It’s taken him two seasons, but Richard Madden finally feels like he ‘owns’ his character of Robb Stark.

The 26-year-old Scottish actor said he is fully aware that Robb Stark belonged to millions of readers of George R R Martin’s fantasy book series long before he ever took on the mantle of the “King in the North” for HBO’s successful adaptation.

If he weren’t playing Robb Stark, Richard would like to play…

“…if I was younger and a female, Arya would be an awesome character to play. The journey she goes on is like…she changes so much, just like Robb, even more so, having to wear these masks and fight through very difficult situations. She’d be an exciting character to play and I love what Maisie (Williams) does with it, so I gotta leave her to it, because she’s so good.”

“So much time has passed since I first picked up the script. I feel like I know this character and I feel like he’s mine and I own him, and it’s taken me a long time to say that. I’ve picked up (Martin’s) books and it was great, and I started realising there are so many fans. A lot of people owned Robb before I did, and I still feel like that,” he said. “That’s a big factor for me, it’s taken a long time for me to feel ownership of him, but I’ve got him now.”

Starring on “Game of Thrones” means five months of 15-hour days, but Richard said he doesn’t mind getting up at 4am to stand around in the cold if he knows he’s going to be filming scenes with Michelle Fairley, the actress who plays his on-screen mother, Catelyn Stark.

“Our relationship really developed as we got on in the series and she’s a very close friend of mine off-set, so we have a really good dialogue. And I think in season two that really continues; we’re both really passionate about it.

“Those scenes with my mother are where I feel I am in my element as an actor, where Robb is really going through his biggest change points, so I have to say they are my favourite parts,” he said.

Season two has meant big changes for Richard’s character; he’s gone from being the heir to Winterfell to leading armies in a war to avenge his father’s death and win the north’s independence from King’s Landing in the south.

“So much is dictated for him, and he’s pushed in all these directions, and pulled into being and having to be where he is, and having to be in a command tent on a field and be fighting a battle. He’s got so little control over his own life for someone who became king,” said Richard about his character.

“Actually he has very little control and I think that’s because of his sense of honour and his heart. He just wants the world to be a better place, without sounding like a hippie. He wants there to be justice and (the Seven Kingdoms) not to be ruled by tyrants. He doesn’t want to be king, but he knows no-one else is going to do this how it should be done, how his father would have done it, so he needs to try.”

Playing Robb Stark has been one of the toughest jobs he has had in his acting career so far, Richard said, but it has also taught him a lot about how to give a more detailed portrayal of a character.

“I’ve learned a lot more detail…Robb is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in terms of being honest to a story that a lot of people know already and also being honest to a relationship that’s very difficult with his mother, that detail being having a mother that I love there, but also having to really hold that at arm’s length and be your own man is a real challenge for me as an actor to capture that naiveté.

“I’ve learned as an actor to be a bit braver with my choices. I think I would have been more shy (in the past), but I’ve got a bit more confidence over the seasons, and in episode one (of the second season) Robb is putting up a mask all the time – and if I’m doing the mask right you’re going to see him as this quite intimidating foe to Jaime Lannister for example, or as this man who can lead an army, and then you get these scenes with his mother or with Theon (Greyjoy) where for a moment that mask slips and it’s just a regular guy, he’s just a boy.

All in good time

“It takes me like 45 minutes to get into my costume, and I can’t do it myself. There’s so many layers of leather and armour and fur, and then I’ve got my sword and then I have to put these boots on that are still damp from yesterday’s filming. Everything takes quite a lot of time to do.

“The show is great for that, nothing’s rushed in that sense, we’re given the amount of time to make it as good as we can.”

“I’ve learned to make a decision and stick with it. It’s something as an actor I’m really trying to push, just like the show does it; the audience gets a pay-off, so then they go, ‘all right, there he is, there’s the guy we know from season one, he’s just acting.’ So it’s kind of acting within acting; it’s hard,” Richard said.

Season two also brings a lot of firsts for Robb, including an intriguing love interest, the Glaswegian actor said.

“It’s the first time he’s led an army, it’s the first time he’s had these kind of fractures with his mother and starting to have disagreements, and it’s the first time he’s met a woman who has caught him. And she’s so exciting to him because everyone else follows him and he’s earned their respect and earned this following from men, but you’ve got a woman who goes, ‘why are doing this, what are you doing it for?’

“And no-one asks him that, everyone just expects he’s doing this because of his father’s death, and that’s a huge part of it, but this woman is something completely different. In this dark world she’s this light he sees that is very different, and also in a time when he is starting to feel very, very alone, and I think he finds someone who connects with him in a way that has never happened – you know, he’s growing up and he’s a man.”

With his first on-screen love also comes the possibility of on-screen nudity – a very common occurrence on ‘Game of Thrones’.

“I can’t say too much, but you might see him with less clothes on than you did last year…There may be a little more flesh this year, that’s all I’m saying,” Richard said with a laugh.

Filming more scenes as Robb and doing interviews about his character, has also made Richard realise just how many parallels there are between him and the “King in the North”.

“I have a lot of parallels to Robb, I think…more than I realised in terms of who he is and how he tries to lead his life. I try and be as honest as I can and as open as I can, and try to treat people with respect as much as I can, I think he does that.

“And I think very much in relation to the show there’s parallels. Robb started season one as a young man with little responsibility, and then as the season one went on…he got more and more challenges and had to step up and step up.

“And I’m not saying my own father was beheaded, he wasn’t,” Richard joked, “but he had all these challenges pushed on him, he had to be pushed and pulled just like me as a young actor.”

