Richard Madden’s name is probably most synonymous with two words: Red Wedding. A once-main character on the worldwide phenomenon “Game of Thrones,” Madden played the noble Robb Stark, a member of the doomed Stark clan, and a character who’s a little more trusting than cunning — a fatal flaw in the world of Westeros, and one that would result in what is safe to say is one of the most infamous death scenes in TV history.
Now, he’s back in the spotlight in his first big leading role, playing none other than Prince Charming (known in the film as Prince Kit) alongside Lily James’ Ella in the new live action film “Cinderella.” Looking at Madden, it’s entirely clear why he’s perfect for this role. He’s the personification of charm itself, so much so that one of my fellow journalists had to start off our discussion by asking: “Is that something that comes naturally to you or do you have to try?” “It’s all a big act,” Madden laughed. (Proving that it does, in fact, come all too naturally to him).
However, one of the main things that drew him to the role was the fact that Prince Charming is much more than just a dream male archetype in this adaptation. “In the original animation he’s only got two or three scenes, and we don’t even get to know his name,” Madden says. “Whereas in this version we get to see him as a son, and as a soldier, and as a friend as well as a prince to Cinderella. But I think that’s what’s so good about this version that he’s a real character – he’s a real young man, not an idea or a concept.”
In many ways, “Cinderella” is a very classic retelling of a timeless story. But at the same time, there’s something decidedly modern about it – something that can be very much attributed to the phenomenal direction by Kenneth Branagh.
Branagh is best known for his film adaptations of some of Shakespeare’s most popular work, such as “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Hamlet,” and “Henry V.” And next year, he’s bringing Lily James and Richard Madden back together in a new production of “Romeo and Juliet” on the West End. Which will result in Madden having taken on the roles of two of the most iconic romantic leads known to film and theater.
“It’s terrifying,” says Madden. “Everyone’s got [their own ideas] of these characters, and I don’t want to let people down…but there’s nothing better than having Kenneth Branagh guide you though something like this. He really gave me a lot of confidence on set, and I think that’s because he’s also an actor – he understands not only the pressure of playing a leading role in my first big film, but taking on a character that lots of people already own before you do.”
The on-screen chemistry between James and Madden is unmistakable – a surefire reason why fans will come out in droves to see the pair reunited on the London stage. But things weren’t always the most magical on set, as Madden painted an adorably awkward account of the pairs’ first encounter.
“She was having a costume fitting, and I think I just had my hair dyed,” remembers Madden. “So my hair was all scraggly and she was like half dressed, and I heard she was in the building and I wanted to go meet her. So I run down to meet her, and we had this kind of weird half-dressed, wet-hair hug. And then we turned around and we’re looking in the mirror, and it was me and Lily, and we look and we’re like,
“Okay! That’s the Prince and Cinderella!” So it was kind of weird, but good.”
But there were moments that even Madden couldn’t deny the innate magic of filming such an enchanting story as “Cinderella.” A self-proclaimed “terrible” dancer, Madden spoke passionately about what it was like to film the epic ballroom dance scene, which is a glorious centerpiece of the critically acclaimed movie.
“We didn’t use CGI, so that set was built…it was this massive ballroom, with no fake walls, so it was all real,” Madden says.
“We had 2,000 lit candles; all the chandeliers were hand made and brought in from Rome, and we had a full orchestra playing. And Ken did something really great for me and Lily, which was that he had us do many takes where Lily would come in at the top of the stairs as Cinderella and would walk down, and meet me on the dance floor. And we would talk, start the dance, and continue to the next dance, and then we would exit. So we played it out almost like a piece of theater, rather than stop/starting, like is [so often] done in film. And that was really great, because you kind of got caught up in it completely; you felt like you were in this fairytale when the music starts and the lights go down…it’s like you get swept up in it.”
The end result is truly breathtaking, due in no small part to the lavish costumes designed by three-time Academy-Award winning costume designer, Sandy Powell. And as every man knows, the worst possible thing you can do is step on your girlfriends’ dress…something that Madden was constantly and acutely aware of.
“It was like there were three of us in that relationship: The Prince, Cinderella, and The Dress. It’s huge,” recalls Madden. “You have to know how to ski basically, you can’t lift your feet or you’ll tread on it, so you sort of ski your way around the dance floor.”
But it’s impossible to talk to Richard Madden and not discuss the show that shot him to fame, and the death scene that all but broke the Internet. And Madden is among the many who can’t resist the slew of YouTube videos that instantly went viral right after the episode aired. “I love the videos that people filmed of their friends,” laughs Madden. “And I love them because the camera is shaking because they are laughing, thinking “This is so good!” and their friends are like, “WHAT?!”
While Game of Thrones devotees are still recovering from the Red Wedding two years later, fans of the Scottish actor can rejoice in the fact that this time around, they’ll be able to witness “The King of the North” in a wedding that replaces blood with something new: pure, delightful magic.