‘The Strain': Vampire hunter David Bradley revels in action hero role

Aug. 17, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.
afp getty fxs the strain panel comic con international The Strain: Vampire hunter David Bradley revels in action hero role

David Bradley attends FX's "The Strain" panel during Comic-Con International on July 27 in San Diego. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

strain 104 00199 The Strain: Vampire hunter David Bradley revels in action hero role

Corey Stoll as Ephraim Goodweather, left, and David Bradley as Abraham Setrakian in "The Strain." (Michael Gibson/FX)

strain 103 0154 The Strain: Vampire hunter David Bradley revels in action hero role

Mia Maestro as Nora Martinez and David Bradley as Abraham Setrakian in "The Strain." (Michael Gibson/FX)

It’s in the vein of old-style vampire hunters that David Bradley operates on “The Strain,” FX’s hit series that sees the world on the precipice of apocalypse thanks to the bloodthirsty undead.

But the English actor, well known to genre audiences from his work in the “Harry Potter” movie franchise and on the wildly popular “Game of Thrones,” says he doesn’t directly draw inspiration from any famous forerunners in the unusual science.

“I didn’t try to look for references or comparisons with other characters, otherwise there’s always a danger of playing that rather than what Guillermo and Chuck have got written down,” Bradley said in an interview on the Toronto set of the show, when asked about any similarities between his determined Abraham Setrakian and Bram Stoker’s Abraham Van Helsing, the man who famously tracked Dracula and brought the powerful creature to his literary demise.

Guillermo and Chuck, of course, are co-authors Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, who partnered on the trilogy of novels that inspired “The Strain,” which postulates what might happen if an Old World myth arrived in Manhattan and set out to subjugate mankind. Their vampires aren’t the suave aristocratic types; they’re mindless, monstrous creatures animated only by the desire to feed — though Setrakian is determined to stop them at any cost.

David Bradley as Abraham Setrakian in "The Strain." (Michael Gibson/FX)

David Bradley as Abraham Setrakian in “The Strain.” (Michael Gibson/FX)

The series premiered July 13 to solid numbers and so far in its run, it has helped Bradley reclaim some popularity with audiences, who are still angry with his “Thrones” character Walder Frey over the massacre of the Stark clan at the so-called Red Wedding on the third season of HBO’s lavish fantasy. (Bradley also earned back some good will by starring in the “Doctor Who” 50th anniversary docudrama “An Adventure in Time and Space,” about the inception of the long-running sci-fi show; he played William Hartnell, the first actor to play the time-traveling alien.)

Hero Complex spoke to Bradley about slaying vamps, working with Del Toro and dealing with the fallout from the Red Wedding.

Hero Complex: What intrigued you about playing Abraham Setrakian?

David Bradley: Basically the three words Guillermo del Toro. I was a fan. I loved “Pan’s Labyrinth” and more recently “Pacific Rim.” He called me at home and… when he told me about the character and that someone of my age could play an action hero — you think, well, I’ve got one last shot! — it sounded so exciting. But it was his overall vision and the idea of the story about this man with the life he’s had, which is revealed, drip fed to the audience. I love stories that gradually reveal themselves and characters that gradually reveal themselves. Setrakian is one of those. Through flashbacks and the audience gradually getting to know him — Is he a bad guy? Is he on the side of the angels or the devil? He does some pretty ruthless things but as far as he’s concerned ultimately for the good. He’s this rather eccentric, driven man who seems to have more than enough energy for his years. It’s not like Superman or the Lone Ranger, where you know he’ll survive and succeed in the end, James Bond or whatever. They seem to have an assurance they will survive. But he doesn’t. He’s not like that. He’s full of fear.

Corey Stoll as Ephraim Goodweather and David Bradley as Abraham Setrakian in "The Strain." (Michael Gibson/FX)

Corey Stoll as Ephraim Goodweather and David Bradley as Abraham Setrakian in “The Strain.” (Michael Gibson/FX)

HC: Did you read the novels the series is based on to get a clearer picture of the man before production began?

