English actor Harry Treadaway is best known for his portrayal of Victor Frankenstein in Penny Dreadful, a Romulan spy in Amazon’s Star Trek: Picard and his depiction of Brady Hartsfield in the adaptation of Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes. In conversation with Martin Carr he was eloquent, informed and honest about his involvement in the show and what it is that made Brady such an interesting proposition.
Looking back on Brady Hartsfield what was the appeal of this character originally?
So I got the script sides, read them and taped them and thought it was great writing. I spoke to Jack Bender the director, got the part and then read the books. That was the starting point for me in understanding this story and character. It was the brilliant writing and the way this story was told, chapter by chapter from either the perspective of Bill Hodges or Brady Hartsfield. You were immersed straight into their individual psyches and therefore involved in a battle within the book, which I thought was a fascinating way to write it. Which is something that hopefully translated into the filmed version, where you often find yourself under the skin of both men as this story progresses. They are both very complicated, complex and difficult people but also both so fascinating.
With Brady especially you can’t help but be drawn to him in many ways. Partly because of the intelligence and empathy in Stephen King’s writing, but also you get to understand where Brady comes from as a person. He is not just a one dimensional bad guy and you understand his background, in terms of what Brady was borne with psychologically. You also get to know his family background and upbringing which included parental abuse, alongside other factors which give a better understanding of who he is. Brady may have committed some awful and evil crimes, but is in possession of a great mind in so many other ways. The fact you are getting to know someone like that through the safety of a television screen, allowing you to experience places you wouldn’t ever want to go is a gift.
There are a lot of darker elements within Mr. Mercedes and you have already touched on a broad cross section of factors, but what were the most challenging elements for you in playing this part?
To start with just the feeling that you had to do a crash course in psychological, psychopathy and what made someone tick. However that is just level one of reading, watching and understanding it which for me was equally fascinating and disturbing. Then the challenging part is trying to empathise with where they are coming from and embodying that on the day of filming, allowing the things he says and does to feel completely normal. Which I am glad to say required quite a tweak of my own psychology, but that is the job when you choose to be an actor. Weirdly enough it’s also fun to do because you crave and hope for a character who takes you to somewhere unexplored and Brady definitely did that.
You also learn not to judge someone or label them which is very easy to do in certain ways, whether that might be as a terrorist or psychopath. At the end of the day people are people and the things which come to define someone often happen in childhood. So to open up the world in that way was a rewarding experience and something I was grateful to shed some light on. It is something we look for in storytelling as well as it opens up the question of choice with Brady, as he had no say in the way his brain was wired, or in what his mother did to him whether he knew it was wrong or not. For me it was interesting to get under the skin of someone like that, then discover for myself who that man really was sitting eating his Cheerios at two in the morning.
In terms of nature versus nurture how do you think Mr. Mercedes explores the debate?
I think it is an exploration of it. I think Stephen King would say he possesses no answers as to what makes someone who they are. What I think the show does is examine what it is that makes someone behave in a certain way. If you ever take the psychopath test then you will realise how worryingly close everyone is to being one. Everyone has elements within them where you inherently know what you are doing is wrong, whether on a very small scale or not, but you still do it. Even if they know that might not be the best thing for someone else it doesn’t matter and you don’t feel the need to be empathetic in that moment, because what is more important is you in that moment. So the root cause of all this behaviour is hardwired inside us and it’s just people who have those exaggerated tendencies dialled up to eleven, as Spinal Tap would say, who embrace them. In terms of it being nature or nurture though I think it is a mixture of both and as much as this stuff is all deep and heavy, the pleasure for me came from reading something which was so well drawn out. You would never want to be too close to either Bill or Brady, but you get right under the fingernails of both of them.
Moving away from Brady and looking more broadly at character what in your opinion makes a hero or villain iconic?
I think it depends on the writer and an audience’s reaction to their creation which makes a hero or villain iconic. For me if you are playing a villain or antagonist then you don’t want them to be one-dimensional. You want to understand why they do what they do and in a strange way want to befriend them as well. Also as a protagonist you don’t want it to be some guy in a cape who is only good because that’s boring. I bet that every story people remember has characters with elements of both, because we can relate to that and know our parents, who are the best people in the world, are not perfect but infinitely complicated. So if a story resonates in that way you engage with it and emotionally invest.
What are the key considerations you weigh up before signing onto any project?
It varies project to project but it starts with good writers, good directors and good stories. Things you believe in and emotionally move you and are different from things you have done before. Things you think other people will like and stories which you instinctively react to from your gut. That is where I would start from in terms of decision making. Also let’s be honest, what you get offered.
Finally can you describe for me your perfect Sunday afternoon?
For me it would be driving to the beach, swimming in the sea, eating a picnic with people you love and maybe going for a walk. Having a cider at sunset and then heading home to see what happens.
Flickering Myth would like to thank Harry Treadaway for taking the time for this interview.
Season 1 & 2 of Mr Mercedes are streaming on Peacock now.