Matthew Macfadyen: Actors in superhero movies are ‘doing it for the money’

Matthew Macfadyen has an excellent profile in Vanity Fair. I think he probably agreed to the interview to promote Operation Mincemeat (on Netflix), but there’s certainly a lot of talk of Succession in this piece. For American audiences, I’m sure his Succession character, Tom Wambsgans, is his iconic role and the role people will associate with Macfadyen for the rest of his life. He’s very, very good in Succession, but all of this brings up the fundamental issue of his career: he’s clearly a leading man, he’s tall, handsome, talented. So why has he spent his career doing character roles in ensembles for the most part? That’s what this VF piece tries to answer. Some highlights:

He prefers being a working actor: “When I was 14, Kenneth Branagh was making Henry V and directing and had his own company and was a sort of whirlwind. And I remember thinking, That’ll be me!” Macfadyen followed Branagh’s path to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, only to realize “I’m not Kenneth Branagh. I don’t have that Laurence Olivier/Kenneth Branagh energy to create my own stuff. I’m very happy being purely an actor. Also, if you’re a director, you need to know the answer to everybody’s questions. You can’t go and lay down in between takes.”

Falling for Keeley Hawes, who was married at the time: Romance developed between Macfadyen and Hawes while shooting MI-5. She had very recently married the father of her young baby son. “Matthew just came straight out with it and said ‘I love you’ in the rain one day. I thought, Oh dear, here we go,” Hawes later told a reporter. The British tabloids and paparazzi swarmed the couple, closely following Hawes’s divorce and 2004 wedding to Macfadyen.

Playing Mr. Darcy: “I wish I had enjoyed it more. But I did feel pressure—maybe it was a self-imposed pressure of, you know: This is a big film, don’t get it wrong.” He says Pride & Prejudice was the first time he’d been fed through the publicity machine. “Which I didn’t like and I didn’t understand.” During the Pride & Prejudice shoot, the studio put him on a special diet and had a personal trainer whittle him into svelte Darcy mode. “I didn’t feel very Mr. Darcy–ish. I felt like a bit of a middle-aged dad.” But Colin Firth, the Gen X Darcy to Macfadyen’s millennial Darcy, instantly grasped his successor’s appeal. “I finally understood the character!” he tells me via email. “I had to write a fan letter. Definitely my favourite Darcy.”

On Tom Wambsgans: “He’s not without ambition and vanity,… Tom would open the gates to the death camps.” Spending so much time in his character’s head during the past five years has made Macfadyen look at politicians differently. “That’s the really depressing thing about the Republican Party. You think: I don’t believe you, you’re just a Wambsgans! You’re just doing this to toe the line. Wambsganning! If you just are dumb and bigoted, that’s [one thing]. But if you’re just spinning it, then it’s really contemptible.”

On dealing with Method actors like Jeremy Strong: “I find it slightly aggravating because—it makes [the show] about one thing, and it’s an ensemble piece… You think of J. Smith-Cameron and Alan Ruck, who are f–king extraordinary actors. [Strong] is not the main event.” Macfadyen is annoyed by the implication that actors who don’t stay in character “aren’t as invested, or as involved, as someone who’s weeping in a corner… I look at Jeremy—that’s Kendall Roy, and so my heart starts banging a bit faster. Because I’ve made the imaginative leap. Because that’s my job. It’s not about what I’m feeling or what state I’ve got myself in before, or any of that. That’s not to say that’s wrong. That’s just not useful.”

He didn’t enjoy his 30s: “It was like, Am I old? Am I young? Why have I put on all this weight? What am I supposed to be? It was a relief to hit 40. And I feel quite excited about my 50s as well. It’s a sneaky sense of relief.”

He’s not interested in doing superhero movies: “I’ve done one big film like that, and it was a green-screen thing. It’s ass-paralyzingly boring, just acting to tennis balls and dots on the screen. You’re doing it for the money.”

[From Vanity Fair]

“Ass-paralyzingly boring” is such an excellent turn of phrase. No, I don’t think all of the superhero actors are doing it for the money, but some of them are. And I appreciate the fact that Matthew just noped out of it. His personality does seem more suited to character work, supporting roles in ensembles and that kind of thing. I imagine it’s more fulfilling for him creatively, and he gets to spend more time with his kids. As for the stuff about Method actors… whew, it sounds like he doesn’t really respect Strong’s method, huh?

