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The actor discusses his very big year, from the Red Wedding to fighting vampires in New York.
72-year-old David Bradley has acting credits that date back to 1971, which makes it all the more impressive and notable how his career has taken off in recent years. His role as Mr. Filch in the Harry Potter films instantly made him recognizable to millions of fans, and then he was cast in another high profile fantasy project, Game of Thrones, as the, ahem, less than lovable Walder Frey.
However, even after those achievements, 2013 was one for the books for Bradley, who suddenly was seemingly everywhere. His return to Game of Thrones after a two-year absence was one no one would ever forget, thanks to his character being an integral architect of the infamous Red Wedding. Bradley also could be seen working alongside David Tennant in the acclaimed Broadchurch, appearing with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in Edgar Wright’s The World’s End and playing William Hartnell,, the original Doctor Who star, in the TV Movie An Adventure in Space and Time.
On top of all that, Bradley also accepted a role in Guillermo del Toro’s The Strain, debuting Sunday night on FX. In del Toro’s adaptation of his own book (written with Chuck Hogan), produced in partnership with Lost’s Carlton Cuse, Bradley plays Abraham Setrakian, a Holocaust survivor living in New York as a pawnshop owner. But Setrakian also happens to have had some pretty extreme history with the horrifying vampiric threat that has suddenly come to New York, rushing to aid Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll), whether he likes it or not.
During a visit to the Toronto set of The Strain early this year, I was among a group of journalists who sat down with Bradley to discuss his role on The Strain and the actor’s profile increasing.
While the questions came from all of us sitting at the table with Bradley, I will note that as a huge Harry Potter fan, I was the one who asked him about his amazing run through the Great Hall in The Goblet of Fire…
On Setrakian’s pawn shop and his basement apartment below:
Well, it’s a real treat, really. Because of the detail... and have you seen the basement and the armory? It’s fantastic, isn’t it? It just adds to this guy’s interesting past, you know, and I suppose it hopefully will make the audience think, "What’s going on here? What’s in the jar under the cupboard?" And as you know, it gradually becomes apparent throughout the story - with all the flashbacks as well, going into the concentration camp, and it just gives him an interesting past. And a rich one that hopefully the audience will gradually get to know him as well as all the other characters as they move along together.
When I was first asked to do it, I mean, it was those three magic words: Guillermo Del Toro. I’m a big fan and I think Pan’s Labyrinth is one of the finest films I’ve ever seen, and I enjoyed Pacific Rim. And I didn’t really need to see a script. I can’t actually remember if I saw a whole script or if they just gave me a breakdown about what happens to the character, and I just knew I wanted to do it. And it’s the first time I’ve been to Canada, let alone worked here, so it was quite an adventure and quite a big relocation for me.
I’m looking forward to finding out more about the story, about him and his past life, before he decided to change it and move to New York. And his relationship with his wife. Maybe they’ll be scenes with her later, I don’t know yet. I’m waiting to see. But we’re all so excited that every time a new script lands in our mailbox, it’s very exciting. Because as you probably know, I’m about halfway through the [book] trilogy at the moment, and sometimes I’m reading the book and learning a script and I get the two mixed up sometimes, because there are some things that are in the books that aren’t in the scripts, and vice versa. He’s added scenes to the film that weren’t in the books. So I’m prepared to be, no matter how familiar I am with the books, I’m prepared to be surprised at any time.
On replacing John Hurt, who was originally cast in the role, right before production:
Well, it was a bit like, “Can you come to Canada for five months in four days time?” So there wasn’t too much time to think about it. I mean, you’re getting your passport renewed, visas and everything, and trying to organize stuff at home. So I just threw my lot in and I said, "I just know I want to do this, I want to be a part of this thing." Because you just know from seeing his [del Toro\'s] work that he’s going to make it look special. And it was I think thrilling for all of us to see the pilot and what he’d done with it, and you know if the rest of it’s going to be like that, it’s gonna be pretty exciting. I mean, it’s great working with different directors on each episode. On the Harry Potter films where we had some directors do 3 or 4 of the films... Chris Columbus did a couple, David Yates did, I think, four, so we had different directors on that, but my contribution to the Potters was minimal compared to this, where you’re in the vanguard in terms of what happens in the story. All the directors have been so interesting in their way of working, but they’re all part of the same storyline. So that was a new experience. And they’ve all been just great to work with.
Well, I like the fact that the audience will think he’s either mad, maybe bad, and possibly dangerous to know. And as the story develops, they think, "Oh, he’s right! He does know exactly what’s going on." So rather than being just this virtuous kind of high priest of vampirism or something, I love it when the audience’s expectations are overturned in any drama. Because there’s conflict on the outside and there’s conflict within with these characters. And although he is quite old, I like the fact that someone of my age is someone who is proactive and not someone who is just a passenger or being helped through this. It’s his, as we gradually find out, it’s his desire for vengeance, particularly about what happened to his wife, the love of his life, and that gives him that drive and anger and energy for him to want to see it through and not fail this time. And that’s what gives him this vitality and the ability to go into action with his sword. It’s just like he’s finding that extra… like an old boxer coming back again for one more bash at the title.
I’ve reached the age where I’ve played quite a few… My daughter kept saying, "Dad, why are you always dying?" I’ve spent enough time onscreen lying in bed on my last legs as this frail old guy, so it’s so nice to play someone who’s got that vigor and that drive, and brave enough to wade in with his silver sword.
Continue to Page 2 as Bradley talks about his huge 2013 and his history with Game of Thrones and Harry Potter.