Up until recently, Scottish actor Richard Madden has primarily known for his memorable (and heartbreaking) role on HBO’s Game of Thrones. As such, he’s dealt with a sympathetic “Aww” type of recognizability from fans who watched the show. Now, with the release of his first big feature film Cinderella, he’s dealing with an entirely different sort of “Aww” fan reaction, but of the sigh and swoon variety, since in the Kenneth Branagh-directed Disney film he plays Prince Charming.
Screen Rant recently sat down with the former King of the North for a discussion about what it takes to put a new spin on a classic fairy tale character (hint: dance lessons), the magic of being directed by Kenneth Branagh, a surprise demonstration of Madden’s juggling skills and why we should be excited to see him and Idris Elba as an odd couple in the upcoming thriller Bastille Day.
Screen Rant: For people who only know Kenneth Branagh as an actor in Harry Potter or the director of Thor, what was your Branagh background and what effect did that have on your first meeting with him?
Richard Madden: Intimidating. Because I’ve looked up to and watched his work for years, since I was young. I feel like he is a pretty big deal, an icon, but he’s just a lovely intelligent man and really down-to-earth and he instilled a lot of confidence in me every day which kind of took away my anxiety.
SR: Speaking of potential anxiety, for people who have only casually ridden horses, what is the most surprising thing about doing it in film?
RM: Trying to hit your mark. It’s hard to get a horse to go in a straight line sometimes and to hit precision points with their hooves.
SR: I heard you mentioned this in a roundtable interview yesterday, speaking to skills that actors put on their resumes learned in school or working, etc. and that you put dancing on the resume without having mastered it but, I’m wondering what skills you have listed on the acting resume that you can do?
RM: I can juggle, badly.
RM: Yeah. Let’s see if there’s anything in here to juggle [gets up from the table and grabs three mini jam jars and begins juggling them, not badly at all]. I used to be able to do tricks, but I can’t anymore.
SR: Is that a class you take?
RM: It was actually, in drama school I learned that. I went to that class.
SR: Are there horse-riding classes?
RM: No I wish! I had to learn that on Game of Thrones.
SR: Aha. I like to assume actors come ready-made with all those skills.
RM: [Laughs] Yeah, I was just born with it all.
SR: So the dancing that you now can do, having learned it for this film, can you apply any of the dances to real life?
RM: I don’t intend to. Those were the classes I didn’t go to in drama school because I thought I’d never have to use them and obviously that was a mistake. Dancing is not one of my talents, I had to work really hard to make it look like I knew what I was doing but I will not be rushing to take a part with dancing any time soon.
SR: But can you casually dance or bounce to pop songs?
RM: When you’ve had a few drinks anyone is a good dancer, right? I use my shoulders too much, I need to get my hips in there more. I’m a bit ’80s with my dancing.
SR: Since actors are somewhat used to having to transform or wear elaborate costumes and whatnot, seeing Lily in her gorgeous ball gown, could you ever envision a character that would have to wear something like that? Was there any sort of costume appreciation or envy?
RM: Not envy, back in the day of Willy Shakespeare it was all men wearing the dresses and corsets. I’m not particularly drawn to wearing a dress at the moment, I just want to be in jeans and a t-shirt for awhile. It would be a bit weird if I was like, ‘Oh my God, I just wish I could’ve been in Cinderella’s dress,’ that would be a bit weird. I did look at [the dress] and thought, ‘Thank God I don’t have to be in a corset like Lily. Not fun.
SR: There’s no reason for male actors to have to wear them, right?
RM: No, but I think some do out of vanity. I’m not there yet, but give me a couple years [laughs].
SR: What do you like about the new twists and turns Mr. Branagh and Co. added to the story?
RM: I like how it’s a classical turn, but I like how we’ve kind of changed the whole message so it’s not that kind of old-fashioned view of a woman needing a man to have a good life, that’s not relevant anymore and I love how we changed that. My challenge was to create a man who was worthy of Cinderella, but mostly I like the sense of humor he brought to things, the humor he gets between the Prince and Cinderella and the humor between the Prince and his father, I think that’s something that is really important and that people aren’t expecting.
