‘3 Body Problem’ Star John Bradley Explains Why He Shot His Character’s Biggest Scene Three Times Over Nine Months

SPOILER ALERT: This story discusses major plot developments in Season 1, Episode 3 of “3 Body Problem,” currently streaming on Netflix.

When David Benioff and D.B. Weiss first approached John Bradley about starring in their new series, “3 Body Problem,” they explained that his character would in many ways be the antithesis of the role that launched the actor’s career on their previous show, “Game of Thrones.” On that series, Bradley’s Samwell Tarly was a deferential and soft-spoken nobleman forced to forsake his fortune and standing for a life of anonymity. On “3 Body Problem,” Bradley’s Jack Rooney is a brash and self-possessed working class kid who chooses to give up a career in academia to build a fortune in snack foods.

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It wasn’t until Bradley received the first set of scripts for “3 Body Problem,” however, that he understood that Jack had a more fundamental difference from Sam: He’s brutally murdered.

“I never got to die in ‘Game of Thrones,’” Bradley says. “Against all odds, I managed to make it all the way through.”

Jack, alas, makes it only to Episode 3, “Destroyer of Worlds,” written by executive producer and co-showrunner Alexander Woo. Up to that episode, Jack and his friend and former Oxford classmate Jin Cheng (Jess Hong), have been captivated by a virtual reality game so radically sophisticated that it’s indistinguishable from real life. Eventually, they learn that the game is meant as a recruiting tool for a hyper-advanced alien race, the San-Ti, who are traveling to Earth with the intent to colonize the planet when they arrive in roughly 400 years. Jack and Jin meet with one of the aliens’ human allies, Tatiana (Marlo Kelly), who invites them to join an organization preparing the planet for the San-Ti’s arrival.

Jack doesn’t buy it, and Tatiana tells him he’s free to leave. When Jack arrives home in his posh mansion, though, she’s waiting for him in his bedroom, and stabs in his neck, killing him.

When Bradley first read the scene, “I didn’t quite know how to react to it,” he says. “I felt a little bit slighted.”

It didn’t take long, though, for Bradley to change his perspective. “I realized that if there’s one thing that David and Dan have done very well over the years, it’s deaths,” he says. “They only tend to kill people if they think the audience are going to care.”

Bradley spoke with Variety about his character’s death, how many times he shot the scene, and the element that surprised him the most.

Can you talk about how your thinking evolved about Jack’s death on the show?

I only I found out when I got the first set of scripts. At first, I was a little bit disappointed, as I think I was kind of entitled to be, in a way. I knew it was going to be eight episodes, and when I found out that I was bowing out after three, I felt a little bit slighted, and I wrestled with that for a bit.

Then I realized that if there’s one thing that David and Dan have done very well over the years, it’s deaths. They certainly know how to execute, if you’ll pardon the expression, a really good screen death. Some of the deaths in “Game of Thrones” are the moments that the audience have emotionally invested in the most. I was invested in the Red Wedding as much as anybody else. So I felt honored to be killed off by David and Dan, in the end.

How did it affect how you approached your performance?

As soon as I found out that I had three episodes before I died, I knew that I had to make the audience care that it happened. I had to create enough of an impression that that character would be missed, and would be mourned by the audience in not much screen time. I felt flattered that David and Dan thought that I was up to that job, and thought that Jack’s death would inspire a bit of a gear change in the series. After Jack dies, there’s a definite mood change.

Well, you’re essentially the Ned Stark — it’s the first major death that elevates the stakes of the show.

I’ve always wanted to feel like an everyman character that the audience can identify with and think, “As long as this character is here, we’re going to feel looked after.” As soon as Jack goes, and as soon as Ned Stark went in “Game of Thrones,” you feel a bit more alone. We feel that we don’t really have our man on the inside of this. Jack was the one person that would make you feel OK — if things got a bit weird, he’d have a sideways comment and somehow bring everything back down to earth. As soon as Jack goes, everything starts to feel a bit scarier.

Also, they’re playing with the meta expectations of the audience’s prior knowledge of their work. They know that David and Dan didn’t kill me off in “Game of Thrones,” so they don’t think they’re going to kill me off in this.

What was the scene like to shoot?

We tried so hard to get that that scene right. We had a few goes at it. The scene that you watch now is a composite [shot on] April ’22, August ’22 and February ’23. Even I can’t tell what we shot on each of those days. They were just so determined to get it right that they just kept needing these individual pieces. So if you if you take it as an on and off thing, that scene was shot over the course of nine months.

So you’d wrapped the show, and then they called you back and said, “Actually, we need you to come back to be killed again” twice?

Yeah, it very much was like that. It’s always a strange feeling when you when you have something like that, because part of you is a bit disappointed that you didn’t get it the first time. But you just welcome the opportunity to get it absolutely right.

What most surprised you about the scene?

It was only when I went in into ADR to re-record some dying breaths and gurgles and that I realized that they’d put “Karma Police” by Radiohead over it. It’s such a such a brilliant choice, just in terms of mood, but also in terms of lyrically, as somebody dies to the to the lyrics, “This is what you get when you mess with us.” That just says it all. It was worth those extra shots.

I certainly gasped when it happened – I really didn’t see it coming. How are you feeling about it now, a year after you shot it?

In the virtual reality world, you’ve seen Jack die a few times, not for real. So when you see him die for real, you don’t quite know whether to believe it or not. Of the great TV drama deaths that I’ve loved in the past, there’s always something about you that doesn’t quite want it to be true. That’s why I like the finality of this, to have him come from a poor background and then die in the bedroom of his multimillion pound house that he’s just been able to afford.

He was very poor. He’s got rich, he’s been rich for six months, and now he’s been murdered. First time I saw it, I was in bits in the ADR booth. Even though you know what’s going to happen, when you see it so expertly cut together, I just think it all came together really well. Hopefully it’s going to be one of those deaths that will stick with people and will be talked about — fingers crossed.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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