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Succession’s Alexander Skarsgård Doesn’t Know What’s Going On With Shiv and Matsson

Photo: Nina Westervelt/Variety via Getty Images

Spoilers follow for Succession season four, episode seven, “Tailgate Party.”

The Roys aren’t used to being challenged. They were raised by wolves — pirates who have politicians in their pockets and endless cash at their disposal. But they’ve never dealt with anyone like Lukas Matsson, the billionaire founder of tech company GoJo who cares not at all about social niceties and is extremely amused by the idea of stripping Waystar Royco for parts. Since Matsson’s introduction in Succession’s third season, Alexander Skarsgård has played the Swedish coder and offensive tweeter with a smirking disregard, sneering “bad brand” to Kendall and Roman about their father’s life’s work in one minute and flirting with Shiv by insulting her husband in another. “It’s not about, ‘Ooh, I gotta make more money,’” Skarsgård says. “He just enjoys the chaos of it all. He wants to go bananas.”

Matsson is unpredictable, and in “Tailgate Party,” he’s also revealed to be a liar, falsely doubling GoJo’s subscriber numbers in India to juice his company’s value and ensure the Waystar acquisition goes through. For Kendall and Roman, who want to retain control of the company, that little bit of intel from GoJo’s communications director Ebba (Eili Harboe) — Matsson’s ex and the unwanted recipient of his frozen blood bricks — is a new way to blow up the deal. For Shiv, who wants the billion-dollar payout of a company sale and has been feeding Matsson dirt about her CEO-bros, the Swede’s untrustworthiness is a new concern. For his part, Skarsgård is leaning into Matsson’s eccentricity and ambiguity.

Lukas rolls into the Roys’ election tailgate party wearing a metallic-gold bomber jacket, which is so different from everyone else’s suits and business attire. Did you help choose it?
The genesis of how we ended up with that jacket started last season, when Logan and Roman go to see Matsson at his villa at Lake Como. Matsson is incredibly casually dressed, in slides, a T-shirt, and some old sweatpants, and that was actually my own clothes — the whole outfit. It’s what I came to set wearing that morning. We tried a couple different outfits, but at some point I told Jonathan Schwartz, the costume designer, “Can I just wear my own stuff today, because I feel that is kind of perfect for Matsson?” I wanted it to be a nice contrast to the Roys, who are always so immaculately dressed. There was something about that juxtaposition that was quite interesting: There’s high-stakes gambling, a big negotiation going on, and he’s doing it with his fucking dirty feet out. I thought that was quite funny.

That got me creatively excited about leaning heavier in that direction. When the Roys come to Scandinavia, we wanted it to be very Fjällräven, Scandy outdoorsy stuff. After that, when you see him at the party, I wanted to lean heavier on an amalgamation of very casual but also peacocking. He’s wearing sweatpants and sneakers, and the sweatpants might be $10 or $10,000. You don’t really know. I wanted something eccentric and crazy when it came to the jacket, something that really stood out, because the Roys are always so understated. It’s that kind of classy, downplayed, very, very expensive, but no logos, nothing ostentatious because it’s tacky. I wanted to give that a big “fuck you” and walk in wearing something completely different.

Also, knowing that everyone else in the room would be sycophants and vultures running around the Roys, it’d be fun if Matsson comes in like a sore thumb. I had a couple of conversations with Jonathan about finding a piece that really stood out, and when we found the golden jacket, it felt like the perfect one.

Everyone is taking the tailgate party really seriously. But Lukas is smiling and laughing the entire time, even after saying, “The numbers will be real, probably.” How central to your performance is that Lukas never really seems to be taking anything seriously, that he treats everything the Roys do as a joke?
There’s something so interesting about a character who is a very savvy, intelligent businessman, but is also so reckless and unhinged. Maybe that’s also part of his success. He enjoys the chaos of it all. Some things might work out, some things might not, but he moves fast, and I think he really enjoys that. Shit, if the numbers aren’t real, they might be tomorrow. And if they’re not, it’ll be fine, because we’ll come up with something else. There’s something quite refreshing about someone conducting himself that way. He’s got so much capital that he can break a lot of things and still be fine — it’s a tsunami of ideas and thoughts.

Did you research any other tech bros to see how they act or see how they dress?
I didn’t model Matsson after a specific guy in the industry. But I definitely got inspiration from watching some of the most famous characters in tech and how they conduct themselves and dress. Maybe at some point I saw one of them wearing some crazy, stupid outfit and that inspired me a little bit.

Shiv confronts Lukas after she learns GoJo’s subscriber numbers in India are padded, and it’s the first time we see him rattled. How did you and Sarah work together on that scene?
I’ve really enjoyed working with Sarah. I didn’t get a chance to do it last season — I met her briefly in Italy but we didn’t have any scenes together. I was thrilled when this story line started to develop this season, that I was going to spend more time with her on set. We don’t really rehearse much. Sometimes, if it’s a longer scene, we’ll cold-read it in the makeup trailer in the morning. We’ll go through it to find the banter and find the cues. But the fluidity of it all, we will find on the day. Working with an actor of that caliber makes my job easy because she’s so generous and you get so much coming at you that reacting will make it fun and creatively fulfilling. She might do it one way the first take and then go a completely different direction. My responding to that hopefully creates something that feels interesting.

You two have such great chemistry, in a way that I can’t figure out if I want to see you fight or kiss.
[Laughs.] We tried to find that weird gray zone where there might be sexual tension, but it’s not explicit. You don’t really know what’s going on: Is it acrimonious, or are they aroused by this, or is it just a business deal? Jesse Armstrong and the other writers do that so well: Nothing is on the nose. It’s subtle and open to interpretation, and that is why I find the writing so extraordinary.

You also have scenes where Lukas and his right-hand man Oskar are speaking Swedish together. Are you and Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson improvising at all, or are those conversations tightly scripted?
No — Jóhannes is from Iceland. Eili Harboe, who plays Ebba, speaks Swedish fluently, so there’s a bit more room to go off the page and improvise and play around with it. Jóhannes understands Swedish and he’s conversational, but he’s not completely fluent. Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian are quite similar languages; Icelandic is a Nordic language that’s related, but it’s quite far removed from Swedish. With Jóhannes, we would come up with something he could say and then he would rehearse it. We couldn’t go completely wild with those improvisations.

Forgive me, that was my “American person who only speaks one other language” question.
Well, I don’t blame you for not understanding Icelandic. [Laughs.] There’s not many people who speak Swedish on the show. He sounds great, but he’s not completely fluent in the language.

How were you and Eili able to play around more?
We took the weird dynamic between Lukas and Ebba that started with the blood bricks. It’s such a complicated relationship. He can be abusive to her and incredibly charming, and she can take advantage of him — in one moment she’ll be very upset with him, and the next it seems like they’re best friends again and everything is forgiven. She’s obviously got this leverage she can use, of having more of his blood than he does, and that almost excites him. It’s disturbing, and there’s a complexity to that relationship that was a lot of fun to explore.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Alexander Skarsgård Doesn’t Know Shiv and Matsson’s Deal