Interview: John Bradley Talks TRADERS and GAME OF THRONES
Last year at the Fantasia International Film Festival, a dark satirical drama out of Ireland called Traders played and was enthusiastically received, by myself and others. It is a economical little film that mixes the ethos of Fight Club and the current global meltdown; it is certainly not afraid to get its hands dirty.
When two young men, living high and handsome Harry and homebody-ish co-worker Vernon, lose their high paying jobs at an asset management firm due to massive downsizing in the Irish job market, they start a Craigslist-type website on the dark web that allows people in similar situations to liquidate their remaining assets to cash.
The idea is simple: find a person with a comparable sum on the website, meet in a pub with a green duffel bag full of cash, choose a private place, dig a single grave together, and fight to the death. The winner takes all, loser gets buried. Unemployed single folks with nothing to lose can make a million pounds with a few strategic 'trades.'
The film's witty concept is elevated by strong performances and a dark sense of humour that is quite subtle at times, but also bitingly sharp. With Traders currently in release in the United States on various VOD platforms, John Bradley, who will be very familiar to Game of Thrones fans as the cherubic and erudite Samwell Tarly, plays effectively against that type.
In our conversation below, gently edited for clarity and flow, he is indeed all sweetness and generousity. Our all too brief conversation centres around how he approaches building characters, and various aspects of both Traders and Game of Thrones.
Kurt Halfyard: It is a pleasure to speak with you, John, how are you?
John Bradley: I’m very good thank you, and a pleasure to talk to you too!
What would you say was the most satisfying aspect of working on TRADERS?
Well the thing about it that I really enjoyed, and it was a first for me, only having worked on for any considerable time on Game of Thrones before that was I was playing the character that was in the whole of the movie from start to finish. When you get to be in a show of that size, there are so many characters, and so many scenes you are not involved in which things takes a long time to shoot, you feel slightly abstract from all of it, a bit disconnected. I mean, you can watch it as a fan, but as an actor you have a lot of time away from the set, and a lot is going on without you.
What I liked about Traders is that it was a small crew, and I only had one day off for the whole shoot. It was nice to feel like it was a consistent type of thing where you can really get some momentum going. You started work, and then for almost four weeks you are working every day. I felt like I could really immerse myself in it.
With Game of Thrones you do feel like you are telling part of a story, the key to your patch, sure, but with Traders I could feel like i was really committed to telling a complete story, and really committed to that process of putting together a full narrative, front to back.
Did you enjoy the chance to play the exact opposite of what is sweet and charming and endearing about Samwell Tarly in GAME OF THRONES. In TRADERS your character is kind of a monster.
Yes. It was really satisfying, actually, because one of the things that I think works is that I have these certain physical characteristics that make me appear harmless, and to be cuddly and somebody that is not really going to do much damage, and I think that provided a really nice twist for people.
You don’t quite believe that my character Vernon would come up with something this dark. Or that he could be somebody that has so little consideration for people that he is willing to send them to their deaths for the sake of money. You’d never believe that to look at him, some of that is from Game of Thrones.
So that we could use that to kind of subvert it, and shock the audience a bit. That is one thing that I got me really excited about the casting choice. Movie logic would dictate that the strong good looking alpha-male character would be the bad guy, and you would expect that the small weak chubby guy would get bad end of the deal. So what you get is a kind of playing around with those physical rules.
I might get you in trouble with the questing, but do you feel TRADERS is Vernon’s movie, or your co-star Killian Scott’s character, Harry’s movie?
I would say that Traders is Harry’s movie, because Harry is the life that you start with. Harry is the first contact with the audience and he is always there in the movie. You’re looking at Harry’s choices, and the effect it has on his life. You are not so much looking at Vernon’s life, but what Vernon does for Harry. Vernon is a catalyst for Harry’s life changes.
While I was watching the film, I thought it was more like that PULP FICTION thing where a major thing happens, and it makes Jules, Sam Jackons’ character, realizes that he can make a life change, but Vincent, John Travolta, does not. They both walk their respective paths to different ends.
Sure. When Vernon and Harry split for a little bit you do see a bit more of Vernon and his mess. In the early stages you see Vernon testing Harry to see how far he can go, and see how much Harry is willing to risk to keep his standard of living. What Vernon represents is kind of this dark heart of Harry, Vernon sees something in Harry that makes him thing he will go for this sort of idea. He sees a kind of greed in him, and a superficial personality and he kind of wriggles it out of him.
