DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, professor of television studies at Rowan University in New Jersey, in for Terry Gross. Our guest today, actor Matthew Macfadyen, won an Emmy this week for his work on the hit HBO series "Succession," which also won as best drama series. He plays an aspiring business executive from the Midwest, and plays him so well that American audiences might be surprised to learn that he's British, with a long list of credits on the British stage and in British TV and film. Many will recall him playing the dashing Mr. Darcy in director Joe Wright's 2005 version of "Pride & Prejudice."
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 Shiv, as she's usually called, and her brothers.
We're going to listen to the interview Dave Davies recorded with Macfadyen from January. In this scene, from the very first episode of "Succession," the family is celebrating the patriarch's birthday with a picnic and softball game. Tom, hoping to ingratiate himself with the old man, approaches and gives him a case bearing an expensive watch, and it doesn't exactly go over. The patriarch, Logan Roy, is played by Brian Cox. Matthew Macfadyen, as Tom, speaks first.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SUCCESSION")
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, laughter).
COX: (As Logan Roy) Did you rehearse that?
MACFADYEN: (As Tom Wambsgans) No. Well, no. Yes, but...
COX: (As Logan Roy) OK. Yeah. OK. Let's play ball.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
DAVE 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'd 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. 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 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.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SUCCESSION")
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) 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...
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.
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...
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: 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.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SUCCESSION")
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.
MACFADYEN: (As Tom Wambsgans) You f***** 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...
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.
BIANCULLI: Matthew Macfadyen speaking to FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies in January. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies and his interview from January with "Succession" supporting actor Matthew Macfadyen. This week, he won an Emmy award for his role as Tom in the HBO drama series, which also won an Emmy as Outstanding Drama Series.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
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 and 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: Or they go, Wambsgans. Or very occasionally they go, hey, Greg.
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.
BIANCULLI: Matthew Macfadyen, the now-Emmy-winning supporting actor from HBO's "Succession," speaking to Dave Davies last January. After a break, we'll hear more of their conversation. Also, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead tells us about the rare jazz single that landed on the pop charts in 1965 by jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis, who died this week at age 87. And film critic Justin Chang reviews the new movie "The Woman King" starring Viola Davis. I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, in for Terry Gross. We're listening to the interview FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies conducted earlier this year with actor Matthew Macfadyen, who won an Emmy this week for his portrayal of Tom Wambsgans in the HBO series "Succession." He also played Mr. Darcy in the 2005 film "Pride & Prejudice," and starred in the movie "Operation Mincemeat."
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
DAVIES: 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 a 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...
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: 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 speaking to Dave Davies last January. The actor won an Emmy this week for his supporting role on the HBO drama series "Succession," which also won an Emmy as Outstanding Drama Series.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis died Monday at the age of 87. In 1965, his trio reached the pop charts with a live recording they made in a Washington, D.C., nightclub. That record, "The 'In' Crowd," was the rare jazz single that landed on the Billboard Top 10 list. In 2015, on the 50th anniversary of "The 'In' Crowd," our jazz critic, Kevin Whitehead, told us how that single came to be.
(SOUNDBITE OF RAMSEY LEWIS TRIO'S "SOMETHING YOU'VE GOT")
KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: The Ramsey Lewis Trio in 1964 covering Chris Kenner's "Something You Got," mostly a regional hit out of New Orleans three years before. Some Washingtonians obviously knew it, singing along when Lewis recorded it at the Bohemian Caverns. A year later, in May '65, the trio were back to record at the Caverns on Washington's so-called Black Broadway. As Lewis has told a couple of interviewers, the trio met at a nearby eatery to discuss repertoire. Their kibitzing waitress, Nettie Gray, suggested a current pop hit, "The 'In' Crowd" by Dobie Gray. Ramsey Lewis didn't know that tongue-in-cheek ode to hipster self-congratulation, so they dropped a coin in the jukebox.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE 'IN' CROWD")
DOBIE GRAY: (Singing) I'm in with the in crowd. I know every latest dance. When you're in with the in crowd, it's easy to find romance at a spot where the beat's really hot. If it's square, we ain't there.
