Well, that was unexpected. On Sunday, Succession ended four seasons’ worth of Waystar-heir speculation by naming Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen) the company’s dark-horse successor—meaning that he beat out Kendall (Jeremy Strong), the genetic frontrunner candidate; Roman (Kieran Culkin), the still-mourning Roy sibling; and his own wife Shiv (Sarah Snook), the woman who spent years humiliating him in public and private. 

Macfadyen, the British actor who embodied this shape-shifting middle-class striver for five years, was just as surprised by the outcome as viewers likely were. Midway through filming the HBO drama’s fourth and final season, Macfadyen asked series creator Jesse Armstrong about Tom’s fate, and learned that Tom—not any of Logan Roy’s (Brian Cox) blood relatives—would wind up American CEO.

“Well, that’s interesting,” Macfadyen remembers thinking, he says on a Zoom with VF Monday morning. But Macfadyen quickly put the plot twist out of his head. “You don’t want to get attached to a storyline. They may very well change.”

As the actor approached filming the finale, “With Open Eyes,” Macfadyen began accepting his character’s fate—even if he figured that Tom himself would be blindsided by the turn of events. After all, in seemingly 24 hours, Tom goes from thinking he will be fired by Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) to learning that Matsson wants to anoint him.

“I don’t think Tom was planning for it at all. I don’t think it’s what he ever rationally thought would happen for him,” says Macfadyen. “He was mostly concerned about not being fired from ATN. He genuinely thought he was toast with Matsson—and [had to endure] all of these terrible hang outs with him at art galleries and dinners.” To be named surprise successor at the series’ buzzer, Macfadyen says, “I thought it was quite a neat thing.”

With his relationship to Shiv seemingly beyond repair after the balcony fight in this season’s “Tailgate Party” episode, Macfadyen agrees to keep Matsson’s decision a secret from Shiv ahead of the Waystar board meeting. Asked whether he thinks that Tom’s relationship with the cold-hearted Shiv has helped make his character more ruthless, especially in the final two seasons, Macfadyen demurs. He thinks that beneath his bumbling exterior, Tom has always been this calculating.

“Even though he’s sort of annoying and ungainly in everything he does—you know, he doesn’t have the same sort of cold-hearted sophistication as the Roys—he’s not without ambition or a brain,” says the actor. “He will put up with a lot of shit and humiliations from everybody, including his wife—you know, she asked him to have an open marriage on their wedding night—and in order to stay in the family and near his father-in-law Logan.”

While some people write off Tom as being a spineless shape-shifter happy to “suck the biggest dick in the room,” as Shiv tells Matsson, Macfadyen sees cunning in Tom. He didn’t view Tom’s season-three offer to go to jail for Logan as strictly being “pathetic and obsequious,” although it was definitely shades of that. 

“He’s quite brave as well,” Macfadyen points out. “I think his spine was always there, but he makes practical decisions certainly at the end of season three when he betrays Shiv in favor of Logan. He’s hitching his [cart] to the man who he thinks is going to win. There’s something unsentimental about it. He hopes for the best and hopes that it will all be okay, but he’s quite ruthless about things.”

“I’m sometimes asked about Tom coming out on top,” continues Macfadyen, disagreeing with the phrasing of the question. “I don’t think he has a plan. None of [the Succession characters] have a plan. Right? If they have a plan, it’s a sort of vanity that inevitably goes wrong or changes. I think he just keeps himself in the game. There are plenty of those sort of plausible men who end up in positions of great power because they’ve been there all the way, and attached themselves to other, more charismatic people.”

For Macfadyen, ever the modest gentleman, Tom being selected CEO wasn’t the most dramatic plot point of the episode. “What was awful for me was Shiv’s reversal of her decision to back Kendall as CEO and block the deal,” he says. “I thought that was a great dramatic moment.”


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