Richard Madden is sitting barefoot and cross-legged on an inviting velvet armchair. Outside, it’s the hottest day of the year but inside the air conditioning is so prevalent it’s positively chilly. As a proud Scot, Madden is no stranger to the cold and has neatly wrapped himself up in a rather comfy-looking athleisure-type ensemble, albeit sans shoes.
We are on the set of his Wonderland cover shoot and as everyone breaks for lunch, we find an opportune time to catch up and chat with the Bodyguard star and global ambassador of Calvin Klein’s latest fragrance, DEFY, about the year that’s been for arguably one of the entertainment industry’s most hard-working talents.
“If I’m not doing stuff, I always feel like I should be,” says Madden as he twiddles his thumbs, his eyes wide and alive. Like everyone, the 35-year-old was not accustomed to what the past 18 months would have in store. “I’d just finished shooting Eternals when lockdown happened so it was like, oh OK, I’m forced to not do anything,” recalls Madden. “I really needed that because I’m so used to surviving but here I didn’t feel guilty about not doing something because no one was doing anything.”
With a cast that comprises Angelina Jolie, Kit Harington, Gemma Chan, Salma Hayek and Kumail Nanjiani alongside Madden who plays Ikaris, it’s no surprise that Eternals is the most anticipated film of the year and as a big fan of comics himself, Madden too is beyond excited for it to be out.
“I’ve always loved the Marvel universe and superhero movies so to be able to do it in the way that we did with this script and this film is really exciting,” he tells us. “It isn’t just pixels versus pixels, we went on location so much and really tried to find a depth to these characters and the joy of them. They’re all thousands of years old so rather than just being like, ‘Hey, I’m a comic book hero and that’s the thing,’ the film has a story and delves into the complexity of what happens if you’re alive for thousands of years.”
As you can imagine, playing such a role can be somewhat emotionally draining but it was also pretty tough going on the body throughout filming: “There was a lot of time on wires because my character flies, which was just physically fucking draining,” he adds, offering further insight into what goes into the making of a blockbuster movie like this.
“They’re all very complicated people in Eternals, but hopefully that can also help us bring a lightness to some heavy subject matter in terms of the story because I think when you live that long you’ve got to have a bit of a smile to yourself. You’ve got to laugh at life.”
Indeed, laughing is something Madden hopes to do more of in the future, both personally and professionally. Given the majority of Madden’s roles have been on the serious side, we talk to him about finding his happy place, about how he comes to terms with feeling self-conscious in front of the camera as well as what he has planned for Christmas this year.
Within the Marvel Universe, the likes of Taika Waititi and James Gunn have injected a lot of humour into their films. A lot of your roles are quite serious so did you enjoy playing with a bit of humour in Eternals?
I’m dying to do some more comedy, I want to do something fun. In Eternals, we tried to get moments of lightness all the way through it, being that we’re dealing with the end of the world type feelings and atmospheres. It’s hard to get that lightness but that’s what’s so important, to get these lighter moments when we can. I’d love to do some more comedies. I do feel like I end up playing a lot of serious things.
Is that not representative of you?
I think it’s not representative of me but you get affected with what you do, what you spend all your day doing, so that’s why I’d love to do something lighter so my day is affected with lighter things rather than the end of the world stuff.
Do you think the reason why Marvel films have been so successful is the way it has humanised these superheroes?
Yeah, that’s the whole thing. That’s what we want. In this, you get to see me in these huge costumes and in this kind of mad, superhero detached way. Then we get to play with the element of just being people who have known each other for a long time, who, when you’ve experienced everything in the world, what is it they can learn? That’s what we found interesting and humanising…
With the extra element of dress up.
Then we got dress up in there, the fun, which is real life isn’t it?
Quite. Do you love what you do?
I’m very lucky to be doing different things. My whole thing is just entertainment, whether it’s amazing action, drama or a mad superhero movie that my nieces and nephews can have costumes of. In fact, maybe I’ll make everyone dress up as me for Christmas this year.
You’re no doubt used to fanatical fans with Game of Thrones so how are you feeling about being thrown into that different universe?
I’m excited by it and I also know I have a huge responsibility because a lot of these fans have owned the characters before you have. They’re theirs before they’re yours so you don’t want to fuck it up for them. But also you want to do your own interpretation. Hopefully what you’re bringing to life is going to be something that they enjoy. I mean, everyone has got their own idea on it and I’m an interpreter just like the director is. Everyone is an interpreter, It’s all a collaborative thing.
Do you feel like you learn from the characters you play?
I think it’s a chicken and egg thing. I never know what happens first; either you’re drawn to a part because there’s something of that character that you want to learn about, or whether you get to the end of the character and you’ve learned something about yourself that you didn’t know. But every character, I suppose you learn something new about yourself just through spending all day in someone else’s clothes, speaking someone else’s words, thinking someone else’s thoughts. I’m not a method actor in any way but when you spend 14 hours a day pretending to be someone else, it kind of informs you a bit more about who you are at the end of it. It’s weird, you have to get to know yourself after six months of being someone else.
And what about some of the partnerships you’ve entered into, like say with Calvin Klein?
The whole thing with Calvin Klein started when we met in New York five years ago and we were just like, ‘We want to work together!’ We don’t know how we’re going to do it or what we’re going to do but we want to do something together and that was how Defy [fragrance] was born. This kind of concept of striving to be better, to exceed your own expectations of yourself is something I’ve always had from being younger. I must do better, I must risk failing, pushing myself. That’s what’s behind this fragrance and campaign, the idea of pushing yourself to be better than you think you can be, defying your own expectations of yourself.
After the huge couple of years you’ve had, do you still feel like that?
Always. Just constantly feeling this might be the last time you’re doing anything. You’re always wondering if this is your last job, trying to be better and just only doing things that I feel I can fail in, like the fragrance campaign. Can I pull this off? I’m a working-class guy from Scotland in double denim doing a very American brand. Can I pull this off? Can we make something together that’s honest despite where you would normally put me in a box. I suppose you’d probably put me in a whiskey commercial and not in a Calvin Klein fragrance thing. So it’s about how I can live up to that? How can I achieve that?
How important is it to you that you are representing Scotland in that sense, double denim or not?
Yeah it’s good, it’s again this character thing. That’s where you straddle the lines. It’s something new for me is straddling the line between… modelling and stuff is not my strong point, to manipulate my face and my body without a character objective. I can do that but when it stills I become hyper-self conscious. So again, I suppose that’s part of me challenging myself. Today, I had to pull off these looks. How do I pull these off to get the best out of their vision when it goes against all my instincts, which is like you’re a little guy from Scotland who’s not good enough to do this.
Where do you find zen time?
A lot of the time it’s when I’m hiking especially in LA, where I’m based now. I love that in 30 minutes I’m up top of a hill and in the middle of nowhere. Then I can come back in the city and get a green juice in five minutes. That’s where I’m at my happiest, I think. Or when I’m up in Scotland and hiking around up there, I like to be out in nature. It can be part of my whole prep for a job but it’s also like a meditation.
Have you spent much time in Scotland recently?
I managed to get up and just hideout in the middle of nowhere in the countryside with some friends and be up there in the best month of the year when the sun doesn’t go down til midnight. It’s stunning up there. It really kind of fucks with your head because it’s so out of this world. I love it.
Calvin Klein DEFY is now available nationwide at Boots.