Axey here, with another HOT TAKE INTERVIEW!
(No, I dunno what “hot take” even means. The kids are saying it!)
This time I’m reunited (after 5 years!) with the inimitable John Bradley. The interview was to help promote the worldwide release of TRADERS, a film in which he co-stars with Killian Scott as a pair of recently-sacked tech stock blokes who… shall we say… come up with a rather bizarre way to make money. It’s a little Fight Club meets The Wolf of Wall Street, but generally set on the dilapidated outskirts of an economically-strapped city.
I first met John five years ago (!) in London, where we conducted our first interview at Ye Olde Site, and … wow, time has flown by!
Reuniting with him was, as they say, both sweet and sundry. It was like no time at all had passed. And of course, that was how I began the interview…
Axey: Wow, John. Five years.
John: I know! Yeah! How’ve you been?
Fabulous, as I do. But probably not as good as you.
No complaints. It has been five years. That’s amazing. It was [at] the Soho Theatre Bar. Five years. That’s crazy.
With Adele’s Rolling in the Deep on constant repeat.
Yes, lovely. So how’ve you been? Still busy this time of year, with [the show] just ending?
Well things are ramping down. Comic-Con’s right around the corner though, so it’ll ramp up quickly again. Congrats on all the success you’ve had, on the show and personally, professionally…
Oh, that’s very kind, thank you.
So compare the now to the then. What’s changed? That’s what I want to know! What’s changed?
What, in the show? Or in my life?
Well, yeah! Personally!
You know, I’d have to say… Not that much! I’m always a bit suspicious of people who say “Something changed my life…” You know, or, “A show, or a role changed my life.” I’m not willing to say that, as it would imply I had a life I wanted to change. And I didn’t really. And everything I’ve wanted to keep the same I’ve kind of kept the same. Things have changed professionally. I think the advantage of being on a show like that, is everyone sees it. People in the industry see it, are fans of it. And so you have this wealth of experience, and they have this kind of wealth of knowledge of how you work.
Which makes it a lot easier for them to see your potential in whatever role they’re casting. But another worry is that you, on that show, you’re kind of defined by that role. So you worry that you’re going to be stuck with that, stuck with this Sam clone. But the thing with this show, and its massive fan base, is you can build on that with independent movies like TRADERS, and other roles. If you are so clearly defined by a character, you can subvert that, and you focus on the surprise element of that. So I think that we’ve all obviously become so much more well known in the past 5 years, but I think I can speak for all of us when I say that it’s still a comfortable thing [being on the GoT set], and we can still live relatively normal lives. We’re still respected as actors, and we’re not having our privacy invaded all the time, and there’s a cache within the industry, because they know fans of the show are multiplying all the time, and so we can use that to get projects off the ground.
That sounds like a lovely balance, actually.
It is! I mean, I still live in Manchester, and I still see all my old friends, because that was something I steadfastly refused to change. I can’t speak for everybody else, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s all changed for the better, and it’s changed in all the ways I wanted it to. And that feeling of control is something I gain quite a lot of satisfaction from. The paranoia that people have, of entering into The Machine, and it changing you… I think I’ve resisted that. I think I see that in a lot of other [GoT actors] as well. People in the top tier, people like Kit. Kit hasn’t changed from the guy that I met six years ago.
I met him, I agree! Kit is Kit.
He really hasn’t changed. Not that I was expecting him to. But when you’re dealing with that level of fame and success, and that level of responsibility over your career, I think you’d have to expect some kind of a change. But it hasn’t happened. All of them. And I’m just using Kit as an example. It’s all of them really. At their very core, though it’s been five, six years, they’re all still the same people they always were.
I see exactly what you’re saying. There’s a distinct lack of pretentiousness. The kids especially; they’ve grown up on the show. And you see interviews with Maisie, and Sophie, and Isaac. They’ve maintained their same sense of humor, they don’t put on any airs. And maybe there’s a difference between American “child actors” and British ones. And maybe it’s the British upbringing? Because you’re sort of expected to stay somewhat grounded, or your British friends will probably take the piss out of you, constantly.
[laughs] Yeah! I think that’s something that’s really in our favour. Most of us, the younger ones, we were almost completely unknown before the show started. So we knew each other before the show started, knew each other before we were, quote, “famous”, and that’s the big advantage, doing this show that we all started to love. And we don’t want to see us change in that way, so we won’t let each other change. Else there’d be a lot of bubbles bursting, and people would quickly be told [by the others]. And I really don’t think anybody on this show really wanted to change. Everyone I’d met prior to beginning filming the show… they were already lovely, and adorable, and smart, well-adjusted, humble… and I think most of us still are. Because we don’t ever let each other think we are otherwise.
That’s great. It’s a great cast, and we love these interviews.
Still on the topic of change… Let’s talk about your new film, because I love what TRADERS did with you. Because the differences between… Well, when you start out, the viewer meets your character Vernon Stynes. He’s a lovely chap.
[laughs] Right, he is.
A funny fellow. He has this somewhat weird obsession with death and suicide statistics, but other than that you could go, “Oh, a modern Sam.”
[playfully] And then…
And then the twist. I’m not spoiling too much to say Vernon is actually quite a bit different than Sam.
Polar opposites in a sense.
Indeed! You essentially play the antagonist to Killian Scott’s anguished protagonist Harry Fox, basically being the cheerful devil on his shoulder.
