Richard Madden on playing the damaged and desperate David Budd on Netflix's Bodyguard
Richard Madden is used to playing men responsible for the lives of others in perilous positions, but have his characters gotten any better at protecting those around them?
In the BBC’s Bodyguard, created and written by Jed Mercurio — perhaps best known for tense, crime procedural drama Line of Duty — Game of Thrones alum Madden stars as police officer and PTSD-suffering war veteran David Budd, who is assigned as a protection officer to the U.K.’s controversial Home Secretary Julia Montague (played by Line Of Duty’s Keeley Hawes). While a divided government deals with a heightened terrorist threat in the country, Budd has his own demons to work through — and Montague doesn’t make his job any easier.
As the Home Secretary aims to introduce a new bill that outlines increased state surveillance, Budd grapples to protect her from those opposed to such legislation as well as the greater threat of domestic terrorism that pervades London and the rest of the country. Throw into the mix his own traumatic past and a young family to look after, and PPO (personal protection officer) Budd is in for a ride that makes the horror of Robb Stark’s Red Wedding look, well, still horrific, but also like another day at the office for the protection officer.
Originally broadcast in the U.K. in late August on the BBC, the show’s electric pace and edge-of-your-seat suspense kept audiences talking incessantly about the drama (and blowing up text threads on Sunday nights!), before tuning in with bated breath weekly, only to be thrown for another loop by the multitude of careening twists and turns, and perpetually unsure who to trust.
Ahead of the show’s Netflix debut, EW caught up with Madden — who also stars in next summer’s Elton John fantasy Rocketman — to learn more about his mercurial character, that (potentially!) explosive opening sequence, and whether David Budd would’ve been any good at protecting the doomed Stark family members.
WARNING: MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD for anyone who had not yet completed the entire first season; read on knowing no one will (body)guard you from certain plot lines and fates.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was it about this project that initially drew you into it?
RICHARD MADDEN: Well, I met with Jed and Thomas (Vincent, director) for a chat about it. The day before I’d been given the first three scripts and I just binged straight through all three of them and immediately went back to the start and started them again. When I get scripts like that I go, “I want to do this job because I want to know what happens next and I can’t put it down.” So that was a very good sign. Four, five and six came after we’d started shooting so I didn’t know what was going to happen either.
So you hadn’t read it all when you started shooting? Is it better not to know when your characters going to end up in a show like this?
It helped me for this one because I didn’t preempt anything that was going to come later, I just kind of went to it. When it got to episode 3 and we were shooting, the director said to me, “Do you now want to know who did it?” I was like, “Don’t tell me!” It was quite good to follow the trail.
But did you worry at times that David was going to be the bad guy?
[Laughs] No, I was enjoying playing both elements of it. I think that’s what was so good about shooting it like that; I could play two elements at all times.
There’s obviously a political thread that runs through the narrative too. Was part of the appeal that it deals with relevant themes like extreme political stands and division, surveillance, and general public unrest?
For me, it was more about this character. I just loved the dichotomy; he’s constantly wrestling himself and I just tried to take any political views and thoughts out of it and view it purely as a drama for me. It touches on a lot of issues that are very relevant just now especially when it comes to what we call the Snoopers’ Charter [a bill which will allow for increased monitoring of personal data] on the show; how much can you look into people’s texts and calls which is an issue that’s talked about pretty much daily, so we were touching on that with that.
We have to talk about that first 20 minute-scene on the train. Did you shoot that in sequence? How do you even prepare for that?
It was a happy accident the way that scene happened, because it wasn’t sequenced to be like that. It was actually set in the London underground originally, in a station in central London. We had a problem with that location, so we lost it and ended up having to change the whole concept and make it on a moving train coming into London rather than be on the underground. I think that was great actually, because I think it makes it much more accessible and much less about London and more about the whole of the U.K. — and that works to pull people in. We actually shot that train sequence as the last thing we shot at the end of the five months shooting which was great for me because then I knew how still David was and very little you get from him in the first couple of episodes. So it meant that at the end of the shoot I got the chance to go back and try and get some humanity into him in the opening sequence because I knew after those 20 minutes he shuts down quite a lot and you don’t get to see a lot of who he is. So sometimes these things work in our favor.
That’s just one of many scenes where it gets very intense and dark for David very quickly. How do you get out of that mindset after a shoot like that?
It does stay with you. I’m not a method actor in any way but if you spend 12 hours a day in someone else’s clothes, thinking someone else’s thoughts, speaking someone else’s words…
And covered in blood…
And covered in blood! It does kind of filter into you and it’s really hard to shake off and it’s one of those things I’m not very good at. You’ve got to sort of stay in that mental place during shooting to try and get the tension and hold the tension in the scene. So it really takes finishing the job and taking a month or two to try and get back to yourself a little bit, because you kind of neglect that when you’re focusing on the character. It’s not a comedy, you know what I mean?
