Matthew Macfadyen on new show 'Succession,' Brexit and why actors should be more anonymous (exclusive)

Hanna Flint
Contributor
Matthew Macfadyen stars in HBO’s Succession

Matthew Macfadyen is a stalwart of British film, television, and theatre. He’s appeared in BBC dramas like Spooks and Criminal Justice, stage productions of Private Lives and Henry IV, and of course, is known for playing Mr. Darcy in Joe Wright’s film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

Now after many years of playing Brits, especially period gentleman, Macfadyen has changed his tune, well accent, to appear in HBO’s Succession. From the mind of Peep Show creator Jesse Armstrong, the new comedy-drama series is almost Shakespearean in its exploration of the 1% and in particular a media dynasty that could rival the Redstones and the Murdochs.

The Roy family – Logan Roy and his four adult children – control one of the biggest media and entertainment conglomerates in the world but is beset by sibling rivalry and corporate drama. Macfadyen plays Tom Wamsgans, the fiance of Shiv Roy, and employee of the company who is willing to sabotage his way into his father-in-law’s good graces.

“You want to stretch different muscles, and do as many colours as you can,” the actor tells Yahoo Movies UK. “It was really attractive because of that fun element and it was American, and I hadn’t played one before.”

It’s certainly an interesting time to be playing an American and filming an American show in New York. Macfadyen spent six months of the year shooting the series in the US city and said the locals’ hatred for the Commander-in-Chief was palpable. “They loathe Trump,” he says,  “they know him from him living there. There’s a sort of strange feeling.”

It’s hard not to watch the show within the framework of the current political climate and widespread media distrust, after all, Succession is about a rather corruptible media family. One wonders if Macfadyen, after doing this series in a politically-turbulent New York, has become more or less switched on to what’s going on than ever before.

“It’s a difficult question to answer because I don’t think the world is very, well, it always has a tendency to be, particularly now, it feels very polarised,” the actor says. “People have black and white views about things and I’m not sure what I feel about things.

“I instinctively feel that Brexit is a bad idea, but the world is a nuanced, difficult to understand place so I’m not always confident about saying exactly how I feel because I don’t know how I feel.”

It’s the first time the British actor has played an American on TV

The HBO series has already aired in the US and while it has so far earned praise for its depiction of this troubled, wealthy family some of suggested that though it is timely, there are already a few shows about the uber-privileged on TV like Billions, Dynasty and Big Little Lies.  Clearly, the success of these series show there is a mass curiosity for the high lives of others but Macfadyen says that Succession doesn’t suggest extreme wealth is aspirational.

“Even though they are mind-bogglingly wealthy they’re not terribly happy people and it’s a family,” the actor says. “People are fascinated with families I’d say and how sort of f**ked up they are. However shiny or attractive they may seem on the outside it’s the same petty squabbling and domestic nonsense.”

While the actor was busy fake squabbling with the Roy family, his own was back home in the UK. Macfadyen is married to Keeley Hawes, another British acting talent, and the pair have two children who, he says, haven’t shown any interest in joining the family business. They keep themselves pretty private which is rare, nowadays, especially for an acting couple living in London where tabloid culture is rife. The actor says their low profile is more down to the fact that they are rather dull.

“I am pretty boring,” he explains. “The premieres are sort of glamorous, but they’re not really. They’re just nervewracking for the actors but no one believes that. But the job of it is early starts, late finishes and you’re in an aircraft hanger most of the day in the dark doing this silly pretending to be someone else, so it is sort of a funny old job.”

Matthew Macfadyen is married to fellow actor Keeley Hawes

Macfadyen says that his low profile is also down to him not being “very good at promoting” himself, as he’s not on social media, but admits that online profiles and platforms have changed the job since he first graduated from RADA, and not entirely for the better.

“The business has changed a lot since I left drama school,” he says, “in the idea of being on social media and connecting with your fans in that way, that’s the sort of given now for a young actor whereas for my generation its the antithesis of what you should be.

“The point is to be anonymous and not to talk about, you know, because you want people to go and see you acting a part and not what you think about.

“I don’t care what Daniel Day-Lewis thinks about anything or Meryl Streep, I just want to go see their work,” the actor continues. “but it is nuanced because by the same token it’s wonderful when actors use their clout for wonderful things.”

Succession has been confirmed for a second season which means the next year will be filled with Roys once more for Macfadyen, but that doesn’t mean viewers won’t see him in period dress again. Though the actor said, after appearing in the BBC adaptation of Howard’s End, that he wouldn’t be doing period dramas anymore he’s now backtracked on that statement.

“It was a silly thing to say because the stories are the thing and if they are fabulous stories it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing,” Macfadyen adds. “It’s who you are playing and the story you are telling.”

Succession season one premieres on Sky Atlantic, 2 August 2018 at 9pm

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