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Lukas Matsson Isn’t a Fraud. At Least Not If You Ask Alexander Skarsgard.

After the events of “Tailgate Party,” the seventh episode of the final season of ‘Succession,’ it’s even less clear whether GoJo’s CEO is a genius or a fake. What isn’t in doubt is the chaos he’s been able to sow among the Roys.

Getty Images/HBO/Ringer illustration

“He’s a genius. Nobody minds a genius acting weird.”

But what if that genius is acting really weird? And what if he maybe isn’t a genius at all? Sunday’s episode of Succession, “Tailgate Party,” finds Alexander Skarsgard’s equally magnetic and problematic CEO, Lukas Matsson, on a “charm offensive,” but it also reveals that his numbers might not be the only things that are “a little bit bullshit.”

On the eve of Election Day, Shiv and Tom host—in Matsson’s words—the Roy family’s “bullshit preelection brain-dead AOL-era legacy media putrid stuffed mushroom fuckfest.” With many of the country’s most powerful political figures from both sides of the aisle present, Shiv, secretly acting against Roman and Kendall, insists that Matsson show up to help stave off her brothers’ attempts to sabotage the deal between Waystar and GoJo.

While the self-proclaimed “jerk-off coder from Gothenburg” manages to impress the high-level attendees, Matsson’s blatant disrespect toward Ebba (Eili Harboe), the official head of communications at GoJo and the unofficial head of Matsson’s amateur blood bank, could be the beginning of his downfall. “We built his whole rep,” Ebba privately tells Roman and Kendall. “He’s not even a real coder; someone gave him a box of tech, and he took it to market. Bravo.” She then reveals that the biggest issue currently facing the tech titan is the fact that GoJo’s subscriber numbers in India are significantly overstated. Matsson confesses to Shiv that he hopes the suspicious activity will get lost in the Waystar purchase, after which point the figures will hopefully become real.

Since Matsson first appeared on Succession, moping in a tree house at Kendall’s birthday and demanding “privacy, pussy, and pasta,” there’s been an open question as to whether he’s the real deal or just a tech emperor with no clothes (or at least no shoes). If you ask the man playing him, the answer lies closer to the former. “He’s not a fraud,” Skarsgard insists. “He obviously struck gold years ago, and maybe he didn’t do all the coding himself, but it made him a gazillion dollars, and now he can throw that weight around. He’s so fearless and irreverent and wild and just moves fast and breaks things.” Look at how easily he threw another $50 billion on his Waystar offer, with Kendall mockingly deeming it the biggest overpay in history. “He’s a force to be reckoned with because he can afford to take a swing, lose a couple billion dollars, and be fine. He’s unafraid to just go for it. … I’m not sure he’s a genius, but, in some regards, I think he is.”

After initially signing on for just a handful of Season 3 episodes, Skarsgard never expected to return for the fourth and final season of Succession, so he was thrilled to get a call from creator Jesse Armstrong. “Jesse kind of laid out the idea, the broad brushstrokes of the season and how Matsson would play into it. So he explained about … the death of Logan and then how that obviously leaves a vacuum, a big opening, and Matsson sees an opportunity to get in there,” Skarsgard shares. And then the Swedish actor learned of the deplorable behavior to come. “He also told me about some of the more eccentric moments, like sending the blood bricks, and that got me super excited.”

Maybe Matsson’s debut in Season 3’s “Too Much Birthday” should have been our first warning that there was something darker lurking under the surface, but Skarsgard points out that Matsson was then wearing “normal clothes”: sneakers, jeans, and a sweater. “What most Swede dudes in Sweden look like,” he jokes. Two episodes later, in the riveting finale, “All the Bells Say,” Skarsgard says that he unlocked the character by following his instincts—and wearing his own clothes. “When we went to Italy for the big kind of negotiation or the big scene with Logan, I thought it’d be interesting if Matsson was inappropriately underdressed for that, because, again, the Roys are always so immaculately dressed. I thought it’d be interesting as a visual contrast of that,” he recalls. “It’s a bit of a power move to roll up to a negotiation in flip-flops and a dirty T-shirt.” Skarsgard and costume designer Jonathan Schwartz were unsatisfied with the initial options they tried, so the actor suggested sticking with the outfit he was wearing when he first arrived that morning. “That set the tone for the character and really inspired me to lean even more into that direction. This season, I thought, let’s see if we can push it even further. … We call it ‘cas-cock,’ which is a hybrid of ‘casual’ and ‘peacocking,’ where he’ll wear something that looks like it could be $10 sweatpants and combine it with a $50,000 golden jacket from Japan. It adds to the eccentricity.”

