John Bradley is among the longest-serving actors on Game of Thrones, having portrayed fan-favorite character Samwell Tarly on the HBO show since season 1 aired all the way back in 2011. Sticking with a character for that long is an amazing achievement on any show, never mind on Game of Thrones, which had a reputation for killing off its cast.
Sam would be a tough character for any actor to play. He found himself completely out of his depth at the Wall, relentlessly bullied by his new brothers in arms. Add in all the mental scars he incurred growing up with his imperious father, and Sam’s confidence was shot, something that Bradley says rubbed off on him.
Speaking on the Blank Podcast with Giles Paley-Phillips and comedian Jim Daly, the 31-year-old actor said that inhabiting Sam for so long actually affected him physically. Bradley chocks this up to being so involved with the character that he developed second-hand performance anxiety. “I got into this trap with Sam, I set myself traps, because he had a traumatic childhood and suffered a lot – and it manifested through a stammer and a twitch sometimes.”
It can cause psychological barriers to show how he was brought up in a highly charged environment and he was almost frightened to speak and he’s not sure whether he’s allowed to speak or to express his opinion on things and so I thought how am I going to show that?
Sam did look convincingly out of his depth on the show, particularly in those early seasons. It’s hard to know whether to commend Bradley for his commitment or caution him to take it easy, because this sounds nigh-traumatizing. “There are takes of me where it felt like it would be five minutes where I am just standing with the other actors and I couldn’t speak and I just can’t get the words out and certain sounds would trip me up,” he remembered. “In one scene I came in first with Kit Harrington and in the nicest way he said to me ‘can you come in a bit quicker?’ so I can react a bit quicker and I was like ‘I can’t, I just can’t.'”
As lovely as the crew were, they assumed it was because I had forgotten my lines. It took me a while to get out of it and it went away over time.
According to Bradley, these effects extended outside the show. “Towards the end of that journey, that stammer would turn up in non-Sam acting and I’d do auditions when I’d stammer because it just seemed like the default place that I went to when I acted. I think people thought it was part of me but it wasn’t, but it was performance anxiety.”
It’s fair to say that John Bradley did an incredible job throughout all eight seasons of Game of Thrones. He shouldn’t have any worries about getting future roles, and has a great career ahead of him!