11:40am PT by Scott Feinberg
'Awards Chatter' Podcast — Richard Madden ('Bodyguard')
"When I got nominated for the Golden Globe, that's when I was like, 'Oh, this is a bit bigger than I thought, because there are people in other countries watching this,'" says the actor Richard Madden as we sit down at the offices of The Hollywood Reporter to record an episode of THR's Awards Chatter podcast and begin discussing his journey with Bodyguard, a drama series that originated on BBC One in the U.K. and then came to Netflix. The 32-year-old was, until recently, best known for playing Robb Stark on the first three seasons of HBO's Game of Thrones (2011-2013); then he was cast on Bodyguard as Sgt. David Budd, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who grapples with PTSD as he protects the British home secretary who was largely responsible for that war happening in the first place, and for his performance he wound up winning the aforementioned Golden Globe, becoming a full-fledged star and relocating to Hollywood. "And now I'm here," he continues, "and I've not really kind of caught up with the fact that people really enjoyed the show and lots of people tuned in to it."
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LISTEN: You can hear the entire interview below.
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Madden, the son of a fireman and a teacher's assistant, was born and raised in a small village in Scotland. A shy kid who attended a rough school, he joined a youth theater group with the hope of increasing his self-confidence, and wound up being discovered by a talent scout, which led to his becoming a screen actor. Because of his acting and his weight (he grew heavy from eating at craft services on sets), he began to be bullied in school, and walked away from acting for a few years. He returned to it in time to apply and gain acceptance to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, and came into his own while there; indeed, he was cast as Romeo at the Globe Theatre while still in classes. "I wanted to work, and as much as I loved being in drama school, I left after the first year," he says. He was cast in a Royal Shakespeare Company production soon thereafter, and was able to complete his degree by working professionally.
Then came an invitation to audition for Game of Thrones. Madden was cast early on, back when Tom McCarthy was still holding the reins and appeared in the show's original, never-aired pilot, which was ultimately reshot; the rest, of course, is history. "It was my first big foray into television," says the actor, who worked on the show for just three seasons but a period spanning five years, "so that was a different kind of skill set I had to learn." By the time his stint on the show ended, via the infamous "Red Wedding," he was emotionally spent and ready for new challenges.
Madden wound up acting under the direction of Kenneth Branagh and opposite Lily James on two 2015 projects: Disney's live-action Cinderella film and Romeo and Juliet on stage. In 2016, he starred on the first season of the TV series Medici: Masters of Florence, which aired in the U.S. on Netflix, and played a supporting part in the action film Bastille Day. And then, in 2017, he reunited with Jed Mercurio — who had previously written and directed him in a 2015 TV adaptation of Lady Chatterley's Lover, and whom he describes as "an amazingly talented genius mind of a writer" — on Bodyguard, having been "blown away" by Mercurio's scripts. He was excited to play a father for the first time, and by the challenge of presenting a realistic depiction of the anguish faced by many veterans. "I'd never seen PTSD portrayed in a way that I wanted to within this," he says, "a bit more delicate, a bit more specific, and a bit more constant, rather than this idea of, a glass drops in a restaurant and you duck for cover."
The making of Bodyguard — on a small budget and tight schedule, with Madden appearing in every scene — was so arduous that he seriously considered walking away from the acting profession at the end of it. "It really took a lot out of me," he admits. But subsequently seeing the fruits of his labor on screen, ahead of the show's TV debut, made him realize the grind had been worth it. He went off to shoot another project, playing a key supporting part in Dexter Fletcher's Elton John biopic Rocketman (the singer's one-time lover and manager John Reid), and it was while on that set that the six episodes of Bodyguard began rolling out in the U.K. and proved a phenomenon. The first episode attracted 10 million viewers within a week, the country's largest audience for a new drama since Downton Abbey, and the numbers only grew with each passing week. More than 24 million people watched at least part of the season. And the season finale was the U.K.’s most watched episode of any drama series since people started keeping records in 2002.
The overseas success of Bodyguard came with pros and cons for Madden. On the downside, he was now a target of the paparazzi, which he found (and finds) "unpleasant" and "anxiety-inducing." But, on the upside, he was also increasingly in demand for choice projects — he was cast, for instance, in Sam Mendes' forthcoming World War I film 1917 — and his stock only further soared after Bodyguard debuted stateside and landed him his Golden Globe. Ever since, it has been rumored that he may succeed Daniel Craig as James Bond after Craig's final turn in the part later this year — buzz Madden finds flattering, but dismisses as unsubstantiated, at least for now. Rather than worrying about things that are out of his control, he is focused on making the most of this moment. "I'm not just purely defined by Robb Stark from Game of Thrones now," he says with obvious relief. "There's another character there." Speaking of, might we see Sgt. Budd on another season of Bodyguard? "We never intended to do a second, we just intended to do one," he emphasizes. "But then the show went down so well and was enjoyed by so many people and affected so many people for many different reasons — [so] I very much hope so."