Very excited to bring you my latest interview, with actor Richard Brake! Richard has a legendary career, appearing as the fearsome Night’s King in Game Of Thrones, the murderous criminal Joe Chill in Batman Begins, and in countless films and shows including Ridley Scott’s The Counselor, Hannibal Rising, Rob Zombie’s Halloween II and the upcoming 31, Doom, Spy, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Water For Elephants, Death Machine, The Numbers Station, Ray Donovan, Peaky Blinders, and more. Please enjoy!
Nate: You were born in Wales. Are you purely of Welsh background, and when did you make your way to America? Was acting something you always wanted to do, or did it find you by happenstance? Did you attend any acting schools?
Richard: I’m Welsh through and through. My parents are Welsh and my grandfathers worked in the coal mines. But we moved to America when I was young. I grew up all over, mostly down south. But we came back to Britian a lot and lived there for a while when I was a teenager.
I wanted to be a writer. I started writing stories when I was very young. When I was 17 I started writing plays, short plays, heavily influenced by Edward Albee. I went to a small high school in Ohio, and one evening I was sitting outside with my best friend when a girl came over and begged us to audition for the school Play. It seemed they didn’t have enough boys auditioning and it was a big cast. Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. My friend and I sort of reluctantly agreed to audition and we got cast as the judges. After a few rehearsals I was hooked. I loved the collaborative nature of it all, rehearsing, playing, all of it. I actually loved that more than the performances. I remember walking back to my dormitory with my friend after one of the rehearsals and saying to him “this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” I’ve been lucky to see that come true.
I went to Duke University and studied English and Drama. I did a lot of theatre there, then studied in New York at the Michael Checkov Studio with an amazing actor Beatrice Straight. I knew I wasn’t very good, or at least as good as I wanted to be. So I went to England and Studied at a Mountview Drama school for three years. I was incredibly lucky that they had just hired a Russian teacher named Sam Kogan. He was a genius. An amazing teacher.
Nate: You have a very distinct style and energy that lends itself to playing larger than life, comic book style characters. Did you mean to take this avenue, or did those types of roles just happen to find you because of your style?
Richard: I think that just comes from the writing of those particular projects. It lends itself to a certain extreme expression. And I am willing to be extreme if it works for the piece.
Nate: What does life look like for you besides acting? Hobbies, interests, family? What lines of work did you find yourself in before the industry?
The usual, waiting tables, telephone sales, all kinds of jobs to make a few dollars.
I have two great kids, an ex wife I get on with, and a girlfriend. That keeps me busy!! If I get a chance I play a bit of guitar, badly. I also practice Ashtanga yoga. I’ve been doing that for a long time, almost daily. It keeps me sane in this insane business.
Nate: I watched an interview with you once where you mentioned that having an active imagination is important in the craft. Would you care to elaborate on that? Does it stem from your training or is this a quality you’ve unearthed in your own exploration of the work?
Richard: Active imagination was a term coined by Sam Kogan. Before I studied with Sam, if I was working on a character, I often saw the character in my imagination as if he was in the third person. I’ll give an example of what I mean, that’s probably the best thing to do. Let’s say my character needs to find out where the money is hidden. He’s a bad guy, a drug dealer. He’s captured the person who knows and tied him to a chair and now he’s torturing him. It’s a lot of money and he wants it so he can quit drug dealing and live on a remote island with the woman he loves.
An actor needs to have an objective (Sam called them “purposes”) to motivate his action. That’s a pretty basic acting tenant. You hear that all the time as a young actor. “What’s your character’s objective. What does he want?” So in this case, I want the guy to tell me where the money is. In passive imagination I see my self in the third person standing over the guy as he blurts out the location of the money. In active imagination I see it all through my eyes, feel the temperature of the room, the smell of his sweat, ect. My character has a long term objective of being on the island, peacefully enjoying life with my girlfriend. So in passive imagination, I see myself sitting on a chair in the sun drinking a mai tai, while my girlfriend rubs suntan lotion on herself. It’s like watching a movie. It’s all in the third person. In active imagination, I can feel the chair under me, the heat of the sun, the smell of the lotion, the taste of the mai tai. I see it all through my eyes, rather than watching it outside of myself. It is far more effective to prepare for a role using active imagination than passive. Passive just causes bad acting, because it doesn’t really motivate. Active imagination motivates. It get’s those objectives into the actor’s being not just his head.
Nate: Game Of Thrones: you made quite an impression as the Night’s King. How were you approached to play the role? How much of you was make up and how much was cgi? How was the battle of hardhome scene for you? Mainly cgi or a lot of practical?
Richard: I auditioned.
Very little CGI. I was in the make up chair for close to 6 hours. Then a couple of hours to get it off. The contact lenses were massive, as big as you can put in a human eye. Torture. But worth it. I loved the episode and playing the character. I’m very proud of it. It’s an amazing show that has resonated with so many people.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t available for Season 6. I had a long contractual commitment on The Bastard Executioner. I was very sad about that as I love the show and being a part of it.
Nate: Another iconic, yet smaller role- Joe Chill, from Batman Begins. How was that experience for you?
Richard: Great. I loved working with Nolan. He is so assured. Great director. And I was a huge Batman fan as a kid, so it was a dream come true to play the guy who killed his parents. Hahahaha, that’s a pretty weird dream, come to think of it, but there you go.
Nate: You mentioned before on Twitter that your favourite role you have done is Doom Head from Rob Zombie’s upcoming film 31. Why was that? And what can we expect from the film, and from your work in it?
Richard: I saw the film at Sundance and it rocks! Rob Zombie is a genius. He’s so creative, generous, inspiring. I can’t say enough good things about him. He has this incredible ability to bring out the very best in everyone who works with him. It’s a real gift, and it shows on screen. I can’t wait for people to see it.
Nate: A film I really enjoyed you in was Good Day For It, with Robert Patrick and Lance Henriksen. Was that an enjoyable experience?
Richard: We had fun. We shot it on a super low budget in the Poconos for 2 weeks or so. We all stayed in this off season ski lodge. All I remember is laughing all the time. Lance is a very funny guy.
Nate: You appeared in Death Machine in a central role pretty early in your career, with it a lot of previous credits? How did were you cast in that?
Richard: As always, I auditioned. I think I was 27 years old. I was probably a little too young in truth to play the President of an Arms Corporation, but I got it. I was so thrilled to work with Brad Dourif. He’s so focused and very generous. I was young and nervous and he was very kind to me.
Nate: Besides 31, are there any other projects you are excited for and would like to mention?
Richard: I’m in the new season of Peaky Blinders. It’s going to be the best season yet. It was one of the bests things I’ve read, and the director, Tim, did a great job. I think it comes out in early May. I’m filming Ray Donovan at the moment. It’s also incredibly well written, acted and directed. Two great shows to be a part of. I’m also hoping to shoot a film my friend Jeff Daniel Phillips wrote later this year. He stars in 31 too. It’s a psychological horror we would like to film in Wales. We are raising the money, etc now. I play a reclusive Goth Rocker from the 80’s. Things get pretty crazy and dark when a young woman comes to visit.
Nate: Thank you so much for your time, Richard, it has been an honour!