DB: I didn’t have time. By the time Guillermo [phoned] me, there was very little time to think about it. It was about four days. Can you relocate? Can you be in Canada this coming Saturday? It was harried discussions not only family-wise but also visa wise, trying to sort things out at the last minute. It was very much a sudden thing. I hadn’t read the books. To be honest, it’s not my genre. It’s not something I normally read. But when I did get ’round to reading them … what they’ve got is these real human beings caught up in this, and the emphasis on them and not so much on the characters of the vamps. So when I read them, you go along with it. It’s not naturalism, it’s not reality as we know it, but a heightened reality yet still very truthful and very human. I found myself feeling for these characters, for Eph and his child, Nora, because the story carries you through on a human level, not just on a supernatural one. I just admire their vision and what they’ve done with it. It’s been hard work at times, and it’s quite physical stuff, which I’m OK with but it’s not something I’m used to.

HC: You mentioned you were excited at the prospect of working with Guillermo del Toro. How did you find the experience of being directed by him in the pilot episode?

DB: He’s got this great vision, but at the same time he’s got the flexibility… if you suggest something that might be a nice gesture or an extra line or a way of saying the line that reveals the character more, if he likes it, he’ll go along with it. A lot of film directors who are auteurs, they have this vision that you just have to go along with. But he’s so open and friendly and makes you feel relaxed. He works a scene until he gets exactly what he wants. He creates this great playground. As an actor, it’s important to feel relaxed as well as being alert but also to feel that you’re contributing and you can chip in and say anything. I don’t know how he does it. I don’t know when he sleeps. He’s a force of nature, really. To be playing what is really a vital role in something as big as this, it just doesn’t happen. To be contributing as much as I am here, it’s a lot of emotional investment as well as creative investment. It just makes you feel good to come in in the morning.

HC: Setrakian certainly has a memorable first scene.

DB: I love the fact that you see this old guy with fingerless gloves eating his soup and this guy comes in and he deals with him ruthlessly and physically. You think, here’s a guy, you don’t mess with him. But he seems harmless. You can’t imagine him going down to the local bars and mixing it up. I think he goes to his room and thinks about his wife, occasionally watches a bit of television and reads all these volumes on the Strigoi. Now we’ve got to these later episodes where suddenly he’s got this kind of family, these strangers… I suspect he prefers his privacy normally but he’s suddenly got people who are going along with him. It must be quite a change for him. He’s learning how to care again. He doesn’t want to soften up in any way. He wants to remain hard-nosed about this. As he explains early on, these aren’t people any more, it’s a mercy killing, it’s a release, we’re doing them a favor. Yet, we shot the other week the beheading of an 8-year-old girl, which of course horrifies Nora because she’s seeing it from the perspective of, they should be doing their best to get them down to the hospital to make them better. Setrakian knows different. It’s a waste of time and a dangerous thing to do.

PHOTOS: Hollywood Backlot on the set of ‘The Strain’

The scripts, the story lines, the directors we’ve got, Guillermo’s great vision, seems to be bringing out those conflicting elements, it’s not just an action thing of the good guys against the vamps. There’s all these little conflicts going on between these main protagonists, who are trying to figure out what to do. They’re all got different notions about what to do. I love all that because it makes them complicated, it makes them vulnerable, it makes them strong, it makes them feel things that are unfamiliar to them, especially in Setrakian’s case. To me, it’s a very human drama as well as action-packed.

HC: Is it nice to play a man who is perhaps more appreciated by audiences than someone like your “Game of Thrones” character Walder Frey? Do you find people are still talking to you about your role in orchestrating the Red Wedding?

DB: We were filming at Union Station here the other week.. the guy on security who was letting me in — it was a sealed-off area — he stopped me and said, “I just want to say thank you for what you did to the Starks.” He said, “I couldn’t stand them. [Laughs.] They were so smug and so goody-goody. So, thank you!” I grabbed his hands and said, “Thank you, that’s the first time anybody’s ever said that to me.” I was so grateful. I’ve had people winding their car windows down in the streets in London and saying, “Can’t forgive you!” I’m not insulted. Far from it. I love it when something stirs up those kinds of feelings in people.

– Gina McIntyre | @LATHeroComplex

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