From filmmaker Guillermo del Toro and showrunner Carlton Cuse, The Strain was one of the most entertaining shows of the summer, telling the story of an epic battle for survival between man and vampire. When Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll), the head of the Center for Disease Control in New York City, and his team are called upon to investigate a mysterious viral outbreak that is eerily similar to an ancient and evil strain of vampirism, they quickly realize that they are waging war for the fate of humanity itself. The show also stars David Bradley, Mia Maestro, Sean Astin, Jonathan Hyde, Richard Sammel, Kevin Durand, Miguel Gomez, Natalie Brown and Jack Kesy.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor David Bradley (who plays Abraham Setrakian, a man of few words who never leaves home without an arsenal and a bad-ass sword that’s perfect for vampire beheadings) talked about how he never could have imagined becoming a bad-ass action hero at this stage in his career, being thrown right into this role on the first day, Setrakian’s relationship with Ephraim versus Vasiliy Fet, how much he’s enjoyed the dynamic between Setrakian and Eichhorst, just how awesome it is to get to wield that sword, and how appreciative he is to have so many fandoms (from Harry Potter to Doctor Who to Game of Thrones) aware of his work now. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
DAVID BRADLEY: No, not in my wildest. And it’s great because I’ve gotten to the age, I suppose, where I’m being offered a lot of parts of “man dying in hospital bed,” with the cigarette stains on his pajamas. So, it’s great to get someone who is so pro-active and has got a real mission, but I never thought, for a moment, that it was going to happen like this.
Especially after your experience on Game of Thrones and the reaction that your character’ actions got, was it fun to go off and be a hero?
BRADLEY: Yes, absolutely! After Game of Thrones, some people would shout in the streets that they’d never forgive me, but in a joking kind of way. I seemed to have upset a lot of people, which I must say I did enjoy, more than I probably should have. So, it’s nice to play someone who’s a bad-ass, but for the right reasons. He’s on the side of the angels, but he has to do some pretty ruthless things in the course of his mission in life.
Since you replaced John Hurt in this role, you had to be on set pretty quickly after joining the cast. Do you enjoy jumping right into a role like that and not have time to over-think things, or do you prefer to have a bit more time to prepare more thoroughly?
BRADLEY: Ideally, I suppose it’s preferable to have some kind of preparation time to read up and to think about it. On my first day, Guillermo [del Toro] threw me into this scene in the pawn broker’s shop, where he gets quite physical with the guy trying to take his well-earned cash from the till. It was quite a long, violent scene to do, on the first day. Ideally, on your first day on anything, it’s nice when the director says, “Today, you don’t have anything to say. All you have to do is walk up the street. We’ll only see your back because you’re walking away from the camera. There’s not really any acting involved. It’s just to get you used to it.” But, not with Guillermo. He threw me in the deep end. Eventually, I was grateful for that because it meant that I went straight into it. I felt like I was already well-seasoned, by the time the second day’s filming came along. It was quite difficult, I suppose, but fortunately for me, I felt that I’d got a hook on the character of Setrakian fairly quickly. Sometimes it takes a long time. It didn’t happen this time, but sometimes I need to think about it a lot to find what kind of person I’m dealing with. But, Guillermo was so great at putting me into this situation and making me feel like I was right there. I felt well-informed without him having to say very much, although we did talk briefly about it, beforehand. Fortunately for me, I found the key to him quite quickly, this time, because that doesn’t always happen.
BRADLEY: Initially, he has to work so hard to get Ephraim on board, and he had his doubts about whether Ephraim was up to it because he’s got so many personal problems. Abraham has lived the life of a loner for these past 30 or 40 years. He hasn’t exactly been down at the local bar, socializing with anyone. He’s just been in his basement, preparing for the day when, so to speak. He’s had very little human contact and, all of a sudden, he has to put these people up above his pawn broker shop, and they’ve become the family that he never had. He initially had some misgivings with Ephraim, as to whether he was committed enough. But with Vasiliy, he very quickly recognized someone who was going to help him an enormous amount. He knows what’s happening, and he’s very pro-active, like Setrakian himself.
