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John Bradley on Difficulty of Adapting 3 Body Problem, Death Scene

John Bradley on Difficulty of Adapting 3 Body Problem, Death Scene

Before John Bradley was cast as the brash yet lovable Jack Rooney in David Benioff, Dan Weiss and Alexander Woo’s 3 Body Problem, the actor felt that he was limited in terms of the roles being offered to him after his turn as Samwell Tarly on Benioff and Weiss’ Game of Thrones.

“I think that they realized halfway through Game of Thrones that I was nothing like that character,” Bradley tells THR. “Dan Weiss said I was so diametrically opposed to the characters I was playing, and I think they could see that I was being put into that character bracket a little bit too easily, and they knew that I could do more than that. They gave me this chance to show a different side of myself, and I was very flattered by the characterization of Jack, in a way, as somebody that’s very comfortable with himself and very confident and very happy with his place in the world. I was happy to show that side of myself to the world.”

In fact, Benioff and Weiss wrote Rooney specifically for — and based on — Bradley, without telling him much more about the series other than that it was a sci-fi project. “It was a ‘yes’ from the second I picked up that call,” says Bradley of the January 2021 conversation. When he learned of the showrunners’ “massive undertaking,” Bradley got a copy of the Chinese novel The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin, on which the series would be based. 

“I just thought, they really did not take it easy on themselves with this adaptation — they picked a source material that’s probably even harder to adapt than Game of Thrones,” says Bradley. “I just have to take my hat off to them for their bravery and for their courage and the parapet that they were sticking their head over in terms of what could happen if this went so badly wrong. All credit to them.”

Rooney is a member of the close-knit group of scientists known as the Oxford Five who used his physics degree to enter the private sector and start a snacks empire that has made him wealthy. He meets a very violent death in episode three of the eight-episode series — a fate that Bradley says made him feel a “slight sense of being put out,” at least at first. But he soon realized it was a compliment given Weiss and Benioff’s experience with shocking and memorable deaths on Game of Thrones. Plus, Sam Tarly was one of the few main characters on that show who actually made it to the end.

“When you think about all those deaths in Game of Thrones — the Red Wedding and Jon dying early — they’re completely unexpected,” Bradley notes. “I realized that it’s quite flattering to be given one, especially such a violent one and such a memorable one that comes prematurely. You don’t expect a character that is all over promotional materials, all over the posters and stuff, to go so early. It’s playing around with people’s expectations and the rules of writing TV and throwing them out the window and shocking people. I hoped that [the audience] was going to have a visceral reaction to it. It was only when I saw it in ADR that I thought, ‘I think people are gonna be really sad about this!’ ”

Alex Sharp (who plays Will) and Bradley.

Ed Miller/Netflix

The death scene in which Rooney is murdered by assassin Tatiana Haas (Marlo Kelly) in the comfort of his own home was actually a medley of three separate takes, shot during the course of nine months. “The scene as you watch it now is a composite between April 2022, August 2022 and February 2023,” explains Bradley. “In the scene, Jack’s mask slips off and you see how vulnerable he is and how scared he is. And the line where he says, ‘You said I was free to go,’ I wanted the quiver in his voice to come at exactly the right moment, and it’s in this that you see he’s just a boy who is really, really scared.”

Surprisingly, though, Jack’s death scene was not the most challenging one for Bradley to film. 

“The scene that I was most determined to get right was the scene with Will [one of the Oxford Five played by Alex Sharp] on the bench where Will tells Jack about his illness,” says Bradley. “Because what I’ve always liked about them is the fact their relationship is so important.

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“But even though they’re best friends, we don’t get a lot of screen time to explore their relationship. Jack’s a bit of a dick, and he’ll say the wrong thing at the wrong time at some sense of devilment, and you think, ‘Oh, I wouldn’t have expected him to react like this to this news.’ The idea that he’s not only getting so upset at that moment, but he actually gets really angry, is a completely credible response to somebody who wants to give up on their life. They chose to show a much deeper, more caring side of Jack, a guy who really loves his friends. And in that scene, you just learn so much more about him.”

Bradley hopes that his work on 3 Body Problem will show audiences his wider range of acting chops.

“Hopefully it’ll be a bit of a reset in terms of how I’m seen by people and being able to play more confident characters,” says Bradley. “David and Dan, it feels like they kick-started the entire first act of my career with Game of Thrones. And they kicked off the entire second [act] with this.”

His dream collaborator? “I would like to do something with [Oscar winner] Emerald Fennell, just because she’s awesome, and with Promising Young Woman and then Saltburn, you just know that she’s never really going to walk over the same ground twice. And to work with somebody with such a clear artistic vision of what they want to achieve, and that bravery and the rule-breaking subversive attitude that she’s got, would be a real challenge for me, to take myself into that more transgressive cinematic space.” 

This story first appeared in a May standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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