John Bradley exploded onto the pop culture landscape with his breakout role as Samwell Tarly on HBO’s incredible hit series, ‘Game of Thrones.’ A true fan favorite, we’ve watched his character grow by leaps and bounds of the course of the series. However, a quick look at John Bradley’s work outside the world of ‘GoT’ proves that the young actor isn’t one to rest on his laurels. One of his latest and most captivating projects is ‘American Satan’ from the mind of director Ash Avildsen (Creator of Sumerian Records). The film focuses on a young rock band, half from England and half from the US, drop out of college and move to the Sunset Strip to chase their dreams. Living in a van, their passion and talent exceed their means to survive. An enigmatic stranger sees their true potential and emotionally manipulates them during a time of weakness. In the film, Bradley plays Ricky Rollins, who is the brains of the operation that is The Relentless. He may not look the part or always walk the walk…or even talk the talk…but what Ricky has in spades is dedication and a willingness to do whatever it takes. Caught in the middle of a Faustian deal, their music and controversial altercations end up influencing society beyond anything this century has seen, but can they take back control of their destiny before it’s too late?
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with John Bradley to discuss his journey as an actor, his passion for bringing unique tales to the screen, sharing moments on set with the legendary Malcolm McDowell and more!
Over the past few years you’ve become a familiar face in film and on television so I want to start at the beginning. What made you pursue a career in the arts?
I think I wanted to be an entertainer from the start, long before I wanted to be an actor. I wanted to be some kind of entertainer before I even knew it was a job and certainly before I knew what it took to become an actor with the technical specifications or the classes where you learn to be an actor. I just wanted to entertain people! I think that came from watching comedy on TV as a child. We weren’t a family who went to the theater very often. We weren’t a family who even watched a lot of high-brow drama on TV. Actually, we started off by watching comedies. We watched things like “Monty Python” and even American stuff like “Married With Children.” I really liked “Married With Children” as a kid. I obviously didn’t understand all of it at the time but there was something about watching those comedy performers that made me feel very, very happy for some reason that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I didn’t know that it was a job! [laughs] I didn’t know that John Cleese had written this down on paper and was performing it on camera in front of an audience to be broadcast on TV. I didn’t know how that happened! All I knew was that I wanted to make people feel the way he was making me feel. I wanted to have that reaction from people and to make people as happy as he was making me. It was only later on that I discovered what an actor was and how you became an actor through things like drama school. I suddenly decided it was an option for me. I had never considered it as an option in the past because where I come from, and in the sphere of people around me, there was no one who had done it before. There was no blueprint for somebody like me to follow and go into that world with no contacts, experience or anyone to turn to. I didn’t think it was an option but I was desperate to entertain in some way. It was only later that I discovered it was an option, went to drama school, got into “Game of Thrones” and started to do it professionally when I fulfilled that ambition. At the start, it was just about trying to elicit a similar feeling that I was made to feel by my heroes when I was a kid and somehow it managed to happen! It was a pie in the sky when I was a kid experiencing all of that. I still pinch myself to this day that it’s managed to come true!
In addition to becoming a fan favorite on “Game of Thrones,” you continued to take on interesting projects along the way. “American Satan” is a great example! How did you get involved with this unique project?
