After three seasons as Robb Stark in ‘Game of Thrones,’ Richard Madden thought he knew a thing or two about television blockbusters. Then the British thriller ‘Bodyguard’ came along and blew his mind.
Written by Jed Mercurio (‘Line of Duty’), ‘Bodyguard’ stars Madden as David Budd, a PTSD-afflicted Afghanistan War veteran assigned to protect the home secretary, Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes), whose hawkish politics he loathes — and icy allure he can’t resist.
When it debuted in late August, the numbers were staggering: According to the BBC, 41 million (and counting) watched the six-episode set, making ‘Bodyguard’ the highest-rated drama since ‘Downton Abbey.’ Then in October, ‘Bodyguard’ moved to Netflix and was widely binged, leading to Golden Globe nominations for both Madden and the series, in the best television drama category.
“People asked me, ‘Did you know it was going to do so well?’ And no, I didn’t have a clue because it was about surviving quite a grueling shoot,” Madden said.
“And to think this little British TV show that we all worked really hard on had such an impact is a bit overwhelming for me. I think one in four people in Britain watched it, which is crazy.”
It also solidified Madden, a 32-year-old Scotsman, as leading-man material and cast him as a front-runner to replace Daniel Craig as the next James Bond. If Madden knows anything, he’s not saying.
In a phone interview from Los Angeles as he prepared for awards season, he talked about the alchemy of ‘Bodyguard’ and keeping his cool under the paparazzi’s glare. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Q: Those ratings! What was the magic formula?
A: I wish I knew because I could recreate it on every job I did. [Laughs] It’s something to do with this gray zone that we all live in, this moral ambiguity. Things can sometimes be so clean-cut in who’s the bad guy and who’s the good guy. And this straddled the lines of both, and played with the audience’s perception.
Q: Then there’s Budd’s steamy relationship with his powerful boss. I understand that’s not such a far-fetched story line.
A: Actually, we worked closely with a lot of men who had been in that position — looking after foreign dignitaries and members of Parliament and royalty — and said, without naming names, that these bonds do get made and the lines do get very crossed. Because this person that you live with all the time, you see them a lot more than you do your own family, and you go through extreme situations. And thus, that kind of intimacy does happen.
Q: What was so gruelling about the shoot?
A: It was six-day weeks, and we were filming 14 hours a day, and the camera was always on my character. And I had this bulletproof vest on the whole time, and that’s physically uncomfortable. But it was more down to the mentality of someone who’s struggling very much with mental health issues while trying to keep his life together.
Q: Surely there has to be a second season.
A: There hasn’t been an official announcement yet. Me and Jed very much want to work together again, so we’re playing about with ideas of where it can go. You have to take in consideration how well-known the character would be because he’s been on television with the bomb vest strapped to him through Central London. So I wonder how that’s going to affect his future career path.
Q: Later this spring you’ll sing and dance your way through ‘Rocketman,’ starring Taron Egerton as Elton John and you as John Reid, his former manager and boyfriend. So I guess you’re going to be a different kind of sex symbol.
A: [Laughs] I don’t know about that. Have you seen my hair in the movie? It’s very long and very 70s, with some real big blow-dries going on and huge crests and things. And dyed very black along with my eyebrows, which was not fun to live with. I looked like my eyebrows had been Sharpied in.
Q: So, ‘Game of Thrones.’ Have your friends from the show told you how it ends?
A: I don’t know how it ends, and I wouldn’t let them tell me. Not that they would, but I don’t let them have conversations around me about it because I don’t want it to get spoiled. That’s the joy of not being in the show. I can just enjoy it as a viewer without having read the scripts and knowing what’s coming next. And I think they filmed multiple endings, so I don’t even know if they know.
Q: Did they ask you for ‘Bodyguard’ spoilers?
A: The show was on weekly in the UK, so everyone did lots of speculating. You binged it [in the United States]. You didn’t get that watercooler chat.
Q: Now for the topic you’ve been avoiding: 007.
A: [Squeezes out a small chuckle.] So many people have such great ownership over that character and who they think should play it, so for people to be endorsing me publicly, that’s very, very flattering. But no, there’s not any conversations being had on that front. That’s all just speculation.
Q: Is Bond someone you would like to play?
A: You know, I’ll see what happens in the future. Yeah, I think we’ll deal with that when we get to it.
Q: Is it true that you have a neighbourhood alert system for when the paparazzi are hiding in trees?
A: Yeah, on my street, there is a little WhatsApp group just because the photographers hide outside the house. So my neighbours will snap a picture of a car and tell me, ‘By the way, that one’s there,’ which is very kind of them. [Laughs]
Q: And yet, they still manage to find you. Has the success of ‘Bodyguard’ and the speculation about Bond prompted you to up your game?
A: I’m definitely not running to the store in my pyjamas on the weekend. But I’d never do that anyway.
Q: Do you feel like you’re finally entering your prime?
A: ‘Bodyguard’ was great for that because it’s a role in which I’ve got two children, so I very much feel the shift that is happening between playing a son and playing a father in terms of age and responsibility. I’ve played so many of these young men and sons and princes over the years that it’s really exciting to go into that space where you’re an adult yourself.
Don’t miss it
‘Bodyguard’ is now streaming on Netflix.