The BBC’s new Sunday-night TV drama has made Richard Madden the hottest actor on British TV. In more ways than one. Not that he sees it that way

How much time are you spending thinking about Bodyguard? A lot, I bet. The new BBC thriller, about the relationship between an ambitious and unknowable home secretary and her PTSD-addled protection officer, was written by Jed Mercurio of Line of Duty fame, and was cynically and artfully designed to hook, obsess and fixate an audience into appointment viewing.

Bodyguard is made to steal us away from all newly acquired suit-yourself, binge-watch and content-stream habits, with charismatic heroes who might actually be despicable antiheroes and a succession of frenzied plot twists that simply must be consumed on the night lest someone catch you out with a spoiler on social media. Even if that doesn’t happen, even if your viewing isn’t partly ruined by a stray Facebook comment, watch an episode even a little late and find yourself locked out of all the best conversations, the most detailed post mortems, most frenetic speculations. Bodyguard is, in essence, a middle-aged Love Island, a reason to gather excitedly round the screen at the prescribed hour in a way that hasn’t really happened since the late Nineties.

Bloody hell, it’s good, I tell its star Richard Madden. The 32-year-old Glaswegian actor made his name as Robb Stark in Game of Thrones and consolidated it as Prince Charming in 2015’s Kenneth Branagh-directed Cinderella. Now, after playing Mellors in Mercurio’s 2015 Lady Chatterley’s Lover for the BBC, he trembles on the verge of Poldarking himself into borderline indecent, heavily fetishised glory as Bodyguard’s David Budd, the protection officer at the heart of the story.

“Oh, right,” he says. His accent is broad, non-posh Scottish; unexpected to those who remember it as generically Yorkshire in Game of Thrones. His eyes are intense. He’s arch and funny; he’d probably qualify as dangerously charming if there weren’t also something watchful and cautious about him. “Thanks very much! I enjoyed playing something a bit more adult, less boyish. I’m keen to play more grown-up roles, without actually growing up myself. Pretending to be adult. I’m done playing princes. Princes and royalty and lords. Also, it’s nice not to do an accent.” David Budd is – conveniently – Scottish. “One less thing to think about. Shall we get a drink? It is a Tuesday night, after all.”

It’s a Monday, I point out, but all the same we order a beer and wine from the front desk of the photographic studio in which we sit.

This is not the first time Madden and I have met. Three years ago, he bowled up to me at a friend’s party and demanded to know why I hadn’t featured him in Grazia magazine’s Chart of Lust recently. A placing in the list (which I compile weekly, and does exactly as its title suggests – rates the most fanciable people of that moment’s news), is deeply coveted among those who present themselves as above that kind of vanity, but definitely aren’t. Newscasters, Hollywood A-listers, national treasures, disruptive artists (Grayson Perry once told me he’d pinned his mention up on the wall in his studio), award-winning novelists … I’ve been lobbied by spads chasing mentions for their political charges on more than one occasion. But this was the first time a candidate had ever approached me in the flesh. I was both impressed and amused by his front.

“It does my frail ego good,” he’d elaborated, which, I’d thought, demonstrated a surprising amount of self-awareness in a young actor.

I remind him of our first meeting.

“Oh, God. Great start,” he says. Then, “I’m just trying to work my way up [the chart].”

Well, let’s see how this goes, shall we.

One of the reasons I think Bodyguard resonates so hard with its viewers is that it’s dealing with themes of safety – and so are we all. Terrorist attacks, suicide bombers and rooftop snipers recur from episode to episode; our current nightmares, and most catastrophizing daytime fantasies, the ones that flicker through our minds every time we board a plane, go to a concert venue or swipe into a subway system, are played out in high definition on our small screens. Madden’s David Budd thwarts and buffers and foresees and repels; a hero with a fantastically of-the-moment brief. If Poldark is our ultimate historical TV pin-up – manly, tortured, good with his shirt off – then Budd is our ultimate Threat Level: Severe pin-up – manly, tortured, good in a bulletproof vest (“An actual bulletproof vest,” he’ll tell me, “which is so comfortable, for five months”).

I run this theory past Madden. How nervy is he in London right now?

“ I don’t feel unsafe. I used to be more panicky, but I’m just less uptight. A few years ago, I’d get off at Tube stations because I’d have a sense of something.”

How much of David Budd’s wariness did Madden inherit through the course of filming?