WHITEHEAD: I hope they left Nettie Gray a very good tip. Ramsey Lewis liked "The 'In' Crowd" enough to work up an arrangement in the unjazzy key of D major so bassist Eldee Young could work his open strings. And the trio really amped up the groove. Opening night, the audience instantly locked in with drummer Redd Holt.
(SOUNDBITE OF RAMSEY LEWIS TRIO'S "THE 'IN' CROWD")
WHITEHEAD: The album version of "The 'In' Crowd" ran six minutes, and the first half got released as a single. By August, it hit the pop charts where it spent 12 weeks edging into the top five. It was about the last big jazz single and an odd one. The trio gets loud and sometimes very quiet. But mostly, they just play the melody over and over. Going back to the top once more could drive the crowd wild.
(SOUNDBITE OF RAMSEY LEWIS TRIO'S "THE 'IN' CROWD")
WHITEHEAD: I am not big on audience participation, but the house really makes this record. Sitting at home by the hi-fi, you felt like a member of the in crowd just grooving along with that hip audience of jazz fans who dug pop or vice versa. There's more than a little gospel music in the interplay between preaching piano and the amen corner. And you can trace the blurring of roles between arts maker and consumer back to West African ring dances.
Ramsey Lewis' "The 'In' Crowd" was a potent cultural signifier in the summer of the Watts Riots and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Back at the Bohemian Caverns, the trio ended the tune like they already knew they had a hit.
(SOUNDBITE OF RAMSEY LEWIS TRIO'S "THE 'IN' CROWD")
WHITEHEAD: Suddenly, the trio were huge. Before they moved on to big theaters, they still had some club dates to do, which let them make a few "In Crowd" knockoffs, like "Hang On Sloopy." But now the audience joining in seemed less spontaneous. Ramsey Lewis told James Isaacs for some old liner notes we steal from, they started making so much money, it wasn't fun anymore.
The bassist and drummer split to form the trio Young-Holt Unlimited. They covered a lot of pop tunes, even more than Lewis' new trio with future Earth, Wind and Fire star Maurice White on drums. Nobody from the original band ever had a hit as big as "The 'In' Crowd" again, but it wasn't for lack of trying. The stars lined up just right just once.
BIANCULLI: Kevin Whitehead is the author of the book "Play The Way You Feel: The Essential Guide To Jazz Stories On Film." And he writes for Point of Departure and the Audio Beat. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF RAMSEY LEWIS TRIO'S "HANG ON SLOOPY")
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. In the new movie "The Woman King," Viola Davis plays the leader of an all-female regiment of warriors in a West African kingdom during the early 19th century. It's the latest movie from Gina Prince-Bythewood, who also directed "Love & Basketball" and "The Old Guard." "The Woman King" opens in theaters this week. Our film critic Justin Chang has this review.
JUSTIN CHANG, BYLINE: One of the more heartening Hollywood comeback stories in recent years has been the return of the director Gina Prince-Bythewood with movies like "The Old Guard" and now "The Woman King." It had been a long wait for many of us who adored her earlier films like "Love & Basketball" and "Beyond The Lights." As Prince-Bythewood has said in interviews, her focus on women protagonists, especially Black women protagonists, had made it hard over the years to get her projects off the ground. Fortunately, the industry is changing, and it's finally come around to recognizing her talent.
Her latest movie, "The Woman King," is her most ambitious project yet, a rousingly old-fashioned action drama drawn from true events about women warriors in 19th century West Africa. The movie originated with the actor Maria Bello, who produced it and wrote the story with the film's screenwriter, Dana Stevens. It opens in 1823 in the kingdom of Dahomey, located in what is now Benin. For several centuries, this kingdom was defended by an army of women fighters called the Agojie.
