He spent his twenties playing Romeos − including the ill-fated Robb Stark in Game Of Thrones − but now Richard Madden is swapping the Bard for Bodyguard in BBC One’s hot new drama. Here, he tells Lucy Pavia why he’s ready to grow up
The first 20 minutes of Jed Mercurio’s BBC One show Bodyguard should come with a health warning. In a high-stakes scenario worthy of a Hollywood action movie, for several long minutes you wonder if anyone on screen − including our new protagonist, police protection officer David Budd (Richard Madden) − will make it out alive.
Madden has past form in this sort of sofa-tipping television. Who can forget the horror twist of the Game Of Thrones Red Wedding, which saw Madden’s Robb Stark and his family annihilated in the worst character bloodbath since the Royal Wedding episode of Dynasty?
As it happens, when I speak to Madden he’s been at another Game Of Thrones wedding in his native Scotland, this time between old friends and co-stars Kit Harington and Rose Leslie (‘there were no Red Wedding jokes, thank god,’ he says, ‘though I was waiting for them’), and enjoying a bit of downtime in the highlands, scaling Munros.
He grew up further south, just outside Glasgow in a small village called Elderslie. ‘I love being up there, when it’s quiet and you can see a bit of horizon,’ he says in a still-broad Scottish accent. ‘In London, everything is right in front of your face.’
To talk to, Richard Madden is warm and a little diffident. He first got into acting to combat shyness as a kid, but still gets occasional attacks of it now. ‘I can get up on stage in front of 2,000 people and play Romeo,’ he says, ‘but I’d struggle to stand up in a room of 15 people and read something. I’ve got [to speak at] a friend’s wedding in September and that terrifies me more than Bodyguard coming out.’
The series is the latest offering from Line Of Duty writer and BBC virtuoso Mercurio. Madden first worked with him in 2015 as dishy gamekeeper Oliver Mellors in Mercurio’s adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. This new role is darker − a former soldier struggling with PTSD, Budd finds himself assigned to protect a pro-war politician played by Keeley Hawes (unlike the other Bodyguard, this one’s not a romance).
‘You’re not an adult, but you’re not a child anymore… [I had] to work out where I was supposed to be’
During filming, the pair discovered they’d been co-stars on another project almost two decades earlier, though they never met. That was Madden’s first break, age 11, as ‘Young Andy’ in a film adaptation of the Iain Banks novel Complicity. He’d been scouted at his local youth theatre where his parents (a firefighter and teacher) would drive him a few times a week, since his own school didn’t have a drama department.
The movie part led to a regular role on kids’ TV show Barmy Aunt Boomerang. Things could have followed a familiar child-star route from there but, for Madden, the gulf between professional actor and school kid made him feel isolated – a situation not helped by bullying from his peers.
‘On set you have to learn your lines, you have to be on time, you have to do your job, but then you go back into high school where your relationship to adults is different,’ he says. ‘You’re not an adult but you’re not a child any more, you’re kind of in between. So I stopped acting for a while to catch up with myself; to work out where I was supposed to be.’
After finishing school, Madden went to train at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland), where in his final year he was cast as Romeo in the Globe Theatre’s production of Romeo & Juliet (a role he would reprise opposite Lily James in Kenneth Branagh’s 2016 production at the Garrick Theatre).
Early screen roles in Hope Springs and the 2010 film Chatroom followed, but global fame would come with his casting in a then-fledgling show called Game Of Thrones. ‘I was 22 when I started that gig,’ he says. ‘I was so young and naive.’ It wasn’t initially clear if the show would see the light of day, particularly after a disastrous first pilot. ‘It was interesting to shoot a pilot and not know if it’s going to go. Then come back to reshoot and be there with different actors, directors and a slightly different script.’
‘When I go to a different country with my parents and someone recognises me, they think, “Wow, [GOT] really has got legs because we’re in the middle of nowhere”’
He had a bit of a Carrie Bradshaw moment while promoting season one in New York. Too broke to take a cab, he hopped on to a bus that had his face on it. ‘People would say, “Hey, you know you look like that guy from that show?” I’d be like, “Oh, yeah, I get that all the time.”’
He found himself suddenly grateful for those early child star years. ‘Being on TV a couple of nights a week when you’re aged 12, on a show aimed completely at your peers, taught me what ten years later I would have to deal with on Game Of Thrones − the kind of recognition that you get, even though it wasn’t on such a huge scale,’ he says.
‘I was much better equipped to deal with it.’ A four-year relationship with Doctor Who star Jenna Coleman also made him more of a tabloid target (since their relationship came to an end, he’s been linked to Suki Waterhouse and actress Ellie Bamber), as did taking on Prince Charming in a gargantuan Disney remake of Cinderella.
How do his family react to his fame? ‘I think they’ve found it quite funny,’ he muses. ‘They still know me as their brother and son. When I go to a different country with my parents and someone recognises me, they kind of think, “Wow, [Game Of Thrones] really has got legs because we’re in the middle of nowhere.”’
Right now, Madden is enjoying a break from work, reconnecting with friends and family he had to neglect during the 15-hour, six-days-a-week Bodyguard filming schedule. ‘I needed time to recover from it − it was physically, emotionally and mentally draining,’ he says.
Now age 32, and having played ‘so many versions of Romeo’ (including actual Romeo twice) in his twenties, he’s hoping this new role will show a more mature side. ‘The older you get, the harder it is to play the naivety because you know too much. So I’m kind of enjoying being older,’ he laughs, ‘and pretending I know more than I do.’
Bodyguard begins this month on BBC One