Search

"You don't have to look like a superhero to be one." John Bradley is back in the game

He won the affection of millions as Samwell Tarley – now John Bradley is fighting the moon. He discusses playing everyday heroes, his love of Elbow – and why he wishes he could reshoot the first season of Game of Thrones  

John Bradley
John Bradley

Let it be known: John Bradley is one of the good ones. I say this not only as a testament to his work as an actor, but to his character.

The game of acting is the game of making one’s self the object of an audience's affection. John Bradley stole the hearts of the world when he played Samwell Tarley on Game of Thrones for over eight years. Joining a show that goes on for a few seasons? Try eight and a global audience of over 10 million people.

Millions of viewers fought for Sam till the very end—and it is my great suspicion that the role became what it was because John Bradley was behind it. No surprise to know D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have snatched him for another TV show: The Three Body Problem. (Based on the best-selling book by Liu Cixin.)

Bradley took a while to acclimitise to life after Westeros, telling Square Mile that "We finished shooting Game of Thrones a year before in spring 2018 and I didn’t work for a whole year after that."

Happily, this nice guy is back in the race. From headlining Roland Emmerich’s new disaster film Moonfall to managing Kat Valdez (Aka J. Lo) in Marry Me – Bradley isn’t slowing down. So whether it's winter that’s coming, or the moon that’s out of orbit – you know who will save us in the end.

(For the ultimate reading experience: throw on Lippy Kids by Elbow.)

You’ve spoken about the profound impact Sam had on the world in the past. What is the impact you’re looking to have moving forward, specifically with Marry Me and Moonfall?

Well J Lo’s character in Marry Me and Samwell are actually quite alike in many ways. And they’re not, strictly speaking, happy. But both of those characters become happy when they find the one person that they’re looking for in life; and I think it’s a really beautiful parallel to draw between those two characters. They both have so much on their mind, and they’re both sort of snowed under with what they think of themselves and what the world thinks of them.

But then they meet one person and fall in love and none of that matters anymore. It's about shrinking your circle of consciousness down and down and down and down to its very core, which is you and one other person being in love with each other. I think that’s a really nice lesson for anyone to learn—as soon as you find that person or you find that thing, nothing else really matters. You get a new perspective on everything. 

When it comes to KC, KC is a man who is steadfast in his conviction and has a lot of self-belief and what he has to say can save the world, and indeed does save the world. And I think the best thing is that he doesn’t look like a conventional superhero. Patrick Wilson looks like a conventional superhero and KC doesn’t. And I think the lesson that you can learn from that is that you don’t have to look like a superhero to be one. You don’t have to fit into that very narrow bound of what we consider to be, sort of, herodom to have an impact.

And at the moment, with Covid and the climate crisis – it's just nice to remember that you may feel small and insignificant sometimes, but you can make a difference. If you recycle your plastic, if you buy a sort-of hybrid car, or you just stay at home and don’t go out or you wear a mask or take the vaccine - you are playing your part in doing something huge. It’s a nice example of how seemingly overlooked people can have a part to play in big things. So inspiration, I hope.

John Bradley

I know that Marry Me chose you without an audition process so I'm wondering — did you have specific people or moments that gave you that momentum to move on to these new projects? Moonfall and now Three Body Problem is filming as well…

Yeah - that’s gonna be good. Well, you know, what happened with Marry Me in particular was sort of an interesting time of my life. We'd finished shooting Game of Thrones a year before in spring 2018 and I didn’t work for a whole year after that. Just because I didn’t get things, auditions didn’t go my way, and I turned down things that were a bit in the same sort of sphere as Game of Thrones. And I was getting more and more down about it.

I was lucky enough to have gotten into Game of Thrones, surely lighting's not going to strike twice, surely no one’s going to give me an opportunity like that again. And then just after the final season of Game of Thrones, I got a call to say that Jennifer Lopez was making a romantic comedy and there was a part in it that they wanted me to do.

I thought, that’s so interesting and I’m so grateful, but why? What about Samwell made them think I’d be able to play this sort of slightly naive, but also quite sharp, quite dynamic music manager figure? Theres nothing in that part that made me think that they would make that connection.

