[Spoiler alert: Do not read further in this interview if you have not read "A Storm of Swords," the third book in the series, "The Song of Fire and Ice."]
Scottish actor Richard Madden, 25, has broken into the spotlight by playing Robb Stark on HBO's hit show, "Game of Thrones." As the second season of the show continues, Stark, the eldest son of the beheaded Ned Stark (Sean Bean), has been declared "King in the North," and has launched war against his family's sworn enemy, the Lannisters, who hold the Iron Throne. In this Q&A, Madden talks about his passion for the books, his character's spectacular demise and what life-lessons one can learn from the show.
How did you first get involved with ‘Game of Thrones’?
I got a call from my agent to come in and do a reading. I kind of got psyched when I read about it. I thought, let me get into these books. I started the first book and I couldn’t put it down. I read the book about nine times. I delved into it as much as I could. I was very aware, right away, that the books had this big fan base. I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes who had ownership over that character. I tried to play the character as honest as I could.
‘Game of Thrones’ hit a ratings high on Sunday, with 6.3 million viewers. Are you surprised at how intense fan interest has been?
I don’t know how surprised I was. When I got the Season 1 sketch, I knew the show would be very good. The writers didn’t patronize me as an actor or patronize the viewers. They don’t write a line for something that can be done with a look. We ask a lot of the audience. We ask them to keep up and look for the subtleties. David and Don [writers and creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss] worked amazingly hard, and the actors, there’s no weak link the chain. Everyone’s at the top of their game. It’s a really great story and it’s very relatable.
High-quality television shows can really tell a story in much longer form than movies can. Do you think TV has surpassed film as the superior storytelling medium?
I look at the show like a 10-hour movie. There’s a lot of actors and you have so much more time to tell a story and get to know a character. ‘Game of Thrones’ couldn’t be a movie. There’s too much in it. You couldn’t do it justice. You have to let everyone into this world. Plant the seeds early and get the payoffs later.
Do you know what happens to your character in the third book?
Yes, I do. That's the great thing about these books: You don't know who's going to die.
How are you dealing with what happens to your character during the massacre known as the Red Wedding?
I'm so psyched about that scene. It's the most awesome cinematic scene. It's really awesome. I've not read that far in the books. I read season by season so I can keep surprising myself. I think that scene is something that's going to be done so brilliantly. That's something they're just going to nail. I've had so much time to become this character. I've got a great deal of respect for and ownership of this character.
The changing relationship between Robb and his mother, Catelyn Stark, is one the subplots of Season 2. How would you describe that relationship?
Things change between Robb and his mother. They've got fences up. They're both striving for the same things, but Robb's responsibility isn't just to his family. He's got 20,000 men following him. That's 20,000 people with mothers and sisters and brothers. That's 20,000 people's families on his back. His mother struggles with that. She doesn't want him to be king. He didn't want to be king. I love working with Michelle [Fairley, who plays Catelyn Stark]. You get to see a lot of Robb and how he's growing up and turning into a man.
Where's the coolest place to which the show has taken you?
I've spent most of the time in Ireland. I've got to know Ireland really well. Hopefully, I'll get to see Kit [Harington, who plays Jon Snow] in Iceland soon. He's a good friend of mine.
Did you guys know each other before the show?
We met completely on the show. We're really close friends now. We're both young actors. We're kind of growing up as actors. I wish we had more screen-time together now. We've changed a lot and we've learned a lot. It's funny to be on a show with so many people you've never seen or even had scenes with.
Who do you think the girls like more, your character or Jon Snow?
[Laughing] I don't know. I have no idea. I know people like Jon Snow a lot. Have you seen his appearance?
What life lesson do you think the show teaches?
Nothing is constant. Everything changes. Everything is fluid and volatile on the show.
Are there any comparisons between the show's power struggle and the current geopolitical climate?
[Laughing] That's a tough question. It's a very different situation. We're getting to see these people in political relationships behind closed doors. In real life, we don't get to see what's happening behind closed doors.