Outside of a few brief phone calls, Skarsgard was kept off-screen to start Season 4, but once Logan suddenly died, Armstrong brought his all-star off the bench to drop zingers, cause mayhem, and help close out the series. “I felt like they were throwing a party, and I wasn’t quite invited yet,” Skarsgard admits. “So I was definitely very ready.”

Skarsgard’s first big game back in the lineup was Episode 5, “Kill List,” which found Matsson summoning the Roy children and their Waystar deputies to Norway for GoJo’s annual retreat. Having previously negotiated the sale with Logan, Matsson was ready to finalize his purchase of Waystar, but newly appointed co-CEOs Roman and Kendall decided that they’d rather continue running the show and began working to tank the deal. Meanwhile, Matsson’s conversations with another Roy proved to be much more productive. “I don’t have very good boundaries. … I’m doing it now,” he confessed to Shiv over whiskey and cocaine in his room. He then dropped a bomb: He was seeing someone—his head of comms, Ebba—and, after they split, he sent her half a liter of his blood “as a joke.” But then he kept doing it, and Ebba didn’t find it very funny. Shiv, posing as a temporary consultant, offered a salient piece of advice: “Stop sending people your blood.”

“I like you; you’re cool,” Matsson responded.

This unexpected partnership has only deepened in subsequent episodes. In addition to the blood story line, the opportunity to work with the “spectacular” Sarah Snook was the biggest draw for Skarsgard. Just don’t expect him to share whether Matsson is playing Shiv or is legitimately romantically interested in her. “I think the ambiguity is interesting,” he says. “Potentially there’s sexual tension there. Potentially he’s taking advantage of her. Potentially he respects her. Potentially he doesn’t. I had a lot of fun on set with Sarah trying to gauge and make sure that we left it open to interpretation. We’ve succeeded in telling that story line if people interpret it differently and if people expect them to have a big fight in Episode 9 or have sex in Episode 9.”

There’s less ambiguity in what Skarsgard calls Matsson’s “deeply disturbing” relationship with Ebba. Even with his top female lieutenant possessing liters of his blood, Matsson harasses her throughout “Tailgate Party,” saying that he can’t fire her “because she’s created and fostered this situation in which I find it very difficult to do what I want.” The last straw is when Matsson takes Greg up on his proposal to terminate Ebba for him, which leads to her divulging the “funky” India numbers to Roman and Kendall.

“He really enjoys going further than he should,” Skarsgard says. “We tried to make it more than just an abusive boss and wanted it to be sexual and sadistic. It fluctuates. He can be horrible to her, but then she’ll say something horrible to him, and in the next scene, you’ll see them in the background whispering to each other lovingly. … There’s a level of trust. … Like, she could cancel him tomorrow if she wanted, but, for some reason, he doesn’t believe that she will. So there’s something kind of codependent and weird and nasty and dirty about that whole relationship.”

In terms of what’s next, Skarsgard has some ideas about where Matsson heads after walking out of Shiv and Tom’s apartment and down to the city that he compared to Legoland. “I think he ends up at a Wendy’s, has a burger, and goes to bed complaining about how boring [New York] is,” he says with a laugh. “It’s either that or a rave in Bushwick.”

More seriously, with Kendall wanting to “eat Matsson’s lunch” and have Waystar acquire GoJo rather than the inverse, an even more volatile showdown seems to be on the horizon as Succession enters its final stretch. But it’s the unpredictability that Skarsgard, Armstrong, and the Succession team have fostered—the uncertainty over whether Matsson is a genius or a fraud—that makes the story so exciting. “Matsson will do what Matsson does,” Skarsgard teases. “He’ll try to manipulate and take advantage of people’s vulnerabilities. Then he’ll sprinkle in some eccentric shit.”

Derek Lawrence is a Los Angeles–based writer covering TV and film. His work has also appeared in Entertainment Weekly, People, and Vulture.