Still recovering from your first Monday night without a new episode of A&E’s Damien? Fret not – Talk Nerdy With Us had the chance to chat with the star of Damien, Bradley James about the show and the challenges that came with becoming Damien Thorn!
Can you talk about the difficulty of darker moments such as the pit exorcism and Damien’s suicide attempt and how you as an actor handled these scenes?
I’d love to paint myself as a tortured soul, cathartically releasing energies inside myself. I’m maybe not quite as dark and twisted as those scenes would suggest, but I think we’ve all experienced moments in our life that have affected us in certain ways. One of the things with being an actor is you get to use those (moments) if you so wish to provide a tone of realism and truth to your performance.
A lot of it requires you to dig deep within yourself and I essentially was able to use the catharsis– the experience of going through some of those moments of my life which related to Damien and infused them into those scenes. It required a bit of sensitivity from the crew. The crew was very fantastic in creating the right atmosphere for me to feel safe; to explore what I needed to explore. It was a case of that. It was just me, digging into my life and going, “Right, I’m gonna use that today,” and hopefully getting a result that convinced people that Damien was going through a lot of pain.
As an actor, what’s the most interesting part about Damien Thorn’s character?
I suppose one of the aspects to him is he’s a 30-year-old man who carries the pain of someone much older. The hope is when you see this guy, you see a man who has just been through much more than anyone of his age should’ve gone through. Damien’s had a lot of it (pain) in his life yet he’s still functioning, he’s still keeping it together despite the fact that he’s gone through so much more than the majority of people. So I think that was something that was very interesting to me and something I needed to figure out how to solve.
What are some of your favorite aspects of Damien and Amani’s friendship?
As the series progresses, Amani can’t help but get caught up and used essentially as people try to get to Damien, as the darkness that is around Damien sort of draws Amani in as a by-product as well. So their relationship is one that gets tested and Amani comes through with flying colors. He never once lets Damien down. I think Damien predominantly still withholds that loyalty for Amani. He’s got a lot of stuff going on admittedly and questions that relationship when he has the visions that he has in episode six (“Temptress”) but when he gets a clear head about things, Amani is someone who — as Amani said himself, he’s “there to the end.” He’s someone who he feels he can trust.
So that’s the one relationship that has a real strength to it, I think.
In The Devil You Know, we see Damien and Amani talking in Damien’s apartment. When Damien asks for Amani’s help, you get this unsettling sense of creepiness and then Amani obliges to help him. Were we seeing Amani’s loyalty as a friend become loyalty to the antichrist through Damien’s supernatural influence?
Yes, very much so and I don’t think either of them would label it in terms of, “You are the antichrist therefore I’m going to follow you.” It’s more, “You are Damien, my friend and I believe in you. And it just so happens to be that you’re also the antichrist.” I don’t think Amani was out there, specifically looking for whoever was the antichrist. I think it was just a case that he believes in Damien. Damien, as Amani tells the story, is responsible for Amani being here today and not having a bullet in his head. So that dedication from Amani comes from a personal perspective as opposed to a title perspective.
The show has a bit of a slow build, so did you know the entire arc that would be built by episode ten or did you take it one step at a time?
When Glen (Mazzara) and I were discussing the character early on– back in the day before we even shot anything he sort of asked whether I would want to know where it was going and I said, “Well only tell me something that I’m going to need to know in reference to the future,” something that Damien would need to know already. So there’s the odd little bit of information that Damien would need to know, but as it happened I sort of held off from pressing Glen for any answers because a lot of what Damien goes through is self-discovery. I think that there’s a danger as an actor if you know something that’s going to happen and change your character, you might somewhat subconsciously nod towards that in your performance.
I think you need to give yourself every advantage you can when you’re portraying a character and that was something I was able to do with Glen. He just made me aware bit by bit with what I needed to know. It wasn’t until we got to about episode seven or eight when I read one of those scripts and I turned to Glen and said, “Listen I think you’re gonna have to tell me the end game here because this looks like it alludes to it.” So it was probably around when we were shooting episode eight when I was clued in on the whole story. I was able to take it all on board with very fresh eyes. I wasn’t preempting anything due to not having the information, but I would stress that Glen is an incredible collaborator so if there’s ever anything that I did need he would provide it for me because he’s a fantastic team player and wants the best result.
So if there’s something you needed to help you achieve that, then he’s there for you.
Who was your most favorite to play off during this first season?
