David Bradley: Question Time | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

David Bradley: Question Time

TV's Phoebe Christofi caught up with Harry Potter and Game of Thrones actor David Bradley at the 2017 Birmingham MCM Comic Con where he gave a Q&A ahead of his appearance in this year's Doctor Who Christmas special

The countdown has officially begun with the premiere of the Doctor Who Christmas Special just weeks away. With the anticipation building for David Bradley to portray William Hartnell, fans are oozing with excitement at the prospect of seeing the First Doctor be, in a sense, rejuvenated. For the team at Redbrick TV, we were lucky enough to have our own adventure in time and space at the 2017 Birmingham MCM Comic Con. As luck would have it, David Bradley was a guest speaker on the public panel where we were allowed an insight into the Whoniverse, Hogwarts and the Seven Kingdoms.

David, you’ve finished filming the Doctor Who Christmas Special, how did you get involved in the Adventure in Space and Time? How did that come about for you?

‘Well, it was a total surprise. It was a rainy day on the Southbank of London. We couldn’t see anything because the weather was so bad, and I got a tap on the shoulder, and it was Mark Gatiss. He said, “I’m glad I’ve bumped into you, because I’ve written this thing, for the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, would you play the Doctor?” I didn’t even think about it, I didn’t even say, “can you send me a script?”, or “what’s it all about?”, I just knew it would be good. It wasn’t even a formal offer from my agent or anything. So, I said yes immediately, because I knew it would be brilliant.’

You have an interesting role when you look at it, because actually, you’re an actor, portraying an actor, portraying the Doctor. Did you do anything different in terms of your normal preparation as you would usually do for a role?

If I hadn’t done Adventure in Space and Time, it would have made the Christmas special much more hard work
‘Well, all I did was watch lots of the early episodes of William Hartnell. They sent me lots of DVDs so I could watch the way he was, the way he would sometimes look down at people. William Hartnell was an actor I’d liked in other films like Right and Wrong, and The Way Ahead, and all great British movies of the late 50’s and early 60’s, so I knew his work and I remember seeing him when he was my first Doctor. I had the memory of that and also his grand-daughter, Jessica, who is now a theatrical agent. She wrote the book about her grandfather called Who’s there?, and that was enormously helpful in terms of his life outside Doctor Who and how he was, because Mark Gatiss wrote a portrait of a very talented, but complicated man. He had several issues, some of them health, some of them emotional, and I heard from people while we were rehearsing, and filming who knew him that they all absolutely loved him and said he could be a very funny guy but then he had his moments where maybe his illness got the better of him, and he wasn’t so much fun. For an actor to play someone that complex is a challenge, but it’s also more interesting because there are so many different sides. When I came to the Christmas special, I was warmed with all this information, and my previous experience of working on an episode, so it helped enormously because I came to it already knowing parts of the Doctor Who team territory and I knew the world he existed in. I think if I hadn’t done Adventure in Space and Time, it would have made the Christmas special much more hard work, because I would’ve been starting from absolute scratch. It helped enormously when it came to playing the Doctor, and also I can say now, that I am the Doctor.’

It must be kind of cool for you, because as you said, he was your Doctor. But now, not only do you identify with him, you actually are your first Doctor. When you first realised that, how did that make you feel?

‘Well, it was just fantastic! Because like, lots of people, [the lead in] Doctor Who is just something a lot of actors, I’m sure, would love to have played, but for me just to have been in the series was enough. With "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship", I enjoyed doing that enormously with Matt Smith. We had great fun together, and at the end of it I thought “well that’s it! I’ve done Doctor Who now” because it’s not often that happens - where you can play a guest and then come back and play the Doctor.’

For you, are you looking forward to the Christmas special? Obviously, you can’t tell us much about it but, when you first got that call to come back, how did you react?

‘My agent phoned me about a year ago, and said that the BBC were interested in doing something very special for the Christmas episode this year, for Peter’s last episode and also Steven Moffat’s, final episode. They asked me if it happened, would I be onboard, would I be interested? I said yes quickly before they asked somebody else. Then it took probably three or four months before I heard again that it was all going ahead. I didn’t actually see the script until about two or three days before the reading, and then we were filming the following Monday. The read through went so well and everyone seemed pleased and it gives you some confidence that you’re among friends. But it meant a lot of hard concentrated work to spend four weeks on something when you’ve only just got the script, so every day I was always catching up on the next day’s lines. Of course, there were re-writes as well, it was a demanding four weeks, but it was four of the most exciting weeks I’d ever had professionally.’

They did show on the trailer, you are walking into the TARDIS. Now, as an actor, what is it like to walk into one of the most iconic sets in British sci-fi history? What was it like?

‘Well, it was like when I did Dinosaurs on the Spaceship - over in the corner of the studios was the Doctor’s TARDIS, which of course had nothing to do with me because I was playing Solomon, but for me just to see the box there and then touch it and then open the door and look inside - it was thrilling! To actually be on the TARDIS set itself, especially in an Adventure in Space and Time - they’re recreating it exactly as it was in 1963, with some of the props on the TARDIS that were used in the original - it just made it feel more real. But to be actually acting on the TARDIS which I’d seen so many times on TV over the years, I found that it’s still possible at my age to be amazed and thrilled. Especially after being on Harry Potter with all those wonderful sets, and wonderful people. It’s still to me thrilling to be a part of the Doctor Who experience.’

You mentioned Harry Potter, when you first got the call to do it, were you aware of what Harry Potter was at the time?

