Published: Sunday, 14 September 2014 | Written by SciFi Vision
FX's hit series, The Strain, which has already been renewed for a second season, follows Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) and Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro) of the CDC as they are called in to investigate a viral outbreak, which they soon find out is actually an ancient strain of vampirism. With the help of expert Abraham Setrakian, played by David Bradley, who has seen the vampires before, they must work together to hunt down and stop the Strigoi.
Star Bradley recently talked to SciFi Vision in an exclusive interview.
The process of becoming involved in The Strain was very quick for Bradley, but he was eager to do it. "I was sitting quietly at home, looking forward to Christmas, and there was not much on the horizon. I had had quite a busy year, thankfully, and then I got a call from my agent to expect a transatlantic call from Guillermo [del Toro] and Carlton Cuse, the producer, which was thrilling. They came on, and they explained these things to me about what they wanted to do and how they were looking for this character.
"I didn't know anything about it, but it all sounded very exciting. And the fact that it was Guillermo del Toro, I mean, pretty much it was what most actors would like to hear, really. Having seen a fair bit of his work, especially with Pan's Labyrinth, which is one of my very favorite films, and it turns out a lot of other people's favorite films as well, it was exciting.
"And he told me that I'd been mentioned to him by his friend and compatriot Alfonso Cuarón, who I'd worked with on one of the Harry Potters, and I had got on very well with him. This was before he came out with Gravity, but they'd been friends for a while, and he said that Alfonso recommended me, as did Edgar Wright, who I'd worked with on Hot Fuzz and The World's End. So that was very nice of them to recommend me.
"And it was like, "Can you be in Toronto on Saturday?" And this was like four or five days before. So it was all very last minute and a big relocation for me. So I felt it sounded like an adventure.
"And I was out there and on set within two or three days of arriving there and doing a big scene with Guillermo. And he didn't do what some directors do, which is like, "Well for your first day David; we thought we'd make it easy for you all you have to do is walk away in the distance from the camera; you don't have to say anything," but that wasn't Guillermo's way. He threw me into the scene in the pawn broker's shop where I threatened a young guy who was trying to steal money from Setrakian.
"It was quite a big scene, and it took quite a long time to shoot it. I was right in the deep end, and I enjoyed it very much, [even though] the whole thing was quite hard work for everyone because of the long hours. I mean, when I think back on it, I think we were there for what turned out to be a fourteen hour movie in five months, which is [long], considering the production values they managed to achieve within that time, with every episode. I say this having not seen it, to be honest, because I've only seen the pilot, the first one. I can only speak from a perspective of what it was like to work on it and not what I think of it, because I know the reaction to it has been very favorable."
When reading the script, the actor really enjoyed the prospect of playing someone like Setrakian. "When you get to a certain age, you kind of get used to scripts popping through the door where it's some cantankerous old goat or someone who's lying in a hospital bed who's breathing his last with cigarette stains on his pajamas, but to be offered the part of someone who is the driving force and is at the center of something, and is really as proactive as Setrakian is, it's very exciting.
"It makes it physically demanding, but I was told I would need all the energy I could get, but you know, I keep reasonably fit for my age I suppose. I ski a lot and walk a lot, so instead of being exhausting, I found it quite invigorating actually to play the part.
"And I just hope that shows on screen, because he's a man who gets his energy from vengeance really, which is a kind of emotion that most people recognize, I think. We all know what that feels like to a greater or smaller degree. And he's fueled by revenge, and a lot of people recognize that, and it makes him very human.
"So yes, I was very excited at the prospect of playing someone that age who was so full on and up to the physical challenge."
Hypothetically, if the circumstances on the series were real, would Bradley react the same as his character? "I could understand entirely why people like Nora and Eprhaim would be listening to this seemingly crazy old guy who's coming out with this outrageous story. And I could appreciate how difficult it would be for someone like Setrakian, who knows exactly what's going on, to persuade other people to go along with him. And I think I would probably be a little bit more skeptical, and I wouldn't be as eager to throw myself in, but I don't know.
"It's just a hypothetical question, but with the unfortunate timing of the Ebola outbreak, you think, "Well could something like that take over and what would you do? Would you put yourself into the firing line and do something, as some people have done? Or do you take a back seat and let someone else do it?"
"I don't know personally if I would have the moral courage that Setrakian has; I doubt it very much, but we never know how we're going to react to something until something happens. Something most of the people who are heroes in these situations they say, is "I didn't even think about it; I just did what I thought was right." And so we don't know how we'd react, but I think I would be a bit more reluctant than Setrakian, if I'm honest."
Bradley has read the first book in The Strain series, but there are a lot of differences between the book and the television series. "I've read the first book, but that's all I've gotten a chance to read. I enjoyed them very much, and they drew me in, but they're a kind of guide to the series. There's a lot of stuff that happens [differently]. The characters disappear more quickly in the book, or they arrive more quickly in the book, or they're not in the book at all. There were some characters that appeared in the first series and some that appeared certainly in the first book.
