Rising star Richard Madden (Game of Thrones, Cinderella) returns to the big screen in James Watkins’ exciting action-adventure The Take Set in Paris, Madden plays Michael Mason, a young pickpocket in the wrong place at the wrong time. Forced to join up with ruthless CIA agent Sean Briar (Idris Elba), this unlikely pair must stop a terrorist group threatening national security.

What drew you to The Take?

James Watkins drew me in. Working with Idris drew me in. The story drew me and, selfishly, the character drew me in. I was just very interested in this character that seemed to not have any morals or give a shit about anybody else or his actions. And that was an interesting human character study, to get into the head of somebody who doesn’t care. It’s not that he doesn’t have anything to lose. He has this huge drive and talent and ability – just not a direction to put it in. I was excited about that. And to work with Idris on these two characters that could not be more different and to see what relationship would come out of that…I had no idea when we started what would come of it, and that was very exciting finding that.

How was Idris to work with?

He’s brilliant. He’s such an enthusiastic, professional, empowering actor. He’s bit of a legend, and he’s someone who empowers you to play and improvise and find a safe creative space to do that. It’s wonderful. I had a great time every day with him and he’s a collaborator. We helped each other to make our accents better, to find the best in every scene, to improvise as much as possible, and find the truth. Every day we’d talk plot points and script changes. He’s a real professional, top of the pile actor.

How was your off-camera relationship?

I’ve got a huge respect for Idris and did have before we’d met. I learnt a lot working with him. I’m reluctant to say that because I don’t want to give him any compliments! But I think that’s very much like the characters; you have a young man who is actually learning a lot from this man. We did lot of improvising before, during and after the takes; some of that made it into the film, which is great, but more importantly, a lot of the energy in these scenes carries with it what we were improvising before and after the scenes.

Where do you see your character at the start of the filmWhat journey does he go through?

I think at the start, funnily enough, he’s at the end of where he’s got to in his life at this point. He’s robbing people, he’s got a load of money but he doesn’t have anything to spend it on or know what he’s going to do with it. So it’s funny – it’s almost like this needed to happen in order to move into the next stage of his life. That life had to get burned and crashed, and I think he’s pretty damn lonely at the start. You get a little hint of that when he sees the couple in the street. But he’s got his walls up and he’s had to have his walls up.

What kind of a director was James?

Much like myself and Idris, he was constantly mining. James was the real reason why I first wanted to do the film. Just how he spoke about it and how he talked about it, and how he wanted to make this film…he’s just so enthusiastic. Every day, there’s probably more footage of me and Idris improvising before and after takes than there is actually footage of the takes! Hopefully there will be some nice DVD extras in there! But he encouraged that and he let us do it. Some of it got into the film but it was more to let our relationship grow and our chemistry. And that’s really refreshing. As a director, he had a bold choice to make – casting very different actors, hoping they would get on, hoping it would be great chemistry, and letting them play on the day and seeing where that took the film, and how that would affect the picture in the end. It’s really good that he embraced that.

Did you pick up any pickpocket tips?

Yeah, I learned how to do it. It was great. All the things I do were real, and we had to slow them down so we could read them on camera. It’s less to do with the actual stealing of things and more to do with the confidence where you look someone in the eye as you’re robbing them. It’s a really bold thing to do and quite nerve-wracking. You only get one shot at it. I practiced a lot and got quite good at it. Also, we choreographed everything. But I really enjoyed it.

Did you try it on Idris?

Oh, yeah, I would try wee bits on him, and I got him as well. I wouldn’t say it front of him because he’ll go mental. He’ll think I’ve nicked his iPhone; I’ve done things like that. He’s an easy mark!

Was it strange both of you playing Americans in Paris?

Yeah, it is strange. We’re two British actors living in Paris, working there, so there are parallels between all of those things. The accent changes everything; so we worked on that a lot, to try and make it as realistic as possible and correct each other when needed.

Talk about the opening sequence. It’s pretty eye-opening, as the girl arrives naked to distract onlookers while you pickpockets. Was it faked?

No, no, that was real. That was her. Not only was it her, but there were more people than you see on screen. There are the people that are in the scene and then the people watching off-camera. And she’s really well lit and we did it over and over and over again for a whole evening. So good god – she’s a good actress! And she did it and she did it well.

That’s quite an entrance she makes, right?