PS… I honestly didn’t know that his wife Keeley was married when they fell for each other. Imagine Matthew telling you he loves you in the rain and you’re married to someone else. That must have been like a bomb going off in her life. They have two kids together, and Keeley has a son from her first marriage.

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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92 Responses to “Matthew Macfadyen: Actors in superhero movies are ‘doing it for the money’”

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  1. Abby says:

    Ok I had to laugh a little at him telling Keeley he loved her. In the rain. Before the pride & prejudice rain proposal scene? That movie came out in 2005, but I wonder when that scene was filmed.

    He is my favorite Darcy. Even if he didn’t want to be. 😆

    • Nick G says:

      @Abby that is exactly where my mind went. I had to go to IMDb to remember the year.

    • Erin says:

      Same. Having that Halle bin real life? Omg, I’d be deceased and have the opposite reaction of Lizzy lol.

    • Kimmy says:

      No offense to my husband, but if the McFayden version of Mr. Darcy told me he loved me in the rain, I would say yes too.

      My fav Darcy!!! Yes, I am a millennial.

      • DouchesOfCambridge says:

        I dream that my husband would be that romantic and tell me he loves me under the rain. I cannot say yes to anybody else, that’s how blinded by love I am… lol but mcfadyen is my favorite Mr Darcy and I named my dog after him. 😂 The vet was like, “his name rings a bell????” 😂 yeah girl, you know

    • Sugarhere says:

      Colin Firth has set the stadard so high as Darcy, both in terms of physical gorgeousness and realistic acting skills, that it mustn’t have been easy for Macfadyen to take up the role.

      When I saw the Pride & Prejudice version starring Keira Knightley, I wasn’t impressed at all: her posing as an extrovert and being so outgoing and so bubbly and so loud in the movie failed to portray the typical demure, coy 18th century English lady. And Matthew Macfadyen’s extremely reserved, melancholy, introvert temperament didn’t do it for to convey the typical brashness of the upper class heir. I know you girls looove him, but his lack of stamina makes me want to shake him.

      • Shawna says:

        I’m late to the party here, but Mr. Darcy isn’t supposed to be the typical upper-class heir. For one, he already inherited, so he’s the owner of his massive estate when we meet him already. And he’s not titled, so he couldn’t act too snobby without being ridiculed for it. But the bigger issue is that he is too withdrawn and anxious to play the role he’s supposed to, and that makes him look cold and arrogant. If Mr. Darcy had been a typical Regency buck, he’d have been married long before he came into the Bennets’ neighborhood.

    • Stephie says:

      Same! Did not expect to be converted but love his Darcy. My husband is binging Succession and I have to try very hard to put a wall up between his character in that show and his Mr. Darcy!

  2. Nancy says:

    Everyday millions of people go to work and do it for the money. Must be nice to be this smug asshole.

    • Ms single malt says:

      Did you read the article and get the context? Sigh …

      Thanks for the post. Enjoyable read.

    • Mcmmom says:

      Oh come ON. Did you read the quote? He’s talking about SUPER HERO MOVIES, not knocking everyone who is working for the money.

      • Sass says:

        The quote was taken out of context. He didn’t say “actors are doing it for the money.” The entire actual quote is included above.

        “I’ve done one big film like that, and it was a green-screen thing. It’s ass-paralyzingly boring, just acting to tennis balls and dots on the screen. You’re doing it for the money.”

        Obviously yes a paid actor does any work for the money, but his point is that movies like that aren’t challenging. Not just for him, but for anyone. He’s not knocking anyone, he’s saying “it’s boring acting to an inanimate object. It’s not enjoyable.” Because yes while he’s paid to do it, he can still have preferences as to what jobs he takes. And he prefers to decline green screen films.

        Hope you understand now.

    • Rapunzel says:

      I think he just meant actors in superhero movies are doing it for money and not to act, since there’s so much green screen/motion capture.

      I don’t think he thinks that’s bad, just boring and not for him.