In the movie, the Agojie are led by the powerful Gen. Nanisca played by a galvanizing Viola Davis. She isn't the ruler of this kingdom. That would be the king played by John Boyega. But given the movie's title, you suspect it's only a matter of time. In this scene, Nanisca prepares her soldiers for battle.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE WOMAN KING")
VIOLA DAVIS: (As Nanisca) When it rains, our ancestors weep for the pain we have felt in the dark hulls of ships bound for distant shores.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, vocalizing).
DAVIS: When the wind blows, our ancestors push us to march into battle against all who enslave us.
DAVIS: When it thunders, our ancestors demand we rip the shackles of doubt from our minds and fight with courage. We fight not just for today, but for the future. We are the spear of victory. We are the blade of freedom.
BIANCULLI: The Agojie warriors are fighting the male soldiers of the Oyo Empire, who've been attacking Dahomey villages. To build up her army, Nanisca brings in a new batch of female recruits, among them an impetuous teenager named Nawi played by Thuso Mbedu, the terrific South African star of last year's "The Underground Railroad."
Much of the script centers on the growing bond and the growing tension between Nanisca and Nawi. As the leader of the Agojie, Nanisca insists that all her warriors follow a strict code that includes lifelong celibacy. Nawi chafes at that restriction, and her independent-mindedness often clashes with the Agojie's values of discipline and self-sacrifice. But by the end, Nawi absorbs those values and becomes a courageous fighter, honing her skills through many exciting scenes of training and competition.
"The Woman King" was shot on location in South Africa, and its recreation of the Dahomey villages is so immersive. The costumes designed by Gersha Phillips are especially gorgeous that it just about carries you past some of the messiness of the storytelling. To its credit, the script addresses some of the historical complexities of the situation including the fact that Dahomey became a rich kingdom by participating in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, a practice that Nanisca wants to end. She also has a personal score to settle with the Oyo warriors. And "The Woman King" is sometimes a little unsteady in its mix of political plotting and emotional drama. A romantic subplot involving Nawi and a hunky European explorer feels especially tacked-on.
Nanisca may not be the most complex character Viola Davis has played, but it's thrilling to see her take on her first major action showcase as she dons battle gear, wields a sword, and hacks her way through the many, many men who get in her way. And she isn't the only one. My favorite performance in the movie comes from Lashana Lynch as Izogie, a top warrior who takes young Nawi under her wing. You might have seen Lynch squaring off with Daniel Craig's James Bond in "No Time To Die." And here she manages to be funny, heartbreaking and fierce.
Prince-Bythewood has conceived "The Woman King" in the grand-scale tradition of epics like "Braveheart" and "Gladiator," this time with women leading the charge. While the action doesn't rise to the same visceral intensity as in those films, it makes for an engrossing and sometimes exhilarating history lesson. I left the theater thinking about how an old civilization recognized the strength of what women could do and how it's taken the empire of Hollywood so long to do the same.
BIANCULLI: Justin Chang is the film critic for the LA Times. He reviewed "The Woman King" starring Viola Davis.
On Monday's show, Sterlin Harjo, the writer, director and co-creator of the FX series "Reservation Dogs" about a group of teenagers on an Oklahoma Indian reservation. The Peabody Award-winning show is the first and only TV series on which every writer, director and series regular is Indigenous. I hope you can join us.
FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our senior producer today is Roberta Shorrock. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham with additional engineering support by Joyce Lieberman, Julian Herzfeld and Charlie Kaier. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
We'll close with this music by Duke Ellington, which he wrote for Queen Elizabeth II after he was presented to her in 1958 at an arts festival in Yorkshire. This is "Sunset And The Mockingbird" from "The Queen's Suite."
(SOUNDBITE OF DUKE ELLINGTON AND HIS ORCHESTRA'S "THE QUEEN'S SUITE: SUNSET AND THE MOCKING BIRD")
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.