About halfway through the first season of HBOs Succession, as the unscrupulous members of the Roy family empire were busy clawing each others eyes out, a surprisingly delightful relationship bloomed between Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) and Greg (Nicholas Braun). Tom is the turtleneck-wearing, brown-nosing fiancé of Shiv Roy (Sarah Snook), so eager to marry into the Waystar Royco power center that he signs an “unconscionable” pre-nup and swallows all manner of insults from his future in-laws. He asserts what little influence he has over Greg, the obliging cousin late to enter the family fold—acting as playful conspirator one second before sucker-punching him the next.
A funny thing happened, though, in Episode 6, “Which Side Are You On”: Tom, the slippery, suspendered sycophant suddenly became sympathetic. (Chalk it partly up to Shivs flirtations with an old flame.) And Toms totally toxic relationship with Greg became the highlight of the series.
The shift came—as all great, game-changing moments in relationships usually do—during a conversation about California Pizza Kitchen. In the scene, Greg has finally gotten his first paycheck; Tom, in a celebratory mood, suggests he and Greg hit the town. Once Greg realizes that Tom isnt actually joking, Greg relaxes.
Greg: I was thinking about maybe going to . . . have you ever visited the California Pizza Kitchen?
Tom: No. Dear Lord, no.
Greg: Its pretty delicious, Tom.
Tom: No, no it isnt, Greg.
Greg: They make a Cajun chicken linguini just how I like it.
Tom: But thats not how youre supposed to like it. You probably have quite an undereducated palate. So lets go out and Ill teach you. And Ill show you how to be rich.
From there, the relationship goes in an incredible new direction—as if the Succession writers picked up on the chemistry between Macfadyen and Braun and decided, “Screw it. This is fun. Lets write some Greg-and-Tom fan fiction.”
The next Tom-Greg scene features the two consummating their bromance over a five-star French meal that requires—to Gregs horror—them to eat illegal songbirds, heads included. It is during this sequence that Tom delivers the best line of the episode, and possibly the series, as only his douchey character could: “Heres the thing about being rich,” Tom tells Greg, leaning in to let his unfortunate protégé in on a secret. “Its fucking great. Its like being a superhero, only better . . . you get to do what you want . . . you get to wear a costume, only its designed by Armani and doesnt make you look like a prick.”
Greg and Tom cement their dysfunctional bond over gold-flecked shots and a shared secret regarding Toms bachelor-party exploits. By the time Tom and Greg make it to the Roy family pile in England—in last Sundays episode, “Pre-Nuptial”—Greg is Toms closest confidant. And despite the truly fucked-up way Tom has treated Greg, Greg wants to protect Tom—trying to tell Tom about Shivs affair. In a series replete with relationships eroded by cynicism and selfishness, Greg and Tom come to share a bond that is oddly sweet and hopeful. Would a mental-health professional be appalled by the power dynamic of this relationship? Yes! Does Greg need a crash course on establishing professional boundaries? Yesterday! Would Tom critically injure Greg if it mean that he could leapfrog his incompetent future brothers-in-law and become Logan Roys First Lieutenant? Have you met Tom? By episode 10, he might soften the blow by first serving Greg a 2003 Chateau Margaux Bordeaux Blend that his unrefined palate couldnt possibly appreciate, but yes! Hed be doing Greg a favor, putting him out of his Cajun-chicken-linguini-indulging misery. Knowing how much Greg suffers, would we still subscribe-all to a spin-off devoted to this hilariously, harmful relationship? Of course.
What makes Toms dick-tastic behavior even more impressive is that the character is played by Matthew Macfadyen, the English actor who embodied the ultimate in romantic dreamboats, Mr. Darcy, in 2005s Pride & Prejudice, opposite Keira Knightleys Elizabeth Bennet. In a recent conversation with Vanity Fair, Macfadyen said he was just as surprised as audience members to see how toxically well Tom and Greg hit it off.
“I dont know how much [creator] Jesse Armstrong and his team knew the relationship would become as weird and bromance-y and odd and sort of weirdly symbiotic as it becomes towards the end. I like to think that they saw how much Nick and I really loved working together”—and scripted scenes together accordingly, he said. “With Nick and I, there is a real delight in playing those scenes.”
The power dynamic is part of the fun: “I know Tom is really threatened by Greg because, I guess, hes an outsider to this family too. Hes really rattled by him in the beginning, and just gets nastier and nastier.”
Macfadyen has come to find that insulting Greg, even if in character, is kind of therapeutic. “Oh, yeah. Its great,” he conceded. “Tom can be the worst sort of slimy, toady, nasty, terrible sort of baby in many ways . . . but there is also something weirdly simply sweet about him.” Referencing last Sundays episode, in which Tom sweetly caters to his Midwestern mother and father, the actor said, “I found that very funny, all the stuff about his mum being his lawyer as well. Shes an attorney in the Twin Cities, and Shiv really sort of takes the piss out of him and his mum, but hes quite defensive about his mother.”
One of Macfadyens favorite scenes came in Episode 4, “Sad Sack Wasp Trap,” when the family is at a black-tie function and Tom, thinking that Greg has ratted him out, corners his underling. “Did you bitch me out, pig man?” asks Tom, inching close to Gregs face. When Greg delicately touches him on the chest and steps back—distancing himself from Toms flying spittle—Tom lashes out, “Are assaults going to be ongoing?”
Said Macfadyen, “There were a couple of scenes in that episode we were really looking forward to . . . We had a hard time getting past the pig man line. Adam Arkin, the director, was like, Come on. You have to get it together. We just broke up every time.”
Nicholas Braun, who plays Greg, said that the two frequently crack each other up—a stressful occurrence when you are shooting on film, and every wasted take is lost money. Its the ridiculous lines that get them, Braun told the Ringer, as well as the fact that, as outsiders, “Tom is another version of Greg. So its like two guys kind of looking at each other, being like, Were both clueless, but we pretend to know everything. The dynamic is so fun, and Matthew is just such a great guy.”
Macfadyen was quick to return the compliment: “Hes the loveliest, funniest, sweetest man, hilarious, and just a supremely good actor. So we just got on really well from the get-go. I sort of defy anyone not to get on with Nick.” Speaking about how Successions writers paired Tom and Greg more and more as the season went on, Macfadyen said, “I think Tom and Greg were just so delicious that people were laughing their heads off.”
For viewers who enjoy Toms scenes with Greg, know that even goofier footage of the duo exists. Macfadyen said that Armstrong would often give him this note: “Matthew, I think you need to really tone down the silliness a bit. Tom is running a billion-dollar sub-company.” Said Macfadyen, “Tom runs the parks division. So he cant be a total prick. But I guess he can a little [on this show], because everyones making mistakes, just behaving like absolute assholes. Theyre not so slick and cool. Theyre rich as Croesus, and miserable. . . . Perhaps hes a little more cheerful than the rest of them, but hes not without ambition.”
When asked whether Macfadyen has any hopes for Tom—particularly as his relationship relates to Greg—in the shows second season, the actor demurred: “I admire our writers so much, and I trust them so much, I just sort of cant wait to see and hear what theyve come up with.”
Part of me—knowing how venomous the Roy family empire is—hopes that Tom and Greg are able to escape the familys clutches and live out their own toxically endearing Thelma & Louise–esque afterlife. When presented with this, Macfadyen agreed that the scenario did not sound so bad.
“Maybe theyll be transmigrated somewhere else, and they can go run sort of wild in Okinawa or somewhere,” he said.
Get Vanity Fairs HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Julie MillerJulie Miller is a Senior Hollywood writer for Vanity Fairs website.