      • Nancy says:

        I got that he is talking about superhero movies. It’s the same as anyone who looks down on people who do any type of job that they think is “lesser”. In his case the job that is lesser is one involved in that particular genre of film. He remains a smug entitled asshole.

      • Emmi says:

        Oh Lord. Yes, most people go to work solely for the money BUT none of us wax poetic about it. That was his point. I enjoy the occasional superhero movie and I know they must be a chore to make for many actors. I don’t care and I don’t need to be lied to about it.

    • Lisbeth says:

      I agree with your take on this. And I’d add that it takes talent to take on a superhero character and make it believable. It’s not easy -just ask the people in DC.

      • The Recluse says:

        Look at Chris Evans. He made Steve Rogers a sympathetic human being and not a piece of cardboard. He made him iconic. That’s talent and it shouldn’t be underappreciated.
        Look at Chadwick Boseman. Iconic character and iconic performance that had a huge impact.
        I’m tired of this diss.

    • D says:

      He means already successful people with money taking super hero movies just for more money since the process of making those movies is not particularly interesting or challenging for many of them. I mean I guess he’s being smug but he’s certainly not talking down to every person who takes jobs for money. He’s talking about a specific group of already successful people taking things so they can make more money than they already have.

    • AppleCart says:

      To be fair no one goes into an acting career for the medical insurance and 401K benefits. It’s a an artform and you’re not supposed to be in it for the paycheck.

      I get what he is saying. And I am not offended since I have a regular 9-5 office job.

    • The Old Chick says:

      Tbh he sounds pretty insufferable all through the interview (imo), let alone that bit. I thought he was very average as Darcy and in general he’s not an especially good actor. He’s not the worst but he’s not great.

    • Lux says:

      I 100% get what you (@Nancy) and McFadden are saying and I agree with both of you. Count my husband as the millions of people who work in a job/ industry for the money. Count me as the person who would never say no to the millions offered from a role in a Marvel movie (full disclosure: only actually enjoyed Iron Man and Black Panther and I’ve maybe seen, 5 of them?). McFadden is smug because he is (was?) in a position to say no to a role in the Marcel universe, but that’s his decision to make. And I agree that after a while, those movies are NOT prestige and the acting/writing can be mind-numbingly stale. If you’re in the position to say no, good for you.

  3. jo73c says:


  4. Abby’s Mom says:

    He will always be Mr. Darcy. The scene of him walking across the meadow…. Oof.

    • MMC says:

      I think his defining role people will remeber him for is Mr Darcy, and I love his portrayal. I know Colin’s version is truer to the book, but the socially awkward Darcy is so so much more appealing.

      • Erin says:

        Certainly for me it is. I had that dvd on repeat in college and still today it’s a comfort movie for me.

      • Abby says:

        Yes, it’s definitely a comfort movie for me too. As well as the soundtrack. I don’t really like to re-watch movies, but this is one that I will watch many times. It was iconic to me in college, and I actually walked down the aisle to that sunrise scene music. And our wedding program had “You have bewitched me body and soul…” on it. 🙂 It sounds cheesy but I do NOT care haha.

      • Erin says:

        @Abby, that’s amazing and I love it so much! I also love movie soundtracks so I for sure have this one on my phone too.

    • Christine says:

      It’s embarrassing how many times I have watched just that scene. His Pride and Prejudice is like a hug, for me. I’m Gen-X, but Matthew is my Mr. Darcy.

  5. Lolalola says:

    Love him, love him, love him. If you haven’t seen Ripper Street, you are seriously missing out.

  6. Pointillist says:

    I would love to have sex with this man.

    • SquiddusMaximus says:

      Right to the point! And yes. I concur.

    • k says:

      I was coming here to try to say this in a more roundabout way, but you nailed it. I, too, would love to have sex with this man.

    • nutella toast says:

      He’s practically got himself a Cannon-sized group of willingness.

    • Driver8 says:

      I’ll add my name to this list. I don’t care how far back in line I have to be, just as long as I can hit it.

    • Abby's Mom says:

      😂. same

    • MissMarirose says:

      Is this the queue for that? Let me step in. lol

    • Christine says:

      So say we all!

      • SquiddusMaximus says:

        Oh, heavens. Love you guys and these comments!

        And if I indeed sex the man, I will make sure he gets plenty fed and watered for the next in line.

