Richard Madden rockets past Game Of Thrones fame

Richard Madden, who played Robb Stark in Game Of Thrones for three seasons, gained more attention as a British politician's protection officer in the mini-series Bodyguard.
Richard Madden, who played Robb Stark in Game Of Thrones for three seasons, gained more attention as a British politician's protection officer in the mini-series Bodyguard.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • When it comes to award shows, always listen to Julianne Moore.

Richard Madden knows this now, though he did not in January, when the Scottish actor found himself seated next to her at the Golden Globes.

He had received his first Globe nomination for playing a British politician's protection officer in the hit mini-series Bodyguard (2018 to present).

Before the names in his category were read, Moore leaned over to strategise. "She was like: 'OK, sweetie, if you win, do you want to come out behind me or do you want to go around the other way?'" Madden recalled. He responded incredulously: Of course, he would not win.

But he did. And as the orchestra began to play, he had no idea where to go. With a professional's ease, Moore stood up, stepped back and coaxed him past her to the stage.

"And then when I came back," he said, "she was like: "I asked you which way you wanted to go.'"

When it comes to navigating his path through Hollywood, Madden, 32, prefers to figure it out on the fly.

You can catch him in the movie Rocketman, where he plays a cunning music manager whose seduction of Elton John extends past the boardroom and into the bedroom. The movie opens in Singapore on Thursday.

It is a far cry from Madden's best-known role as Robb Stark, the virtuous, doomed Game Of Thrones character who perished during the show's notorious Red Wedding episode.

That series got bigger and bigger as it went on but, after his third-season exit in 2013, Madden was no longer around to partake in the spoils.

Still, being killed off early has its benefits - it let him gradually age out of callow prince roles and start playing complicated adult men.

His role in Bodyguard in autumn last year served as a reintroduction of sorts, a signal to the industry that Madden's matinee-idol looks had grown gratifyingly flinty.

Even his vulnerability now seemed dangerous.

"I'm so used to playing the good guy that bad things happen to," Madden said. "I was interested in playing a slightly darker character, with different motivations to him."

His Rocketman role, John Reid, let him play the Machiavellian type with a jolt of sexual electricity.

The character of Reid may seem like a shark but Madden conceived him as a big bluffer working hard to conceal his nerves "because that echoed me on set, trying to be the cool character, but actually panicking underneath".

Madden has felt that sense of precariousness since he was a child actor growing up outside Glasgow, where classmates teased him for leaving school to pursue roles.

Even when he got his big break on Game Of Thrones (2011 to 2019), it came with a catch. Many of his co-stars were recast after the pilot was shot, an early reminder that "you've to bring your best to this show because it's going to go on with or without you".

Eventually, the show did just that, though not before bestowing Madden with a level of fame that surprised him. "I thought it would just be like a niche, cult show," he said. "I didn't think it was going to be, like" - he paused to think of something appropriately huge - "Game Of Thrones," he said finally.

Still, even that series could not quite prepare Madden for the level of attention he has received since Bodyguard debuted.

A twisty, sexually charged action drama set against the war on terror, it was a sensation in Britain when it came out on BBC, though Madden kept expecting the other shoe to drop.

"You're always waiting for it to fail or go wrong," he said. "I did it with every episode of Bodyguard, thinking: 'This will be the week where the audience turns on us and starts hating the show.'"

They never did and the frenzy kicked up by Bodyguard has led to new roles.

Madden is soon to shoot the Sam Mendes-directed World War I drama 1917 and, it is rumoured, the Marvel movie The Eternals.

But there is unwanted attention too. Paparazzi interest has become so prevalent in London, where Madden lives much of the year, that his neighbours have started a group chat to warn the actor if any photographers are lingering outside.

Tabloid interest in his personal life has increased too: Madden, who was in a relationship with actress Ellie Bamber until last year, has recently been photographed several times with actor Brandon Flynn, who used to date singer Sam Smith.

Are the two men an item?

Madden shrugged, unbothered by the question. "I just keep my personal life personal," he said.

He is working on a way to deter paparazzi interest in who he is seen with. "I wear the same clothes for days in a row because, if it looks like the same day, they can't run the pictures," he said.

"There are only so many photos you can have of me with a green juice walking down the street."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2019, with the headline 'Richard Madden rockets past Game Of Thrones fame'. Print Edition | Subscribe