I find Madden sitting in the corner of Tiny’s & the Bar Upstairs, bundled in an overcoat and a turtleneck, drinking Kentucky Bourbon Ale on this bitter New York afternoon. He’s handsome and his Scottish accent is as thick and alluring as one might hope it to be (he pronounces “Great Dane” with a rolling R). For someone experienced in playing the role of a king and a prince, he is remarkably laid-back, modest, and almost bashful. He plays with his hands while speaking, and he lights up whenever I ask about Game of Thrones, in which he starred as Robb Stark, King in the North. He first joined youth theatre as a kid to overcome shyness and, in the process, discovered his passion. Today, with credits in theatre, film, and television, he seems to be constantly working.
“I think I’ve had nine different permanent residences in the past year,” he says.
Madden’s recent work has led him to film in several remote locations. And though he nearly froze shooting Game of Thrones in Ireland and Scotland (while cast mates filmed on the beaches of Croatia), it was while filming Klondike (2014) in Canada that he says he nearly died. The mini-series, in which he plays an adventurer during the gold rush, required him to throw himself into Class IV river rapids. The word “immersive” comes up several times in our conversation; whether honing his accent for a role or shooting on a rigorous schedule in a foreign city, he’s diving in fully (literally, in this case). “You’re sucked under and down like a washing machine and you’re like, ‘If I don’t get air this next time, I’m gonna drown,’” he says of the rapids.
In another scene, after a nurse on set ordered him to stop shooting, he insisted he was fine, only to find everyone confused by the mumbling sounds he made; he was hypothermic.
By comparison, the only extreme conditions Madden faced while playing Prince Charming was “being in a dance rehearsal room three times a week for months.” In the film, the self-proclaimed terrible dancer flits, floats, spins, lifts, and dips, all with decent grace and a smile, during the centerpiece ballroom scene. Madden recreates the Prince with dark curls and good posture and modernizes him with humor and vulnerability. He said he felt pressure, as he did with Robb Stark, embodying a character “everyone knew and owned.” But upon realizing he couldn’t actually name three attributes ascribed to Prince Charming, he was drawn to the role. It’s true; the classic tale provides a thin outline for the character. Madden and director Kenneth Branagh colored the blank canvas with background.
“[The Prince] has been at war for a number of years before it starts, [which is] much more interesting than just a guy who sits about a palace waiting for the next ball to happen.”
Growing up, Madden’s favorite Disney film was “100 percent Aladdin.” I ask if that’s a character he’d like to play. “I’m not going to aim for another fairy tale at the moment,” he says carefully, not to suggest anything but gratitude for each of his roles.
What’s next then?
“I’m going to stay away from royalty for a while. I’ve been on as many horses as I need to for a while.”
Madden’s ready for something more villainous. He’s recently wrapped filming Bastille Day, in which he plays a con artist opposite Idris Elba.
“I get to wear a pair of jeans. Because I’m always in fucking period furs and tight pants and doublets.”
Outside of work, the London resident hopes to travel more: Bali, Costa Rica, and India are next on his list.
I ask if, 20 years after his stint in youth theatre, he’s still shy. Following a moment of hesitation, he concedes, “Yeah. Probably.” Twice throughout our conversation, he stressed a caveat to his passion for acting, the ancillary demands of the profession: modeling, being a brand ambassador, selling a movie.
“Suddenly, these are other things you just have to get good at,” he says, “But I’m not complaining.”
If not on screen, the actor may have ended up in tech. When first applying to drama school, his high school made him apply for a second degree because they didn’t consider acting a real profession. His backup? Computer science. He adds, “I don’t know what I’d be doing. I’d love to own a bar.”
To wrap up, two beers in, we play a lightning round of questions. Here’s a summary: Richard Madden doesn’t like big beards (too hipster), prefers rugby to football, and the voice of his GPS? “It’s Billy Connolly. He’s a Scottish comedian. Oh, he’s very funny. Like, [mimicking exaggerated accent] ‘Turn left at the end of the street.’ It’s so Scottish.”
Photographer: Tony Kim for DefactoInc.com.
Fashion Editor: Joshua Liebman at joshualiebman.com.
Groomer: Kumi Craig for TheWallGroup.com.
Photography Assistant: Briscoe Savoy.
Digital Tech: Joseph Overbey at l-db.com.
Location: Ruby Bird Studio, Brooklyn, New York.
Grooming Notes: Shiseido Men Hydrating Lotion by Shiseido.