The great thing about being on a project like “Game of Thrones” is that you have your annual schedule set out for you. Most of the time we know that the last six or seven months of the year are going to be set out by “Game of Thrones” and we have to commit to the series for the second half of the year. Usually, the fall part of the year is yours to do whatever you want with. What is handy and a luxury about that is, in terms of schedule but also in terms of relative financial security, we know the first half of the year can be taken up by projects that are slightly risky or maybe not quite as financially lucrative but are interesting projects. You can take on these projects to feed some kind of artistic views within you or maybe go into slightly uncharted territory as far as your acting is concerned. When the “American Satan” script first came through and I was told about this character of Ricky Rollins, the first thing that captured my attention about it was that it was just such a different character from anything I had been able to do before. I’ve played so many characters, especially Samwell, of course, who tend to live in quite a dark place. They inhabit quite a dark mental space. If you take Samwell for example, he sort of carries around a lot of damage with him and psychological scars from the abusive childhood he suffered. Those experiences inspired a lot of darkness in his life and he’s plagued by low self-esteem and crippling self-doubt. You really see, in the first season, he doesn’t have a shred of belief in himself and that is quite a dark place to inhabit for what is essentially seven years now. What I liked about this character of Ricky was that he is the polar opposite of that! He is brimming with self-confidence and brilliance. He never goes into a situation thinking he isn’t going to get on top of it or that it isn’t something he can’t handle. He goes in and takes over the situation with experience, grabs it by the scruff of the neck and has total belief in his abilities. It’s almost misguided a lot of times. He’s not quite as able as he thinks he is. He’s a lot more inept than he suspects he is but he still lives in a very bright space of extreme self-confidence. That was quite a nice change of pace to play somebody who has that much contrast to the roles I have played before. He has so much spark about him and so much get-up-and-go, that it was nice to inhabit a slightly brighter, more positive mindset for a change.
When it comes to the project in general, you do worry when you are attached to something about the rock world, the music industry or the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, that it’s going to be told by people without much experience in it. You fear it’s going to be written and performed by people who have never been on the road with a band or someone who may have messed around with a band in high school but have no real knowledge of that landscape or the world we are trying to portray. The thing about this one is we have Andy Biersack and Ben Bruce and this world has been their life since they were very young men. They have lived that life, existed in that landscape and they know all of these characters. Ash [Avildsen], the director, owns a record company and is very well-versed in that language and very familiar with that world as well. What I knew you would get is a very authentic account of what it’s like to live that life and to exist in that world. You can always tell when you have a project that has been directed by people who know what they are speaking about. They have that confidence about them and you know there is not going to be anything plastic or synthetic about it. It allows you to provide a very faithful account of what it’s like to be a touring rock band at the start of your career. I like the authenticity of that and I knew they would have a certain amount of credibility because of that, which is another thing that definitely drew me to “American Satan.”
In addition to working with real-life rock stars like Andy Biersack and Ben Bruce, you also worked with a cinematic icon. What was it like sharing the screen with the legendary Malcolm McDowell?
It was interesting timing-wise when I found out Malcolm was going to be part of this project. About 12 months before we started “American Satan,” I had become a very absorbed Stanley Kubrick obsessive! [laughs] It all came about from watching the film, “Room 237,” which is about all the hidden meanings in “The Shining.” I watched that and became obsessed with Kubrick, his methodology, his working methods, how he has become synonymous with perfection and his obsessive attention to detail. The way he works with actors is so unique and interesting. It’s so uniquely his own methodology, so it was interesting to find myself working with someone who had experience with that. Not only was he in a Kubrick movie but was the lead in a Kubrick movie and is someone who’s worked with him very closely all the way through the making of “A Clockwork Orange.” I felt it was just written in the stars that I happened to be working with Malcolm McDowell just when my Kubrick obsession had reached its peak. Then, I thought, “Maybe Malcolm wants to get away from that. Maybe he sees ‘A Clockwork Orange’ as one movie in an entire career. Maybe he feels he has spoken enough about Stanley Kubrick.” I didn’t want to press the issue in case he didn’t want to talk about it. As it turns out, Malcolm will talk about Stanley Kubrick all day if you want to! He is so forthcoming about talking about that period of his life! He is so proud of that movie, as he should be, and he is so proud to have worked with Stanley, as he calls him. It was such a wonderful thing to sit around and listen to a guy talk with such insight and a rich personal experience about something you are so fascinated and absorbed by! It was a real treat to have him among us, especially for me, as I’m such a fan of his performance in “A Clockwork Orange.” It was a real thrill to work with him! He’s exactly the kind of actor I like! There is something about him that is very dangerous — even now as an older man, he still has it! The same danger and unpredictability he had about him in the ‘60s is there today. You can’t watch Malcolm McDowell act and be comfortable! There is something about him that is really unsettling and it makes you feel on edge and quite nauseous. I don’t know what it is but there is something about this dangerous, charismatic attitude that he has about him on screen that is so absorbing. It has a visceral effect on you. When you see Malcolm McDowell on screen, you’re instantly nervous because you don’t know what he’s going to do next. We associate him with all of these twisted, psychological parts that he has portrayed so beautifully over the years and there is something that is so powerfully unsettling. As you can tell, he is one of my favorites and working with him was a dream come true!
