A&E’s Damien concluded season one with an incredibly intense finale that answered the key question as to when Damien Thorn (played by Bradley James) would be forced into accepting his destiny as the Antichrist. Throughout the first season Damien sought to maintain his morality, even as the evidence – and the rising body count – ruled out any other possible explanations. With season one finishing up, Bradley James was free to discuss taking the character from a war photographer with few close confidantes to a conflicted man who chose to embrace his fate in order to save a friend. In our interview with James (and two other journalists), Bradley explained how he approached playing Damien, his real life friendship with Omid Abtahi who plays Amani, chemistry, co-stars, and that final scene in episode 10 in which he smiles at the camera.
Bradley James Interview:
Three scenes stand out for me as far as how really dark you had to go to tackle them: the suicide attempt, the pit with Sister Greta, and the final scenes of episode 10. Can you talk about taking yourself there and how difficult those scenes were?
Bradley James: “What a brilliant question to start us off with! [Laughing] Rebecca, I’d love to paint myself as a tortured soul cathartically releasing energies within myself in those scenes. I am maybe not quite as dark and twisted as those scenes would suggest. But I think we’ve all experienced certain moments in our life that have affected us in certain ways, and one of the things with being an actor is you get to use those if you so wish and want to, I guess, provide a tone of realism, a tone of truth to your performance. A lot of it requires you to dig deep within yourself. I, yes, was actually able to use that cathartic experience of going through some of those moments in my life which related to Damien and sort of infuse them into those scenes. It just 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. And, yeah, it was a case of that. It was just me digging into things that happened in my life and going, ‘Right, I’m going to use that today,’ and hopefully getting the result that people know Damien was in a lot of pain.”
What’s been the most interesting part of Damien’s journey for you?
Bradley James: “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 that when you see this guy, you see a man who has just been through much more than anyone his age should have gone through. It sort of circles back to [the last question] with regards to the exploration of that pain. Yeah, Damien’s had a lot of it in his life yet he still functions. 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 that I needed to figure out how to solve.”
Can you talk about Damien’s relationship with Amani, played by Omid Abtahi, and how it evolved?
Bradley James: “I mean, the way we start off is that Damien hasn’t really invited a great deal of people into his life. A large part of that is that bad things seem to happen to people around him, and Amani is someone who he’s met in very extreme circumstances and has only kind of let in to a certain point. They work together and their relationship is one that’s become friendly through that, but there’s not a sort of traditional level of closeness between the two of them. They just remain loyal to each other, and Amani has never pushed Damien for answers or anything like that so he’s never really been a threat to this darkness that surrounds him. And then 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 as a byproduct as well. So their relationship is one that gets tested and Amani comes through with flying colors. He never once, I don’t think, lets Damien down. I think Damien predominately still sort of withholds that loyalty from 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. But when he gets a clear head about things, Amani’s someone who – as Amani says himself, he’s there to the end. He’s someone who he feels he can trust. That’s the one relationship that sort of has a real strength to it, I think.”
When Damien asks Amani to help him as they’re sitting in Damien’s apartment sharing a bottle of Scotch, is that a transition from just loyalty as friends to a loyalty to the Antichrist?
Bradley James: “I don’t think either of them would label it as such, or 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 are 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. As Amani tells the story, Damien is responsible for Amani being with us today and not having a bullet in his head. So, that dedication from Amani comes very much from a personal perspective as opposed to a title perspective.
I think there’s something actually with regards to Rutledge and Lyons as well. Rutledge is very much for Damien; Lyons is very much for the Antichrist. I think you sort of see a difference. There’s a care from Rutledge that’s maybe missing from Lyons. Lyons is more focused on the title of it all, the labeling of it all, whereas Rutledge is very much invested in Damien. If it turned out that he wasn’t the Antichrist, I think Rutledge would still be there caring for him.”
It’s such a slow build and we get to learn so much about Damien before the 10th episode. From episode one did you know it would take until episode 10 for him to fully accept who he is? Or were you taking it more of a one episode at a time approach to the season?
Bradley James: “When Glen and I were discussing the character early on back in the day before we’d even shot anything, he asked whether I would want to know where it was going. 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.’ There would be the odd little bit of information that Damien would need to know. But as it happened I just sort of held off from pressing Glen for any answers because a lot of what Damien goes through is self-discovery and I think there’s a danger as an actor that if you know something is going to happen to change your character, you might somewhat subconsciously nod towards that in your performance. And I think you need to give yourself every advantage you can when you’re portraying a character. That was something that I was able to do with Glen and he just made me aware bit by bit when I needed to know.
It wasn’t until we got to about episode seven or eight and I read one of those scripts. I turned to Glen and I said, ‘Listen, I think you’re going to have to tell me the end game here because this sounds like it alludes to it.’ That was probably around about when we were shooting episode eight – maybe – right about episode eight when I was clued in on the whole story. So 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 and so if there was ever anything 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 need to help you achieve that, then he’s there for you.”