SR: Was there a moment when you felt those character traits realized? A day on set or specific scene?
RM: I think when I was doing scenes with Derrick and we were having a giggle and we would improvise and laugh, I think that’s when you’re like, ‘Okay, this relationship is working’ and will hopefully transfer to the screen because we’ve got a dialogue there.
SR: When in the process did you decide to do Romeo and Juliet?
RM: Afterwards. I think it was during a photo shoot for Vanity Fair and Ken is like, ‘So?’ And I was like, ‘Yes! Yes.’
SR: Have you done Romeo before?
RM: Yeah I did Romeo when I was 21 years old, so I’m a bit wiser now and hopefully a better actor. There’s no one better to guide you through it than Ken. Shakespeare on stage with Kenneth Branagh, it doesn’t get better than that.
SR: Is there now a bit of anxiety about that one?
RM: It’s the same as the anxiety on this. You have the fear and then you go, ‘Look, Ken’s guiding me through it, we’ve already worked together we know we’ve got a good dialogue between me and Ken and Lily, so let’s just go and enjoy it.’
SR: A similar question about your meeting with Kenneth for the first time, what was your first interaction with Lily like? Is it an instant connection thing or more gradual?
RM: Gradual I think. When I first met Lily I’d just had my hair dyed for the job, I looked a wreck and Lily was in costume fittings kind of half-dressed, and I came to see her and we had this awkward hug, ‘We don’t know each other but we’re going to be working together,’ and we sort of stood together looking around, ‘Right, so we’re going to be doing these parts then.’ We were both kind of terrified at the start, our first big movie and these parts that carry a lot of expectations of what people know and want, so I think we sort of clung to and supported each other and that’s why we worked so well together.
SR: I hear I might have to watch you be a bad guy…
RM: A bit of a bad guy. He’s a pickpocket and a street rat, not the most wholesome characters. It’s fun to do something a bit different, but he’s not a really really bad guy, no. I’ve not done a villain role yet, but maybe one day.
SR: So Bastille Day, we get to see it soon-ish?
RM: 2016, it’s going to be awhile.
SR: And maybe it will be coming out around Bastille Day?
RM: Maybe, I don’t know. They’ve not told me yet, I haven’t even seen any of it yet.
SR: You’ve already worked with some esteemed actors, but what does Idris bring to the table?
RM: Idris was great because it was such an odd coupling. Again, I didn’t know how it was going to go but we improvised everyday, we really played around and he is so funny and how much of that is going to make the film I don’t know, but he’s got lots of good comedic elements to him and we kind of bring that out in each other so I’ll be keen to see how that plays out on screen.
SR: So, action-comedy? Or drama?
RM: Thriller I think, but hopefully with a unique tone. I think it’s influenced by films like ‘The French Connection’ and stuff so we’ll see how they play it and how Idris and my relationship works onscreen.
SR: What’s the heavy action for you in that one?
RM: Shooting guns, there’s rooftop chase sequences, lots of good stuff, actually.
SR: And you had to be properly trained?
RM: Oh yeah, yeah. But it’s fun, running about a studio with guns for a minute is quite fun.
Coming Soon: Kenneth Branagh Talks Cinderella
Directed by Academy Award® nominee Kenneth Branagh (“Thor,” “Hamlet”) and starring two-time Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine,” “Elizabeth”), Lily James (“Downton Abbey”), Richard Madden (“Game of Thrones”) and Academy Award nominee Helena Bonham Carter (“The King’s Speech,” “Alice in Wonderland”), “Cinderella” is produced by Simon Kinberg (“X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “Elysium”), Allison Shearmur (“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1”) and David Barron (“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”) with Tim Lewis (“Edge of Tomorrow”) serving as executive producer. The screenplay is by Chris Weitz (“About a Boy,” “The Golden Compass”).
Cinderella opens in theaters March 13.