How much do we really know about Richard Madden? Sure, uttering his name strikes images of Red Weddings, Fairy Godmothers, and a seriously racy turn in 2015’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. But could this be the year that Madden breaks the mould by starring in his very first mainstream action movie, Bastille Day? And could it be the film that propels him to action movie stardom?
Richard Madden has made a name for himself in the period setting, bursting onto our screens in epic fashion as Robb Stark in Game of Thrones in 2011. The last few years have seen a drip-feed of period dramas that have firmly cemented his place in the public forum. Madden has a penchant for warm, amiable characters: while Robb was a strong and strategic leader, he had a kindness to him (as did all the Stark men) that softened the character and made him a firm fan favourite. And this is a quality that we’ve seen in many of Madden’s roles since. Madden himself isn’t of overbearing stature, and those steely blues and shock of dark wavy hair make him an instant heartthrob in the teen community. More importantly, this is what piques our interest in his upcoming film Bastille Day – not only is it a departure from his previous guises of ruffles and pantaloons, but it marks Madden’s first foray into the action genre. And let’s face it, it’s been a while since we had a new action star on the horizon.
Make no mistake: like every other actor in the known universe, Madden has placed a few false steps. His cameo in the 2010 drama thriller Chatroom is a testament to this – a film that tried and failed to comment on the dangers of cyber-networking, largely judged by its dark and disturbing content. And Chatroom wasn’t his only misstep that year: there was also Worried about the Boy, a drama about the life of Boy George during the 1980s. Although the seedy-yet-sensitive biopic does hold interest and was a hit with the critics, it was a feature that struggled to make it to the mainstream, and so yet again Madden risked fading into the ether. And the less said about 2015’s BBC adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover the better – but let’s talk about it anyway. Most notable for Madden baring all in his role as Mellors, it was met with mixed reviews: its brazen and graphic sexual content causing discomfort to even the least prudish of viewers. With so many errors in judgement, it was starting to feel that Madden was doomed to never reach his full potential.
But lest we forget, Madden had already stolen (and broken) our hearts on Game of Thrones between 2011 and 2013. Sure, he had a few roles going on in the interim, but it wasn’t until his untimely demise on the show that Madden’s career really rocketed. The next few years saw an array of well publicised and market-savvy performances (Lady Chatterley’s Lover notwithstanding), the most notable of which was his portrayal of Prince Kit in 2014’s live-action remake of Cinderella. Once again Madden donned period dress and put on royal sensibilities to star opposite Lily James in his first big screen role since GoT. And while it wasn’t exactly high-octane, Madden, despite a slightly limited and wooden performance, did enough to get himself a shot at the big time opposite Idris Elba. It’s hard to imagine that a film where a pickpocket and ex-CIA agent team up in a bid against terrorism isn’t going to be explosive.
Perhaps it would have been foolish of Madden not to at least dip his toe into the action pond. For actors of a certain age and look, it’s an inevitability that they’ll at least attempt to reinvent themselves as Hollywood’s next leading man. It’s merely a question of whether he has what it takes? In all fairness, Madden has a lot to live up to in the action game: the true greats of the genre – the likes of Willis, Schwarzenegger and Gibson – have had careers that span decades and movies that 20 years on are still at the very highest rankings of most people’s top 10s. These are the action heroes that we remember and admire. There’s certainly a market for leading men in the comedy and the romance genres, but this is a largely saturated market, and it’s difficult for a young actor to make his name these days. Zac Efron’s pretty much had the corner on Romantic Comedy since High School Musical in 2006. No, the stars we remember are the kick-ass action heroes that know how to carry off a pun.
But Madden’s difficulties may lie in the fact that he lacks the basic qualities that are prerequisite for an action hero in the 21st Century. As a general rule (but not always) rippling muscles are a requirement- it is this that allows them to jump off burning buildings and not disintegrate into a pile of blood and guts. Then you’ve got the natural air of authority (some people call it cockiness), which is what makes civilians follow them into the gunfire. And finally, you have the quick wit and logical head that makes them succeed in their task of causing complete and utter chaos. Bruce Willis, embodies all these qualities. As John McClane in Die Hard (1988) he certainly filled out that dirty, ripped white tank top to perfection, delivering some of the wittiest and most memorable lines of all time. But Willis wasn’t always the action star he is today. He hailed from a humble background, starting out his career in comedy with Moonlighting (1985-89), which means not only was he a completely unexpected success in his role in Die Hard, but he also brought a humour to it, an amiable likeability that has made him a hero for the ages, and makes Die Hard easy Christmas watching year on year. And it’s this that Madden may lack – his roles to date haven’t required a great deal of humour, or to be brutally honest, much substance of character of any kind. Certainly he always plays likable characters, but is this enough to make him a star?
Look at Dan Stevens. He came from a similar background to Madden, making his name in Downton Abbey before trying his hand at action. And despite a phenomenal performance in The Guest, what have we seen from him since? Not an awful lot. It’s very difficult to decide what we can attribute this to – is it the fact that he’s English? Despite a strong Bronx accent in Tombstones, it’s obviously never going to compare to those actors that claim this as their native tongue. We’ve seen that Madden is capable of more than his natural Scottish tones, but may he too suffer the same fate as Stevens?
There are many reasons to think Richard Madden might be the next action hero, but experience tells us that he probably won’t be. Madden will always have a place in our hearts, if only because of that god-forsaken Red Wedding, but there’s a sneaking suspicion that his naiveté in every role will make him fall flat as an action hero. We’ll just have to watch Bastille Day with bated breath and find out!