It turned out when I got to the set, the producer Elaine saw me do an interview with Ellen DeGeneres and that is what gave them the idea that I could do this part. That made me feel so good because they didn’t want me for Samwell, they wanted me for me. For the me that I am. A lot of people say that I’m quite similar to Samwell but I’m actually not, I’m quite different and for them to see some sense of worth in me and not just framed in this character I had been so closely associated with – that was an amazing thing as well. It’s nice now, people are letting me show the different sides of myself, and trusting me with different parts.

David and Dan, Benioff and Weiss, what they’ve said about Three Body Problem is that the character that they have given to me in this show is the closest thing to me that they have ever written. They’ve never written a character as close to a person as they have for this character and me. That’s quite flattering, in a way. But then you read the script with that in mind, and you think—oh, alright—you know what I mean? It gives you a sense of the person that they think I am but then again that’s very different as well.

That’s the lesson that I’ve learned - that sometimes your confidence can take a bit of a hit, you don’t feel like you’re in a good place, or that you’re particularly capable but there will be people out there who see you totally differently. They see your worth when you can’t sometimes.

Well, something cool about your career now, John, is that you’ve been able to go through so many genres. It’s such a dream, especially for young actors, so, of all the ones you’ve done - what is your favorite? Do you like to live in a specific world in particular?

It’s sort of weird, isn’t it? What I try to do as an actor, and what I really like and respect that other actors do, is that even though I do go into different worlds: heightened sci-fi, a medieval fantasy world and the real world—I still try my hardest to make the characters real. I don’t think I’m that much more heightened in Moonfall than I am in Marry Me. They sort of sit in what I like to call the hyper-real. I try to find what the real is and then turn it up a little bit.

Case in point—Martin Freeman. When Martin Freeman was in The Hobbit, he could have so easily turned that into a very heightened sort of fantasy performance. But he kind of keeps it vaguely naturalistic in that heightened world. I find that really quite attractive when people do that, because it brings people in—it gives the audience that warmth to it. They don’t back away, they recognize the humanity in that world and then they invest in it because of that. That’s what I always try to do.

So I enjoy them all. But I like my characters to sit, dramatically and from an acting point of view, in a very consistent place throughout all of them if I can.

John Bradley

I know you did a lot of green screen for Moonfall. What were you thinking while doing that work?

It’s interesting because there’s a line in it where we fly into the deep, and inner core of the moon, and Halle’s character says that it’s some kind of gyroscopic systemic—and the only gyroscopic system that I’d ever come across is the opening credits of Game of Thrones—when you see those rings moving around the center core. That’s the only gyroscope that I’ve ever encountered in my life. They’re talking about flying through the moon and the only frame of reference that I had and could muster up was me literally flying through the opening couple of seconds of Game of Thrones.

It’s kind of weird how these things come in handy. That’s all I had. I had no reference for the inside of the moon. You know when there’s been a car accident and they get witnesses to draw their own sort of version of events? It would be quite nice for me, Patrick, and Halle to all get together and draw up what we were imagining flying through cause I imagine they are all completely different.

And this is what I’ve said before, people who haven’t done that kind of work—they think it must be so awkward: How can you do that? Don’t you look stupid? Don’t you worry that you feel stupid while you’re doing it? But you can do it really easily when you’re a kid. When you’re a kid you can imagine you’re in space, you can imagine that your driving a train, or riding a house and you don’t feel stupid as a kid — you get more self conscious as you get older. So it’s about getting in touch with that little bit of yourself - getting rid of your inhibitions and allowing your imagination to sort of have its head a bit.

Since you started acting seriously, how do you think it’s changed your relationship to yourself and the world around you – did it bring in that childlike sense of wonder on a day to day basis with the people in your life?

It did. It did to some degree. I loved acting so much as a kid – it was the place I knew I was good and I knew I could do it. For a kid who was sort of overweight and couldn’t do sports and wasn’t very good at games and had a lot of self doubt—it was the one place I knew I was sort of better than everybody else. It was the place I knew I could take the floor and have all the right kind of attention on me. And I really loved it, I really loved the release I got from it.

