'Succession' Star Talks Shooting a "Nerve-Wracking" Congressional Hearing and Playing a "Moron"

Matthew Macfayden, the actor behind Tom Wambsgans, also previews the fate of his character's bromance with an office underling and what viewers can expect from the season finale.
Zach Dilgard/HBO

[This story contains spoilers for Succession season two.]

Are Tom's days as a Roy nearing their end?

In the latest episode of HBO's savage media-elite satire, the head of Waystar Royco's Fox News-like channel, played by Matthew Macfadyen, tanks in front of the Senate Committee on Commerce as it investigates sexual misconduct in the company's cruise division, where Tom formerly worked. Not only did Shiv Roy's (Sarah Snook) bumbling husband admit in front of Congress that he knew a former manager in the division was "creepy," but emails in which he talked explicitly about using "human furniture" and seemed to coordinate the destruction of sensitive documents were blasted to the world on C-SPAN. At the end of the episode, Logan Roy (Brian Cox) admits to Shiv that the only way he sees the Roy family maintaining control of Waystar prior to a shareholder meeting is to commit a "blood sacrifice" — and given Tom's performance on the hill, he seems likely to fall victim.

Macfadyen himself, who has not seen the ninth and penultimate episode of the season, won't give away any spoilers about what happens to his character in next Sunday's finale. However, he reveals in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, "There was a lot of chat between actors and hushed whispers in corridors at the studio and on location" about Tom's future.

If Tom ends up being the sacrificial lamb, he'll go out with a bang, given the iconic scenes the character has delivered to Succession fans thus far this season. Who can forget his "Boar on the Floor" performance, the breakup with "Cousin Greg" Hirsh (Nicholas Braun) or Tom's tortured attempt to flirt with Rhea (Holly Hunter)? How about the burning of the cruise division's incriminating documents on the balcony of his apartment, or his remarks about "his majesty, the spinach" at a business dinner? Besides Kendall's (Jeremy Strong) rap, Tom has been the most reliable progenitor of Succession memes this season.

In an interview with THR about "DC," Macfadyen discussed how he prepared for Tom's Senate hearing, the resilience of his friendship with Cousin Greg and what viewers can expect from the season finale.

Logan ended the episode by threatening that the company would have to make a "blood sacrifice" to keep shareholders' confidence. Is the family finally going to fully throw Tom to the wolves?

Well, I can’t say anything, because that would be a spoiler. There was a lot of chat between actors and hushed whispers in corridors at the studio and on location, going, “I don't know who it's going to be, maybe it’s going to be you.” We didn’t know until the read-through [for the finale], so it was really enticing. And I think they redacted the bit in the script, so it was just the people in the read-through who knew and [the secret] couldn't be spilled.

Before you ended up reading the script for the finale, were you walking on eggshells?

I’m never really worried, because the writing is so good; it’s so exciting what they come up with. It’s so thrilling being in their hands, because everything they come up with is surprising and faithful to the story as a whole. So I kind of thought, “If it’s me, great, if it isn’t, great, because they'll make the right decision." I thought, "I don't care what they write, I'll just do what they want to do."

In his testimony on Capitol Hill, Tom tried to keep Greg out of the narrative around Cruises but ultimately was caught in a lie. Is the political scrutiny finally going to sever their bond, or is Tom and Greg's strange friendship immortal?

I hope it’s immortal, I really do. There's that hilarious bit where they say, "Do you know Greg Hirsch?" And I say, "No, no, no, I don't." But he's sitting right behind me. And I go, "Oh, you mean, do I know him, know him, yes, I know his face." It was so joyful doing that scene, but it was slightly tinged for Nick and I because we were both thinking, “Oh god, I hope it’s not [the end of the relationship]. I hope we still get to do [scenes together]." I don’t think they would [separate us], but you never know because it seems like it’s splitting. That would make me very sad, if I didn't see as much of Nick, aka Greg, as I do.

How did you prepare to play the Senate hearing scene? Did you watch any other Senate hearings?

