If you thought Cinderella’s tiny glass slippers were hard to fill, try walking a mile in Prince Charming’s polished shoes. It’s not easy to play a character that’s practically the Ur-prince of all fairy tales — handsome, chivalrous, and the personified projection of romantic longing — but in Kenneth Branagh’s new live-action adaptation of Cinderella, Richard Madden proves himself up to the task. We got the Game of Thrones alum on the phone to discuss how he pulled off all of his princely dancing scenes, how he feels about the HBO series now that he’s been killed off, and why he’s so obsessed with Doctor Who.
You often take on projects like Game of Thrones and Klondike that put you through some arduous paces. Does something like Cinderella, then, feel like a vacation?
You know, I got this job while I was shooting Klondike, and I said, “This is great. I’m not going to be covered in blood or mud, or carrying things for hours!” But actually, it was just as hard as both of them, just in a very different way. I had to work on it for months to get the dance choreography down, and I was doing a lot of scenes on horseback. You think something’s going to be easy, and it never is — you end up putting the same amount of effort and time into it.
So dancing doesn’t come easily to you?
Oh, I am not naturally gifted in dancing, in any way! Stupidly, I didn’t go to those classes in drama school. I was like, “I don’t need that, I’ll never be dancing in anything.” And then you get a part like this, and you go, “Oh, misery. I’ve made a terrible decision.” [Laughs.] I’ve got two left feet, and we had to make it look as though I didn’t.
While also not forgetting to deliver a performance!
Absolutely. That’s why I trained so much, because I didn’t want to be thinking about my feet on the day of shooting. I wanted to be thinking about Cinderella, and looking into her eyes and playing that scene.
The movie has a pretty fabulous cast, and you have some terrific actors to share scenes with, but did you consider it a grave injustice that you’re in a film with Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter, yet you don’t get major scenes to share with them?
Well, I do have a little bit to do with Cate. She takes your breath away because she’s so beautiful, but she’s also a mega movie star. Fortunately, she’s humble and lovely, and I just consider it an honor to be on the same set as that sort of caliber of actor. To be with Derek Jacobi and Stellan Skarsgard, it’s a master class in acting every day.
And you’ve got an actor serving as your director, which is surely helpful.
Particularly with a role like this, since it’s my first big film and a character everyone already has their own impressions of. That was terrifying, but I think Ken understood all those anxieties I’d be having and gave me a lot of confidence on the day to play and create and push all that out of my mind. I’ve watched his career in awe.
Tell me about the prince’s outfits, which were designed by costume designer Sandy Powell. He wears some very pristine garments … and some very tight pants.
Actually, when I first went in to meet Sandy and talk about these costumes, I wanted to make sure that we were seeing the masculinity within his strength. I wanted him to feel like a young man, and a soldier as well, because what Sandy does so well is to work in functionality: My first day on set, those boots and trousers and jacket were made for horse-riding, and they were also very beautiful. So when I went in and saw the white doublet with silver and sparkles and glitter on it, I was like, “Sandy, we discussed the masculinity element, remember that?” But once you put it on and you’re on those amazing sets, it actually kind of empowers you. You feel regal wearing it, and it makes you stand up straight and affects the way you walk. So it was actually very useful!
And you’ve been nude onscreen before, so I might think that those skintight pants wouldn’t make you so bashful.
No, it’s not the worst thing, although you’re very conscious for the first couple of weeks that you’re so exposed — both front and back! But you get used to it, because luckily, all the other boys had to wear the same thing.
What’s your relationship to Game of Thrones like now that you’re off the show? Are you as intrigued by the new season as we are?
I love the show, and I can just enjoy it now, which is a nice thing. I don’t know what’s coming next anymore! When you’re in it and you read the scripts, it’s different. Now I can be surprised like everyone else.
Fans of the books keep hoping that Lady Stoneheart will show up, if only to avenge your brutal Red Wedding. Do you think they should include that character?
I love Lady Stoneheart! But I don’t know. I’ll stay out of it and see what they do.
Seeing as how you were on Game of Thrones and your girlfriend Jenna-Louise Coleman stars on Doctor Who, do you ever feel guilty for dominating two of the biggest fantasy projects to come out of Britain in ages?
[Laughs.] I do! I mean, I’ve watched Doctor Who since I was a kid. I loved it, and I still love it. I can geek out about it, like when I go to set and see the TARDIS. I was selfie-ing the shit out of it, and sending it to my dad! “Look, it’s me in the TARDIS!” I thought it was the coolest thing ever.
You’re reteaming with your Cinderella co-star Lily James for a West End production of Romeo and Juliet that Kenneth Branagh will also direct. You were in a production of this play when you first started your career. How will this be a different take?
Now I’m a bit older and hopefully a bit wiser, and I think that helps. They always say that you need somebody who’s 30 years old but looks young to play Romeo and Juliet, because they’ll understand the complexity of love and loss and the politics of it all. So hopefully I’ll bring something new to it this time. And to have somebody like Branagh taking you through Shakespeare onstage? I couldn’t have asked for more.