And I loved it. Fulfills every kind of ambition that I’ve had, nearly. Playing this sort of fly in the ointment character. Completely subversive. And playing lead, as well, or second lead. That’s been rare, for me.
Yes, you headline it with Killian, and it’s really the Vernon and Harry story, in a sense.
It is, it sort of parallels their journey. Because really, they begin at the same point [in time].
If you don’t mind me saying, it reminded me a bit of Fight Club. The V.O., even at times how it was shot. It’s got an eye for this sort of modern but real dystopia; there’s light but it doesn’t warm. (Axey note: Cinematography by Peter Robertson and art direction by Noel Aherne deserve much of the credit here.)
Yeah, we’ve gotten a comment or two like that.
I really enjoyed it. And especially enjoyed your performance, because it’s so unexpected.
Well thank you.
There’s a thing with Vernon in the eyes. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first, because he was seemingly so Sam-like at the very beginning, but I could tell something was off.
“Off” is about right.
Well, let’s be blunt. He’s crazy.
Not sure if it’s sociopath or psychopath. Maybe a bit of both.
He has a little bit of everything. Some attention deficit disorder, some obsessive compulsiveness with all the rules he establishes, and near the beginning even Vernon becomes a bit agitated at the thought of breaking any of his rules.
How was filming it? Rachel Moriarty and Peter Murphy wrote and directed…
Lovely. It was exciting. They were great. They had a keen vision of what they wanted, but were able to play to each of our strengths, I think. And playing Vernon was very interesting, for me, because he’s so interested in everything going on around him, and yet he’s so detached. Clinically detached, maybe. I mean he’s very smart. He understands how he looks, and understands the fact that people will completely overlook him as any sort of threat based on that. And playing someone who is accustomed to being underestimated so badly was nice. It gave him, and me, a lot of freedom.
He’s certainly not the first guy you’d vote likely to knife anyone.
And not to give too much away, because I still want people to be legitimately surprised by certain events, but I think it’s fair to say you bleed a lot more in TRADERS than you ever have on ‘Thrones.
Well it’s a bloody business for everyone.
It certainly is.
I like that the violence isn’t glorified in any way. If you get cut, you bleed, and fights generally aren’t these cinematic, drawn-out events.
They’re quick and messy.
Exactly, yeah. And it’s exhausting. People don’t know how utterly exhausting a fight can be, even a few seconds in.
I quite enjoyed the realism.
Thank you. It was fun to play.
So I know this is all about TRADERS, but you know what we’re about! I have a few Thronescentric questions!
Yes, right, of course! Have at it.
First off, James Faulkner. Is sitting across the table from the man who plays Randyll Tarly just as intimidating as it felt to us?
Yes, of course. Well, alright, no, probably not. But it helps, him being James Faulkner. Having that stare. We’ve been rather comfortable, Hannah [Murray] and I, filming our scenes with only the occasional intruder, but being on that set, desperately trying to avoid Randyll Tarly’s eyes…
Death stare from hell.
Exactly. Which suits [the scene] just fine, really. And he’s lovely, of course. But this is a man we’ve been waiting to meet since season one.
He doesn’t disappoint.
He’s been in Sam’s head. Always has been. And it’s great to see them meet.
It wasn’t great from Sam’s perspective.
No, of course not. But that’s what we expect. And it is even perhaps worse [than we expected].
I really enjoyed your performance. You could see Sam shrinking down into himself, hunched over, bit by bit. He wanted to be anywhere but there.
Yeah, he literally shrinks, and I was doing this one thing, where… Sam’s hand, I don’t know if you can see, but he’s twisting his fingers. They’re all bent. It’s like he’s purposefully giving himself additional pain.
On top of the pain he’s getting right there.
Yeah, physical to compensate for the psychological, I suppose.
But he still can’t make Randyll Tarly go away.
Well no. This man has been looming large in Sam’s mind since he was a child. And now Sam’s back where he started.
Like a childhood demon made manifest. It’s almost like he’s going through his own bit of PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder].
But Sam has his moment. I think talking to Gilly gives him the strength to have his moment of rebelliousness.
Well he fears for her, and for baby Sam. He can’t leave them with this monster, no matter how nice [the rest of it] might be.
And so he takes his father’s Valyrian sword.
[correcting] Family’s Valyrian sword.
[laughing] Yes, right, sorry.
He can’t leave something like that alone.
I feel like we haven’t seen the last of Randyll Tarly. I don’t expect he will exactly stand by idly once that sword has gone missing.
Probably not, no!
Speaking of things that were seen but unseen, that massive library in Oldtown…
Yeah, lovely. All green screen, of course. Most of it.
And that’s how it was described on the page. “Every single book, ever. Sam’s in heaven.” And he is. All that knowledge in one place. It’s like a dream.
Is it hard playing that sort of wonderment for something you can’t actually see?
Well we’ve got more and more of that as each season goes by. So you get used to it. The entire team is into it. It’s not hard to pretend.
And it probably turned out even better on the screen than it had seemed on the page. Just gorgeous!
It really was.
I can’t wait to see more of it next season.
Glad for that!
…Upon which point our time was up, alas! I could have taken an hour of conversation with this guy, but sadly we only had 15 minutes.
But I am very thankful we got this interview! Great catching up with John!