Samwell Tarly is dead. Long live John Bradley. The Game Of Thrones actor may be best-known as Westeros’ nicest (and nerdiest) guy, but he’s long moved on from frosty zombies and playing second fiddle to Jon Snow. When we speak, via Zoom from his Manchester home, he’s a lot like you’d expect the King in the North’s trusty sidekick to be. He’s warm, polite and (OK, this threw us) sat in front of a signed photo of footie legend Eric Cantona. He’s also very excited about his two new films, out this week.
Those are Moonfall, the silly sci-fi romp in which a spaceship outruns a tidal wave, and Marry Me – the J.Lo romcom about a pop star wedding. They mark his grand return to Hollywood after a self-imposed sabbatical. Following Thrones’ much maligned final season in 2019, Bradley took two years to pick his next job.
“Nobody seemed to want to take a chance on me,” he says, “and my confidence began to suffer.” So he waited. And then waited some more. “I wanted something different… Every time you have a show as successful as Game of Thrones, loads of [similar characters] follow. But I thought: ‘I’ll resist them’.”
Bradley describes snagging the role of Samwell in 2010 as “lightning in a bottle”. Born and raised in Wythenshawe, Manchester, he landed the career-making gig straight out of drama school and initially provided the slightly podgy comic relief to Kit Harington’s dour-faced hero. As the show grew, so did his importance – and he quickly became one of the most popular members of the ensemble. Within the darkness and desolation of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy epic, Sam’s basic sense of humanity endeared him to fans. He stood up for women, argued for democracy and was unfailingly loyal. Meanwhile, the series rode a wave of critical and commercial acclaim – until it didn’t…
“The final season was never going to please everybody”
“We were never going to please everybody,” says Bradley today, nearly three years on from those last episodes. “People had invested too much.” Indeed, fans had waited seven seasons for the climactic showdown between dragon queen Daenerys Targaryen and the ruling Lannister clan. In the end, what they got only made them furious. Power-crazed, Danerys descended into madness, massacring thousands of innocents with her scaly pets before being killed by cousin/lover Jon Snow. The fans took to Twitter, and started a petition to remake the final season which racked up 1.8million signatures.
If you ask us, it was a bit of an overreaction – and Bradley agrees that “fans lost their minds” at the time. He also takes umbrage with people who said the cast and crew “knew it was going to be rubbish”. He says that couldn’t be further from the truth: “We genuinely wanted it to be great. We genuinely thought it was going to be great. We were really proud of it. We weren’t arrogant enough to think: ‘Oh we’ll just put it out there and they’ll swallow it’. We only ever wanted people to like it… I was really disappointed.”
He continues: “The fan reaction was so fierce and vociferous, when people think of Game of Thrones, they have a sense of disappointment because they didn’t like the finale. I’d like it to be seen as a complete body of work… Those great moments are not going to be forgotten and they shouldn’t be dimmed or taken away from because the ending wasn’t to your liking.”
As well as the social media firestorm, Bradley struggled personally with the show coming to an end. It meant saying goodbye to Sam, goodbye to the friends he had spent eight years working with, and goodbye to a regular pay cheque. “It was a strange thing to get to grips with,” he says. “Game of Thrones was always in the future and then it wasn’t.”
To make matters worse, Bradley was in danger of becoming typecast. He was desperate to prove he had more in his locker than ‘bumbling-but-good-hearted-bloke’, but no one wanted to hear it. He kept getting offered the same stuff: Samwell 2.0. “I was lucky enough to get that one thing,” he says. “The chances of me getting another role [as big as] that seemed pretty outlandish.”
Luckily, he needn’t have worried and the perfect gig soon turned up – though it came from an unlikely place. “I got a phone call from my agent and he says Jennifer Lopez is doing a film in New York and she wants you to play her manager,” Bradley remembers. “I said: ‘Send me the audition script.’ But [my agent] replied: ‘There’s no audition, she wants you. She’s a fan of the show and seen you in interviews.’ Now a romcom couldn’t be more different to Game of Thrones! It was the reset I needed.”
“Jennifer Lopez saved my confidence”
Bradley’s character in Marry Me, pop star manager Colin Calloway, may still be a supporting role, but it’s another genre to add to his CV. And you don’t turn down J.Lo. So what was it like being on-set with a bonafide megastar?
“She’s so amazing,” he says. “I’ve worked with many wonderful actors like Jim Broadbent and Peter Dinklage [both on Game Of Thrones] who I admire, but then you work with [Lopez] and she’s not only a good actor but also a singer and a dancer and she’s respected in the fashion world too. She’s reached the top of so many forms of entertainment, you can’t help but be inspired by her.”
Bradley also credits Lopez for reaching out to him and “saving my confidence”. He sounds as sincere as can be when he says the role “pulled him out of a nightmare time… I’m always going to be very grateful.”
Bradley’s other new film is an even bigger get: master of disaster Roland Emmerich’s (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow) new mega-blockbuster Moonfall. It follows a group of astronauts (Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson and Bradley) fighting to save mankind in space when the moon is knocked into a collision course with Earth. As he was in Game of Thrones, Bradley is the emotional heart of the film. He plays K.C. Houseman, a conspiracy theorist caught up in the adventure.
For Bradley, this wasn’t just an opportunity to pay the bills. It was a chance to shatter the industry’s narrow perception of him. He is very aware that most big-screen heroes don’t look like him – and he says it was “brave” of Emmerich not to go for the usual chiseled pinup with rock-hard abs. “It feels like there are very few romantic leads that are people of a certain body shape,” he says. “You rarely see a couple that are that shape functioning with each other and if they are, they’re the butt of the joke and their romantic life won’t be explored. I don’t know why that is the case.”
It’s true that if you were to count the number of currently successful actors with larger-framed bodies, you’d probably struggle to get past two or three. It’s not something Bradley worries about a lot, but he admits it has been “playing on [his] mind” recently. Luckily, he thinks things are starting to change – and we have the pandemic to thank. “[People have realised that] everyday people can be heroes,” he says. “Everyday people have the ability to impact the world around them and to make sacrifices, to make changes with wider humanity in mind.”
Things are looking up for Bradley then. Back in the multiplex and with critics’ singing his praises (NME’s James McMahon called his performance “the best thing about Moonfall”) the former one-trick pony has reestablished himself as a reliable, multitalented actor. And he’s not about to stop there. He tells us about his next job. It’s on one of those top secret Hollywood projects you’re not allowed to say anything about. What Bradley can tell us is that it’s called The Three-Body Problem, and is Game of Thrones creators’ DB Weiss and David Benioff’s first series at Netflix. Starring fellow Thrones alum Liam Cunningham alongside A-listers Eiza González and Benedict Wong, the show is adapted from a Chinese sci-fi novel of the same name that involves alien invasions, time travel and virtual reality. It’s part of a series of books so dense it makes Game of Thrones look like The Hungry Caterpillar.
“If David and Dan pull this off, it will change the rules of TV again,” Bradley teases excitedly. “Fingers crossed, it will have the impact they want. I’ve never read a script so ambitious. I’ve never wanted something to succeed so much because, if it does, the game is changed.” Well, if you’ve completed one game, why not try another?
‘Moonfall’ is in cinemas now