John Bradley plays the character of Samwell Tarly, formerly a member of the Night’s Watch and the closest friend of
Jon Snow. Ill-suited for life as a soldier as Castle Black, Sam has relied on his wit, as well as his bond with Jon, to survive. Currently, he has taken Gilly and their son, baby Sam, to Old Town, where he intends to study.
Game of Thrones is Bradley’s firs major role, after small parts in Merlin, Borgia and Shameless. He will feature in the upcoming horror film Patient Zero, starring Matt Smith and Stanley Tucci, out later this year.
We spoke to him about providing the laughs, losing Jon Snow and getting free doughnuts.
How do you feel playing one of the genuinely nice characters in a show filled with villains?
Everybody has this impression of Sam that he is very nice and very loyal and he’s a good guy, which is he is, first and foremost. But if you think about somebody who has grown up and they’ve been told they’re no good, and they’re told that nobody likes them, they didn’t have any friends, they’ve spent a life in isolation – then suddenly they’re put into this world with strangers and they need these strangers to like them. I think that it’s a case that you push, unconsciously, the best aspects of yourself forward. I’m not saying that Sam is not all those things, but he is very self-aware and he’s discovered the best aspects of himself and he’s pushed them forward and he uses that to make people like him.
Is it true that Sam is based on the author George RR Martin?
That’s what I’ve been told. If you look at it, there are a lot of similarities. George, obviously, you get the impression that he’s read a lot of books. And George, crucially, was a conscientious objector in the Vietnam War. When you know that about him you can see that he, like Sam, rejects a lot of those macho ideas, rejects a lot of those extremes and likes to believe solutions can be found academically and peacefully, by peaceful men who want to gain a knowledge of the world and want to apply that for the greater good.
I think that’s very much Sam. You might say that if you’re the self-insertion of the author then you might not get killed - you’d like to think so! If that is the case, that Sam represents a lot George’s world view, then it’s a huge compliment and a huge privilege that I get to play that.
Game of Thrones: where are they now? Play! 02:07
Do you feel under pressure to provide some of the rare moments of comic relief as the show gets darker?
The writers are very sensitive and very collaborative. They’re very quick to suss out what they think our strengths are and what they think they can give us to provide us with the opportunity to make the most impact. For example, that scene where, all the way back in season one when Jon and Sam are cleaning tables and talking about women. That wasn’t in the first draft. That was written months later when they saw that Kit and I had this relationship and then they wrote that scene to fit in with that. They wrote that scene because we could interpret that in a certain way. Use the warmth that we have between ourselves in real life and make something that was special.
With the comedy, I sometimes think that David and Dan (Benioff and Weiss, the creator of the show) are giving me a challenge, giving me a line and seeing if I can unlock the comedy within it. I like it when they do that, and they’ve said that they do that. They’ve said they don’t want to write funny lines but instead they want to write lines as a puzzle, and there’s comedy in it somewhere, and I need to try and inflect it in a certain way to find that. I find that challenge very rewarding.
Do you feel that you’re setting yourself up as an opposite of the more macho, heroic characters?
The audience can see that – I don’t need to mark myself out as opposite. You just have to play the truth of the scene, you can’t say “well the script before my bit is quite dark and then it’s quite dark again afterwards, so I’m going to play my scene as funny in the middle to provide a contrast”. You trust David and Dan that they have the bigger picture, they know all the peaks and troughs. You just have to concentrate on your little patch of the quilt and make that as good as you can and it’ll all flow together.
How did you feel when you learned that Jon Snow was going to get – possibly – killed?
It’s hard to let your appreciation of the show take precedence - you just have to accept the fact that the actor’s not going to be there anymore. We love the show and everybody loves Jon Snow. But we’ve always felt a more concentrated form of grief because we’re not just saying goodbye to a character we love watching, we’re saying goodbye to an actor that we’ve worked very closely with –we know them and like having them around. So we are literally saying goodbye to professional relationships.
Especially the professional relationship between Kit and I because this is the first thing we did. Kit had done some high profile plays and I’d been to drama school but for both of us this was our break. The friends that you make when you’re at your most nervous and uncertain and scared tend to be the friends that you keep. Because everything is heightened and you cling to them as a rock to support yourself. So, we’ve developed together. We’ve always been good friends, right from the first day we met and we’re still going to be friends and talk all the time. But a chapter of our lives and relationship is closing. In terms of our professional relationship, which we both got so much pleasure from.
If you look back over the series, Jon and Sam have actually said goodbye loads of times. They said goodbye when he went off with Coryn Halfhand, they said goodbye when he went off to sort out the mutiny at Craster’s Keep – he may not have come back from those. He may have died. But they always managed to meet up and there’s a lot of hugging. There tends to be a lot of Castle Black courtyard hugging. But this time felt final, it felt like even if you don’t know what’s going to happen, you felt like this is the end for them. And then the death later on removed any glimmer of hope at all. It’s hard to close that chapter but I knew it was going to be great telly!
For me it was definitely the moment in episode two where Sam gets Jon elected Lord Commander. I enjoyed that. Sometimes you look at your script and you’ve got a block of text and you think “oh god…” But this felt real. You have to play the subtext of it – on the surface it looks like a very impassioned speech where Sam is worried that the Watch is going to be taken over by somebody who is going to corrupt it – but that’s just what Sam wanted it to look like.
The subtext, Sam’s internal thought, is that he just wants to get him and Gilly and baby Sam out of Castle Black. It’s nothing to do with the Night’s Watch. He doesn’t care about it anymore. The sooner he can leave it the better. He knows that by talking about the Night’s Watch he can get Jon elected. It was an interesting scene to play – you’re acting but Sam is also acting. It’s a strange feat of concentration but they let me have a few goes at it…
I was given a free doughnut once. By a guy who worked in Krispy Kreme. He said “oh! Game of Thrones. Have a doughnut.” He gave me this hot doughnut and I was munching away on it, sugar all over me, and he says “I really love the show”. I said, through mouthful of doughnut, “that’s really kind, thanks for saying so”. “Yeah” he says, “your character though – not so much.” Imagine how many doughnuts I’d have got if he liked me.
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