Too right. If that was the opening to my show-reel, I think people would watch the next scene!

Did doing the role make you more aware of being in crowded places?

Absolutely. Luckily, none of what I was doing in that opening section was the fancy stuff. A lot of these guys work in pairs or threes. It’s not this dealing of it, it’s the getting rid of it quick enough. People get caught. And I’ve seen it in cities like Rome and Paris – you see the chalk on the back. That’s an easy mark! It’s mad. One will come in, very direct and in your face. Another will kneel behind you and the other will be at the side, and it’s a whole distraction. You don’t know who’s got it, you don’t know what’s happened, and then they drop it off with another guy that’s got a bag of everything. These guys are really smart.

What was the most dangerous stunt on you did on the film?

Well James wanted us to do everything and we did everything…I was up on all the rooftops. There was one point when I slide down and land on a ledge and the drop from the ledge was only six foot to a crash mat, but from the very top, when you start sliding, that’s twenty foot and that’s quite dangerous. I did snap my ankle one day. We rehearsed with this big obstacle course, and I was running off a platform, jumping off a roof and sliding down it…and I was over-keen. I over-jumped the roof, so rather than landing on the roof and sliding down it, I cleared the roof and landed on my ankle and it snapped to the side. All my weight went on it, and I was like, ‘Ah, that was really sore.’ And I looked at it, and said, ‘I’m fine, I’m fine, it’s just really sore.’ And then fifteen seconds later, I looked down and my ankle had turned into a football and they said, ‘We need to get you to the hospital now.’ I was like, ‘I’m going to get fired!’ Luckily, I didn’t get fired and it went down and it wasn’t broken.

Who was better at the obstacle course? You or Idris?

Different strengths, different strengths. He’s strong. He’s slimmed down now, not as big as he was then, but when we had to crawl through tunnels and stuff, I was a bit better at that because my shoulders aren’t as broad and I can get through it quicker. But when it comes to taking people down, he wins every day.

James Watkins said the film is influenced by many movies from the past. Were some of these films you knew?

Yeah…The Third Man, I loved that film. That was one of the films I loved anyway, and then James gave me a bunch of films to watch. So he supped in a lot of different influences. I had to take that in, and then this is what I was most excited by, this relationship with me and Idris, I had not read that relationship before in a film – something that had the potential to be this really interesting dual, very unconventional. I just think there was something unique in this. And then I was like, ‘What tone is this film going to have?’ I thought, ‘James is going to have to deal with that in the edit because we need to bring out the best in what we can do here and then let him piece it together later.’

Which actors did you look up to when you were younger?

There were lots of actors I looked up to. I think that’s quite a new thing, of being a kid and wanting to follow that. I didn’t know anything about acting, I didn’t know anything about drama. I just went into this youth theatre world where it was really fun to play. I’ve never had the ‘I want to have the career of, I want to be like…’ I’ve always just been, ‘This is what I’m doing.’

What’s your favourite movie of all time?

Jurassic Park is still one of my favourite movies of all time. I love dinosaurs and I was a big sci-fi geek when I was younger, and still am. I’d love to be in a bit of sci-fi one day. I’d love to have a nice laser gun on a space ship! It’s not my dream project but it’s up there, and then if you throw in some dinosaurs then we’re really cooking!

How important was Game of Thrones to your career?

Very. I wouldn’t be talking to you now if it wasn’t for Game of Thrones. It was such a great five minutes of my life, from pilot until finishing it, and also it set me up, so I can come and be doing films like this and lots of other films. It taught me a lot and I cut my teeth on camera acting, and how to do that.

Do you still watch the show?

Absolutely. A lot of my best friends are still in the show, so I get really excited to watch it again. I loved it when I was in it. You’d read the scripts, and then you’d stop reading the other scenes, and do your own stuff, and then you’d get surprised by watching it. It’s such a big world to watch – I love it. The only challenge is trying to get the other actors not to tell you what they were filming yesterday. So you don’t get anything spoiled for you!

Would you like to work in your native Scotland?

I’d love to do some theatre up in Scotland again because that’s where I started. I did a lot of stuff up there. I’d love to make a picture up there. And there’s been little things bubbling over different years and hopefully that will happen. I think Scotland’s film industry is going to keep improving over the coming years and I’d like to be a part of it.

Interviews From 2016

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