The Version Interview... Richard Madden on Channel 4's Electric Dreams.
Channel 4's new series of one off Sci Fi stories, Electric Dreams starts tonight. Richard Madden tells us more about tonight's episode, The Hood Maker.
Can you explain a little bit about who you play and the world that the story is set in?
I play Agent Ross, who is a top detective in the Free Union, which is the government run state police – MI5-type thing. We’re in this world, which is quite strange. It’s explained in the book, but not in the TV show – which I quite like, we just ask the audience to step into this world and keep up. But there’s been a meteor shower 30 or 40 years ago, and that meteor shower, like a solar flare, sort of wiped out all electronics in the world, and rendered them useless. Also, the radiation from that affected humans, so that now some people are born with telepathic abilities. It’s kind of a strange take on racism – all other forms of racism are ruled out in this world, it’s all about telepaths and non-telepaths, they live very differently and are treated very differently. It’s in present day or the near future, but it has a very 60s feel to it. You’ve got laptops and computer screens piled up in the background, and people sitting at computer screens with roller decks and pen and paper.
How close does the story stay to the original source material?
I suppose you could say it sticks very closely, as the short story is only about ten pages long. We’ve got it all in there, and then really expanded it. I had great inspiration from the book, but there are lots of other characters in the short story as well, so you’ve not actually got a lot of original material to feed from. We could really create something brand new to work for this world, and that’s what we hopefully have done.
How much did you know about Philip K. Dick before this?
I read a lot of sci fi – that’s kind of my thing, I love sci fi, so I’d read quite a lot of his stuff before. But these short stories are remarkably difficult to get hold of, actually. I’ve been ploughing through them, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the other episodes. I love his work. I love sci fi. It’s that totally different world, and we can go as far and as big as we like, but it’s always touched with an element of “But this might happen!” I think that’s why I love the books, it lets me be really free with my thinking, but it’s rooted in a form of reality – something which fantasy doesn’t quite do.
Why did you decide to get involved with the series?
Well, aside from my love of sci fi, I’d worked with Julian before, about eight or nine years ago, pre-Game of Thrones. It was called Worried About the Boy, which was the start of the Boy George story. I’d worked with him on that, and then not worked with him since, so that was really nice to do. And Holliday is the actress I’ve worked with most in my life, actually. I think this is our third or fourth gig together, so we were able to jump in and hit the ground running, which was really useful for something that’s quite a short shooting timeframe. She plays a telepath, and we are thrust together at the beginning of the episode. I’ll say no more, though; I don’t want to give anything away.
How would you cope in the situation laid out in the story? If all technology was rendered useless, how would you get on?
I’d love it, I’d absolutely love it. I love not having to deal with that – much to my agent and family’s fury. I quite enjoy how wound up people get when you don’t respond to things immediately. I never do. I take hours to respond to anything – if I respond at all. It’s kind of like bills – until you get the third one, it doesn’t really matter.
Would you choose to be a telepath if you had the option?
God no! I don’t want to read anyone else’s mind. How boring would that be? To know everything. Also I’ve got enough bullshit of my own without having to cope with anyone else’s.
Did you encounter Bryan Cranston when you were filming?
I did, yes. It was very, very, very exciting, because I’m a big fan of both Breaking bad and Malcolm in the Middle. It was really great to meet him. He came in from the states, landed, did a bunch of costume and hair and make-up fittings, because he was about to start shooting his episode. And then at 11pm, he drove two hours across London and came straight on to set to say hello to us. He didn’t need to do that, but it was so great to have him there, and to know he had our back. It was very, very cool to meet him.
Did you shoot most of it in a studio or on location?
We did quite a bit of filming on location. One of the best places we used was what became the headquarters of the Free Union. It was a disused concrete company’s headquarters, it was this mad big building out in Berkshire, and it was all made of concrete. Every single thing in the building was made of concrete. Apart from the windows, obviously. The desks came out of the ground as concrete, the whole canteen was concrete. But that was a really good location to go to.
Why do you think Philip K. Dick’s stories have lasted so well, and been adapted so frequently?
I think it sparks of humanity. It’s us dealing with universal issues, so it doesn’t matter what time they’re in. This is another example of that. It deals with trust, and love, it deals with privacy and honesty. They’re universal themes that come up at any time in our life, and this just gives you another opportunity to look at that.
Having starred in a number if period dramas, and Game if Thrones, were you quite excited by living into something more modern and contemporary?
Yeah, I was looking forward to being in more contemporary things. I’ve done lots of period stuff on stage and screen, and really enjoyed it. But this felt like a really good opportunity. And then you get in and it’s like “Oh, fuck, it IS period, how did I end up doing another period thing?” But at least it’s a bit closer to the present than other things I’ve done. But generally I just go for the stories, and try not to do characters that are too similar to the last ones I played. But ideally, I’d like not to be in armour or leggings for a while.
Electric Dreams, tonight at 9pm on behalf Channel 4.