"So when I read the book as I was filming, I was sometimes getting a little bit confused about whether this was part of the story, or did we film that scene or didn't we? And is this the same character?
"I mean, I suppose they could have played it safe and just filmed the books as they were, because the books have been very successful, of course, and they could have just lifted them straight off the page. But I think what Guillermo & Chuck [Hogan] have done, is they've kind of reimagined the books and added to them and made them richer, and just twiddled with them a little bit, and the series has become very strongly based on the books, but something totally different. So it's useful sometimes to read the books, but not to rely on them too closely, because sometimes the characters are a little bit different as they're written in the script than they are in the book."
Other than reading the book, the actor didn't have much time for research or other preparation before filming. "I had well very little time. As I said, I was coming straight into it. - It depends on the part that you're playing. Sometimes it's very hard to get a hook or a way it to a character, and you've got to do a lot of preparation work and thinking about it.
"I mean, I've worked a lot in the theater where you get weeks and weeks in which to develop a character before it's ever seen in public. But with filming of course, you can get the script and a few days later you're on camera, so you've got to make a lot of very quick decisions. And sometimes you regret making those decisions, and you think, "Why didn't I make him more this or more that or less of this or whatever," but with Setrakian, I don't know, something happened. Maybe it was just because I did the first episode with Guillermo. He's an amazing man, I mean, as far as to being a brilliant director, he's a force of nature; I don't know when he sleeps. But something happens just talking to him, and you know exactly what to do somehow. And so I was very fortunate he was there for that first episode.
"We kind of hit it off professionally straight away, and I found a way into it pretty quickly. What he was asking us to do just felt right, and it went on from there. So I've been spared that feeling of, 'oh, I wish I'd done that differently,' or 'I wish I'd done that,' because he was so definite about what he wanted. Some directors are and some aren't. Some leave it up to you and leave you alone, but he was so specific, and the situation I was in, just coming into it and being on camera pretty quickly, that's exactly what I needed at that time."
One of the scenes that stood out to Bradley as his favorite was the scene between Setrakian and Eichorst (Richard Sammel) talking to each other through the glass in the jail cell. "Although I haven't seen the entire season, I've got a glimpse of it when we did a bit of dubbing, what's called ADR, in the studio in Toronto. While we were filming, Guillermo was editing as we went along. So we had to go along and just add different sounds, a little bit of breathing or whatever.
"Not only seeing a scene, but the experience of doing it, for me at the moment, the one thing that stands out is the scene in the police cell with Eichorst where Setrakian sees him again after all those years and can't quite believe what he's seeing. And it's a very quiet scene through the glass in the police cell between the two of them. It's so intimate, and it doesn't involve any huge action or beheading, nothing violent, but it's probably for me one of the most violent scenes in the series, because it involves this psychological warfare between these two men who have such a history. And they're just quietly trying to work each other out and out psych each other.
"And I just know when I was doing it, just working with Richard in such close proximity in that confined space, and just seeing his face a few inches from mine looking through the glass, and the director, David Semel, allowing us to keep it that intimate and avoiding any melodrama or histrionics, it just allowed us to play this scene very quietly – because he's a terrific director, as all the directors were; I mean we've had some very interesting people I've worked with, and whether it's Mad Men, Homeland, The Killing, Breaking Bad, or whatever, they've all got a great track record, so they know instinctively what to do, and David knew that was the way to do that scene, almost whispered between two men, conducting this battle through a piece of plate glass. And that for me was one of the most memorable scenes, one of the best experiences I've had during the whole series during that one scene."
The actor was able to tease a bit about what's coming for Setrakian and the group. "I know Setrakian forms this plan to go straight into the layer of the beast, so to speak, and corner him in his own habitat...And I think he hatches this plan to just go for the juggler, because I think if he can kill the Master then...that's the next plan, and happily Fet (Kevin Durand) is really with him on this. There are some characters who are reluctant to go down that road, but he and Fet seem to be forming some kind of bond as far as I can tell, which is great, because Fet doesn't ask questions or question the wisdom of Setrakian, he just says "Yeah, let's do it; let's go for it." So I think Setrakian kind of recognizes something in Fet that's like himself; he's just as driven for different reasons."
Bradley is happy the series got renewed for a second season. "It's all happened very quickly about it being recommissioned. I'm sure we're all delighted by that, because I think when you've got such a great group of people that you're working with, you develop a kind of a bond, and not only professionally, but personally. There're some people in the cast, one or two I was friends with. Johnathan Hyde and Sean Astin, I'd worked with them before in England, but people like Corey and Mia and Kevin and Richard Sammel, I didn't know them personally beforehand. I knew their work, but they've all become very close friends, and so you feel happy if it's going again, because we've got the kind of not only professional, but also an emotional investment in the project.
"...I'm absolutely delighted they're going again, which is great, and looking forward to see all those lovely people again."