‘Succession’ Star Alexander Skarsgård on Dropping a “Golden Hand Grenade” Into the Final Season

[This story contains spoilers for the seventh episode of Succession season four, “Tailgate Party.”]

As a wise man lost on a strange island once said: “The numbers are bad!” If Waystar Royco co-CEOs Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) weren’t set on tanking the sale to streaming and tech giant GoJo before, they certainly have all the incentive they need now: purchaser Lukas Mattson (Alexander Skarsgård) is lying about his company’s subscriber numbers, in ways that only make sense if a second India exists.

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The bomb goes off in “Tailgate Party,” set on the eve of Election Day. Kendall, Roman and sister Shiv (Sarah Snook) honor their late father‘s previously planned party, assembling many of the top movers and shakers of the United States, politicians and industrialists alike. For her part, Shiv’s secretly whispering in Matsson’s ear, angling to undermine her brothers and wrest away company control into her own hands. But in that effort, while introducing Matsson to the individuals he’ll rub up against in the world where he acquires Waystar, word starts circulating that the man’s subscriber numbers are radically inflated, to the point that Kendall’s new plan involved buying GoJo, rather than selling.

First appearing in season three’s “Too Much Birthday,” Matsson was initially envisioned as a two-episode role for Skarsgård. Instead, Succession faces down the barrel of its final few episodes with Matsson as the final boss for Kendall, Roman and Shiv to clear. Ahead, The Hollywood Reporter checks in with the actor about embodying the tech giant, his strengths and weaknesses, and all the blood in the water beyond the liters he’s sending to his colleagues.

Alexander Skarsgård as Lukas Matsson.

You were a Succession fan before you joined the cast. When you first signed up and started shooting season three, could you see the path for Matsson’s deep involvement in the endgame?

No, not at all. When my agent called, they mentioned that it was two episodes. I have a hard time following shows, between work and travel. At the time, Succession was probably the only show I was watching religiously. When new episodes dropped, I would always watch them. I was a fan of Jesse Armstrong from Peep Show, and I thought the writing, the acting and everything about Succession was so spectacular. So when they reached out, I didn’t need to read a script. If they’d wanted me to come on as an extra, I would have done it.

It’s like when actors play stormtroopers on Star Wars just to get on set.

Kind of! It just looked like all the actors were having so much fun. I didn’t know anyone on the show, but from watching, I thought it looked like the dream gig. Not only are they extremely talented, but the writing is just so spectacular. Everything about it. Going into it, I was thrilled to play just for a few days. But then, we wrapped season three, and based on how it ended, clearly there was a way for Matsson to return, but we hadn’t discussed it creatively. I was only supposed to do those two episodes, and it ended up being three. I didn’t know until the beginning of last year when Jesse called and asked me back, and explained to me a bit about the storyline, and how Matsson was coming into it and the role he would play in the structure of it all.

He also mentioned the blood bricks. That got me salivating.

Oh! That’s part of the initial pitch? I might have said, “Jesse, you had me until ‘blood bricks.'”

Oh, it was quite the opposite. Not that he didn’t already have me! Because like I said, watching the show, it looked like a dream, and then being on the show, it was better than I could have imagined. It really was one of the greatest and most creatively fulfilling jobs I’ve had, from people behind the camera and on. So of course I wanted to come on, but it did not make me any less excited when Jesse said, “There might be an ex-girlfriend he keeps sending frozen bricks of his blood to.” (Laughs.) I said, “Ooh, that’s delicious.”

“Do I have to film any of that?”

I wish! That’ll be season five.

Don’t tease us with a good time. We’re learning more about Matsson in this episode, with the inflated numbers in India. There’s some question about whether he’s actually this once-in-a-lifetime talent or if he’s basically a PR creation. For you, when you tap into Matsson, what’s the balance between his genius and his incompetence?

