Richard Madden is giddy at the prospect of going dark. Hunched attractively in a leather chair at a Beverly Hills hotel, the 32-year-old Scotsman, known for playing doomed scion Robb Stark on Game of Thrones and the trauma-stricken David Budd on the BBC’s Bodyguard, is eager to shed his broken-good-guy image. “I really enjoyed being a bastard,” he says, punching his right fist in his left hand like a ball in a mitt.
He’s referring to his role as John Reid, the rebrand manager and former lover of Elton John (played by Taron Egerton) in this month’s fantastical and much-anticipated Rocketman biopic. “He just loved fighting people,” Madden says. Reid also had moments of charm and generosity, the actor acknowledges, but his manipulative side was much more fun to play.
In person, the actor is a riveting combination of flinty and safe. He looks like the guy to trust in a crowd, but then his nerves seem spring-loaded, like when he catches a bottle top falling off the table like it’s a grenade. We talk about getting a beer but order sparkling water instead because it’s early in the afternoon and pouring rain and, well, that combination can make for a booze-soaked slippery slope—especially in London, where Madden’s lived for 14 years.
“There, it’s dark by 3 p.m. and it’s raining and miserable and you go, ‘I just want to sit by the fire with a bottle of red wine in the pub,’ ” he says, slipping into an almost incomprehensible back-and-forth Scottish brogue: “ ‘Eh, we’re shot.’ And you’re like, ‘Well, I’ll have another one.’ ” Pause. “ ‘So, are you shot or not shot? All right, cool, I’ll have another one.’ ”