Bradley James is having his American-TV-By-Way-Of-Canada Moment.
You can't say that the British actor is poised on the brink of a breakout, because he spent five seasons as Prince-the-King Arthur on NBC and then Syfy's “Merlin,” but this is a different sort of breakout that James is nearing.
On The CW's “iZombie,” James has been turning heads as Lowell, a still-mostly-potential love interest for Rose McIver's Liv. Like Liv, Lowell is an undead brain-eater, a character introduced only as a one-off but extended throughout the show's spring run. While “iZombie” still has us suspecting that Rob Buckley's Major is Liv's long-term love, Lowell has been offering ample and increased complication.
It's too early to know what the plan is for Lowell through the end of the first “iZombie” season and into the freshly ordered second, but James may have ample complications himself.
James went from the Vancouver set of “iZombie” to Toronto to star in “Damien,” the “Omen” sequel series that has had a Lowell-esque extension-of-fortune, going from a six-episode order on Lifetime to the vote of confidence of a 10-episode order on A&E.
It remains to be seen how one role will or won't impact the other, but as Lowell is making Liv swoon on The CW, James is embodying the future Antichrist, a gig that apparently requires a lot of running.
Last week, on the heels of the “iZombie” renewal, I got on the phone with James to talk about the zombification process, Lowell's possible ulterior motives and the need to resist the temptation to invent the brains your character might have eaten if that information isn't in the script.
I asked James how Lowell might behave if he ate Damien Thorn's brains and rather that going someplace dark, he spoke glowingly of Damien's athletic prowess.
Good to know!
Click through for the full Q&A ahead of Tuesday's new “iZombie”…
HitFix: First off, congratulations on the renewal which I assume in a non-spoilery way still applies to you?
Bradley James: Well I”m very excited about it. I have to say I”m very proud of the, let's call a spade a spade, the main cast who do all the hard work essentially. And I got in touch with them straightaway to offer my congratulations because I think it”s much deserved. I certainly don”t think I can take any credits for that occurrence, but I”m very pleased that it”s happened.
HitFix: Now speaking about Lowell because he”s very fastidious about his appearance we don”t really see him looking like a zombie. But how do you kind of consciously keep in mind that there is that side to this character?
Bradley James: Well, Lowell is obviously a man who has a public appearance to keep up which, unlike any of the others zombies, he has a profile. And so there”s a bit more at stake there for him and therefore I think he”s much more aware of those aesthetic attributes, because he has to be, being somewhat in the public eye. So I think you really touched on that in your question. It”s he has much more of an awareness perhaps of the physical aesthetic of it.
HitFix: Do you think that there”s an aspect of overcompensating to him maybe?
Bradley James: You could say that with most people in the music world. They overcompensate with their fashion to such extremes, because they”re under such a spotlight. They have to produce some form of image for, you know, audiences, fans to lock onto. And so Lowell wouldn”t be the first person guilty of that.
HitFix: When you came on board Rose had already been doing this zombie thing for a while. Did you have any conversations with her about the rules that she gave herself and what she was doing that you wanted to sort of work into your performance?
Bradley James: Yes, I did actually. I”ve been asked a lot about “zombie mode.” That was the first thing that was written in the script very early on that “Lowell goes into zombie mode.” I thought, “Alright. Well, I better make sure that we”re on the same page as Rose here because if we”re both thinking completely different things…” obviously I hadn”t seen the show before that so I didn”t have anything to reference. So yeah, Rose, apart from being terrific to work with is very generous in her approach and just made my life much easier both on set and off set because off set preparing for the role and and then once we got on-set as well.
HitFix: As you say you were coming onto a new show, so there was a limit to what they could show or tell you, but how much were they able to give you as a background and how much were they able to show you I guess from the original pilot or maybe from the comic to push you in the right directions?
Bradley James: Well again, very little actually. It was all down to interpretation, I think. That”s one of the joys of starting a show like this. You”ve been looking for ideas from actors, I guess, onto how to approach things. And I”ve got to say Rose was a source that I was very much tapping into for any advice she could give me. And then just going where I happen to think about it myself and kind of researching every little thing about the physical attributes to it.
HitFix: What did you research? What were you looking to in your own work to set the foundation?
Bradley James: Originally I went into this kind of idea of sort of muscle spasms and the idea of every sort of muscle kind of being taken over by this kind of animalistic force. [He laughs.] And I got told it maybe it wasn”t quite as deep, I didn”t need to be quite as detailed in that. But it gave me somewhere to start from and then sort of tone it down a bit.