From social media, it seemed like working with Keeley Hawes helped keep things light on set?
Yeah, it did. Because it is so serious all the time you end up trying to find moments to have a giggle and bring some joy into the day because the rest of it can be so heavy. Luckily, Keeley and I would just act like a couple of kids and be silly together. I was glad to have her with me. I didn’t know Keeley at all before, so on the first day we kind of tried to figure out what kind of show we were on, what we were trying to make together; it was really exciting.
She’s so great on the show, as are all the strong female characters. I really loved Sophie Rundle’s performance as your wife, Vicky. She’s kind of quietly determined and ends up being so integral in the last episode. How were those scenes?
I loved those scenes. So much of the time you only get to see one side of David and then you get to see a whole other version of him that’s probably closest to his most genuine self when he’s with Vicky. With very little screen time, we had to establish a very long history between these two. I have much more time on screen with Keeley than I do with Sophie and that relationship is a much longer, deeper one that we need to try and establish. She had to be very on the ball and on point to achieve that.
What was the prep like to play a character like this, physical and otherwise?
The thing about people who are in this kind of position is, they don’t want to talk about it, so it was a bit more difficult but it also allowed me to get creative with Jed and figure out what we could do with David. That’s the good thing with Jed being on set with us all day, you can literally just turn around and ask him, you know, “What do you think about this?” and then we can make that decision together. I had to be really fit because of the nature of shooting and the hours we were shooting: 15 hours a day in the cold of London during winter. It was just physically exhausting. We had a military advisor who taught me how to hold a gun, how to check a room, and teaching me exactly how I’d get in a car if I was this type of protection officer and all the little things you’d do. It was just those little details that we’d try and copy to make it honest.
Did your neck get tired looking back and forth so many times in every scene?
[Laughs] Yeah, lots of eye acting.
Does that carry over into real life afterward? Are you, like, still scanning rooms you walk into?
Not as much as I thought I would, actually. I think I did so much of it, it was just quite nice to be a passenger again. I don’t need to be that paranoid.
You also got to keep your own accent. Was that your choice?
That was a decision I made. I think because he’s such a hard character to get into, the Scottish accent really helps in terms of different kinds of tones and emotions I can put in that fast tracks the audience into connecting with me. He’s a man of few words to begin with and I wanted to keep him Scottish; I very rarely get to use my own accent and I thought here’s a chance to try and get it in and people can still understand me. Why not use it? It’s one less thing to think about.
The response in the U.K. has been huge. Every text group I’m in with British family and friends would just blow up every Sunday night. Has that been really great to be a part of that weekly conversation?
It was really exciting! Game Of Thrones is the last time I had those weekly episodes where everyone just waits together. It’s funny, usually with Game Of Thrones people say “Tell me what’s going to happen next!” and with Bodyguard people say “Don’t tell me!” and get excited to wait a week and find out the next bit of the story. I liked that. We were part of this great moment where everyone was able to talk about something during the week and it was a shared thing. It’ll be slightly different when it goes to Netflix, but hopefully, people are going to be able to binge it and talk about it with each other just the same.
Would you want there to be a second season? Part of me wants poor David Budd just to be left alone now.
Could we put him through more? How would we put him through more? I’d have to have these chats with Jed. [David’s] had a pretty tough couple of months. He’s a fascinating character and you never know what Jed’s going to write… But how do we get Keeley back?
Exactly! I love how bold a move that was to just kill her off three episodes in!
For real! I loved that, yeah let’s just kill her. We were like “Whaaaat?” They’re just like, she’s not coming back, that’s it. She’s dead.
It sounds horrible to say I’m glad she was dead, but I would’ve hated it if they’d brought her back as a twist at the end.
That would’ve sucked. That would’ve absolutely sucked!
If David Budd had been Robb Stark’s bodyguard, would he have survived the Red Wedding?
Ehhh, I don’t know. I mean David does seem to be a bit of a s—t bodyguard, doesn’t he? The Home Secretary did die. So, I don’t know if he would’ve been any good for Robb Stark. But maybe?
Robb was pretty much doomed, but would any of the skills you learned on Bodyguard help you to play another similar character, say, James Bond?
I’m very flattered that my name’s even been mentioned in that conversation, but that’s not something that I know anything about at the moment. It’s just very flattering.
Well if you do get to play Bond, I hope you keep your Scottish accent.
[Laughs] Thank you.
Bodyguard is available to stream now on Netflix.