      • Mabs A'Mabbin says:

        Frakkin’ A so say we all. But first, candlelit dinner and some unbelievable Cabernet….then I could just fall into his lap to quietly and slowly unbutton him. Rawr.

    • Eating Popcorn says:

      I have been in love with him since the aughts & his MI5 days… I do love his quote, ‘when I was 14, Kenneth Branagh was making Henry V and directing and had his own company and was a sort of whirlwind. And I remember thinking, That’ll be me…only to realize “I’m not Kenneth Branagh.”‘

  7. rawiya says:

    So what if they’re doing it for the money? Bills need to be paid. Some actors and directors need to get over themselves and their holier than thou attitudes about super hero movies. At the end of the day, acting in a Marvel film or starring in an HBO show amounts to the same thing. None of these people are curing cancer or figuring out how to stop global warming. And I think having to be in front of a green screen acting with a dot would be a lot harder than being in a scene with another person. At least you can play off the other person, you can know where to look, etc. But what do I know?

    • Mireille says:

      Agreed. I have friends who are working actors here in NYC and they would love the opportunities that Downey, Evans, or even Macfadyen got working in front of green screen and getting paid millions for it. I understand that’s he speaking about his own experience, but, he’s not any more talented than my friends who’ve studied acting and pound the pavement on regular basis looking to audition for any role that will give them to chance to do what they love AND get paid for it. He’s lucky and blessed that he can earn a steady income from acting — many working actors don’t.

  8. Miss Owlsyn says:

    Boy I was prepared to go off on these pretentious ass edgelord actors gatekeeping what is and isn’t considered art (and I am an expert on pretentious edgelords, my ex used to manage a Hot Topic) when I read this headline. But his full quote here makes it clear, to me at least, that he’s just talking about his personal preferences as far as acting. It isn’t his bag. I appreciate that I didn’t go off on Marvel destroying the art of cinema.

    So, carry on.

    • Christine says:

      I completely agree with you. My hackles have been up for a while over the crop of self-important men bitching about superhero movies, but that is not what Matthew Macfadyen is doing here.

      No one can ever convince me Ryan Reynolds doesn’t absolutely love being Deadpool, he’s the one that comes to mind, for me, who is not just doing it for the money.

      • Miss Owlsyn says:

        Ryan Reynolds is a great example. Deadpool was his passion project. He would do it for free, I am sure.

        Maybe this is me speaking as a disabled person, or someone who is not very brave in real life, but if I could play a super hero on the big screen? If I got to wear a cool outfit and save the day and stand in front of a green screen in a wire rig so I could “fly”? Like, I would do that in a heartbeat. It would be awesome. My own action figure? Sign me the eff up.

  9. Michael says:

    Considering how many marriages have ended because somebody fell for a costar or hooked up with somebody on set I wonder why anyone would marry an actor. You hear stories even about the ones who appear grounded and stable. If I was a really good actor and Marvel offered me a role I would take it in a heartbeat. Make that money while you can then spend the rest of your life doing Shakespeare in the Park

    • The Recluse says:

      Yep, that is the way. Use the commercial projects to make the indie projects. Or to do all the Shakespeare you want.

  10. Roo says:

    I will always see him as his character in MI-5. Loved that show.

  11. Becks1 says:

    Yeah I always assumed that most Marvel stars are doing it for the paychecks. I can’t blame them, they’re nice paychecks, lol. He’s not slamming Marvel movies, just saying that process isnt for him, he likes acting.

    Colin Firth is still the best Darcy, but I do like MacFadyen in the role.

  12. teecee says:

    He’s absolutely right, and it’s a testament to how far the internet discourse has shifted in the past 5-10 years that he hasn’t been immediately torn to pieces over stating this very obvious fact. (But notice the actors who do take the checks still have to pretend to love these movies or the fans throw tantrums. And I bet had he been a woman or person of color or both saying the same thing, the reaction would be viscous. Still some ways to go.)

  13. Squiddus says:

    I adore Matthew to bits, but I’ve had it with the condescension toward Marvel movies. Anyone paying the least but if attention knows Marvel expands acting and directing opportunities to women and minorities and allows them to bring very distinctive voices to each movie or series.