How do you take on a new character and what were your biggest challenges on “American Satan?”
In terms of playing a character like Ricky, it’s the same as you approach every character, which is as a completely blank canvas. I try not to bring any of my tricks or methodology that I’ve used to play Samwell Tarly in the past into Ricky because it’s a completely different character, completely different rhythm and pace. Sam is very low-key, he talks to himself quietly and speaks slowly. He has a kind of doing about him but it doesn’t appear on the surface. He barely moves, Samwell, his movements are so small and subtle that sometimes you can miss them if you’re not too careful. With Ricky, I had to approach it really differently. I had to attack every single thing with so much energy and a hyper kind of friendly energy that I’ve never really played before. Ricky is the kind of person who instantly lights up the room, picks everybody up who’s in there and tries to be a source of positive energy for the people. I’ve never played a character like that before so it was about conserving my energy so when I arrived on camera I was able to hit the ground running and attack it with all the exuberance I have in my performance. It was interesting to try and maintain that level of energy throughout the piece.
One of the things I found so interesting was how the film almost starts off as a buddy comedy and not as a satanic psychological thriller. It’s starts as a buddy comedy with a bunch of guys coming from England, meeting up with a bunch of American guys, trying to have fun, starting to make a band and having all of the laughs and fun and games that a young band has in their early days. When I was playing those scenes, we couldn’t think about how it would end up. We couldn’t think about, SPOILER ALERT, they were going to make a pact with the Devil and everything was going to go wrong. We couldn’t have that in our mind! All we could have in our minds was the fact that these are actually good times for these guys and it was exciting. We couldn’t let ourselves foresee what was going to go wrong because they couldn’t foresee what was going to go wrong. So, that’s how it goes from a buddy comedy for the first part to a psychological satanic thriller for the second part. We just had to concentrate on keeping those two bits separate. The change is going to happen when it happens, so our challenge for the first half of the movie was to get our chemistry right and make sure our friendship and energy as a group of young men came across. I think that was easy because we all got on as a cast very well. We had that friendship off the bat and kept maintaining that and tried to light up the screen with it in the early stages with the joyful, youthful fun and games! Keeping those two halves of the movie separate in our minds was a challenge.
Our time is short, so I have one more question. You are building a great career and it’s inspiring to see you put in all the hard work. What is the best lesson we can take away from your journey as an artist?
The best lesson you could take is to always be aware that what you consider to be your shortcomings, imperfections or what some may say are your failings could be exactly what people are looking for. I’m somebody who, prior to “Game of Thrones,” struggled with my weight. I had all kinds of weight issues and I was trying to lose weight, manage it, get on top of it and solve a lot of the problems that I had which I thought were connected to my weight. As it turns out, that’s what people were looking for. What you consider to be an imperfection or something you don’t like about yourself may prove to be exactly what somebody else is looking for and that sort of thing can project you and give you a springboard into a career. I’m not necessarily saying that it’s good to be overweight because there are health issues associated with it. All I am saying is that the one thing I considered to be the thing that would hold me back in my life turned out to be my unique selling point in my early days and got me my first job. It’s just really about not beating yourself up about the things you consider to be wrong with you because they may be what makes you unique. If you think you have a big nose or that you have big ears or are overweight or going bald, you have to remember one thing — they are casting characters of every shape, size and description! If you want to be an actor, embrace what makes you unique and don’t try to iron yourself out to be like everybody else!
Well said, John! Thank you so very much for your time today! I really appreciate it and I wish you continued success! I can’t wait to see what you have in store for us in the years to come!
Thank you, Jason! It’s been lovely talking to you! Take care!
Ash Avildsen’s ‘American Satan’ hits select theaters on Friday, October 13th! Get all the latest info and screening info for the film via the official website — www.americansatanmovie.com.