Now, Matthew's making waves as a medieval man of the cloth who's not afraid to make morally questionable decisions for the greater good in Starz's The Pillars of the Earth, an eight-part television event based on Ken Follett's beloved book.
Matthew takes a moment to discuss the evolution of Prior Philip, his children's reaction to the epic set and the worst haircut he's ever had.
Matthew Macfadyen: I just thought it was a really good read. I hadn't read the book; I wasn't familiar with it. I got the script, and I just thought it was great. And it was a new thing for me to play a 12th-century monk, so I just thought it would be good fun. It just sort of seemed to tickle the right boxes. But I heard about some of the other cast that was coming together, and they were people I really admired.
JW: How do you prepare to play a 12th-century monk?
MM: I had a tonsure, a very silly hair cut.
JW: And how did you like that?
MM: Not very much. And that was about it. I read the book, and the screenplay by John Pielmeier is so beautifully written. It's sort of all there for you really.
JW: The book spans so many years. What's it like playing a character over such a long period of time?
MM: It was quite nice actually, especially for a job that's so long. Just the job was 22 weeks, so it actually gave us a chance to really chart the whole journey of it. And the idea that it can take 30, 40, 50 years to build this cathedral and it's very exciting. There is a sort of satisfaction in being part of a show which is such a big sweep. You see people getting older and things happening and all the while in the backdrop is this beautiful building going up. I think, in reality, the building of cathedrals has taken longer, maybe 100, 150 years.
JW: What was it like playing with such a large and accomplished cast?
MM: It's just a pleasure when you work with actors of that caliber and that experience. All lovely, really lovely. I've worked with Donald [Sutherland] before. I didn't have much to do with him, but it was nice to see him again. Everyone was brilliant, and you make friends. I've kept in touch with lots of them, and I won't forget it. It was a really lovely job.