Damien Q&A: Bradley James Talks About Damien's Humanity, Ominous Destiny

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A&E's newest series, Damien, arrives on the scene tonight. It picks up the story of Damien Thorn around the time he's 30 years old and uses the film The Omen as it's historical reference. Those other two films? Forget about 'em.

Now, Damien is all grown up, and he's wondering about the darkness that's followed him his entire life. He's going to have to make a decision about where he goes from here. Bradley James (Merlin, iZombie) is the titular character, not only an anti-hero, but the antichrist.

Last week, I had a chance to speak with James about the role, the resurgenceĀ of religiously themed programming and more. Carry on for the full interview, below!

Bradley James is Damien Thorn

Were you familiar with The Omen when you first considered the role of Damien?

I had certainly seen it when I was younger and wasn't able to understand what it was about. We have a very popular reference in England to Damien, because one of the most popular shows in English history is a show called Only Fools and Horses. It's about these two brothers who try to wheel and deal their way to make their fortune.

One of them had a son they named Damien. And every time the uncle sees Damien, the ominous kind of operatic score kicks in and the little baby looks directly at Rodney and it became this running gag of Damien Trotter who was this little hell child, but only Rodney, the uncle, could see. So, there's a very large awareness of Damien and The Omen.

Then we watched the film a year ago and I got a much better appreciation for it. It was on the other night, as well, and it's just such a good film. I love it! I can understand why it's got such a following.

How does it feel to be playing such an iconic role, picking it up 40 years later?

That sort of aspect of it isn't really addressed right away. I guess that comes into it when you see people's reactions to it later. As an actor, you getting a character on a page and you bring him to life. You're doing the same fundamentals as you would with any character, but it's fortunate enough to have such a following already.

There's nothing special you can do to make sure this works any more than any other character. You're doing the work to piece him together and to try to relate to the humanity within him. There is still that sort of straightforward working hard and making sure you get the fundamentals right.

You mention his mentality, and since his family's death, that's pretty much what he's been, is living a normal life. What's the mindset of the character going to be as he starts to remember his earlier life?

He is a normal guy in extraordinary circumstances, really. He has a darkness that seems to follow him around that doesn't seem to happen to everybody else. He's not really clear why that is. He's led as normal a life as he's been able to, but by being on the run from that darkness.

He gets to the stage where he can no longer outrun the darkness, it's sort of catching him up and that is where our journey starts. We see how he reacts to extraordinary circumstances as one of us.

There's nothing particularly exceptional about him as a human being, he is one of us, so we have that opportunity to put the audience in the thinkseat of what they would...thinkseat? [laughs] I think I just created that out of thin air...to put them in the position of thought, to try and think what they would do if they were in that position.

I've only seen the pilot, but I noticed that he does go to God as things begin to happen to ask for guidance. Will there be characters on both sides of the spectrum guiding him? For example, those who believe in God and those who are a bit more nefarious, which is how I imagine Barbara Hershey's character.

Well, you used a very apt word there, in the case of using the word spectrum. I think there will be people all the way through that spectrum, so I it won't be an all out, you know, one side or the other, good and bad, but would be various shades of gray, which is how I describe Damien.

I think that summarizes a lot of characters in the show. You would take Barbara's character, and perhaps say she's many more shades of gray darker than the other characters, but it's not always sort of a cut and dry black and white situation where each character falls.

Damien is Played by Bradley James

I'm picturing Damien, as the series starts, to be at the very middle, because then it would be more interesting for viewers to watch struggle as he falls into that darkness. Kind of the ultimate tug of war. Is that correct?

Well, I think it's certainly in the right ballpark. We all have that within us, how honest we are about that is a different story. But we all have that good and evil within us. That expresses itself in our choices, and I think that tug of war that goes on through the show is in the choices that Damien makes, and sometimes he makes what people would construe as the wrong ones, and sometimes he makes decisions when he's backed into a corner and feels like he can't do anything else.

I think it's the combination of all those choices that builds people's perceptions of a man and is probably the case with life. As I suppose the pressure cooker builds with this ominous destiny, you know, those decisions just become harder and harder. And with that the threat of going further and further along that spectrum to the darker side of it.

And plus, he has that weird 666 on his head, so you start to think, I might as well just make the decisions anyway! It's my destiny!

There is that, yes. [laughs] There is that rather unfortunate moniker on the back of his head, which explains why he's always had long hair, or long enough, never had a buzz cut. He's not showing that off.

There seems to be a resurgence of religiously themed shows at the moment. Lucifer paved the way and is doing well, Fox will have the Exorcist and now Damien. What do you think is going on?

I think the general social consciousness has grown. We've learnt as a society that it's not as straightforward as being good and bad, and we look for that depth in characters now on television because we're aware of it in ourselves and we're aware that it's in others as well. You know, it's certain barriers that didn't get broken down in our understanding of people.

What that opens up is exploring characters that, in the past, people would have seen them as evil, nowadays they're much more open to the idea of that not being the case. It's not cut and dry like that. Now they get these storiesĀ of characters like Damien, like the Devil, and people are prepared to accept different angles about these people and accept that there are different sides to every story.

Obviously, you get the slightly more hardcore people who just won't accept it, but their is a blurring and we're learning more about ourselves and it's a continuous journey. We're becoming a more informed society and it allows us to not be ignorant to things being just black and white.

Did you ever imagine playing Lowell on iZombie would touch so many people?

Again, something that was I just read, and it looked like a lot fun. I kind of had an idea of what I wanted to do with it and was allowed to have a bit of a play, and once I got up there and met the cast, and they were such a fun cast both on and off the set. It was just such happy times in Vancouver, and along with that came the opportunity to play such an enjoyable character.

I think it's more credit to the show, because of what Rob Thomas has been doing, he's a storytelling star, which has really paid off with iZombie, and I was really fortunate to be a part of it and really fortunate to have free license to have fun with it. So very fun, very happy memories being a part of iZombie.

So, would you ever name one of your kids Damien after this experience?

Noooo! I think that would be quite narcissistic, actually, to name a child after one of my characters. I don't want to be playing too many iconic roles and crossing too many off the list, I'll have to make up names if I'm not careful. [laughs] But, no. I think Damien one to maybe avoid. I certainly don't say that for everybody, but for myself? No. I don't think I'll cross that line of narcissism.

Don't miss Bradley James in the premiere tonight on A&E! Damien Season 1 Episode 1 airs at 10/9c.

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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Damien Quotes

What do you want from me, huh? Tell me, what did I ever do to you? ANSWER ME!!!

Damien [kneeling before a crucifix]

The key is to always maintain a presence, without them knowing you've always been there the entire time, right over their shoulder the entire way.