But it’s so weird, since I started acting professionally— when it’s what you do to pay the bills and there’s millions of people watching you and if it goes wrong they’re all going to say you’re not very good—it sort of takes something away from it. It takes that sense of enjoyment and childlike wonder away a bit, because suddenly the stakes are much much higher.

Even at drama school, you only used to perform for your friends and the people that you knew. Now, performing to millions of people that you’re never going to meet, all around the world, like I said—it’s a real privilege, but you’re never gonna feel the same way about something you loved again. I imagine it’s the same for musicians, and sports people—as soon as your hobby becomes your job you lose that sense of wonder. But what you suddenly get from it is the chance to make connections with all sorts of people. What you lose in one hand, you gain in another – but your relationship to it will never be the same.

View on Instagram

So do you ever go back and watch Game of Thrones, to reconnect to it or re-experience it?

I see some of it. Whenever it’s on I always flick past it to see if I’m on— but I never am. But one thing that I’ve found – that I am sure is the same for not just people in Game of Thrones but people in any number of series that last a long time – I watch it and I think: Oh, God I wish we could do the early seasons again.

People say, oh please redo the final season of it. That’s one thing. But I wish we could do season one again. Because I watch it now and you can tell that we’re just finding our way, and it doesn’t look quite right and the characterizations aren’t quite there yet. It sort of drives me mad that when people start watching Game of Thrones that’ll be the first season that they see. It’s not our best work, and we all got so much better than that.

And that’s the thing I find kind of heartbreaking—that people’s first impressions of it will be something I consider to be not quite right, and not quite what it became. That’s just something that we have to live with. I’d give anything to go back to that now with all the work I’ve done since and all the experience I’ve got and just have a go at some of those scenes again. Cause they do the job, but they’re just not quite what I would want them to be now.

But that’s good isn’t it! That’s a good thing. You don’t want to look back at your work from twelve years ago and think that’s as good as you ever were.

I know you’re a huge music buff, and I wanted to know if you create playlists or artists that help you live in the world, or immerse yourself? Specifically with Marry Me and Moonfall to get you into the zone?

In MoonFall, in particular—and it can be anything – it can be one line in one song that changes my emotion in a split second. There's a band here called Elbow. There’s two songs by them in recent years: one is called Charge and the other is called Lippy Kids. They’re really great songs. In the beginning of the movie, I was listening to Charge by Elbow because there’s a line that goes, “glory be these fuckers are ignoring me.” I just thought that said everything about KC not being heard.

And in Lippy Kids, it’s quite a literal line, but, it goes, “Nobody knew me at home anymore…build a rocket boys”. It’s really quite literal, cause nobody does know him at home anymore and he is totally alone and he goes on this great big adventure. Elbow really helped, and they’re from Manchester! I actually met them on a train once. Guy Garvey has a great habit of crystalizing thoughts like that. So those two lines in those two songs were all I needed to tap into those different emotions.

Well now that you have all these projects John - who are you happiest to be sharing everything with?

My family certainly. They aren’t theatrical people, they aren’t actors and they’re not artistic but without realizing it, they enabled something within me that facilitated what I went on to do.

For example, when I was a kid, I used to play out stuff. What I liked doing more than anything was pretending to be a doctor; I’d have them waiting and queued up outside my room and then they’d come in and I’d have a little pad and little tie on.

Funnily enough, there’s a shot in Moonfall when I go and see my mum in her home—a shot of me as a tiny little kid on her dressing table—that’s really me when I was six years old! I’ve got a shirt and tie on and that’s how I used to dress when I was pretending to be a doctor. People would come into my room and I’d be there in my shirt and tie and I’d be like, so what seems to be the problem? Oh, well I’ve got these terrible headaches! Oh well I’ll give you this prescription!

I used to act out these scenes and without realizing it, without knowing what they were setting me up for, that was instilling something in me. They really let that side of my imagination run free, so I owe everything to them. They’re proud of me in all the best possible ways, they're always at the back of my mind. I’m glad they can see it, cause it’s all for them really.

Moonfall and Marry Me are in cinemas now

Loading