Mr Richard Madden On <i>Bodyguard</i>, Strong Women And Six-Packs
The Scottish actor on objectification, roles in the “grey zones” and how he escapes the attention of being a star.
It has been a dizzying week for Mr Richard Madden as the reaction to his latest television series, Bodyguard, has intensified. The BBC’s delirious new primetime thriller - which stars Mr Madden in the title role — has generally been a ratings and critical hit. However, this being 2018, it wouldn’t do to not have a furore, and Bodyguard’s so far seems to revolve around the number of women shown in positions of power. In short: there’s too many, apparently, at least, according to many Twitterati – who felt this was an example of the BBC being unrealistically politically correct. (This despite the fact that until April 2018, the United Kingdom had a female prime minister, home secretary and Metropolitan Police commissioner.) Mr Madden, who is drily Scottish at the best of times, has no truck with misogynist trolls.
“I just thought: this is so fucking bananas!”, the 32-year-old exclaims over a light lunch. The usual healthy foods are complemented by a Diet Coke, a packet of cigarettes and a liberal use of the F-word that verges on the Rab C Nesbitt. “It’s not unrealistic at all to have these women in there – it’s completely normal.” It should be like that, he says. “Especially when the show focuses on a young white male. Let’s not forget that the camera is on a young white male the whole time.”
Handsome, affable and enjoyably cheeky, Mr Madden has thus far shuttled between two types of role: the romantic hero and the action ingénue. Sometimes he has done both at the same time – most famously playing Robb Stark in Game Of Thrones. He has played Prince Kit in Cinderella, and he has been Romeo on-stage, not once but twice. He has also bounced about and wielded a gun in Bastille Day, opposite Mr Idris Elba. Bodyguard has guns, but it’s the chance to expand his range that made him jump at the role. In the six-part series he plays David Budd, a bodyguard whose time as a soldier at war has left him suffering with PTSD. When Budd is assigned to protect a hostile, hawkish home secretary (Ms Keeley Hawes), we soon realise he may not actually want to protect her. Apart from those times when he’s in bed with her, of course.
“It’s such a grey zone,” Mr Madden says with relish. “I’ve played loads of princes and Romeos and kings, so it’s great to play something where it’s like: is he a good guy or a bad guy? Where does his heart lie?” This week, though, he is just glad to have gathered it’s doing well. “It’s just a relief. Because half of the time you work so hard on something, and it comes out, and it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, two stars, fine.’ And you’re like, ‘I nearly fucking died doing that!’ So, it’s great. The work paid off.”
In person, Mr Madden likes to give off a mock-grouchy air, but he’s by no means as glum as he may sound. The character he has played that he most resembles – or he wishes he resembles – is Leo West, the superstar DJ he played in Netflix’s recent romantic comedy, Ibiza. Leo West is handsome, successful, kind to women and well-dressed. “He’s just a better version of me,” chuckles Mr Madden. “A nicer, more optimistic guy than I am.” You do sense that the actor is a bit tired of the sweet heartthrob roles, but he’s too grounded to fully complain. Ask him if he worries about objectification and his eyebrows hit the sky.
“I don’t worry about it,” he says. “I worry sometimes about it affecting my job. If people go, ‘Oh, you know, he’s that hunky thing’, then it undermines that actually I’m an actor, and I’m trying really hard to be good at it.” He doesn’t feel he can say much about it, though, since it’s been done to women since time immemorial. “So I don’t really have a right to be pissed off.”
Then again, he doesn’t deny that the pressure is there. “I’ve done loads of jobs where I’ve been asked, or told, I need to lose weight – or I need to be in the gym every day. And that sucks, because it actually gets in the way of the job, a bit. And also because it’s just unrealistic. Not everyone walks around with six-packs – unless you’re on Love Island.” Ah yes, but aren’t we all on Love Island now? Today’s culture seems more body-conscious than ever. Mr Madden agrees.
“I was out in Ibiza earlier this year, and it was so funny – every guy had a six-pack. It was like, have you all just worked out all year for that one week in Ibiza where you can drink and party? Or is everybody just really genetically gifted? Because I know I only get a six-pack if I don’t eat and work out for months. That’s the only way it happens. I mean, I’m eating fucking potatoes and bread right now, you know?” (Exclusive: he really is.)
If Mr Madden can talk about the pressures of his industry with some detachment, it’s because he is, in fact, a veteran. Growing up in a village on the outskirts of Glasgow, he started doing youth theatre; aged 11, casting agents came by and picked him up to feature in the film adaptation of Iain Banks novel Complicity. (Funnily enough, it also co-starred Ms Hawes, but they didn’t get it on in that.) This led to a recurring role in a TV show, Barmy Aunt Boomerang, with Ms Toyah Willcox as his aunt. Aired twice a week at 4pm, it turned Mr Madden into a minor local celebrity. “It taught me a lot at that age [13, 14], so that by the time I got to my early twenties and went through Game Of Thrones, on a more global scale, I could deal with it.” Ask what he was taught, and it’s clear they weren’t all nice lessons.
“It fucked me up,” he says. “I was really isolated. I was the first kid I knew to have a mobile phone, because it was the only way I could keep in touch with my mum and dad.” Mr Madden’s father worked in the fire service, his mother was a classroom assistant. There is no showbiz history in his family, although they’ve always been supportive. He is named for his father, also Richard – “as my mother says, ‘Big Dick and Little Dick’,” he sighs.
Long filming days meant that Mr Madden would barely see them or his two sisters. The greater issue, though, was when the series ended and he had to return to normal schooling. “Kids,” sighs Mr Madden, simply. He seems to have really hit his groove at drama school in Glasgow, meeting other men his age interested in acting – he was no longer a rarity. Mr Madden can only ever recall wanting to be an actor. “I don’t have any other skill set,” he insists. None? “I can juggle...”
His next role asks for further versatility. In the forthcoming Sir Elton John biopic Rocketman, Mr Madden plays Mr John Reid, Sir Elton’s first boyfriend and long-term manager – until they fell out. Mr Reid, still alive, is by all accounts a “character”, but Mr Madden can’t verify for himself. “I’d like to meet him, but I think I was told I was legally not allowed to.”
Either way, he is enjoying being “more on the villain side of things” and trying to adapt to his new look. A few days before we meet, he had his gingery-brown hair dyed much darker in order to do Mr Reid justice. “It’s lightened up,” he says unsurely. More fun are the costumes: he shows a picture of him in full 1970s garb. “Look at the Cuban heel on that! I look like a shop worker from a department store.” (It’s not clear whether this is a compliment.)
The very next thing in his diary, though, is a wedding in Scotland that weekend. Mr Madden himself is in a relationship but won’t say much more; by all accounts it’s with a fellow actor, Ms Ellie Bamber. He lives alone, in east London. He enjoys the city but also tries to spend more time in Scotland. “It’s so gorgeous, and I actually know so very little of it… I’m happiest up there.” His next aim is to buy a little place on the west coast that he could escape to. “But I couldn’t live there full-time,” he frowns. “It would be too quiet. I’m only 32.”
Perhaps he’ll finally do it when the madness gets too much. Various weird things written about him, such as the listicle headed “21 Times When Richard Madden Made You Say ‘Whoa There, Sexy Tiger’”. He honks when told of this.
“No one’s ever said ‘Whoa there, sexy tiger’ to me. I did read my own obituary once, though. It was quite weird to read: ‘He leaves behind...’” What did he leave behind? He puffs on an umpteenth cigarette. “A lot of bloody mistakes.”
Bodyguard is on BBC One, Sundays until 23 September