‘Succession’: Alexander Skarsgård on Whether Lukas Matsson Is Elon Musk
If it looks like Alexander Skarsgård is having the time of his life playing Lukas Matsson, the swinging-dick tech mogul trying like hell to outmaneuver the Roy boys — while rocking a gold jacket and limited-edition kicks, no less — in Succession, it’s because he very much is.
“I’m havin’ a blast,” the towering Swede tells Rolling Stone.
Though the 46-year-old actor had already embodied memorable characters in a trio of other critically-acclaimed HBO series — sexy vampire Eric in True Blood; an abusive husband in Big Little Lies; a Marine sergeant in Generation Kill — his winning streak continues in Jesse Armstrong’s Shakespearean screwball about three adult children that go to war over their family’s right-wing media empire when the King Lear of it all, Logan Roy (Brian Cox), falls ill.
Skarsgård is Matsson, founder of GoJo (not to be confused with the makers of Purell), a cutting-edge tech company that wants to acquire the Roy family’s Waystar-Royco and ATN. He’s not only one of the richest and most powerful men in the world, but a massive Swedish troll who, when he’s not tweeting out crazy Holocaust memes or harassing his communications director, seems to relish tussling with the Roys over control of their inheritance, and whose personal motto is, “Privacy, pussy, pasta.” Naturally, comparisons have been made between Matsson and Elon Musk. He appears to have a special connection with Shiv Roy (Sarah Snook), and, at the conclusion of Succession’s penultimate episode, which is mostly set at Logan’s funeral, promises her the position of U.S. CEO should the acquisition go through.
A very game Skarsgård spoke with Rolling Stone about all things Succession and more.
It seems like you’re having a lot of fun on the show.
[Laughs] I’m havin’ a blast. Every single day was such a treat to work on that show.
You’re in those track suits just swinging your dick around, basically.
I’ve been working for a number of years now and the one thing I’ve learned is, “Choose a comfortable outfit,” because you’re going to be in it for many, many hours. Sometimes you succeed; sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you’re stuck in wool long johns, which are very uncomfortable and itchy. But I really nailed it on this one. It’s just sneakers and flip-flops and sweatpants. Incredibly comfortable.
A lot more comfortable than your rags in The Northman.
[Laughs] Yeah. We almost shot them back-to-back and going from The Northman to Succession — they’re diametrically opposed, from the character to the tone to the style to the filmmaking. Robert Eggers’ style is very meticulously planned — almost all scenes are shot with a single camera, and there are no cuts. Succession is incredibly loose and playful and fun. You can run around and there are sometimes two, three cameras rolling simultaneously. If it’s a dialogue scene they often have coverage of both actors, so you don’t have to wait and turn around. The pace is incredibly high. It’s intense but thrilling. It gives you such a rush of adrenaline when you step onto that set because it’s so forceful, fun, and collaborative, and it gives you the opportunity to work with some of the finest actors and writers out there. The material is so deliciously wonderful, offbeat, and weird.
You got to spill a lot of blood in The Northman, but in this one—
—I sent some blood! Yeah. Share the wealth! [Laughs]
Lukas Matsson shares his personal motto in Episode Nine again: “Privacy, pussy, pasta.” Who came up with that, and how do you feel about that life motto?
I believe it was Jesse [Armstrong]. I’m not sure, so don’t quote me on that. But it was basically the introduction to the character — the first time you meet Lukas at Kendall’s weird birthday party, and he’s really bored, and he’s surrounded by sycophants that he finds incredibly boring. All he wants is to sit in the corner, eat pasta, and find some pussy. That’s kind of what he’s after there.
There have been worse plans in the world.
Yeah. But the fact that he drops that line to the president-elect? That says a lot about him!
What do you feel Lukas’s game plan is? Do you think he’s just trying to buy Waystar and ATN to cover for his own company’s inflated value and juiced subscriber numbers or are there other things at play? Or is he just the world’s biggest and most powerful troll?
I think there are a couple of different factors that come into play. He loves a good deal. He loves to win.
Yeah. There’s something about that that I’ve seen in very successful people in business. There’s something about the hustle of that — winning, and feeling you got as much as you could out of that negotiation. And that can be cab fare to the airport, or a merger or acquisition totaling billions of dollars. You always want to win and feel like, “I walked away a winner here.” There’s something about this particular situation, with this legacy-family-dynasty company, and he’s coming in as an underdog/self-made man — some would argue that he’s not a self-made man, and Ebba tells the brothers he just got lucky and isn’t the brilliant coder he thinks he is — but in his mind, he feels, “This should not be possible. I’m a coder from Gothenburg, Sweden. I’m David and they’re Goliath.” The fact that he can take them down and be the bigger shark is very exciting for him. It’s not so much about saving GoJo or making more money, because he’s beyond wealthy. It’s about making the deal, doing something people didn’t think was possible, and walking away victorious.
What’s your read on Lukas and Shiv? You and Sarah Snook have such incredible chemistry on the show, and it exists in such a unique space where people can’t quite tell whether it’s sexual tension, a genuine connection, gamesmanship, etc.