HitFix: Being a zombie, is it a good thing for Lowell, to some degree? Like is it helpful to him in the way that it”s also helpful to what Liv is doing at this moment?
Bradley James: I”m not so sure. I think Lowell would very quickly revert back to human experience, but at the same time he”s making the most of the zombie one because he”s just able to get on with it. I think he sort of has a very laid back kind of nature to his temperament and I think that”s perhaps what”s helping him, you know, get on with it the way he does. But I certainly think he misses the aspect of being able to perform live which has been taken away from him.
HitFix: And we”ve seen that Liv”s approach to zombieism is kind of a more benign approach but that we”ve also seen the zombies who were responding with more darkness. And Lowell seems friendly and harmless on the surface but is he?
Bradley James: That”s something for us to discover, I dare say. I certainly think that what you can take from Lowell so far is that he has been relatively genuine. I don”t think the relationship that”s been displayed so far is one that would have gone as far as it has if there were much deeper-rooted intentions. I think there”s not quite the same, I mean I don”t want to use the word “evil,” it”s quite black and white but I think there”s a slightly more aggressive tone to people like Blaine in terms of getting what he needs, what he wants.
HitFix: And we got to see I guess it was two episodes ago when Lowell became the gay best friend, the way that certain brains impact Lowell. How much fun is it to get to do that play acting part of this and will we get to see more of that?
Bradley James: I think that”s one of the draws of the show actually. I think obviously Rose gets an opportunity every week to explore different traits and I love the way she”s been dealing with it so far. She comes out with these little sparks of this new brain that she”s eaten and it”s a great influence for me when you do get those kind of nuances put in. And I think that”s one of the things that”s perhaps really attracted the fan base as well, because you don”t know what you”re going to get each week.
HitFix: There was the one week where we heard specifically what brains Lowell had eaten. But presumably he”d been eating at other times. Do you have sort of little games you play in your head where you think, “Okay, I wonder what brains he ate this week?”
Bradley James: Well I think as an actor in my role in the show, it would be a little bit too dangerous to let that take over with regards to telling Liv”s story. So sometimes little things will pop in and you can maybe have a play around with it, but you”ve got to make sure that you”re not distracting from the natural throughline of the story you”re trying to tell. So when opportunities like the gay best friend kind of come up you then go, “Right, I can roll with this.” But at the same time you don”t really want to step on people”s toes with suddenly going, “Oh, you know, I decided that I am a psychopath secretly in this one” without telling anybody. And then people are like, “Why are you acting so weird?” and there being no explanation to it in the script. So yeah, you just have to be a little bit sensitive to have a bit of empathy to your other actors, before you go off on your own tangent.
HitFix: Since you kind of mentioned it what would happen if Lowell at Damien Thorn”s brains?
Bradley James: [Chuckles.] If Lowell ate… He'd become a terrific photographer. He”d whisk himself off to some war-torn land and take pictures. He'd also… I just recently discovered that Damien, we just did a scene where there”s a ton of trophies in this particular room. And it turns out that Damien, as well as being a wrestling champion at his university, is also the university tennis champion and track and field MVP. I wasn”t told this before going to filming. I hope they don”t actually ask me to wrestle anyone without at least some training beforehand. But yeah, I dare say Lowell will find himself with some skills that even Damien didn”t know he had.
HitFix: It sounds like Damien Thorn is a great guy then when you put it that way.
Bradley James: Oh Damien Thorn is an athlete, it has to be said. If you saw me last night, we finished filming about six o”clock this morning and I think I checked with Guinness in terms of sprinting world records because I spent the entire night sprinting through a subway here in Toronto and trying to make myself look as athletic as Damien Thorn. That aspect, I think, Lowell will probably benefit from.
HitFix: Well you”ve played King Arthur so you know from playing kind of high profile roles what is the pressure of playing this new version of Damien Thorn?
Bradley James: We just moved to A&E. We find ourselves with an extended series and that”s kind of kicked in early on in terms of us making the show. I think the pressure comes from perhaps a signal that things are going well and people have got good ideas and are actually excited behind the scenes and people are excited about the show from what they”ve seen so far. I think the pressure comes from complacency. It”s a very dangerous mistress and I”m having a thoroughly enjoyably time working on “Damien,” just as enjoyable as “iZombie,” but very different experiences. But I can afford to play around and have fun knowing the show wasn”t sort of on my shoulders in “iZombie,” whereas the responsibility is firmly with Damien. And I love it. I”m absolutely over the moon for it. I think as long as we as a team don”t find ourselves getting complacent or anything about the early signs of it being good, then we should be on the right track. But I”m having a stunning time at the moment.
“iZombie” airs on Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. on The CW.