    Black Panther was effing cathartic as a piece of celebratory black culture – the costuming alone was epic. Done by a woman of culture. Ms Marvel, Shang-Chi, Winter Soldier & Falcon – all used their platform to bring nuanced social-cultural-historical issues to a mass audience.

    And for every Scorsese and Macfayden, there is a Christian Bale, Russell Crowe, Charlize Theron, Cate Blanchett, etc, happy to participate. They ARE serious actors, and they do NOT need a paycheck.

    I’m also a 40-yr-old mom, for some context.

    • Twin Falls says:

      I’m completely over hearing everyone’s personal opinion on Marvel movies but every interviewer seems to bring it up and that quote will become the headline. Gets your article out there.

      I found his comments on working with a method actor way more interesting than his thoughts on working with a green screen.

    • Blithe says:

      Thank you! Aside from the fact that most people who work are actually doing it —at least in part — for the money, what stands out is that this guy obviously has not attended a general performance of either Black Panther or Shang Chi. He has not experienced being a part of an audience where most of us are reveling in the complex emotions of finally —FINALLY — seeing people who look like ourselves represented on the big screen as superheroes. He also has no idea —and probably doesn’t care — what the idea and ideals of even a CGI “Wakanda” mean to some of us.

      I do get what he’s saying about his experience as an actor, but his viewpoint and his experiences and his empathy all seem a bit limited.

      • Christine says:

        Add Wonder Woman to the list. I embarrassed myself, repeatedly, in the theater, bursting into random tears when Gal Gadot was kicking the ass of every single man on screen with her. I felt powerful, and I was just eating popcorn and Skittles.

      • SquiddusMaximus says:

        Christine: x10
        I don’t know how I missed WW, because I too cried such happy tears. FINALLY.

        This is a side note, but I’ve learned so much about African fashion, hair, and clothing since Black Panther. I’m full-bore delighted when I see those actors strut the red carpet paying homage to such a rich cultural tradition that white-bread girls like me were not exposed to.

        Say what you will about these movies not being high-brow enough; they are culturally transformative. And thats effing art.

    • tealily says:

      I thought his comments were pretty innocuous. He said he didn’t have a good time doing something similar and doesn’t care to pursue that. He’s not trashing the genre or anything. Is everyone expected to be frothing at the mouth for these roles?

      • C says:

        I think people are reading things into his comments that he never meant at all. It was clearly a very casual comment and honestly yes, most actors do these big budget films for the money and the special ones are the exceptions. He didn’t say it was bad, just not for him.

  14. Margot says:

    Best Darcy. Love how Colin Firth “got” the character when he saw Matthew’s version!

    • Christine says:

      That was my favorite part of the article too! What an AMAZING compliment, I like Colin Firth more than ever. That was such a cool move.

  15. C says:

    His actual statement was pretty general: ‘He admits he has no appetite for following so many other British actors into superhero movies or science fiction blockbusters. “I’ve done one big film like that, and it was a green-screen thing. It’s ass-paralyzingly boring, just acting to tennis balls and dots on the screen. You’re doing it for the money.’

    I’d guess he was talking about his appearance in something like Robin Hood with Ridley Scott which seems to be the “big action” movie in his repertoire. Which I can see being mind-numbing to film.

    • Abby says:

      He was also in the Three Musketeers. Lots of green screen there.

      • The Recluse says:

        I remember being kind of excited to hear what the cast to that version of the Three Musketeers was going to be and then I tried to watch it. It had no fun, no joy to it. I’ll stick to the Richard Lester version with Michael York, Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain and Frank Finlay.

      • Deering24 says:

        Yeah, that was a surprisingly tedious and dumb version. Even though it did have Orlando Bloom playing a right dishy villain…🙃🙃

    • K.T says:

      Yes, I saw his comment was more about his personal experience and he could just be using the ‘you’re doing it for the money’ to mean in his circumstances only – like he doesn’t feel adept at that sort of acting (green screen, big studio, high octane productions) so he realistically did it for the money.

      • Icey says:

        I read it that way too. It sounded more like he was talking about himself in the second person and making generalizations about the experience (which is still problematic), but not necessarily judging others. Without hearing it, time is hard on that sentence, I think.