The relationship between Setrakian and Eichhorst is so fascinating. What has it been like to work with Richard Sammel and develop the dynamic between your characters?
BRADLEY: Richard is so amazing. Because those two characters go back such a long way, I can remember clearly the scene in the police cell where I get a visitor and it’s him, and he hasn’t changed. There is such a history between them. He only survived in the concentration camp because Eichhorst saw a talent in him that made him useful as a woodcutter. It’s ironic that the thing he got him to make, so lovingly, was the thing that eventually carried the Master over to America. He unwittingly got involved that way without realizing the cost of what he was doing. So, there’s a lot of history there between them. It’s a real battle of wits. I remember doing that scene, with the glass partition between us, and it’s one of my favorite scenes, in terms of the experience of doing it, that I had from the whole series. It didn’t involve any action. As much as I enjoyed all of the beheadings, that was just a quiet scene of psychological warfare between these two men with a whole history behind them. I hope there’s more of that between us because he’s a lovely guy and a terrific actor. It was one of those really nice occasions when two actors are totally in tune with each other. We just did it very quietly through the glass. Me and Richard just hit it off, straight away, so I’m looking forward to more of that relationship. More of that, please.
Setrakian seems to always have a plan, and if his current plan doesn’t work, he adapts and come up with another plan. Is that part of what’s helped him survive, or will that possibly back him into a corner?
BRADLEY: When he confronted the Master, he underestimated his ability. He thought he had him cornered, but he doesn’t know everything. He takes people along with him into very dangerous situations, sometimes almost foolhardy in his desire to get this done for the memory of his late wife and his friends in the camp who perished. Sometimes he goes blindly into things. It’s not as though he’s got everything worked out and he has all the answers. He is occasionally wrong, and he came very closely to losing it completely. That, to me, is what makes him human. He does come up with other ideas, or goes along with a new idea of Vasiliy, and he is prepared to listen to others, if they can come up with something else, but he doesn’t always seem to know what he’s doing. Almost to the point of recklessness, he’ll dive in and try to finish off the Master, at the risk of blowing the whole thing.
Has he been hoping for this second chance to kill the Master, or would he have been happy never to face him again?
BRADLEY: That’s a good question. He doesn’t want it to happen because he doesn’t want to blow it again. He is prepared for the chance because something in him sensed that this creature would be back, and it would give him a chance to avenge his late wife and others. It’s a double-edged thing with him. He wanted it to happen, but he didn’t. There’s a duality going on there, in my mind, anyway. He’s aware of his own frailty, as well as his desire for revenge.
BRADLEY: Oh, it’s a wonderful prop. It’s one of those props to die for, really. It feels really heavy and solid. When you’re swinging it around, it feels very empowering.
Over these last few years, having been involved with projects like Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Game of Thrones and The Strain, what’s it like to have these fandoms know your work now and be a fan of you?
BRADLEY: It seems to have happened fairly late on, in my life. I spent so many years working in the theater with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and did the occasional TV project. I’ve been approached by people in the street who would say, “Aren’t you that actor?” And then, for about 10 years, it was people who had seen the Harry Potter films. Since Doctor Who and Game of Thrones and the Simon Pegg films, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, it seems to be a much broader spectrum of people who have seen one or all of them. It’s been very fortunate for me that I’ve been involved in these very, very different projects. I’m working with good actors, good writers, good directors, and great producers. I spent a lot of years doing other TV work, some of which got pulled after the first series and some of which got recommissioned, but none of it was really high-profile. It’s what we say about London buses. You don’t get one for hours on end, and then three come along at once. That’s how it’s been for me, recently. It’s very nice. I appreciate it, very much.
The season finale of The Strain airs on FX on Sunday, October 5th.