Off-Duty with Bodyguard’s Richard Madden

Netflix TV Series Bodyguard’s Richard Madden for British GQ January 2019

What makes a good James Bond? British? Of course. Scottish? Even better. Can he play brutish but vulnerable? It worked for the last one. Does he look sharp in a tux? See above.

But what about a wry, natural humour? Because we haven’t seen that for a while. And yet far from the troubled action man he built for Bodyguard – and even further from the princes and pretty boys that was almost his typecast – it’s his knowing wit and bone-dry quips that explain why Richard Madden is odds-on to make Double-O status. Oh, and guess what? He even drinks Vodka Martinis.

Richard Madden has a habit of putting himself in situations that are, if he’s to tell you honestly, the worst possible situations he can possibly imagine himself being in.

For instance, he hates singing, says he can’t sing, says being forced to sing is pretty much one of his worst nightmares, says, “Thank fuck for autotune!” when I point out he’s in an upcoming Elton John musical, Rocketman, that requires him to sing rather a lot. And yet tomorrow, he says, he’s doing “Carpool Karaoke”, where he’ll be singing. When I say I thought that was only for actual singers, he corrects me. “No. Stupid people too.” By which he means: people who say yes.

People. That’s another one. Madden has an issue with them. He thinks, he says, that they’re all looking at him. Of course, he’s right about that. They are. We meet for lunch in The Wolseley in London’s Mayfair – a venue he selected, though one, you might argue, that’s not ideal for paranoid agoraphobics – and as Madden walks across the floor to me, wearing a chunky-knit navy rollneck and the expression of a man bracing for impact, the heads of diners left and right turn like spectators following a tennis point. Is that… Yes. It’s the bodyguard from Bodyguard, the man who a week ago was reported to have been offered the role of 007 to succeed Daniel Craig, the star of a show whose finale was confirmed by the BBC a few days earlier as the most watched drama episode since records began, an actor who was already TV famous after his star-making turn as Robb Stark in Game Of Thrones, but is suddenly Coca-Cola famous thanks to something everyone said had died: appointment TV, water-cooler TV, Twitter-trending-no-spoilers-please-for-the-love-of-God-no-spoilers TV. And that is all well and good and great and, of course, it is why we are here. But also: people.


“It does no favours to the old paranoia and general anxiety,” he says once he’s sat down. “Your paranoia is actually real.”

Another paranoia that’s actually real: photographers in the trees outside his flat. Photographers hiding underneath the cars outside his flat (“So you can’t see them”). But they’re there, he says. They’re really there. To combat them, Madden has set up various WhatsApp groups of friends and neighbours, who act as a spotter network, effectively papping the paps. You see: proof! (“They send me pictures of them and say, ‘This one’s outside. Here’s his car.’”)

‘I was sobbing and covered in blood. I looked like I’d murdered someone.’

And then, finally, there’s this interview, of which he says at one point: “I’m shit at interviews. I’m terrified. I’m terrified of myself, that I’m not interesting enough.”

Which, of all the unexpected and interesting and sometimes slightly strange things that Richard Madden will say to me, might actually be the most unexpected and most interesting and most strange, as nothing could be further from the truth. Madden is not shit at these things. He is actually great at these things. He’s candid and unpretentious and wry and speaks in paragraphs built to be quoted in full and possesses the kind of offhand wit only possessed by the genuinely funny.

The action was genuinely thrilling. The sex was genuinely sexy. The twists were tailor-made for Twitter. The home secretary’s speech could have gone better.

But at the heart of it all was Madden, a 32-year-old actor who, until that point, had been getting worryingly close to simply being known as “that guy from Game Of Thrones”, or possibly “that guy from Game Of Thrones who got killed”, or maybe even – and most worryingly of all for him – “that guy who plays a lot of princes”.

Fair to say that Budd – swapping tunic for suit, loyal armies for an estranged wife, PTSD replacing heroic jaw-clenching – was something of a departure.

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Madden’s performance was brilliant, but it was the second episode that really kicked off the Connery/Bond comparisons, as a suited Madden blind-reversed a car out of gunfire, grabbed a semiautomatic weapon and went hunting for the assailant on a nearby rooftop. It didn’t hurt that he’s Scottish.

Bodyguard started with 14 million viewers and ended on 17m. And so, as Madden says to me now, “How the hell did that happen? I still don’t believe it in my head.”

Filming the six one-hour episodes took five months. As his character divides this time fairly equally between being shot at, wearing suicide vests and pondering suicide, it took its toll.

“We were just so deep in, you don’t really know what’s going on any more,” he says. “People will say, ‘Did you know it was going to be a hit?’ You go, ‘I was just trying to survive it. I’m just trying to get to the end of the week.’” 

I tell him I read he had a few sleepless nights, but he corrects me. 

“I had a lot of sleepless nights. When you spend all day in someone else’s clothes, saying someone else’s words, thinking someone else’s thoughts and it’s all grim shit, that can’t help but filter into your life, because you’re doing that six days a week. That weighs down on you.

Is that… useful, I ask, for the role?

“Yeah. But not so useful for your health… It’s not fun to do it. It takes its toll doing it. You go home hollow. At night you’re dreaming about it.”

All of which could be interpreted as typical actorly talk about throwing oneself into a role and how deep the dive was. But it soon becomes clear it’s more than this. After he finished the shoot, he says, he felt so drained he genuinely wanted to quit acting altogether. Really? 

“Yeah. I finished Bodyguard and didn’t want to act again. Really. It had taken so much out of me physically, mentally and personally. I didn’t see any of my friends for months, unless they came to set. It was just relentless. You didn’t get a day off. My character doesn’t get a second off. It took more out of me that anything else I’ve done.”

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When Madden finished his last scene for Game Of Thrones in 2012 as “King In The North” Robb Stark – a scene notable for starting off as a wedding but ending up with his mother’s throat slit, his pregnant wife’s stomach shivved and his own character crossbow-bolted and beheaded; Thrones never did have a laugh track – he didn’t, he says, hang around for the afterparty or even say his goodbyes to cast mates. This, I will learn, is his thing. Rather, he went straight from the set to the airport and took a night flight back to London.

When he first mentioned this to me, at the GQ cover shoot, I’d assumed this was because he had another job to get to.

‘Boyguards I spoke to got together and ended up having sex with their principals’

Tomorrow, he says, he’s about to fly away to sit on a beach for a week with his girlfriend, the actor Ellie Bamber. But after that, he says, he’ll do what he always does after he’s finished a job. On his own, he’ll board a flight to Scotland, get into the wilderness and start walking.
He’s under no illusions where this compulsion comes from. They’re the woods, or a version of them, that he went to as a child. The place he could escape.

“Yeah. That’s maybe where I get my wanting to be out. I feel like I should lie down and give you £100.”

But also, now, it’s something else too. It’s where the paps can no longer find him. “It’s not worth a picture that much!” It’s where people no longer touch him.

“You spend long days surrounded by people,” he says. “People literally touching your body and your face all day.” And so, he says, “I go away and I climb some hills – where no one is fucking with me.”

Photography Matthew Brookes @matthewbrookesphoto
Actor Richard Madden @maddenrichard
Styled Luke Day @luke_jefferson_day
Creative Direction Paul Solomons @paulsolomonsgq
Interview Stuart McGurk @stuartmcgurkgq
Art Director Keith Waterfield @keefgq
Grooming Charley Mcewen @charley.mcewen

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