He’s definitely a bull in a china shop. He subscribes to the philosophy “move fast and break things.” He’s an agent of chaos. He loves it. He’s not a PR-created … there’s nothing fake about him. If you want to call it “genius,” he’s just so out there and chaotic. He moves at such a high clip, and is so relentless and so unafraid, that he’s a tsunami of energy and ideas. He struck gold years ago, creating something that everyone wanted. It made him a gazillionaire. It also gave him a lot of leverage to move even faster and break even more things. When you have that much money and you have that much weight to throw around, some things work and some things don’t. But that’s fine, just because of the arsenal of weapons you have at your disposal. It makes him an 800-pound gorilla. He can throw a lot of money at something. There’s a fearlessness that’s benefited him in his career. He’s ruthless. There’s something about the chaos he creates that excites him. That’s why this whole deal with Waystar excites him. It’s thrilling. It’s not about the money for him anymore. He’s beyond wealthy. It’s the excitement of big shit happening.

Nate Sofrelli (Ashley Zukerman, left) with Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Matsson (Skarsgård).

Last week, Kendall makes the price-rocket play, and this week, we find out Matsson’s similarly inflating some critical numbers. The two men go toe-to-toe near the end of this episode, and it struck me how similar they are in some important ways. Do you think Matsson sees Kendall as an equal at all, or no chance?

I think there are definite similarities. But deep down, there’s something about the nepotism that bothers him about all of the Roy kids. He really doesn’t think they would be where they are without their father. It takes a lot for him to respect them. Shiv is building up that respect, slowly, but they’re not even close to their dad’s level. He thought their dad was an asshole, but a brilliant asshole. These guys? They’re fake.

You think Matsson even feels that way about Shiv? I was curious how you viewed their relationship with each other, especially after Shiv all but says she wants to be his CEO.

He’s one hundred percent using her. It’s a wedge in between the siblings. He sees an opening. He’s a predator. He sees that he needs to get at least one of them on board. Roman is out, but he smells blood in the water, this friction between the siblings. He smells the opening. He does move fast and break things, but he can read people. He sees that in Shiv, and he goes after that. It’s worked. She’s let him in. Where we’re at now, he’s still feeling the waters and testing her out. Is she also a charlatan? Is she just like her siblings, a little Nepo Baby, or does she have what it takes? That’s what he’s trying to figure out.

One of my favorite Matsson moments came last season when he tells Roman about how he loves exploiting weaknesses. Do you think Matsson is aware of some of his own weaknesses, or is that lack of self-awareness a weakness in itself?

I think you’re right. Sometimes he has a macro perspective. Sometimes, it’s incredibly micro. For example, he’s sending blood bricks to Ebba (Eili Harboe), and there’s something dangerous about that, obviously. If she goes public, it’s really bad for him. But in the moment, he doesn’t think about it, because it’s a really funny thing. He just keeps doing it. It triggers something in him. There are definitely moments where he realizes, “Oh, shit, I’ve definitely stepped in it here. Fuck.” But he’s also an eternal optimist: “Okay, well, we’ll fucking figure it out. I have a big machine of PR people. They’ll handle it.” I think he also really believes in his own charisma and charm, to a ridiculous degree. “Ebba, we’ll figure it out; she has some leverage, but she loves me, this fucking weird, dysfunctional, sadistic relationship that we’re having.” He assumes she’s addicted to it, so it’s safe. But he’s completely unhinged at times, which is obviously quite fun to play.

It really comes across in this episode, where sometimes, Mattson looks like he’s in the exact last place on Earth he wants to be. Then other times, he’s regal. At its worst, it was a compelling night for people-watching.

Well, it was like throwing a golden hand grenade into a room of grey suits. Hence the golden jacket. It was one of the best sequences to film, for many reasons. One of them was, we were all there. Up until then, there were some actors on the show who I hadn’t worked with, some of them I’d never even met. This was a week of night shoots where we all got to hang out at this crazy penthouse apartment, and I got to interact with characters for the first time, which was so much fun. Then with Matsson, we got to see what’s boring to him? What’s surprising and fun? How does he navigate this room? With Shiv putting him on the little PR tour, how does he navigate that while being himself but also holding back a little bit, to not come across as too eccentric and unhinged? And what happens when he’s been there for too long? What happens when he gets bored? Because his attention span is incredibly short. Matsson doesn’t get bored. When he starts feeling bored, he changes things up. It’s not a breaking point, but when he gets restless, he’ll fucking go crazy and have some fun.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

Succession releases new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO and Max. Follow along with THR‘s Succession final season coverage.

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