Matthew Macfadyen breaks down five iconic Tom Wambsgans scenes from 'Succession'
For a while, even Matthew Macfadyen, who plays the obsequious Tom Wambsgans on HBO's Succession, thought he would be the "blood sacrifice" in the final episode of season two.
The show seemed to be leading to his being thrown under the bus by his ruthless wife for her own political gain, but gave the audience not one, but two twists. Logan gave up prodigal son Kendall, who then sold his his father out in return.
"It was electric," Macfadyen says describing how the cast reacted to reading the deliciously Shakespearian finale. "You don’t get the script until the night before the read-through, so it’s really on the hoof. I love the not-knowing [because] you get these magical scenes where you think ‘Ok, we’re going in this direction’."
Speaking over the phone, his affable British accent is a testament to how impressive his accent is as Minnesota-native Tom Wambsgans, though he maintains that he and Australian actress Sarah Snook (who plays his on-screen wife, Shiv Roy) "feel like terrible frauds" pretending to be American.
Before Succession, Macfadyen was best-known for playing Jane Austen's most famous bachelor, Mr Darcy, opposite Keira Knightley in Pride & Prejudice. He filled his CV with a slew of period dramas, such as Joe Wright's blockbuster Anna Karenina (again, alongside Knightley) and the BBC adaptation of Howards End, before winning the role of Wambsgans. Though the hyper-decanted wine and glistening skyscrapers of Succession feel a world removed from all those corsets and country piles, there's still something familiar about their sensibility thanks to the largely British writing team.
"There’s a certain caustic quality to the writing which you don’t always see in American television," Macfadyen says. "I recognise a British strain to [the humour]." This humour has arguably played out best in Macfadyen's unctuous Tom, a man whose farcical lines powered a vast meme output after the show aired each week.
"The key is to play everything dead straight"
Macfadyen plays Tom as a deeply sincere man, not a comedic figure, one who he says, like all the characters in the show, truly believes their life to be serious and important. "The key is to play everything dead straight," he says. "Then the ludicrousness of the situations come out. If it's a tongue-in-cheek thing it doesn’t work."
Here he breaks down five iconic Wambsgans moments
Tom swallowing his own load
In season one episode eight, 'Prague', Tom's bachelor party plans are scuppered by Kendall, who drags him to an elite rave where he panics about cheating on Shiv.
"That was a hoot because it was a terrible, nightmarish club with people in thongs walking around and Tom in his terrible suit trying to be sexy and crazy, when actually he just wants to go home to Shiv. It was lovely to indulge in that feeling of being totally out of your depth.
"When he announces gleefully that he’s 'swallowed his own load', Nick’s (Braun, who plays cousin Greg) reaction was too much. I was white-knuckled trying to hold it together. I also had one of the most squeamish [scenes] when I had to call Shiv 'honey-badger, I was sweating when I had to say 'I wanna dock myself inside you so much right now'. Excruciating."
Tom considers Shiv's confession on his "wedding eve"
In season one episode ten, 'Nobody Is Ever Missing', Tom's wedding night culminates in Shiv admitting her infidelities and asking for an open marriage.
"I think there’s a subconscious part of Tom that knows. Sometimes something momentous happens and we look back and think ‘did I know that? Did I know before I knew?’ When Greg sweetly tries to tell Tom that he’s seen Shiv and Nate having an affair, or suspects something going on, he won't have it.
"I think he finds solace in being honest with her, that’s the touching thing about that scene. He doesn’t storm out and hasn’t got the courage to make a scene and call it off. I think he does really love her. He tries to adapt to this thing that she’s suggested and he can’t, really."
Tom gets grilled by Congress
In season two episode nine, 'DC', Tom tanks when put before Congress to testify about the Waystar Royco cruise scandal.
"They built this enormous set in the studio in Queens and it’s not a big leap of the imagination to think you’re there being cross-examined, so it was quite nerve-wracking. You dream about things like that as an actor. The writing is so good it really looks after you and tells you what to do: all the nonsense about 'Mo Lester', and trying to defend him, Tom saying, 'I know of him and I know his face', when he’s sitting right behind me!
"We actually shot a scene where I stayed over at Greg’s apartment to make sure he didn’t photocopy the documents or hide them, and I made him sleep on his bedroom floor and I slept in his bed. I said to him, 'You can’t make a Tomelette without breaking some Greggs', but it’s very good in reportage in the congressional hearings. It’s a good line isn’t it?"
Tom's sad beach scene
In season two episode ten, 'This Is Not For Tears', Tom and Shiv find a secluded beach away from the family boat where he admits he is unhappy.
"When you have a scene like that sometimes the less you talk and the less you prepare the better, so we just rehearsed once and shot it. Often if you do a lot there’s a danger of taking the freshness out of it [because] when it’s delicately written it’s already there.
"Tom's reeling from her offering him up as the sacrificial Wambsgams, and I don’t think he was planning to say it, but the worrying threesome she’s organised, it’s too much. Even if you have multiple 00s in your bank account, you still want to be loved and be happy."
Tom steals Logan's chicken
In season two episode ten, 'This Is Not For Tears', Tom is overwhelmed by the tension on the boat and reacts by eating some of the chicken on Logan's plate.
“The first take I grabbed a handful of Brian’s (Cox, who plays Logan Roy) chicken and filled most of my mouth with it and then then we both lost it, and he never ever breaks. He snorted and that was it. Then we changed the mound of chicken breasts to a drumstick.
"It was so exciting being on the boat, and then like anything else it dissipates and you think it’s normal. Then you start to think ‘uh where can I get a coffee’, 'I’m really hot', or 'where’s the suncream?'. And you catch yourself. But it did lends itself nicely to being demented because it’s beautiful but so unreal. The tension is enormous because you can’t get off."
As for season three, Macfadyen says that none of the cast are aware of what lies ahead of them. "I imagine Jesse and the writers have, like, a five-season arc," he says. "But we don’t have any idea about where we might go."
One storyline he's especially excited about is seeing pan out is Tom's relationship with Greg. "You wonder what will happen with Tom and Greg, because Greg seems to be Team Kendall now. There’s something hardening in Greg, he’s so disgusted by Logan after seeing his treatment of them all." He pauses. "I can’t wait."