Do you feel over the course of the story that Vernon doesn’t learn anything? That he doesn’t have what that say, is an arc? And if so, is it in the wrong direction?
I don’t think Vernon has an arc at all. I don’t think he learns any lessons. Vernon is absolutely incapable of any kind of positive human feeling. I am not sure is he is a psychopath or a sociopath, but he is one of them. He doesn’t see people trading as human beings, he sees them as cogs in the machine of his idea.
When you have such a disregard for human lives and you are literally treating them as a way to make money for yourself, and you don’t care what happens to them, you cannot really learn the lesson that is going to get you out of that mindset. It is a kind of chemical imbalance in your brain. It is an emotional boundary, a developmental issue when no experience that you have can change you. Vernon doesn’t develop at all, he arrives as someone who is incredibly cold, and even cruel, and stays like that all the way through.
You can also see that Harry is the only person in that company that really has any time for Vernon, Harry accepts him, has a drink with him. I think others in the company are bothered by him, but not Harry, who has been kind to him. But over an hour into the picture, and Vernon wants to kill him. Vernon thinks a lot, but feels nothing. That is the key difference between Samwell and Vernon. Samwell feels everything in his heart. Vernon feels absolutely nothing. Vernon is about the strategy, and calculation.
Did you get this from reading the script, or through conversation through the directors Rachael Moriarty and Peter Murphy?
I think all the best scripts are about 90% on the page, but they allow you 10% interpretive license yourself. That is what I found with Traders. They told me some of the other people that they had in mind to play the part of Vernon before me, and those actors were so different from me. You might think, ‘how would that work?’
But it would work in a way, that is the 10% of the part that the individual actor would bring. That is what really kind of appeals to me, the directors are not dictators at all, and they trust actors to have as deep an understanding of the characters as them, but they were always on hand to offer advice or answer any questions.
Is this in part because this is a talky performance? You have to sell a lot of the motivation in the movie by talking.
I played Vernon as a guy who was so keen on being in control that as soon as soon as control is wrestled from him, you see a different side of him. I mean, he is fine as long as Harry is playing the game by Vernon’s rules, but as soon as that changes even a little, then you see the really nasty side.
Right after they cast me, what we talked about first was about that switch. How you would expect to see him, and how he actually is. I think that is why they settled on me. What we talked about early about my looks and my other work, it allowed for an ‘all bets are off’ attitude with the audience. Choices like that set the unpredictable tone.
I would be remiss If I didn’t ask a GAME OF THRONES question or two…are you game?
Have you seen what is going to happen with your character in the show, and if so, are you happy, sad, angry or intrigued by it? Really, how far in advance do the performers on the show get this kind of information about what they will be doing before they head into the shoot?
Well, that is the timing of this season coming up. It is normally about this time we get scripts, and we are all kind of excited to find out what will happen. And also, now, we don’t have the source material from the books to draw reference from.
One thing that I have always found intriguing about the show, because you don’t know how it finishes, as in the book or the story, we are not even sure what kind of story we are telling. Are we telling a story that evil may win for a while but good will triumph in the end, or is it one of how evil can succeed if gains enough power and momentum. Are we telling a story about heroes or villains?
I have always wondered, because the show is shot all over the world, with so many actors in so many places ... how do they manage with bringing in new directors for each episode, do they all direct all the bits, or is it shuffled around in the editing process and they put a director credit up for a pair of episodes most representative? Do you interact with each and every director that is credited for the episodes you are in?
That is an interesting one. In Season 6 I was only in three episodes, and I did indeed only work with three different directors. They do things in blocks. One director comes to for a while, then we will move to another episode.
One thing about the directors on the show, when each new director comes on to the show, some of them would be forgiven in not wanting to tell actors playing the part what their character would be doing at any one time, do you know what I mean? I think they kind of know again know to give creative advice, to help and support and guide us. But they know coming into now that they have to stick to certain rules that have been set as a precedent by all the episodes and directors that have established the tone of the show.
But all the directors, in all their different ways try to challenge and support at the same time. I would say I have learned something from every single one of them since I worked on that show. I would say that the collection of directors hired have all brought their ‘A’ game. I hope that Game of Thrones is a great showcase for what each director can do, whether it be dialogue, quiet character moments, or action, and that it allows the directors that leave the show to go onto great things.
Thanks for giving me some of your time this afternoon, John, it was lovely!
Thank you Kurt, I really appreciate that. Thank you very much!
Traders is currently available in the United States on VOD platforms. The Region A Blu-Ray will be available August 2.