“Nobody could blow up the world like Roland Emmerich could blow the world,” enthused John Bradley as he discussed the action director’s latest epic, Moonfall.
The actor plays conspiracy theorist KC Houseman, enlisted to help Halle Berry’s NASA executive Jo Fowler and Patrick Wilson’s disgraced astronaut Brian Harper stop the moon colliding with, and destroying, Earth.
Bradley gets third billing on the poster, and that’s a big deal for the former Game of Thrones actor. I caught up with him to discuss Emmerich’s latest epic, never expecting to be a movie star, and why he’s keen to prove himself and pay his dues.
Simon Thompson: When you saw the finished movie, was Moonfall what you expected? There wasn’t a lot of set for you guys.
John Bradley: There was absolutely nothing on set most of the time. Myself, Halle, and Patrick were ensconced in our tiny capsule cockpit. That was quite an intimate acting experience, and all of the stuff going on outside in the movie, none of that was there. It was mainly down to the three of us bouncing off each other in a much more confined space than you’d typically expect to be acting in. On the day, there were visuals; there was just a green screen and Roland on the microphone, guiding us through the action. He’d tell us, ‘There’s an explosion to your left,’ and we’d look to the left and then to the right. We only had audio cues to go off.
Thompson: I imagine that’s very different from your previous experiences.
Bradley: I’ve done CGI stuff before on things like Game of Thrones, where they say 100 men are advancing towards you. You know what 100 men look like, so you can give yourself something in your mind’s eye. Nobody knows what the inside of the moon looks like, so you’re at ground zero when it comes to your imagination. We were probably all imagining wildly different things, but we trusted Roland. If anyone can pull off visuals of this scale, it’s Roland Emmerich. It was more spectacular than I even predicted it would be when I saw it. I don’t have a healthy enough imagination to conjure up what Roland conjured up for that. It exceeded even my lofty expectations of it.
Thompson: I know from my experience with him that Roland talks about totally fantastical things in a very matter-of-fact way.
Bradley: I think you’re absolutely right about Roland’s way of working. When he’s guiding you through all that stuff, he’s still enthusiastic and passionate but incredibly calm and incredibly capable. He describes it all in a way that makes you know he’s totally in control of it. He’s the master of what he does. Nobody could blow up the world like Roland Emmerich could blow the world. You’re in the best possible hands with him when you’re doing this kind of stuff. Because of the sheer scale of it, you have to place yourself in his hands.
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Thompson: A lot of Moonfall was filmed during the pandemic.
Bradley: It was just three actors trying their best to work through some fairly spectacular material in theory, but in the actual environment we were in there, in deep lockdown, it was the only time we saw each other’s faces for the whole time. The crew had masks on, and we couldn’t go anywhere. There was no social aspect of the movie. That bit of physicality and proximity to other people, that’s what gave was our chemistry and gave us our camaraderie. In that capsule, we relished every moment because seeing other human faces and interacting with them at close quarters was quite rare by that stage. We were very grateful for it.
Thompson: The cockpit you were in was from a real space shuttle. Did you know that? Roland and the team bought it from a museum in Florida that closed down.
Bradley: That added to the experience. Space is universally fascinating for children and has been for decades. Every night, you see it out of your window, but it is somehow distant and unapproachable and intangible. You can see it, but you’re never going to get up there. The idea that even now, as grown adults, we’re in a real bit of a space shuttle, pretending to go up into space, connects with a very childlike aspect of you. As you grow up, you get more self-conscious, and you don’t feel comfortable giving yourself over to that kind of imagination anymore. When you get to sit in a bit of a space shuttle and pretend to blast off into space, it connects with that wonder.
Thompson: Roland has done so many epic action movies. Do you remember which was the first one you saw?
Bradley: It was Independence Day, and I remember exactly the first time I saw it. I watched it on Christmas Eve, at home with my dad. We watched the whole thing, and I fell in love with it. At that stage, I wanted to be an actor without really knowing what an actor was. I just wanted to be an entertainer. I wanted to make people feel how I felt when I watched my favorite actors and comedians. I remember even until relatively recently when I was training to be an actor, that world of Hollywood and those big-budget marquee movies, they didn’t ever feel within my grasp. Me being in a film like that was almost as unlikely as the movie’s plot.
Thompson: I spoke to Roland recently, and he told me that he knew he wanted to do a movie with Halle, so she was a given. He’d worked with Patrick before on Midway and wanted to work with him again, and he fell in love with you over a Zoom audition. Is that how it happened?
