In the first few seasons of "Succession," Matthew Macfadyen's Tom Wambgans is only sort of a player in the political intrigue. Sure, he has a pretty high position at Waystar Royco, a direct line to the wealthy family who owns it, and eventually marries Shiv (Sarah Snook), a contender for the corporate throne — but he's such a spineless people-pleaser that none of that really matters. Until it really, really does. In the meantime, in the lead-up to his strategic swerve, Tom does have one feather in his cap: his relationship with Greg the Egg (Nicholas Braun).
New to the world of wealth but trying painfully hard to fit in, Tom is an easy punching bag for the rest of the Roy family (especially his wife). Which is why Greg's presence is such a welcome relief: finally, someone low enough on the corporate ladder that Tom gets the chance to punch down! But because it's "Succession" — sharp, layered and incisive — their relationship runs a lot deeper than just petty bullying. "It's certainly a case of kicking the cat with ol' Gregory," Macfadyen explained on an episode of NPR's Fresh Air. "But also, there's just so much there or so much that we, Nick and I, have sort of brought to it and then the writers."
Together, the weirdo outsiders share an odd kinship. Sometimes Tom is pelting Greg with water bottles and other times he's down on one knee, proposing that they join forces to betray the Roy siblings. The way their relationship evolves is undeniably strange, but also wonderfully organic — like so many of the unexpected plot points in the series. According to Macfadyen, that's because of the give-and-take that comes from the show's writer-performer dynamic.
'There Is A Circularity With The Acting And The Writing.'
The natural chemistry between Braun and Macfadyen helped to create the twisted tension that defines the Tom-Greg relationship: jealousy and animosity, cushioned by occasional, genuine affection. Having someone to bully certainly helps to keep Tom steady, but a huge part of that is just having someone he can count on. Even if their entire purpose is just receiving his rage.
"There is a circularity with the acting and the writing," Macfadyen explained. "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."
While Tom's animosity towards Greg was always in the pilot script, the details of their relationship evolved over time as the writers embraced the hilarity of Braun and Macfadyen together onscreen. Though a prestige drama with such sharp dialogue doesn't seem like the natural space for improvisation, spontaneity is baked into the "Succession" DNA. Much of this has to do with the way episodes are shot, giving actors room (and expectation) to adlib and react.
Theater alums like Brian Cox and Jeremy Strong have compared filming the series to being onstage: just because the camera isn't pointed in their direction, doesn't mean they aren't in character. At all times, the camera acts as a player in the room, constantly moving with snap zooms and rack focus, swinging unpredictably to face them. With that as a source of energy, relationships like Tom and Greg gain more depth. And they aren't the only ones.
Enter The Rockstar And The Mole Woman
"I think that the Roman-Gerri relationship started like that," Macfadyen pointed out during his NPR chat. At this point, Culkin and Cameron have recounted the story many times: Roman and Gerri's intimate relationship was born outside of the writer's room. It was largely a product of the two actors being longtime friends and collaborators, having both starred in "Margaret" and "The Starry Messenger," in addition to Culkin starring in plays penned by Smith-Cameron's husband, Kenneth Lonergan.
"I would flirt with J. in the most obnoxious way, just to f*** around," Culkin explained in his 2021 profile with The Hollywood Reporter. The most oft-cited example is from the filming of the season 1 finale, "Nobody Is Ever Missing," when Culkin and Smith-Cameron jokingly checked out each other's butts during a couple of different takes. While their improvised flirtation didn't make the final cut, it did serve as a spark of inspiration. By season 2, Roman and Gerri were ready to take their relationships to the next level: slime puppy sex talk through a bathroom door.
In the case of "the rockstar and the mole woman," what began as a silly joke between old friends has become one of the most compelling relationships in the entire series — not just for the sake of laughs, either. Roman's relationship with Gerri carries some real emotional weight, especially going into the fourth season when she opted to side with his father in the war for Waystar Royco. Much like Tom and Greg, it's an unexpected dynamic that grows more complex by the season and goes a long way when it comes to highlighting what makes this show so special.
Read this next: The Best TV Shows Of 2022, Ranked
The post Succession's Cast Has Accidentally Added Entire Storylines To The Series appeared first on /Film.