  16. Victoria says:

    I saw him do Private Lives in London with Kim Cattrall, and both were divine. He’s a terrific performer and his comments are spot on concerning acting as a profession.

  17. Lynn says:

    As an actor I’m completely fed up with the attack on an another actor’s method of getting where they need to go in developing a character. It can be an exhausting some times demoralizing process and each person’s technique should be honored. I will say watching the dimension Jeremy Strong brings to Kendall Roy is awe-inspiring. There are good actors, there are great actors and then there are actors that are simply mesmerizing like Jeremy Strong. With today’s hostile attitude toward the acting process Marlon Brando would have been eviscerated.

  18. tealily says:

    I’ve been a fan of his since MI-5. He just seems so lovely. Remember Ripper Street? I wish that hadn’t been canceled. Anyway, I really liked his comments about not having the energy to be a Kenneth Branagh. I really relate to that in my own career. Sometimes you just want to go home at the end of the day and be with your family.

    • Aurora says:

      Oh, someone remembered his acting in Ripper Street. It’s the only thing I watched him in, and he did a formidable character out of a deppressed, workaholic Victorian dude who spoke Shakesperian while patting in the mud. But I stopped watching when the plot started going in kidnapping story arc circles around the American guy and his madame wife. Everybody but Mathew started going through the motions when acting, and I liked the show better when it was more episodic.

  19. Hooops says:

    Imagine thinking if Matthew Macfadyen as a “secondary” character actor! HAH!

  20. Hootenannie says:

    I don’t consider him a “leading man” type. I don’t think he’s handsome either. Not to be rude, just in response to the story. He looks doofy.

  21. dee(2) says:

    I really wish they would either stop asking this question, or the actors/directors will go the Daniel Radcliffe route when asked about “the slap” and say no one cares about my opinion on this. I will say his comments are fairly innocuous, but to be fair he’s doing it for the money too unless he’s donating his salary to charity. He’s just doing it for less. I think it’s unfair to other actors to diminish what they are doing as just for a paycheck, because it’s not your speed. It’s the same when people denigrate certain types of music, or books as not being “real” or “serious”.

  22. HeyKay says:

    I enjoy his work. I understand what he is saying.
    But sometimes you just want a fun Superhero entertainment, nothing wrong with that.
    If it was me? Yup, where do I sign for the high $$? Me first on set, bringing in donuts for everybody. lol

    IMO, the method actors would drive me up a wall.
    Do your method prep work before you hit the set, be professional and get the job done.

  23. K.T says:

    Somehow, I feel we’ve gone too far, people should be able to express themselves without that ‘invalidating/taking away from/bashing/attacking’ a totally different experience.

    I feel like this should be coined something like as “clickbait dialectics” or “clickbait oppositionism”. A rush to make any mild statement an aggressively opposition point.

    This dude says working on one super hero film was, in his experience, “ass-paralyzingly boring, just acting to tennis balls and dots on the screen. You’re doing it for the money.” That doesn’t mean this actor is criticising every superhero film or even the audience’s experience of valuing them?!?!

  24. jferber says:

    Of course they are. And water is wet.

    • K.T says:

      Is this a reply to my question?
      Ages ago, I worked in film. A couple big budget production, loads of indie things but when I was in production and I much preferred working on smaller sets for diff reasons. My first major studio job was with a well known director but the set was miserable and really militarily-like, which was common for that time. If I had a trade publication ask my opinion now, I’d love to tell younger crew what it is realistically like from my experience but imagine if it was seen as an attack on a genre or studio, or even about director’s films. When really it was about a working style I didn’t like for my process.

  25. DougDoug says:

    I hate actors who think acting is some kind of noble calling.

    The only reason to be in movies is 1)money 2) attention. If it were all about the craft you’d be doing community theatre in Cornwall or something so chill TF out.

  26. Carol says:

    Matthew was the worst Darcy!! He took all the complexities and nuances of an iconic character and reduced him done to “Darcy’s shy.” Colin Firth was clearly just being nice.

  27. Swan Lake says:

    I’ve loved him sinice MI-5. I think he’s versatile as an actor and I’ve seen most of his roles on TV and film. He’s my Mr. Darcy, and I’m a Baby Boomer. Sign me up for the. Sex With Him list!