I met Sarah a few times last season when we shot the stuff at Lake Como, but we didn’t have any scenes together. I was bummed over that because I think she’s extraordinarily talented and also just a lovely, sweet girl. I was thrilled when I talked to Jesse before Season Four, and he laid out the plan for Matsson this year and told me I’d have a really strong storyline with Sarah. I can’t speak for Sarah, but I feel like we hit it off immediately. We have a very similar process where we would sit in the makeup trailer in the morning and not overanalyze or overdo the scene, but we would basically read it a few times to find the cues and the right rhythm of it. Then we would leave it for a bit, return to the set in front of the cameras, and jump straight into it. It was incredibly easy because she’s so spectacularly talented and you just play off of that. In the relationship, it became obvious early on that we wanted some ambiguity. We wanted to leave it open to interpretation from the audience as to whether it’s a sexual connection, whether they’re playing each other, whether he’s manipulating her or testing her. The writing is so spectacular that it’s never on the nose.
What gets you into the swaggering Matsson mindset? Are you listening to rap music in the car like Kendall on the way to the set?
I try to allow myself to get bored within five seconds if someone didn’t deeply, genuinely capture my attention, because I think that’s a strong character trait of Matsson’s. There’s some attention-deficit disorder there. If you don’t have him hooked within the first few seconds, his mind runs off. Then, to literally step into those shoes, and those clothes, was helpful. You step into a roomful of people in gray suits and you’re wearing a gold jacket, limited-edition sneakers from Japan, and sweatpants, and you feel like an outsider. You feel like you’re at a different level than the other people in the room. And you just run with that. He loves to see himself as a hand grenade thrown into rooms of these senators and investment bankers. To be a disrupter and agent of chaos is extremely thrilling to Matsson.
There have been a lot of comparisons between Lukas Matsson and Elon Musk. How do you feel about that comparison? Do you think it’s accurate?
I definitely didn’t try to play an Elon Musk character. I think it’s an amalgamation of different people in the tech industry and other business leaders that I’ve met, seen, or read about. I tried to draw some inspiration from a lot of them and instill some ideas that I came up with in order to find something idiosyncratic about it. It wouldn’t be interesting to say, “I’m playing Elon Musk!” That’s not what I went for. There’s a lot of Elon Musk out there. He’s a very visual character and a very interesting character, but I wanted Lukas to be something else. I’m sure I’ve been inspired by some things I’ve seen [Elon] do and other tech giants do, but I didn’t go for that type of character.
It’s pretty wild that he’s in hot water for tweeting some antisemitic stuff, and a couple of episodes ago Lukas Mattson got in hot water for tweeting ugly Holocaust memes. That’s pretty prescient.
Life imitates art! [Laughs]
There’s this great scene in the Norway episode where Lukas and Roman really go at it on top of a mountain while you’re taking a piss. The dick-measuring contest gets pretty literal. So, what was it like to be locking horns with Kieran Culkin and Jeremy Strong on top of a mountain in Norway while your character is peeing on a rock?
It was a wonderful scene to shoot. It was the first scene I had with Kieran since last year, and I really, really enjoyed working with him last year. To have that moment with him and Jeremy, who’s also super fun to work with — I was super giddy going to the set that day because I’d be reunited with the two of them. When it gets intense with Roman, we tried it at first with Kieran coming up and standing next to me — because I’m peeing on the edge of a rock, basically — and it never felt heated enough. I’m standing on a tall boulder and I’m already quite taller than Kieran, so it never got face to face and intense. Kieran had the brilliant idea of jumping onto the rock I was peeing on, crouching on that, and getting in my face as I was peeing in his direction, a couple of inches below his feet. It gave the scene so much more vitality and intensity.
Matsson is loving every second of it because he kind of assumed the brothers were charlatans who didn’t have what it took. He admired Logan. He thought he was a big brute of a man but impressive and a worthy opponent. He’s self-made, savvy, smart, relentless, and hard-working— a lot of character traits Lukas admires that the brothers clearly don’t have. This was a moment where it became obvious to Lukas that they don’t have what it takes, because within minutes Roman is screaming and admitting they’re trying to tank the deal. It’s clear he doesn’t have the savviness his father had in deep negotiations. Like he says, “You fucked yourself.” That dynamic was fun to play, where one character is so animated, frustrated and sad, and the other one is sadistically enjoying every second of it because he’s watching Roman dig his own grave.
You have a different peeing scene in Infinity Pool. There’s a very different outcome to the one here than the one in Infinity Pool [In Infinity Pool, Mia Goth’s character sneaks up on Skarsgard’s while he’s peeing and gives him a handjob.] Although I have to say, the Sundance version contained quite a bit more. [In the Sundance version, you see a close-up shot of the penis ejaculating.]
[Laughs] They do! Yeah. It would have been nice if the scene in Succession ended with Roman doing a reach-around like Mia Goth did. It would have taken an interesting turn.
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