Debbie Day for Rotten Tomatoes: What is a typical night or day like for you the first time you see an episode? When do you get to see the show? Is it at the same time as fans? How does that work?
John Bradley: Well, it depends really because, ultimately, if you’re in the episode or not. You tend to see your own scenes much earlier in the process in ADR, in post-production. You tend to see it unfinished in tiny little fragments and you can get a sense of the overall narrative of the season. You do get a chance to see in advance, roughly, how your scenes are going to play out. By the time the show is actually on, you’re not really expecting any nasty surprises as far as your own performance is concerned. You’re pretty familiar with your own performance in the season.
Still, when you know you’re in an episode and when you know that you’re being watched by such a large portion of the world, however many millions of fans are watching the show as soon as it’s released, it’s kind of a strange experience. Especially, because it’s on at 2 a.m. UK time when the episodes air for the first time, knowing that you’re lying in bed in your own little home and, yet, your performance is being watched by literally tens of millions of people in the world. That can be kind of a strange experience.
If you’re not in the episode, it’s a joy. It’s a complete joy, because all of that responsibility was taken off of you for a week, and you can watch the show like everybody else. That’s one of the great things about being in this show.
We all do our little bits. We do our little scenes and, then, they’re stitched into the great tapestry of the show. We all concentrate on our own character and our own development, and let other people concentrate on their little square of the patchwork and then it’s stitched together into this glorious, perfectly placed and perfectly plotted narrative over the course of usually 10 hours, or seven or six, the last two seasons. You do find yourself being able to watch the rest of the show like a fan.
I find that when I meet [Game of Thrones actors] who I’ve watched for so many years and never met, somebody like Jerome Flynn, who I’ve been a huge fan ever since we started the show — I think Bran is one of my favorite characters, but I only got to really meet him for the first at awards a couple of years ago — it’s like you’re fan-boying over somebody who’s in your show. It’s really weird because you’ve never met them. You’re just huge fans of theirs, huge fans of their work, and huge fans of their story line.
If I’m not in the episode, I absolutely can watch it as it’s broadcast at the same time as fans all over the world watch it and still get that sense of satisfaction and still get that excitement of watching it at the same time as them. Because even though I’ve read the script a year ago, seeing that journey from page to screen and seeing how they manage to execute some of these sequences that look completely un-filmable on the page — that journey can be an exciting thing, to be reminded of stuff I read eight months ago and decided then that wasn’t filmable and it’s ambitious even by our own standards. David and Daniel must have overstretched themselves sometime, and they’ve given themselves an enormous task that even they may not be able to achieve, such is the kind of ambition of some of these sequences. To see them nail that time after time, to see that journey, and to see the visualization of this idea that was ink on paper a year ago, that’s the exciting thing for me, and I’m thrilled by that every time.
I do watch the show when it’s broadcast, whether I’m in it or not. When I’m in it, there’s a little bit of pressure knowing that people are going to watch my performance, but if I’m not in it, it’s an absolute joy and I get to watch it the same as everybody else.
When we get to a big moment, for instance, Arya (Maisie Williams) taking revenge on the Freys. Do you have as much of a visceral response to that sort of thing as we do?
Bradley: Completely, yeah. It’s interesting that you selected that moment as being the moment that you’re using to illustrate that point, because I’ve actually been using that scene to illustrate that point, as well. The thing that I love most about that scene is, I believe, if I remember rightly, it was a pre-credit sequence, I think. It’s the sequence that opens season 7.
What I like the most about that, and the reason that I thought it was the most effective, is because we were late starting season 7. We normally start in the springtime, in March, April, but because we started in July, it felt like a long time since we’d been on. It felt like we’d been making people wait for a long time, and we’d been waiting a long time to see everybody else’s work, like we always are. It felt like such a satisfying relief of all that tension. You knew the wait was over. You knew that we were back. And you knew that we weren’t playing games. From the very first, pre-credit sequence, the drama’s there and the tension’s there, and all of the big tension qualities. The reason that’s such a wonderful set piece for the character, in terms of her own personal journey, her own sense of revenge, and her own sense of restoring equilibrium in the world is seeing that she has to honor the lives of the people that she knew and the people she loved. That is such a perfect way to start a season — completely unexpected.
That moment of confusion there — Walder Frey seems to be back at the start of season 7 and people can’t quite work out what’s going on — people are confused by it. The ultimately real and the ultimate satisfaction of that moment that was a brilliant way of announcing the arrival of season 7 and announcing our resurgence of the show. We kept people waiting long enough and it’s nice that we’re instantly satisfying them and instantly giving them sequences like that they can de-stress and get excited about, and get their teeth into. I found that sequence to be very moving after, essentially, 13, 14 months without the show. It was nice to announce our arrival in such spectacular fashion.
Of course, we watched that scene for the first time at Disney Hall in the premiere with a room full of several hundred people. To hear that reaction, to hear all the cheers, rounds of applause, audible gasps, and that ripple of excitement that comes around big auditoriums and done for something so visceral, so satisfying, and so dramatically effective that was a really powerful moment for me, all of the cast, and the audience, in general. It really let people know that we’d been away for a while and now we we’re firmly back and don’t get comfy for the next seven episodes.
Another thing that viewers seem to cheer is what feels like a genuine friendship between Jon and Sam. Sam didn’t get to spend time with Jon this season. I was wondering how that was for you filming scenes without Kit Harington, after all of the time you spent filming together.
Bradley: Kit, because he was my first ever professional — Game of Thrones is my first job — and he’d been the first actor that in my professional career I developed any kind of rapport with, or any kind chemistry with, or developed any kind of working relationship with. We became such firm friends immediately, and we started working together, and Dave and Dan noticed how well our chemistry was doing off screen and gave us little pieces to do on camera, and fleshed out our back stories just a little bit more and that story a little more, gave us more character points. Because of that, it’s a friendship and a working relationship that we felt very comfortable with for all of those years.
