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Richard Madden on Bodyguard’s Globes Nominations, Saying ‘Ma’am,’ and Singing in Rocketman

Richard Madden. Photo: Rich Polk/Getty Images

After being killed off as Robb Stark on Game of Thrones, Richard Madden reconquered British and worldwide TV in Bodyguard, the BBC and Netflix series about a troubled veteran (Madden) who protects and falls for a British politician (Keeley Hawes). The 32-year-old Scottish actor and the show both earned Golden Globe nominations, the happy news of which interrupted his recording session for a very serious World War II documentary. Vulture caught up with Madden over the phone to discuss whether David Budd might return in a second season of the show, working with Hawes on their characters’ relationship, and trying to sing and dance in Taron Egerton’s upcoming musical Elton John biopic.

How did you react to learning about your Golden Globes nomination?
I’m in the studio today doing voice-over for a documentary and then my phone started vibrating a lot, so I thought I’d better have a look at it. I couldn’t believe that this has happened.

What was the documentary?
It’s about a man’s diaries during World War II, along with a lot of his films that he recorded, so a very different topic. I’ve had to bring myself down to the earth to get my head back into it.

Bodyguard was a hit in the U.K. before it went on Netflix in the U.S. and elsewhere. What was it like to watch the show take off worldwide?
I’m from a village in Scotland, so the idea that it’s gone out to 192 [countries] is mind-blowing, but thrilling. I’m really glad that we’ve got this platform that we get to share this show.

How did you research the role of David, who’s both an expert bodyguard and suffering from PTSD?
One of the biggest problems of PTSD is that people don’t like to talk about it. I had to be very delicate in order to convey what was important and relevant to his character. It’s not as clean-cut as it’s often conveyed in film and television — the idea that someone drops a glass and hits the deck and runs for cover and has all these creepy flashbacks. I know that can be something that happens, but lots of times it’s just a constant sense of dread and anxiety and agitation. Things that maybe aren’t as clean-cut as we sometimes know about PTSD.

Did the character linger with you? I can imagine that being trained to spot cameras or scan a room is a skill that sticks around.
During filming, very much so I’d live with it. The story is something you can’t really shake off at the end of the day because your body and mind won’t let you, and because the next morning you have to dive straight into being in these situations. But having the job finished, I’m not scoping the streets for dangers. I’m very much back to myself.

When I interviewed Keeley Hawes, she talked about how she’d have reams of statistics in her scenes and you’d just reply with “ma’am,” but that’s also an acting challenge in a way. How’d you figure out how to express so much with each “ma’am”?
It’s really being as honest as I could with it. In the later episodes, I had much more dialogue to deal with, but in the earlier episodes I’m much more restricted. That’s part of what’s so interesting about this character. He’s someone that’s trying to hide everything. As an actor, I had to convey that and also try and give as much as I could with the word “ma’am.”

Tell me about building the relationship with Keeley, because politically her character opposes yours, but they have to find this connection.
It was brilliant. I love Keeley Hawes to pieces. These characters are very isolated and lonely and they seem to be very selfless. The line is blurred between whether they’re good or bad, which I think is part of what I enjoyed playing so much and what people enjoyed watching. That was something I liked to explore with Keeley, and the beauty of finding these moments between these lonely, damaged humans.

Did you know that her character was going to die?
I knew after the start of the show. I didn’t know what was going to happen after that.

Jed Mercurio has said that he’s interested in continuing the show for a second season. Have you talked to him about it?
It’s up in the air, and tomorrow I’m actually meeting Jed, so I’ll know a lot more after we’ve met and had a glass of Champagne and celebrated a little bit of this beautiful acknowledgement. We’ve texted each other and we’re very excited to see each other tomorrow.

You’re doing a very different role in Rocketman, the Elton John movie, where you play Taron Egerton’s manager and lover John Reid. What was it like to film that?
Rocketman feels like Moulin Rouge! on acid about Elton John. So I’ve gone from Bodyguard to all singing, all dancing. It’s got all these songs and music in it and a great group to work with. I love mixing things up.

Did you do lot of singing and dancing in it?
[Laughs.] I did my fair share. There’s a lot of great drama and acting, and there’s a little bit of singing and dancing from me at certain points. Which is not my comfort zone, but is very much fun to shoot.

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