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David Bradley relishes chance to play lead on del Toro's 'The Strain'

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David Bradley has earned a rabid fan following, with roles including Hogwarts caretaker Argus Filch in the "Harry Potter" films, head-chopping Walder Frey in HBO's "Game of Thrones" — and perhaps especially for portraying William Hartnell, the First Doctor in the BBC "Doctor Who" drama "An Adventure in Space and Time."

Bradley, 72, is as surprised as anyone to be so in demand for big budget sword-and-sorcerer roles at this stage of his career.

"It's like they say about buses," he says. "You're waiting forever and along comes four at once."

The latest project from the silver-haired Yorkshire native is the new Guillermo del Toro vampire thriller "The Strain." The uber scary, shot-in-Toronto production premieres Sunday on FX and FX Canada.

During a bitterly cold shoot a few months back, Bradley admitted that the role of Professor Abraham Setrakian — a Holocaust survivor turned vampire hunter — was demanding.

"At times you feel your age," he said. "The last fortnight we've been dealing with quite a lot of firing off nail guns at three, four o'clock in the morning. We've been filming right through the night for two weeks."

Bradley joked that the producers probably assumed he had a lot of sword wielding experience (he had a distinguished stage career beginning in the early '70s with the Royal Shakespeare Company) but that's not really the case. He prepared for a lot of the physical stunt work with coaches hired for the series.

"The Strain" is based on a series of vampire novels written by del Toro and collaborator Chuck Hogan. It was originally pitched to Fox as a TV series and was turned down, leading to del Toro's decision to turn it into a series of books. The success of the novels brought the project to FX, where "The Strain" found plenty of time to incubate. Del Toro, a busy film maverick, was teamed with seasoned TV showrunner Carlton Cuse ("Lost," "Bates Motel").

Used to the demands of network television where 22- or 23-episode seasons are still the norm, Cuse was thrilled to have time to concentrate on 13 episodes. Conceptual artists were hired to consult with del Toro on the visual style of the show. A year was spent casting the series.

Corey Stoll ("House of Cards") stars as the head of a team investigating a mysterious viral outbreak in New York which seems to be turning victims into bloodthirsty vampires. Jonathan Hyde plays Eldritch Palmer, an elderly billionaire trying to extend his life by any means necessary. In a role originally intended for del Toro's "Hellboy" star Ron Perlman, Kevin Durand ("Lost") plays a rat exterminator-turned-vampire fighter. Montreal-native Natalie Brown ("Sophie") play's Stoll's character's ex-wife who ignores his warnings about the deadly contagion.

"We waited for people," says Cuse of the cast, praising FX for their patience. Writers were hired six months ahead of shooting. The extra time also allowed del Toro and others to fine tune the creatures. "It's something you can't do in a normal pilot development season," says Cuse.

The one guy who was pretty much a last minute hire was Bradley. John Hurt had previously been announced for the role. "I had very little time to think about it," he says." My agent said, 'Can you go to Canada in four days time?'"

Bradley says he was swayed by those "three magic words — Guillermo del Toro." The actor was a big fan of the director's "Pan's Labyrinth." "Such a moving, human story," says Bradley, who sees the same complexity and detail in "The Strain." "It's nothing like the 'Twilight' series — there's nothing romantic or glamorous about it," he says of this truly frightening vampire drama. "Hopefully people will be able to keep their supper down when viewing it."

The role calls for him to spend some time in the makeup chair where he gets fixed with a stringy "half beard" as well as prosthetics to cover his character's crushed hands. "It means coming in an hour earlier," says Bradley.

While he cherished his supporting role on "Harry Potter," Bradley is thrilled to be such a central character on "The Strain." "It's good to have the responsibility of being one of the main characters. I relish that."


Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.

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