“You get to a point where you clock everything. That’s what I’m doing for 12 hours a day, so …”

Walk into a room, scope it out for the nearest exit?

“I did that anyway. My dad’s a fireman, so that’s built in. Check into a hotel, first thing I do, find the fire exit.”

Richard Madden was born just outside of Glasgow, an only boy among older and younger sisters. His mother, Pat, is a classroom assistant. There were no other performers in his close family – no pub-singer uncles, no sisters at dance school.

You’re, like, a rogue luvvie.

“Yup!” he says.

How does that happen?

“I don’t know. I was fat. And shy. Crushingly shy, going to what was a fairly tough high school. Aggressive. Masculine. So I thought the best thing to do would be to go and be an actor. Ha ha! Not go and play football. Or get good at boxing. I’ll go and be an actor. They’ll love that.”

Aged 11, Madden joined Paisley Art Centre’s youth theatre programme. “And of course, they did not love that. But then I managed to dodge a couple of years of school, because …”

Because he was good enough to be cast, as a young teenager, in professional roles: in the film adaptation of Iain Banks’ Complicity, and in a kids’ TV show called Barmy Aunt Boomerang.

“So I was like, ‘I’m going to be acting, and not go to school.’ And get paid.”

Did you realise you were good? “I don’t think you ever feel good at it.”

He gave up acting in his mid-teens – “Life got a bit shit, when you’re on telly, among your peers, and you’re 14 years old”. He returned to it when he was 17, “because you have a bunch of teachers going, ‘Right, now you must decide what to do with the rest of your life,’ and 17 is of course the best time to choose.”

In 2004, he began studying at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. “I wasn’t allowed to apply for drama school unless I applied for a ‘real’ course as well, which was computing science. I didn’t even know what it was. Had no interest. And then, luckily, the day before my first exams, I received a letter saying you’ve got into drama school, so I went to my exams and just wrote my name.”

At 22, barely out of the RSAMD, he was cast as Robb Stark in HBO’s epic, fantastically successful Game of Thrones. Stark is the noble, brave, integrity-hampered son of Sean Bean’s Ned Stark; a character with a genuine and credible claim on the kingdom’s iron throne, all of which condemned him to a phenomenally gruesome death in an episode entitled The Rains of Castamere, only fans of the show (among whom I count myself, unashamedly) call it “The Red Wedding”, on account of the blood-drenched ceremony during which Madden, his pregnant wife and his mother all die.

Madden says he thinks that early, formative brush with a TV career was both “a head-f***” and, “I was so thankful for it, because, going into the world of Game of Thrones, I’d already learnt so much from doing it as a kid, of feeling isolated, or getting arrogant because you’re on a TV show. I’d kind of done all that. I could deal with it a lot better.”

A lot better than whom, among your co-stars?

He cackles. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”

Yes! Can I guess? “No.”

Madden went into Game of Thrones knowing he would die within three series – the books on which the shows are based spelled out Robb Stark’s demise long before Madden was cast – which he thinks is a good thing, professionally speaking. “I didn’t just want to be known as that guy from Game of Thrones.” It also meant that his celebrity has, until this point at least, been tinged with pity, partly for the grotesque manner of his fictional death, partly because he was booted out of that juggernaut of a TV sensation early.

That might be about to change with Bodyguard. I am reasonably confident Madden’s fame is about to be tinged with something rather more lecherous. David Budd is in no sense a straightforward romantic hero – physically and emotionally scarred, with an undivorced wife and kids squirrelled away in a safe house – but heavens, he does brooding intensity well. His love affair with Keeley Hawes’ home secretary, Julia Montague, is as intensely sexy as it is quietly subversive, for making no reference to Hawes’ Montague being ten years older than Madden’s Budd. The whole thing is designed to charm the pants off us, and I wonder how prepared Madden is to receive the unbridled lust of thousands of women on social media.

If Twitter erupts with lechery …

“I won’t look.”


“Because if I do, and if I believe someone going, ‘Oh God, he’s hot,’ then I’ll also have to believe the person that goes, ‘He’s got pumpkin teeth.’ Do you know what I mean?”

Yes, but, you are widely considered handsome, so …

“I don’t see it.”

Truly not?

“Truly not.”

It is form for beautiful young actors to deny their looks, in the interest of seeming more humble and likeable than they really are, but I think, in Madden’s case, he could mean it. He tells me fame has made him feel less attractive, not more. “You chat to a girl at a bar, have a couple of drinks, and shy Richard is slowly going. This is going well. And then it’s, ‘My boyfriend’s a really big fan. Can I get a picture?’ And you go, ‘F***.’ You think they think you’re hot, but it’s because you’re on telly.”

