Playing an iconic character who’s existed before is always daunting. Make that exponentially more daunting when the character is the Antichrist. Damien the TV series is a sequel to 1976’s The Omen. Bradley James stars in the A&E series as a 30-year-old Damien Thorn.
Damien has been working as a war photographer, but when a random woman pauses to tell him, “It’s all for you,” it launches a series of ominous events that reignite the troubles young Damien had. We interviewed James after Damien’s panel for the Television Critics Association. Damien premieres on Sunday, March 6, 2016 at 10pm ET/PT on A&E.
Bradley James Exclusive Interview:
Even ignoring the sequels to the movie, do you imagine Damien had a normal childhood?
Bradley James: “No, I don’t. I suppose part of that 25 years from that five-year-old boy to the star of our show, I guess a lot of that is explained. I think while there is not a direct awareness of being the Antichrist, I think there’s certainly an awareness that Damien’s life seems to be a lot more pain wrought as opposed to everybody else’s. I guess we don’t tend to know any better than our own experiences so he’s not been able to articulate the fact that it’s because he is the Antichrist.”
Has he been a good person this whole time? War photography may seem altruistically motivated.
Bradley James: “Altruism, that’s a very difficult concept to really take on board. I think if you’re doing something like war photography for the sake of helping others, it’s because you yourself get some gratification out of doing that so I’m not sure if anyone can really say that they were truly altruistic. I think that I wouldn’t say it’s as simple as him being a good person. I think there are moments where he certainly tries to be. I think that’s something that an audience will relate to. There’s moments where you actively have to try to be a good person.”
Where did you begin with the character of Damien?
Bradley James: “I started by, not ignoring, but putting to one side the label of Antichrist. Taking the character from the page and trying to just create the human embodiment of this weird and warped life that is being led by this poor guy. Just to get an understanding of his perception of it, we all have our own fears and there are things that we enjoy. It was a case of finding those with Damien. With Damien, those fears tend to manifest themselves quite often. Those moments of joy are seemingly few and far between. I guess it’s understanding that and seeing how that would affect a psyche.”
Is the American accent easy for you to do?
Bradley James: “I actually spent my youth growing up in America. So for a few years, I had this American accent. When I went back to England, I came back pretty much this American, long blonde-haired kind of surfer kid, who couldn’t surf very well, and had this American accent which I sort of I guess have had in my back pocket from an actor’s point of view ever since.”
Being a Brit, does it amuse you that we assume the Antichrist is American?
Bradley James: “I think it kind of makes sense, actually. He’s American on the face of it. He’s born in Rome. Who knows who his parents are. They certainly aren’t the Thorns. I think on the face of it, he’s more been introduced to the superpower of the world which is where, if you were trying to place your mole, your Antichrist, somewhere he would have influence, you would go for the superpower. I think that’s what makes it feasible for him to very much be American.”
So it’s destiny that he got adopted by the Thorns.
Bradley James: “There you go. It’s no coincidence perhaps that he was adopted by the ambassador to Italy for America at the time, as opposed to an Italian family who grew up in Rome.”
What was your experience with Damien and The Omen before this part ever came your way?
Bradley James: “Watching the film when I was young and not old enough to understand what was going on. And then watching it again when this came up and pretty quickly understanding the legacy that it left and why it was so popular, because it’s a terrific film. I’ve since witnessed people’s reactions to it. They did quickly catch on to what you’re talking about. As soon as you mention Damien, people have a pretty clear idea of what you’re talking about. So it’s obviously made its mark as a story, a social conscious.”
Did you specifically avoid the sequels since the show does not address them?
Bradley James: “Yeah, as I say, I saw the first one and steered away just from Glen [Mazzara] explaining that we were creating our own backstory between the lines. And it made sense, because you don’t really want to see something and be influenced either consciously or subconsciously that might affect what otherwise would be an original kind of idea.”
When you actually shot the scene of the old woman saying, “Damien, it’s all for you,” how did it feel to receive those famous words?
Bradley James: “It was one of those great days where we were on a terrific location and there were lots of people around. There was chaos running around and then this moment of stillness amongst all this chaos. Finding stillness in chaos is quite a bracing feeling, I would say.”
Where does episode two pick up for Damien?
Bradley James: “I think it has Damien asking a lot of questions. Where would you go after a discovery like that? I think a lot of that sits heavily on Damien’s mind at the beginning of episode two.”
Glen said he wants the audience to sometimes root for Damien. What’s your relationship going to be with audience sympathies?
Bradley James: “I think the audience’s role becomes very much about asking questions of themselves. They will see Damien make decisions. They will make judgments on those decisions and from that I think they will be asking themselves, if they’re able to put themselves in the same situation, they’ll be asking themselves whether they are capable of making the decision they would perceive to be right or maybe their perception of what is right is actually wrong. I think there’s a lot of questions for the audience to ask themselves. I think the sympathy therefore lies in that, in understanding that it’s not just a simple ‘this is good, this is bad, I will choose the good route.’ It’s not quite as black and white as that.”
Do you seek out that sort of moral ambiguity in characters you play?
Bradley James: “I certainly think it’s very interesting. It’s very easy to sit on moral high ground these days. It’s sensationally easy. You’ve just got to fall along the lines of popular opinion, find out what that is. Find out who’s being loud about it and kind of agree. I think it’s very easy to promote yourself as a good person. The way I see it, I don’t particularly find it as interesting when you have someone who does project themselves in that way. I think one of the draws with Damien is the decisions he has to make maybe aren’t as straightforward. The world we live in today is very good at policing what is right and wrong or what society sees as right and wrong, but it’s not always as black and white as that.”
I don’t remember a time when Damien was not a scary name. Do you think it was ever scary before the movie immortalized it?
Bradley James: “I think The Omen has a lot to answer for for all those poor Damiens out there who are considered somewhat suspect. I think before The Omen there were plenty of Damiens walking around carefree, living life. Then all of a sudden this movie comes out and like, ‘Hey, why is everyone hating on me all of a sudden?’ Thanks, pop culture.”