“As the show grew the directors made more demands of me and my part got harder, and into season two Robb is now having to drive an army, he’s at the front, and that’s much like me as an actor. I’m now driving scenes and getting asked a lot by the writers, and having to really run the thing; so there’s parallels between what we’re both going through in our lives, being young men trying to pretend to be men, growing into men.”

While the second season has signified major changes for all the show’s characters and in several instances, relocation to other parts of the fantasy world of Westeros, Richard said he was sadly not given the opportunity to travel to exotic shooting locations like many of his co-stars.

“I keep getting jealous of the other actors; they go, ‘I’m off to Croatia, and then it’s like, ‘we’re Dubrovnik’, and I’m like, ‘great I’m still in Belfast’. And Kit (Harington) saying, ‘oh my God, the northern lights are so beautiful, and I’m like, ‘yeah, the inside of bar looks the same it did last time you were here’.

“But I don’t mind it so much, it’s good for the work. It’s where Robb would be, where it’s wet and cold and on the ground, I don’t mind that so much, hopefully season three I’ll get to travel a little bit.”

‘Most Stylish’

Richard was named ‘Most Stylish Male’ at the Scottish Style Awards in 2011, but said the only tips he can give when it comes to clothes is to go for comfort and not to wear too much black.

“Most of the time when I choose my clothes it out of necessity. I (sniff them), and go, ‘I need some new clothes.’

“That’s really how I pick things, and when I get home (after going shopping) I’m like, ‘what have I done, this is a terrible choice. I don’t really think about it too much, whatever is comfortable; a lot of the time I’m uncomfortable, so comfort is really good.”

While he may not get to travel much during shooting “Game of Thrones”, in the past Richard spent long periods away from home while pursuing an acting career all throughout his youth.

To overcome his shyness, Richard joined the Paisley Arts Centre’s youth theatre programme at age 11. He was soon afterwards cast as young Andy in the film adaptation of Iain Banks’ “Complicity”. He was then cast in several British television shows and movies.

During his teenage years and early 20s he concentrated mainly on theatre work, and in 2007, he was graduated from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.

Because a large part of his childhood was spent filming, Richard said his life was very different to that of other children.

“I think when I was kid it was different because I didn’t get to see a lot of kids my age, and I didn’t get to see my parents very much at all, so I think my life was more different then than it is now. Now I’m just in a TV show, that’s my job,” he said.

Early start

Richard got his start in film when he just 11 years old. Starring alongside Jonny Lee Miller in “Complicity”, a movie based on Iain Bank’s novel of the same name, young Richard had to play a character who got raped.

“I kind of got thrown into the deep end of performing,” he said.

Starting out early in the entertainment industry has also helped Richard to learn how to stay focused on the things that really matter.

“When I was kid and I had a bit of exposure, it taught me a lot about that and a lot about you being yourself. Keep your family really close to you, don’t leave them behind. Keep in touch with them as much as you can and they’ll keep your feet on the ground. My family do that really well and it’s one thing I do all the time, (keep up with people). It’s very hard, you get caught up in your work and you let things slip, but if you just really make an effort to do that and Skype people a lot – Skype is great – Skype and family (is important),” he said.

Richard said he also doesn’t necessarily think that fame has to be a by-product of acting.

“I think fame a lot of the time is a choice. I think for some of these really big younger actors it’s forced on them; they have no choice in it, but for a lot of other people it can be more (of a) choice. If you choose to go to that nightclub you’re going to get photographed. If you are sloppy with what you do, it’s going to end up in the press. But for me, luckily, I don’t look like I do in the show really, so I don’t really see that fame side very often at all.”

Because he looks different from his character, Richard said he doesn’t really get recognised all that often, not even in his hometown of Glasgow.

“Now and again they’ll look at you, and it’s like they kind of know that guy and it’s like, ‘did we get drunk before?’ And I’m like, ‘maybe; I don’t know, maybe we did.’ If anything I kind of get people going, ‘you can’t be that guy because that guy is this big, and I’m like, ‘once you put on the fur and the swords and the armour, you’ll be that big too’.”

While starring on “Game of Thrones” has not (yet) meant being recognised on the street, the show has already opened new doors for the actor.

In between season one and two, Richard got cast as one of the three leads in the comedy show “Sirens”.

Broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK, the show is based on the book “Blood, Sweat and Tea” and tells the story of world-weary paramedics who bicker their way through their darkly funny lives.

“After coming out of ‘Thrones’, (which is just a big production), this was something completely different,” said Richard,

“(I strive to do something I haven’t done before), something I don’t know if I’m good enough to do. I think that’s the only way I can get better as an actor. I wanted to push myself.

“(Sirens) was a comedy show, which ‘Game of Thrones’ isn’t. And I was playing a character who is gay, but I was pulled to it because I have quite a few friends who are gay and I think a lot of characters on television that you see are gay are represented in a stereotypical way.

“I liked this guy (his character Ashley Greenwick) because I read the first episode and when you get to episode two you find out he’s gay, and I thought, this is more like real life, this is more like my friends and the people that I know. It’s not something that defines them, it’s part of them, and I thought that was a good challenge to try and capture that,” he said.

Now with filming on season two of “Game of Thrones” all wrapped up, it looks like Richard might have some additional new projects in the works.

“Working on a show this successful is really useful for me as an actor in terms of I can maybe get to meet some directors or writers I would have never gotten to meet before.

“So maybe being in the show is going to help just in terms of getting into doors which maybe hadn’t been open to me before, I’m hoping. A couple of things are kind of up in the air (right now); one, maybe two (projects).”

Richard said he could be working on something at the end of the year that would be really exciting, but he is sworn to secrecy, so his fans will have to be patient.

Interviews From 2012

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