He did plenty of swashbuckling as Robb Stark in HBO’s Game of Thrones, but Richard Madden is playing an even more iconic character in the new live-action Cinderella, wooing Lily James as Prince Charming.
“I read it and loved what they were doing with it. Although I loved the old animation, it has a slightly outdated message that there’s a woman with a s— life that needs a guy to rescue her,” says Madden, 28. “It’s not something we should be teaching our kids.”
He’s happy to be a part of a more modern, female-empowering retelling. “This is why I was into playing the part. In this version, you get to see a young man who respects women and has an appreciation for people around him and respect for them,” he told PEOPLE at The Cinema Society’s N.Y.C. premiere Sunday.
PEOPLE talked to the dashing Scottish star about how he got here – and what’s next.
1. He Started Acting at Age 11
“I was a shy kind of kid. I really wanted to gain some confidence before going into [high school], so I joined a youth theater, and from there I just loved improvising and storytelling and just acting. I got scouted there for a movie, and then a TV show, and it just rolled from there. I couldn’t be doing anything else.”
2. He Remembers His GoT Days Fondly – and Is Still Pals with the Gang
“I want to mix it up and do things that I haven’t yet done before. This was a totally different thing. It was nice to be on a set where I’m not in fear of my life, of being killed at some point It was such a chapter of my life and I felt like I really grew up through that show and changed a lot. I’m still close friends with all of them. We all kind of grew up together.”
3. Swoon Alert: He Believes in True Love
“I believe in love at first sight and hindsight. Like with the Prince, he looks back and thinks, ‘Oh, that was the moment I fell in love.’ ”
4. The Cinderella Set Was a Crash Course in Chivalry
“Being on set with [Kenneth Branagh] and Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter, these people, it’s like a master class in being an actor. Not just when the cameras are rolling but when they’re not and how they conduct themselves. They’re so respectful and appreciate of other peoples work. Cate is such a massive movie star, playing a huge role in this, and she just has an amazing awareness of everyone around her. She’s so down to earth; it’s refreshing and inspiring.”
5. He Wears Normal Clothing in His Next Role – and Will Be Reuniting with Costar Lily James Soon
“I just finished a film called Bastille Day with Idris Elba. And I get to wear jeans and a T-shirt for a change, which is refreshing. That shaved like 45 minutes off my call time, which was amazing. In 2016 I’m reuniting with Kenneth Branagh and Lily, and we are doing Romeo and Juliet in the West End in London. We have a good chemistry; the three of us work well together so we’ll keep working on that.”
For more on the stars of Cinderella, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on stands now
• Reporting by JENNIFER GARCIA and JESSICA FECTEAU