Bradley: It’s absolutely true, and that was a long time ago. I first read the Moonfall script in December 2019, and we had a call the week after. The journey that I’ve been on with this movie is quite a long one, and it’s been a bit of a roller coaster. I felt great at the end of that Zoom, and I know that Roland did as well, and he was making very positive noises. As happens a lot in movies, and you know you never take it personally, I read a couple of months later that the role had gone to somebody else. I never take that personally, but it was quite an upsetting way to find out because I always asked my agents what was happening. I didn’t want to let it go. Most of the time, when I find that I’ve missed out on a part, it doesn’t really affect me because you have to develop a thick hide, but with this one, I was really sad because I just felt I could do something with it that was quite interesting and have some fun with it. Dates changed because of COVID and the other actor, who I admire greatly and would have done a great job of it, had to leave, so I was able to step in with a month to go. It made me feel even more grateful to be there, and I was determined to have the most fun I could and do my best for Roland. That raised my game because I wanted to reward his faith in me.
Thompson: You are the third name on the poster main Moonfall poster. There’s Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, and you. You’re all above the line. You’ve also got a big significant role in Marry Me this month. How does it feel to be a movie star?
Bradley: It’s something that I never thought would happen, even when I was on Game of Thrones. I was very lucky with my character arc in that because I started in a sidekick space and then was able to move up, if that’s the correct term, have my own storyline for a few years, and lead a little subplot. I still felt that I was a tiny cog in quite a huge machine that I was delighted to be involved in. I loved every minute of it. To take that step and become more prominent in movies feels great. At the same time, it feels like there’s a lot of pressure because you don’t have that comfort blanket of 200 other cast and ten other characters ahead of you in importance. You’re sort of right there, and when you hear something like $150 million has been spent on a movie, and they put your name on the poster because they think that’ll encourage people to go and see it, it’s a real thrill, and it’s unbelievably flattering. I never thought I’d get to that point. I’ve never had my name on a movie poster before for anything this big. At the moment, the novelty is still going strong, but I hope that in the end, Roland’s faith in me is rewarded, and my performance and the work that I did in it is deemed to be worthy of inclusion.
Thompson: Marry Me, which stars Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson, is a romantic comedy. It feels fresh and has strong Notting Hill vibes. You’re known for Game of Thrones, which is dramatic action; Moonfall is action with humor. Do you feel like Marry Me offers you the chance to show us what else you can do?
Bradley: When you talk about variety, you can have variety from movie to movie and project to project. I like to find things with a lot of variety within one role. Indeed the role in Game of Thrones, my role in Marry Me and Moonfall to the most significant degree, there are comic parts to it, but there are heartbreak and tender moments. If you pick those parts that have a lot of emotional depth to them and get to cover a lot of emotional areas within the one roll, that’s a showcase. You don’t necessarily have to commit to any of those emotions for a whole movie. You find rounded characters and create rounded personalities when you get to play parts that are all of those things at once.
Thompson: You’ve had an incredible start to your film and TV career. It doesn’t get much bigger than what are you doing now, so what do you still want to do?
Bradley: As I said, I never thought I would get to this place, so anything now is a bonus. The idea of staying at this level now that I’ve got here seems an impossible task in itself. However, I’d like to lead a movie, even if it’s just once. I’d like to be the number one on something to feel what that’s like. I’ve learned a lot from number ones I’ve worked with in the past, and I know that can bring its own pressures. That’s its own discipline to shoulder a lot of that responsibility. I’d like to do a play as well. I’ve never done a play. I trained in theater for three years, and I’ve only done film and TV since. If I can do a lead in a good play within the next year to 18 months, I’d be very, very happy with that. I’m not ruthlessly ambitious. I’m perfectly happy to wait for the next project to come along, but if I could pick anything, I’d like to lead something and do something theatrical in the foreseeable future.
Thompson: When I spoke to Roland a couple of weeks ago, he said that he’s already looking at Moonfall as a trilogy and filming the next two back to back. That might tie you up a bit. Have you had any discussions about that?
Bradley: I knew that that was the plan while we were filming, and I’d love to step back into those shoes and take KC out on another trip around space. I’ve been chomping at the bit for that to happen. In the meantime, I’m currently working on the new David Benioff and Dan Weiss project for Netflix called The Three-Body Problem. That’s a very ambitious show, and it’s their big comeback. It was very flattering that they asked me to be involved with that. If I can work with them this year and with Roland again next year, people that I like and I’ve worked with, and I feel a real sense of creative and personal connection with, I’ll be very happy.
Moonfall lands in theaters on Friday, February 4, 2022.