It was interesting to have that kind of umbilical cord cut and finding myself acting with other people — I’ve acted with Hannah Murray for a while, and been away from Kit then, and been away from Kit while I was at the Citadel, and then I was at Horn Hill in season 6.
The main kind of challenge that I’ve had with that is I’d been so comfortable in a sidekick role for all of those years. It’s quite a comfortable place to be, to be one step out of the spotlight. Kit’s always going to be in the spotlight because Jon Snow is such an essential character. I kind of found my dream as a secondary character to him, as his sidekick and his confidant, somebody that that character goes to discuss things like traditionally. Sam had his own character, don’t get me wrong, but he was there to service Jon Snow’s narrative, Jon Snow’s narrative arc, and Jon Snow’s progression of the character. I find that when I was without Kit, when I was with Hannah, or with the family in season 6, or with Jim Broadbent in season 7, I found myself being cast into the spotlight for the first time and having to occupy the screen as a lead.
To make that shift, it took me a while to step up to that challenge and accept the challenge as being a character leading his own story line and leading his own narrative, the focal point of only in those scenes. That was something that I was reluctant to do for a while and found difficult. That gear change of suddenly having all the attention on me and not just getting deflected attention from Jon Snow, but I think that I was helped in that by it being such a gradual process. — having the words of David and Dan … working with some of the same directors and all of the same crew — I was kind of able to step up to that challenge, slowly but surely.
When we’re in scenes like where I was in season 7 with Jim Broadbent — if you can’t learn from Jim Broadbent, you can’t learn from anybody — that was a very satisfying relationship for me, but it was strange for me to think that even though I’m working with an Oscar winner — and I think that he may be the only Oscar winner we’ve ever had on the show — it still didn’t feel right that he was coming into my scenes. I felt like he should be the lead in that scene, and I should be the peripheral character. It took me a while to get around, because of my own kind of Northern English working-class sensibility where hogging the limelight is something not to be admired. I found it a strange thing that Jim Broadbent would come along and was kind of secondary character to my lead. I found that to be a really kind of confusing experience.
I had to be reminded of that on set sometimes, director Matt Shakman and had to tell me sometimes, “This is your set. They don’t mind if you have to do one more take. Don’t mind if you get it done on a couple of takes, this is your set, and you are the lead in this.” I felt, “Yeah,” but it didn’t feel right. “Jim Broadbent should always be the lead. I should always be the secondary character.” It took me a while to get used to that dynamic, but it’s been a slow process ever since I was doing a scene without Kit. It’s been a slow process to feel comfortable in that role, really.
Well, whatever magic came together to make those moments for you, they worked. It was really a joy to watch.
Bradley: Thank you.
I was kind of sad that the character left the Citadel, because I was really looking forward to him having all the time with all those books.
Bradley: Yeah, of course. That’s a fantastic character point again. It just goes to show how quickly these characters are developing. No character is in any places very long, if you think about it, there all on journeys. They’re all progressing so rapidly, and that became a function of the fact that we have these huge books written, and we have these hundreds and hundreds of page tomes that we had to condense in to 10 hours of TV. But people are developing so rapidly, we have trim away all the fat really. We just have to stick with lean and get rid of anything that’s kind of extraneous and incidental and just focus completely on character and plot. And that’s why Sam was only allowed a season at the Citadel, because he has to keep up with all these other characters’ progression.
I would have liked Sam to have another season at the Citadel because I want another season with Jim Broadbent. But once again, that’s not always possible; they have to get him out of there, they have to get him back into the thick of the action. And I was happy by the end of season 7 to be reintroduced into the main body of the story again, interacting with people like Jorah Mormont [Iain Glen], and Bran Stark. After two years in the wilderness, it’s nice that Sam got back to Winterfell where he feels less like a satellite character now and more like a key character at the center of the action again.
In the last scene of the season, Sam is talking to Bran and he finds out that Bran doesn’t really see all, necessarily. I was wondering what the subtext would have been for his character in that moment?
Bradley: What I like about Sam and Bran, as a partnership is they both have a very unique set of skills that nobody else involved in this great struggle seems to have. Bran has supernatural visionary capabilities, and Sam just has this quest for academia, and a quest for knowledge and a quest to apply knowledge. But they both, the only people who can fulfill those roles, so together they’re quite a partnership because they can fill in the gaps in each other’s prowess if you’d like. Sam is the one to contextualize a lot of Bran’s visions that will make Bran’s visions make sense historically and contextually, and he can decipher these visions. Bran has the visions, Sam’s the one that can apply his knowledge and decipher them and find out what they mean, and find out how find out how the information can be applied. Together they are such a great partnership.
What I found brilliant about that sequence is: This show does amazing battle sequencing with the CGI so well and the battles so well and all of those big action set pieces where all it executes so perfectly, but arguably the most important scene that’s ever happened in the whole series is two people — [whose fate is] about to be revealed. From that you get the knowledge of Jon’s claim to the Iron Throne, all of that stuff, and that is such a vital scene in the history of this show and one of the most memorable scenes and one of the most pivotal scenes, as far as the narrative is concerned. And yet it wasn’t a battle — it was just two little-known low-key characters talking to each other.
It’s nice that this show is able to pull off those happy moments in a low-key way and not just rely on spectacular set pieces like some other shows do. We can do two characters talking as well and as importantly and as artistically and dramatically as we can do anything else. So yeah that was great to be a part of.
Game of Thrones: The Complete Seventh Season is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Isaac Hempstead Wright | John Bradley