Who was your favorite co-star to play off of?
Bradley James: “That’s a question that will only lead to trouble when I see the remaining cast members. But, there is a very truthful answer to this and it’s the fact that as an actor something I look for is the variety that acting offers and I sort of sought that out in the roles that I put myself up for and have been fortunate enough to play, there’s been that variety. What you then get is when you get on a project like this and you work with Glen who’s able to pick out talent very well, you find yourself in amongst a cast to bounce off of. You don’t always get that with actors. Some actors turn up and they’ve got their performance set. They’ve done that performance in the bathroom at home before they’ve turned up. They’ve said their lines in the mirror the way they want to say them. You get on set and there’s no response. You’re not alive in the scene in the moment with that person. But Glen, as I say, has an eye for that flair, that ability, and so I found myself working opposite Barbara [Hershey], working opposite Omid, working opposite David [Meunier] and Scott [Wilson]…whoever I found myself on set with, I was there having a play essentially which is brilliant for an actor because you don’t know what’s going to come about. You don’t know what you’ll experience. I essentially just get a cast list in front of me so I don’t miss out on anybody. It was a case that every day I woke up and was very excited that I got to get back on set and have a play with these terrific performers that I’d been put alongside.”
The chemistry and relationships really came across on the screen. There’s a lot of genuine human drama in this series rooted in the supernatural.
Bradley James: “I’m pleased that came across. One of the things about Damien’s relationships with each of the characters is there’s a huge deal of specificity towards it and I think that was always very clear in the writing. I was just given the opportunity to explore that with each actor. One of the things actually which helped, which alludes to the question before, is the Damien/Amani relationship. I would consider Omid one of my best friends now. Off set we hung out all the time and we got along like a house on fire. I think that then played onscreen when we have to buddy up because it’s like sometimes in scenes with people it’s like, ‘Hey, best friend. How are you?’ [said in a very stilted fashion] It’s what you see in films and TV sometimes between two people who are supposed to be best friends but who clearly have nothing in common. But 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. When we got together and were able to work through scenes, there was very much a mutual appreciation and understanding of working with each other. It was a joy.”
Were there any physically difficult scenes? The exorcism in the pit looked intense.
Bradley James: “Yeah. We shot it all at night in Canada and the weather wasn’t always a balmy 70 degrees. I suppose you probably picked out what was the most intense, but it kind of helped, really. It was something I was able to use. I was walking around covered in prop blood and without a shirt on, no shoes, and strapped to a board, and then walking in a forest – all that kind of stuff. It helped because the sort of extreme nature of doing that at 3 o’clock in the morning just added something that you didn’t have to work for when you’re actually shoot in the camera because you’re out there in the elements uncomfortable and that helps. Again, what I mentioned earlier, you’ve got to try and get every advantage you can when it comes to performing and being the character working on a scene. That was an advantage I took hold of. I spent time taking on board the conditions and then absolutely dousing myself in bug spray because the mosquitoes out there…my god, they were relentless! So I was just bathing in bug spray for all the nights that we shot those scenes.”
The series is grounded in realism and your approach to making the character feel human was phenomenal.
Bradley James: “Thank you so much for that observation. [Laughing] That’s blush-inducing. I would say a big part of that lends itself to my training, really. I went to a drama school that hammers it into you to find the truth, and the truth of the situation is you can’t play an Antichrist in the same way that you can’t play a king or you can’t play a president. You can’t really play the status if no one is giving you the status, so you have to leave that to everybody else. But what you can do is play the humanity of the situation. You can play the human being that you are portraying. And the byproducts 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, and that was certainly the case here. Yeah, one of the byproducts of my training was just very much to search for the truth of the human being and that’s what interests me in life anyway about human beings, that truth about them. And so Glen wrote very honestly…I keep saying he has a very warped mind, but I think it’s very honest within that craziness that he creates. There’s a lot of truth there and so it allows you to find that truth in the character, because 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 I tried to aim for hopefully more often than not achieve.”
For the scene at the end of episode 10 where you smile and look at the camera, did you go back and watch The Omen and look at the young actor who played Damien? Did you at any time during the filming go back and watch The Omen?
Bradley James: “I watched it at the very beginning – I rewatched it. And then for that particular scene there were technical aspects of rewatching that scene just so we got the right type shot and the 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 da Vinci artist here but again it was that searching for the truthful moment because you get asked to do things… It’s very much a set piece, it’s a nod to the film, and it’s something that you then have to find the reason for why it’s happening. You can’t just do it. You have to find the truth behind it and thankfully the way it was written allowed that process to find that truth to not be an arduous one. It was there to be found. The circumstances that happened before it just sort of lent itself to finding that bizarre moment of inner peace in a man who’s been running from something and now he’s surrounded by it and by all the people who support him.”
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