well, he was convicted of cheating through a sort of system of - they allege that he had an accomplice in the audience who was coughing at the right answers, you know, when they sort of read out, and that was how he did it. But he denies this. They both deny this to this day. But the jury found them guilty, and they were given a suspended sentence and...

DAVIES: Right. And I think they have an active appeal, I believe.

MACFADYEN: I think they might do. Yeah, they were quite pleased when the show came out 'cause it meant they could sort of get their case back, you know, back into the public eye and get it going again, and - but a just - a fascinating story.

DAVIES: I've got a scene we should hear. This is a scene where you as Charles Ingram is on the show "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" And you're taking a question - you've advanced to the level where 500,000 pounds is at stake. And here, you're being asked a question by the host, Chris Tarrant, who's actually played by Michael Sheen. So he asked the question, and it takes a while for you to answer. Let's listen.


MICHAEL SHEEN: (As Chris Tarrant) For half a million pounds...


SHEEN: (As Chris Tarrant) Baron Haussmann is best known for the planning of which city - Rome, Paris, Berlin, Athens?

MACFADYEN: (As Charles Ingram) I think it's Berlin.


SHEEN: (As Chris Tarrant) Oh.

MACFADYEN: (As Charles Ingram) You know, Berlin, I mean - Haussmann, you know, seems like a German name rather than an Italian name or a Parisian name or an Athens name. Rome. Paris.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) (Coughing).

MACFADYEN: (As Charles Ingram) Yeah, do you know - I'm going to rethink it because I don't think it's Athens. And I'm pretty sure it's not Rome. And I would have thought it was Berlin, but there's a chance it could be Paris.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) (Coughing).

SHEEN: (As Chris Tarrant) Oh.

MACFADYEN: (As Charles Ingram) Yeah, I think it's Paris I'm going to play.

SHEEN: (As Chris Tarrant) But hang on. Now - wait, where are we?


MACFADYEN: (As Charles Ingram) We're at Paris. Paris - final answer.

SHEEN: (As Chris Tarrant) Final answer.

MACFADYEN: (As Charles Ingram) Final answer.


SHEEN: (As Chris Tarrant) You thought it was Berlin - Berlin, Berlin, Berlin - changed your mind to Paris - that's brought you 500,000 pounds.


MACFADYEN: (As Charles Ingram) Yeah (laughter).

SHEEN: (As Chris Tarrant) That's unbelievable. Unbelievable.

DAVIES: Oh, the excitement, the tension, oh, boy.


DAVIES: That is our guest, Matthew Macfadyen, in the series "Quiz." Also in that scene was Michael Sheen.

MACFADYEN: That was such fun to do 'cause they built this studio - you know, they...


MACFADYEN: ...Really built this amazing set. It was exactly as it was. So it was really - so it's not hard to - my heart was banging away 'cause it's - you know, you're there. It's not a leap of the imagination to think, oh, my God, I'm actually doing it.

DAVIES: Yeah, yeah. You know, Michael Sheen playing Chris Tarrant there is just - he just hams it up beautifully. I mean, it's so much fun.

MACFADYEN: Brilliant.

DAVIES: And what happens - of course, we hear you saying each possible answer. And then if you listen carefully, there is a cough a couple of times when Paris...

MACFADYEN: There's a cough, and there's a sort of confirmatory cough.

DAVIES: Right, right.

MACFADYEN: ...After the second time he says Paris. Yeah.

DAVIES: Right. And what's interesting about, I think - I gather, the play and certainly this series is that it doesn't really quite take a position on whether they cheated or not, this couple. And I can't - it must challenge a pose for you as - pose a challenge as an actor. I mean, you've - are you a clever thief, you know, disguising your crime? Or are you someone unjustly accused (laughter)?

MACFADYEN: I didn't - well, I am still sort of agnostic about it. I really don't know. And Sian Clifford, who played Diana, and I would sort of meet in the morning every morning in the makeup bus and go, those guilty bastards. They did it. And then we'd - and then the next morning, we'd say, no, they - I don't think they did. I think they're - I think they're - it - you know, they're the victims of a stitch-up. And we would change our minds constantly. And at the end, we sort of settled into sort of happy ambivalence, and we would - Stephen Frears, the director, would sort of say, well, let's - you know, on this take, maybe let's dial the culpability a wee bit, and then maybe let's sort of be a bit more innocent on the next one. And so he had options in the cutting room, I suppose. But yeah, I don't know, is the answer.

DAVIES: Right. You don't know. I mean, one of the things that comes up, which has come out subsequently, is that while there were coughs associated with correct answers, there was a total of 192 coughs over the course of the broadcast. So the accusation is that the prosecution...?

MACFADYEN: Exactly. And the episode in question was never broadcast, of course, 'cause it was ITV's, and once they realized something was up and said that ITV - and they admit this. They doctored the - you know, that episode to show the jury. You know, there were hundreds of coughs all over it, but I think they sort of pulled up the volume.

DAVIES: It was a really celebrated case, and I gather that the couple got coughed at by people on the street as a way of mocking them.

MACFADYEN: Yeah, they had a dreadful, torrid, horrible time afterwards.

DAVIES: You know, one more thing - during the pandemic when, you know, many of us were, you know, resigned to our homes - you live in London with your wife, Keeley Hawes, who's an actress, and you have teenage kids, right? You did kind of a home cooking show for television. Do I have this right?

MACFADYEN: Yeah, we did. We did. We did something called "Come Dine With Me," which is - I don't know if they have it in the States. It's - we all did a meal on consecutive nights and then judged it, and there was a small cash prize.

DAVIES: You and your wife and each of your kids kind of competed to cook the best meal.

MACFADYEN: Yeah. And they became - they were very competitive. It got quite ugly towards the end, and I lost. And I'm - I think I'm a really good cook. But we had a nice time in the pandemic. It was good. It - lockdown was all right. I think we realized that we all got on. And the weather was good, and, you know, I think it was a sort of different experience. It was very interesting going to New York, actually, after - you know, to start work on "Succession" because there was a totally different feeling in New York. I think just the geography of the city and what had happened, you know, at the height of it - it was just a lot more frightening.

DAVIES: Well, Matthew Macfadyen, it's been fun. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

MACFADYEN: Oh, you're most welcome - real pleasure. Thanks, Dave.

DAVIES: Matthew Macfadyen plays Tom Wambsgans in the HBO series "Succession." "Succession" has been renewed for a fourth season. Coming up, we remember Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh, who died last Saturday. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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