‘I was on holiday with my kids a few years before and they were reading the first two books, and of course I couldn’t get any conversation out of them at all. I thought, well I better read them otherwise this is going to a non-conversational holiday. I read the first two books and I loved them. My daughter said they were making a film, so my agent managed to get an audition. Then after a few more weeks of waiting and my kids saying “Dad, you’ve got to get this part, this is Harry Potter, you’ve got to get it!”, so no pressure. Then eventually I got a call to say I’d got it, and that meant doing the rounds of talking to makeup departments and the costume departments and the director to discuss what the look should be. You make a decision in a film and once you’ve made the decision for the costume, you can’t change your mind, because you’ve set the standard. We rummaged about with lots of random costumes, all tacky and smelly, and we found something between the old wild west and a medieval pick-pocket and we thought that it was the Filch look. Instead of being a hate figure for children everywhere, which I thought I was going to be, I was relieved and pleased when we saw the premiere and I could hear all these children in the audience laughing and I thought, “ooh they like him, they like him”, because I didn’t think they would. Every time a new book came out, I sent my kids to the local bookshop to flick through the new book to see if I was still alive, because it happens where you think you’re going to be in something for a long time and then suddenly you get killed off for some reason. I was very fortunate that they kept him alive for ten years.’


Speaking of someone that got killed off - Walder Frey, Game of Thrones. He was a very different character to your other ones; he was very dark, very devious, very evil to a degree. What was it like playing him?

‘Well, that’s your version, but for me, he was a misunderstood family man. He had forty odd children to feed and marry off and in the cruel harsh world in which he existed, it was like a Sicilian mafia vendetta. Once he’d been let down by Robb Stark, where a promise is a promise in that world, he had to react in the way he did and do what he did, or so he would say because his honour had been questioned. He had to keep up his power and his reputation, as the world in which he lived, it was dog eat dog – literally! For me, to play that part properly, I had to think of him in those terms, rather than me thinking of him as just a baddy. It would have limited me to how I could play him; he’d just be an evil, snarling, character. I found he had a lot of humour, I mean, not laugh out loud, but I just found him so, so unpleasant and so ruthless, that he made me laugh.’

What was it like it be involved in the Red Wedding?

‘Well, it was just extraordinary. I wasn’t prepared to receive through the post the Red Wedding scene, and I thought “oh this could be fun!” It took a whole week to do all the stabbing and all the throat cutting and there was a mess to be cleared after every take, and it was a bizarre thing to do. Especially when [Will Champion] the drummer from Coldplay turned up, which you don’t expect. He took time off the Coldplay tour and he said, “I just want to be in it, I’ll be an extra” so they put him up in the musician’s gallery at and gave him a Tambourine. If people are serious watchers they can spot him up in the gallery, before all the crossbows come out to decimate everyone. It was so hot in the studio because there were so many of those huge candles, that one of my “daughters” collapsed one day because of the heat, so it wasn’t the most comfortable thing. I was just pleased with the result though because it’s quite painstaking - every kill and every move had to be choreographed, the preparation was quite intricate.’

What was your reaction when you saw it back for the first time?

‘I didn’t have to wait because on social media they were showing me videos with people’s reactions to it - it’s hilarious! I got sent all those videos of people swearing at me. Walder Frey is a huge part in the Red Wedding and then he comes back with his plot in Season 6, but it was great that people were still waiting to see what would happen to him. There was a lot of speculations to how it would be, and I was thrilled by the reaction to it. The Red Wedding of course became one of the most shocking TV moments - when they do those compilations it would come out at the “number-one-shock-horror-story-line” and I absolutely loved it. I enjoyed doing that scene probably a bit more than I should have.’



How did you get into the acting business?

‘Well, none of my family were into the theatre, so the thought of being an actor was wild. If I’d told my father, he probably would have kicked me up the backside. I was actually doing engineering for five years and then realised that I wasn’t God’s gift to engineering and I better think of something else. I happened to belong to a youth club, it was just something to do in the evenings really, and then someone suggested I try for drama school. It took about three years and quite a few attempts. Generally, it’s been very good to me since then. If I’d been good at anything else, I probably would’ve stuck with it and just been acting as an amateur hobby. When I think about it, it’s all I can do, so I better work at it, and I’m still working at it.’

The Redbrick team also had a chance to ask their own question to Bradley, who showed he was more than keen to answer the questions we had.

Out of the Doctor and Walder Frey, which character was more challenging to get into?

There was kind of a responsibility at making sure I did an accurate portrayal of him and I wanted to honour his memory
‘The Doctor I think because as soon as I read the Walder Frey scene, it just clicked. I thought “I think I know how to do this, I think I know how to get the maximum horror out of it”, because he was so clearly defined. But with the Doctor, he really was someone who was an actor, that actually existed, and you want to get it absolutely right, so there was kind of a responsibility at making sure I did an accurate portrayal of him and I wanted to honour his memory, not only for him because he was an actor I admired, but also, for his family. I didn’t want his family saying “oh, that isn’t my grand-dad”, or “that wasn’t my father”, but thankfully his family came to set quite a lot, and they gave me the thumbs up, and said “yes, that’s just how he was”, but I found that, I had to make sure I got it absolutely right because otherwise I would’ve hated for his family to have said, no. It would’ve been so disappointing. I was glad that I did all my homework. I did a lot more homework on that, than on Walder Frey. Walder Frey I just had to read the script, and I thought, “yeah I know this character”.’

David Bradley always manages to play a character that gets people talking, and we’re extremely excited at being able to discuss his performance as the First Doctor in the Doctor Who Christmas Special “Twice Upon A Time” which will be airing on BBC1 on the 25th of December.


15th December 2017 at 9:00 am

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