Game of Thrones star Richard Madden discusses his new Channel 4 show Sirens.

You might know Richard Madden best for playing the brave Robb Stark in HBO’s hit fantasy drama Game of Thrones, but the Scottish actor is taking on a very different role in Channel 4’s new comedy Sirens. The show follows three world-weary paramedics – the charming Ashley (Madden), misanthropic Stuart (Rhys Thomas) and naive Rachid (Kayvan Novak) – as they struggle to keep their personal and working lives separate. We caught up with Richard recently to chat about his Sirens role and discussed nudity, gay culture and his busy schedule!

How would you describe Sirens?

“You’ve got three of us from really different backgrounds, so you put the three of us together. Then you’re given a script that’s the same thing – three characters put together who are really different. When we started making this show, we didn’t really know what it was, and Channel 4 didn’t know what it was. We tried to create this tone that made the three of us work in harmony, but until I saw it, I didn’t know what it was we’d done! It’s quite a hard thing to pitch when you’re filming, because it’s not quite a comedy and it’s not quite a drama. Some of it’s really dark, and then other things are so light and frivolous. You never know how to pitch it, so we were in the dark and had to just trust our instincts.”

Did you do any research for your role?

“It was based on a blog, that got turned into a book, called Blood, Sweat and Tea. We all had a look at that, and we all went out with an ambulance crew, in Leeds, on a Friday night. I did a 12 hour shift with them, so you really got to see what the job was about. That’s when I knew what this show was going to be, because sometimes you went out to really harrowing, horrible events, and sometimes it was just drunks. [The job] can be really funny, when it shouldn’t be.”

Do you think the show is an accurate representation of paramedics?

“Surprisingly, it’s quite accurate, even though a lot of the stuff might feel like it’s been heightened for comic effect! What’s good is that we bypass the boring medical stuff! We’ve got dramas that do that already, so we bypass that and focus on each individual case. The writing’s clever enough that we go to these different call-outs, and they tie-in to our lives quite well.”

Your characters sometimes seem quite irresponsible…

“They’re reprobates! But that’s what makes it good. Everyone is [still] really competent at their jobs, but part of the show is that you kind of have to switch off to the job and treat it as just business. For the people who called the ambulance, they’re in such a heightened state of emotion, but for you, it’s just another job. You’ve got to keep that cool and not get involved with the patients, because then you can’t do your job properly. It’s funny, because we are reprobates, but when it comes to doing the job, they’re very good at it. They’re young and enthusiastic about it.”

Did you have any reservations about the show’s racier scenes?

I’ve always got the attitude that if it’s relevant to the show, I don’t mind doing it, but if it’s just gratuitous, I don’t really agree with it. If it’s just trying to get people to watch because there’s some boobs or whatever, I don’t really like that. But in this, it felt relevant that I had to take my clothes off and kiss guys on-screen. That was a different thing for me, playing a gay character. That’s why I quite liked the part, because Ashley is this gay man who isn’t defined by his sexuality. I think too much of what we see just goes back to that Queer As Folk thing and being defined by your sexuality. We’re halfway through the first episode before we find out my character is gay, and I like that because it’s a really laddish relationship [between him, Stuart and Rachid].”

So is Ashley a gay man who dislikes gay culture?

“Yeah. He’s a gay character who’s kind of straight in every sense of the word, except that he has sex with men. That’s what I was excited by, because I don’t remember the last time we saw that on British TV. We don’t really get to see gay characters who are completely open with their sexuality, but it doesn’t define who they are.”

Did you enjoy working with your co-stars Rhys Thomas and Kayvan Novak?

“It was the most fun I’ve ever had making a job, with these boys! I’ve not worked with either of them before, and they’re just so funny all day long. I wanted to do this because I’ve not done anything comedic, and I learned a lot from these two about how to do that. The three of us had so much fun together and we just laughed all day, every day. That was kind of necessary for us to really improvise and find our characters. As the series goes on, we really found our feet and [worked out] the dynamic between the three of us.”

Did you improvise a lot during filming?

“As the show progresses, it changes, and our dynamic gets more cemented. That’s why as the show went on, we improvised more. We did quite a lot of that as the show went on, and I’ve seen a few bits and bobs that they kept in. We just thought they were going to cut all the stuff where we’re messing about, but they’ve kept quite a lot of it in. It’s nice, because it makes it more of a dialogue between the three of us.”

Can Sirens be compared to any other Channel 4 shows?

“That’s what’s funny about this. We were trying to work out, is it like Green Wing or is it like Shameless? Are there elements of Skins or The Inbetweeners? We kind of realised that it’s not like any of them, it’s different. There’s something slightly off about it. As the series goes on, particularly in episode three, there’s some really surreal, dark stuff that happens. Each episode is so self-contained and they really are very different. The music is [also] brilliant throughout it. They’ve got a lot of new bands and different artists, so the music’s going to be really current.”

You also play Robb Stark in HBO’s Game of Thrones. Are you hoping to continue with that series, as well as Sirens?

“Yeah, I’m hoping to try and schedule it all in. I start shooting Game of Thrones again very soon. It takes up a big part of my year. But I really like this show because it’s so completely different from Game of Thrones. A season of Thrones is like filming a ten-hour movie each time, and this is much more isolated, and a completely different character for me to play. It’s really exciting, I’m just trying to get it all scheduled in! I’m trying to get in another job before I start Thrones again, but it’s hard trying to juggle it all, because HBO take up a lot of time.”

How is playing Ashley in Sirens different to your Game of Thrones role?

“Coming from Thrones and being in that world, with that kind of character, it’s so intense, with so much history and there’s so much to base [your performance] on. To plug into something that was a completely different style of acting and a completely different character for me [was great]. Most importantly, it was a challenge to do something lighter and a bit comic, which isn’t one of my strengths. That’s why I really got excited by Sirens, because I wanted to push myself.”

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