SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Bodyguard,” streaming now on Netflix.
In his new BBC thriller “Bodyguard,” Richard Madden plays a special protection officer tasked with keeping Britain’s Home Secretary safe. But his role isn’t relegated to a stereotypical stoic action hero. His background as an army veteran provides layers of emotion that Madden reveals in different doses.
“Trying to get the physicality right of someone who’s a professional bodyguard and has been in the army for many years…is a completely different challenge,” Madden tells Variety. “And then I suppose in lots of ways it was a great relief playing the more emotional scenes because this character spends so much time covering his emotions or holding them in.”
Here, Madden talks with Variety about playing with ambiguity for his character, the challenged of shooting a suicide scene and how response to his new show compares to “Game of Thrones.”
In a lot of ways David seems to show more emotion than many traditional television characters in his position. Was that part of the draw of the character for you and how did you wrap your head around why he gets so invested with the terrorist on the train right at the top of the show?
What was very interesting was how we shot that sequence because due to filming, we had so many things going on, we ended up shooting that sequence at the very end of filming. So it was the last thing we shot. So I knew what the audience was going to see in Episode 1, which is a man [who’s] very closed off and you don’t get to tap into him very much. And that’s what was really kind of great — to show that side and then be able to go back to what he does best, which is not showing anything.
There are moments in the show that toy with the idea that David’s motives aren’t entirely pure and that he might be wrapped up in the attacks on Julia’s (Keeley Hawes) life. Did you want to pull a thread through to show that the audience should trust him?
That’s what I really enjoyed playing with — this ambiguity. … I really played with that in the first few episodes with questioning my own motives so the audience would hopefully question them, too. Is he good; is he bad; what’s he doing this for; what’s behind that? I really enjoyed playing with that and that’s something that the whole show does with every character is in a grey zone, no one is black or white and good, and that keeps on all the way through the show and is actually something that is quite exciting to play with because you’re not tricking the audience but you’re playing with their perceptions. And one of the things we did while shooting was we’d shoot every scene in the way that it would be cut and then we’d slam the camera right up into my face and be all in my head. So I could play these scenes without giving anything away knowing that I’d have this last take where I’d give everything away — the extreme, heightened version of it. And then that gives the director and the editor something to cut between depending on how much we want to show.
How does that affect what you do from that first take to that last take?
It’s scary because some scenes we never use that edit at the end so you’ve given nothing away and actually you wanted to give something away.
Was there a particular moment or scene that you read on the page, anticipated it would be extremely challenging but then found it more rewarding when you performed it?
I thought the scene where my friend shoots himself in the face, I thought that would be much easier to deal with than actually what it turned out to be when I was filming it. Because you read something like that and you understand it, and they’re not that close anymore … but actually on the day it was happening, David’s looking at what his path could be — and then we get to Episode 4 and we see where he goes with that path actually. And I think that was something that hit me a lot more on the day of watching someone give up — someone who’s been in the same position as you and gone through everything you’ve gone through.
Speaking of Episode 4 when David attempts to kill himself, what complications did that scene present for you as an actor?
That was a really difficult scene to shoot because…in order to take your own life you’ve got to be in such a bad place that what I played on, and what the editing picked up that I quite liked, is that David just feels everyone would be better off if he was not there. It’s less about him not wanting to be there, which is a huge thing, but actually everyone is going to be better off. And the big thing…is his two children. That was the catalyst to actually make [him] pull the trigger — that their lives will be better if I’m not in it. That’s how low the character is at that point.
After David realizes the bullets in his gun were switched for blanks, he really throws himself into trying to figure out what’s going on.
That’s what keeps him living, actually. That’s what’s so interesting. You have someone who went through with it — he thought he was killing himself — he’s then thrust into a position of [having] a bomb strapped to him and he can just let go and he will be dead, and now he’s fighting for life…because of what he believes in. … It’s a full turnaround.
Do you feel like David has proper closure at the end?
I’d be happy. It’s a lovely, contained piece. We never intended to more series with it, and I love this contained story. This six hours of television is a really great way to show this chapter in this man’s life. … If there’s another chapter in his life that the writer wants to show and a story worth telling, I’d be happy with that, too.
What has surprised you the most about the reaction to the show?
I did not expect this many people to watch it. The numbers went up and up until we were nearly double by the end, which seems really strange. People were watching TV live again because it came out weekly in the UK. All of these things were really kind of overwhelming and really encouraging because there’s a 160-something crew on this job and we all worked really, really hard for it. … It’s such a great payoff for everything. And then for it to travel across the water has been overwhelming and strange but I’m thrilled.
How has the response to “Bodyguard” compared to “Game of Thrones”?
People are really engaged with me on “Bodyguard,” which is interesting, and people are heartbroken for this man and where he was in his life. I suppose nothing is going to be the same as the reaction to the Robb Stark death, which is a great way to die, and a lot of people are still very heartbroken by that.
Now that “Game of Thrones” is coming to an end, is there something you want to see from it before it does?
There’s nothing I want to see. … I think they’ve done it so well, in terms of the amount of time we’ve had “Game of Thrones” and are sitting with it. I think it’s great to come to a great end on this and not run it out [for] another five years — as much as I could watch another five years of it.