I ask Madden if he thinks he’s irredeemably defined by the chubby, shy child he used to be.

“I feel like I should lie down on that sofa and give you a hundred quid.”

Were you really so scarringly fat?

“Thirty-eight inch waist when I was 12. I didn’t wear denim until I was 19, because denim is really hard to take up. My mum couldn’t take my jeans up.”

Would you say you have body issues?

“Absolutely, yeah.”

Despite all of which, Richard Madden does OK with women. When I originally met him, he’d been in the final stages of a long-term relationship with the actor Jenna Coleman, who stars as Victoria in the ITV show, and who is now in a relationship with her onscreen Albert, Tom Hughes. Since then, Madden has been gossip-column-linked to a succession of beautiful women – model Suki Waterhouse and TV presenter Laura Whitmore among them – none of whom seem notably put off by his pumpkin teeth.

“I think in the last year I was, as far as the tabloids went, dating seven different people. And when you receive a text saying, ‘Are you sleeping with blah blah,’ and you go, ‘No,’ that’s a bit weird.”

Who are you sleeping with?

“I’m not saying.”

But you are sleeping with someone?

“I am sleeping with someone. I am very happy with someone. There are pictures of it on the internet.”

If it’s the one everyone thinks you’re dating, I say – by which I mean the 21-year-old Ellie Bamber, with whom he was pictured most recently at the Serpentine Gallery summer party – then she’s another actor. Is it really a good idea to go out with other actors?

“Yes and no. Yes, because you understand what each other’s going through. No, because, there’s a certain level of self-focus you need, in order to do the job you’re doing. That’s hard on all relationships, because what am I going to talk to you about? I walk up and down for 12 hours a day, dealing with this character’s shit. That’s all I’ve done, every day, for the past three months … I really haven’t got anything to offer you as a friend.”

We return, briefly, to Bodyguard. He says he got on brilliantly with Keeley Hawes. “Love her, love her to pieces. She saved my arse, because it’s not a fun job. It’s not a comedy. But then Keeley and me, me and her, off screen, were just like two kids.”

Were you paid the same?

“No idea. I imagine she earned more. I care less about how much other people are paid, and more what it takes for me to shut up and go and do my job. The equality thing needs to be addressed hugely between male and female co-stars; I know that from friends of mine. But there’s only so much I can do for myself. Agents and lawyers, they do all that stuff. I just kind of deal with what I need to, so I don’t look a producer in the eye and f***ing hate them when they’re talking about their villas, and you’re thinking, shit, I’m getting the bus at the weekend, because I don’t have the money for a cab, you know?”

How rich are you?

“Not very. People think I am, because of Game of Thrones, but you know, when I signed up for that I was 22, with f*** all on my CV, so I was paid f*** all.”

Then, somehow, we end up talking about his body again.

“In between filming, I eat pizza, drink, don’t work out, get fat, then it’s six weeks till you have to be naked again. It’s always six weeks. Actually, that’s if you’re lucky. I have ten days till I take my clothes off again this time.”

What’s the occasion?

“I’m filming Rocketman, the Elton John film, and I play John Reid, his first boyfriend, his manager for 28 years.”

A straight man in a gay role; casting that has become contentious after Disney named comedian Jack Whitehall, who is straight, as the voice of its first openly gay hero.

“Yeah, and Taron Egerton [who is playing Elton John] is a straight man in a gay role,” says Madden, “and I think we’re all f***ed if we start going down the route of you can only play a gay part if you’re a gay actor. Diversity, equality and pay – of course we need to make sure of all that, but at the same time … I read reports that so and so’s pulled out of this role because they’re not transgender, and you go, yeah, but they’re a f***ing actor, and they’re probably really f***ing good in the part, and maybe that is part of the reason why that film’s getting made …”

We wind up with him telling me he isn’t bothered about an Oscar. “Because, who won best actress last year? Best actor? Best supporting actor? What won best musical?”

No idea.

“So what does it matter?” he says.

After which, he is beautifully mocking (off the record) about a very famous actor’s latest endeavour, before hugging me goodbye and pretending – well – he hopes to see me again soon, socially.

Richard Madden made it to No 2 in the current issue of Grazia’s Chart of Lust

Interviews From 2018

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