Richard Madden’s Cinderella character isn’t just “sweeping in on his horse and saving the damsel in distress,” okay?

Amid the hard world of Game of Thrones, young King Robb Stark, played by Scottish actor Richard Madden, 28, was one of the few characters who was always easy to watch. He was earnest! And moral! And, yes, very hot. But then, in a harrowing scene that put the show’s other paroxysms of carnage to shame, suddenly—boom—he was dead. “I sat there still covered in fake blood after the most draining week of my life and had a good old cry on the flight to London,” Madden says of wrapping Thrones’ third-season massacre, the Red Wedding. “I must have looked like a crazy person.”

Viewers were equally traumatized—what were we to do without our good Robb?—but thankfully Madden, after appearing on the 2014 Discovery Channel miniseries Klondike, about 1890s gold prospectors, is back in royal form. As Prince Charming in Disney’s live-action Cinderella, he, opposite Downton Abbey’s Lily James as the titular princess, helps imbue the film’s lush, anachronistic retelling with a spark and spirit that make an age-old fairy tale feel fresh and fleshed out. “I tried to take all the stigma away from Prince Charming and just go into the story,” Madden says. “Which is about two young people with a lot on their plates”—evil stepmothers, undermining advisers, and, of course, the intoxicating experience of first love, presented with every bit of excitement and insecurity (and sexual tension) that comes with it. “He’s not just sweeping in on his horse and saving the damsel in distress,” Madden says. “This is a real man dealing with real issues. You get to see that, I think.”

Below, the full extended interview with Madden:

I found a youtube clip of you in your first movie, Complicity — it is heavy subject matter!

I’ve not seen that in years. That was my first role—I was 11. I play a boy who gets raped. My mother has a great picture of me lying on the ground in between takes with this massive man on top of me. That was a kind of baptism by fire into the world of pretending.

So, the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones. Did it leave the set completely covered in fake blood?

It was carnage. I was also wearing this tunic with a hose that came up from my ankle to my chest and when I got stabbed, the blood was supposed to burst out of me. But during the first take the hole was misaligned so I got a few liters of blood inside my costume. And that stuff dyes your skin!

Was it a grueling scene to act?

It took five days and every one was torturous. The last day of shooting was also the last shoot of season 3, so literally at the end of that day I was finished with Game of Thrones. At that point I’d been with the same crew for five years. I saw my onscreen mother more than my actual mother. It was really emotional.

What were things like behind the scenes?

Most of the time we were filming in really miserable, cold locations, and the subject matter is not particularly upbeat. There were funny moments, though. You’ve got a bunch of men all trying to be very manly and tough and then, as soon as they’d shout cut, everyone would drop to the ground and lie down because the costumes were so heavy. A lot of jokes also ended up being directed toward Kit [Harington], after he broke his ankle, drunk one night. So you had Jon Snow in a massive leg cast. We’d be in these woods that were muddy and a mess and two people would have to carry Kit onto set and prop him up on one leg beside me. We’d go through a scene. Then, cut, and he’d have to get carried off again to the next set.

There’s a lot of pretty elaborate dancing.

Oh, god. We had three proper dance sequences within that ball scene. I was dancing three days a week just rehearsing and rehearsing, so that when we got to shooting the scene I wouldn’t have that look of fear on my face.

Cinderella’s dress is so big!

It is humungous. You have no idea. During rehearsals we went through quite a few copy dresses. I spilled coffee on one. And poor Lily. I couldn’t complain about having to trip over it, because she was the one having to carry it.

There’s also that scene where she’s on a swing and you reach in and grab her foot. Was it hard to find it under all that dress?

I think we made it look elegant on the day, but in reality there were like 80 layers to get through. I was terrified the swing was going to come forward and I would be engulfed by a dress and suffocated beneath it. 

Interviews From 2015

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