You don’t always get that with actors. Some actors turn up and they’ve got their performance set. They’ve done their performance in the bathroom at home before they’ve turned up and they’ve said their lines in the mirror the way they want to say them. Then you get on set and there’s no response — you’re not alive in the scene in the moment with that person. Glen has an eye for that flair, that ability and so I found myself working opposite Barbara (Hershey), working opposite Omid (Abtahi), working opposite David (Meunier), Scott (Wilson) — whoever I found myself on set with, I was there having a play essentially which is brilliant for an actor ’cause you don’t know what’s gonna come about.
You don’t know what you’ll experience, so I’ve essentially just got a cast list in front of me so I don’t miss out on anybody. (laughs). It was a case of every day, I woke up and was very excited that I got to get back on set again and play with these terrific performers that I’d been put alongside.
The chemistry between the actors and genuine human drama in a show that’s so heavily rooted in the supernatural is apparent, so it’s nice to see how that worked.
Well, I’m pleased that came across. I’d say that one of the things about Damien’s relationship with each character is there’s a huge deal of specificity towards it. That was always very clear in the writing. I was just given the opportunity to explore that with each actor. One of the things that actually sort of alludes to the question before is that Damien and Amani’s relationship– I would actually consider Omid one of my best friends now. Off-set, we hung out all the time. You know, we got on like a house on fire and I think that then plays on-screen when we have to buddy up. You see sometimes with people they’re like (robotically) “Hey best friend! How are you?” between two people who are supposed to be best buds but they clearly have nothing in common. That wasn’t the case with myself and Omid.
We hit it off straight away, and the same with Barbara. That comes about because I love being in her presence, I love working with her. I felt very respected in my process, and I have nothing but respect for hers. We got together and were able to work through scenes and there’s very much a mutual appreciation and understanding of working with each other. It was a joy.
We’ve discussed having to prepare emotionally for several scenes, but were there any physically grueling scenes? The pit exorcism again comes to mind as being rather intense.
Again — I sort of mentioned earlier, you gotta try and get every advantage that you can when it comes to performing and developing a character and working the scene and that was an advantage that I took hold of. You know, I just spent the time taking on board the conditions and then absolutely dousing myself in bug spray because the mosquitos out there — my god! (laughs). They were relentless so I was just bathing in bug spray for all the nights we shot those scenes!
Throughout the entirety of the series, I’ve been impressed with your capacity to make the antichrist ‘touchable,’ and to give a character in a supernatural setting such a realistic feel.
Well thank you so much for that observation – that’s blush-inducing! I would say a big part of that lends to my training, really. I went to a drama school that hammers it into you to find the truth. The truth of the situation is you can’t play an antichrist. In the same way that you can’t play a king. You can’t play a peasant. You can’t really play the status if no one’s given you the status. So you have to leave that to everybody else, but what you can do is you can play the humanity of the situation. You can play the human being you’re portraying and the by-product of being the antichrist is more because you’re being bestowed that by your other actors who are generous enough to give you that status as it were. That was certainly the case here.
One of the by-products of my training was to search for the truth of a human being and that’s what interests me in life. That truth about human beings. So Glen wrote very honestly. I keep saying he has a very warped mind, but I think it’s honest. Within that kind of craziness he creates, there’s a lot of truth there and so it allows you to find that truth in a character. That’s what people relate to! People know what the truth is because they feel it within themselves and when they see it they relate to it and that’s what I try to aim for and hopefully more often than not achieve.
I rewatched it at the very beginning, and then for that particular scene, there were technical aspects of just rewatching that scene just so we got the right type of shot and expression. Again, it was a case of having to find the truth behind that expression. I don’t want to make myself out to be some ‘Leonardo di Vinci’ artist here, but it’s that searching for the truthful moments. You get asked to do things– you know, it’s very much a set piece, it’s a nod to the film and it’s something you then have to find the reason for why it’s happening. You can’t just sort of do it, and go “Yep! He’s just posing for some reason.” You have to find the truth behind it.
Thankfully the way it was written allowed that process to find that truth and not be an arduous one. It was there to be found; the circumstances that happened before it just sort of lead itself to finding that moment. A bizarre moment of inner peace in a man who’s been running from something and now he’s surrounded by it and all the people supporting that.
Fans are still awaiting any news of a season two for Damien, but you can binge watch season one via A&E’s website! Also, be sure to follow Bradley on Twitter, as well as the Damien Twitter for updates!