I don’t really prepare for anything, because the script is so brilliant, I don't need to — maybe I ought to — but it’s all there for you. I honestly feel like very often with Succession, I don’t learn the lines, they just go into my head because I just want to say them. But I had watched [Trump lawyer] Michael Cohen and [Rep.] Elijah Cummings a little bit, and I’d seen a bunch of those Senate hearings on C-SPAN and stuff, but not to prepare for Tom, just [on my own]. They'd also they built this extraordinary set: It looked like Washington and they built it at the studio in Queens. So once it was full of people and press and all the rest of it, it was quite nerve-wracking going in there, with the 100 background artists, so my heart was banging away anyway; it wasn’t a great leap of the imagination at all. When the world is so brilliantly created in such a detailed way by the designers, it’s just there for you. You don't need to bring anything to it, you just need to react and say the lines.

As Tom demonstrates after the Senate hearing, he's become pretty aware of how much the family is exposing him to public scrutiny. Does Tom have a breaking point, or will he always follow the Roys wherever they lead him?

There’s more to come in episode 10, of course, but if he does have a breaking point, it’s being tested. Even if he’s a terrible subservient idiot in many ways, Shiv has been pimping him out to do all kinds of stuff which he's not happy with — trying to wheedle his father-in-law, who he's terrified of, and trying flirt with Holly Hunter's character [Rhea] — it's really embarrassing. But he's doing it for her and for the idea that the family's a team. He's on rocky ground with that, because he's trying mightily to be in this open relationship, so there’s all these things building with Tom, which is great to have bubbling under the surface. But you sort of feel for him, and the "Boar on the Floor" stuff, it’s pretty hard. I mean, he’s insufferable, so there is that, but there is something quite sweet about him. None of them are monsters. Except maybe Logan.

This season, Tom seems to be far more aware of his surroundings than he lets on. What are your thoughts as to how insightful Tom actually is — is his goofiness a bit of an act, or is it fundamental to him?

I think it’s a bit of both. There's a lot of people jumping around in Tom. I heard Nick say that it’s very funny seeing Tom with Shiv: He was saying it was very extraordinary seeing [Tom] Wambsgans be tender, quite straight and sweet with his wife, while he sees this unpredictable asshole, where you never know where you are with him, at work. He's both, Tom: He’s managing a huge, multibillion-dollar news corporation, so he’s a moron, but he’s not stupid. He has insight and he has understanding, and I think when you’re scared all the time, you behave in strange ways. I wonder about the people working in the White House, say, in this current [environment]. People might look back and go, “What was I doing?” You might examine your behavior years later and go, "I was behaving in that way because we were in a certain culture," or in a very high-powered company. It's interesting how that impacts the way people are with each other and the decisions they make.

Over the course of the season, we've seen Roman try and change his image in the family from court jester to a power player. Could Tom also redeem himself in the eyes of Logan and Shiv's siblings?

I think he’ll always be outside a little bit, because whenever [the siblings] get together, even in couples, like Shiv and Roman when they're bullying Tom at the table, their M.O. is bullying, competing and scoring points. There never seems to be any safe space with them; it’s always point-scoring. And so Tom is always outside of them; he can’t compete just by dint of not being in the family. I do think, like Roman, the potential is quite exciting. The Toms and the Romans could be plausible: I don’t think it’s an impossibility that they could turn or that Tom could become a little harder, a little colder. That’s the joy of doing long-form TV and the joy of having such gifted writers, because it really could go anywhere. The exciting thing is getting the script in your email box, usually two days before we start.

If push comes to shove, would Shiv save Tom if it meant siding with him over her family?  

That’s a really good question. I wouldn’t dare answer that; I don’t think Tom would either, I think it's too near the knuckle. Sarah may have a view on that, and I don't know that I do.

What was your favorite scene to film this season?

There are three, really. I love the scene with Shiv in their kitchen where she’s telling him that she was offered the job as the head of the company, and he’s desperately trying not to appear shocked and upset and trying to keep his shit together and be supportive. Pretty much everything with Nick [I love], like the scene in the wrong panic room with the bottles, when he breaks up with me. And I especially loved shooting the stuff that you’ve seen and I haven’t, the congressional hearings, it was such fun.

What can we expect from Tom in the series finale?

What can I say? At the risk of being boring, I don’t know what I can say, and also it’s weird because the memory of shooting it is one thing and actually what it's like is another thing, so I won't say anything at the risk of preempting [the show].

This story was edited for length and clarity.