Tom Felton struck fortune when he was cast in the first Harry Potter film as Draco Malfoy, the villainous schoolboy wizard. Twenty years later, he’s still adjusting to the franchise’s success, but first, he’s performing in a West End ghost story giving him the willies.
Tom Felton wants to clarify that he is embracing his inner breakdown. He almost immediately says this after being seated next to me at a Canary Wharf restaurant while clutching a little block of Cathedral City Cheddar.
The 34-year-old actor, known for his role as Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter franchise, is in grueling rehearsals for his West End debut in 2:22: A Ghost Story, so our lunch will be brief. This eerie comedy begins its third successive London season to widespread critical praise. After two weeks of practice, they will travel from the rehearsal room to the Criterion Theatre stage in just seven days. Even though he feels somewhat overwhelmed this afternoon, Felton feels confident.
“There are numerous words to learn,” Felton says quickly. “It’s a 140-page screenplay that flows beautifully, so one small error throws the entire production off.” He is dressed for comfort with a blue baseball cap, white pants rolled up to his calves, and a green and yellow pullover. “There are only four people on the stage for the entire hour and a half,” he explains, “so you can’t drop the ball for even a second,” Felton explains that on film sets, where he is somewhat more experienced, you are encouraged to approach each take slightly differently. “Right now, I’m fighting with my thoughts,” he continues, “because with this, we need everything to be the same eight times a week for 17 weeks… This is doing nothing to alleviate my anxiousness.”
James Buckley, known for his role in Inbetweeners, was one of the show’s final stars. “He is a buddy,” Felton continues, “and he told me it would be a test unlike any other, both physically and mentally, and that I must embrace the meltdown that will inevitably occur, which I am embracing. It’s unfamiliar to me, but thankfully the rest of the cast and filmmakers are aware of it. And I’m excited, despite a lot of nerves.” Therefore, he arrived at rehearsals early this morning to run lines by himself, stopping at Tesco for munchies to keep him going. He hasn’t performed in a play since his boyhood, although he warmly recalls that period. According to him, he has also found himself eating like a child. I believe this explains why a small block of cheese is currently seated on the table. When a waiter approaches, he orders a dish of chicken fingers prepared from scratch.
Nearly thirty years have passed since Felton’s last theatrical performance. Close to his childhood home, he performed in a children’s production at the Epsom Playhouse when he was six years old. “Typically, it was tree number three,” Felton adds, “or something similar.” He is youngest of four siblings, and the eldest was the true theatre child. Felton only attended drama club as a follower. He remembers being a snowman, or was he an extra in Bugsy Malone? “I was far more interested in being a fisherman,” he adds. “My acting skillsștiin’t something that wasștiin’t noticed until muchștiiștiin’t laterștiiștiiștiiștiiștiiștiiștii
His father has a civil engineer who traveled frequently. Thus his mother cared for the children. And mom worked many jobs so that the boys could pursue their fleeting adolescent interests. “A few months before acting,” adds Felton, “I want to be a violinist. She stacked shelves at night and performed a variety of tasks during the day to ensure that we were always told “yes.” The police were involved in at least one brother’s adolescent rebellion involving four brothers. At the age of six, Felton landed his first acting role. Would he require a chaperone? Not a problem: Mom accepted it in stride.
“That first work was for a Commercial Union advertisement,” Felton explains. “It was filmed across the country for two weeks.” Mum altered her entire life to ensure that I could succeed.” Four months later, The Borrowers was filmed at Shepperton Studios. His following picture was a version of The King, and I with Jodie Foster titled Anna and the King. Four months in Malaysia with his mother by his side at all times. A year after its debut, auditions for Harry Potter arose. Unlike most of those who attended the open call, including his future co-stars, this 12-year-old was no stranger to auditions and studios “At the time, I was also one of the few who did not know what Harry Potter was,” Felton explains. “Anyone could try out for it. So many enthusiastic children who adored literature came along.” For Felton, it was simply another day at the office. They initially tested him out for Harry Potter and his closest friend, Ron Weasley, dyeing his hair black and then ginger. Felton was somewhat perplexed. He was cast as Draco Malfoy, who is a naughty young man for those unfamiliar with the series. “I believe I got the part because I seemed laidback and had no idea what everyone was talking about,” Felton adds. Are there wizards in the cupboards beneath the stairs? And with three older brothers, you quickly develop confidence. I believe director Chris Columbus recognized my mild apathy and attitude, which he thought could work for Malfoy.”
Far from becoming an out-of-control, overnight kid sensation, Felton discovered that his early films did not affect him. “My timetable was set up such that I could attend school for weeks on and weeks off,” explains Felton. “In the meantime, Rupert [Grint], Emma [Watson], and Daniel [Radcliffe] were there nonstop for ten years. I continued as usual. I received the occasional joke or remark from my friends, but no one was truly concerned.” The most frustrating aspect of his job was missing Halloween parties and school vacations. “Some people struggle with the notion that I wasn’t this amazing, popular child,” Felton recalls. “However, I walked around with dyed hair and portrayed an evil wizard. That was uncool. It did not help me with the ladies.”
Felton discovered that adjusting to the trappings of success was likewise very simple, aided by the fact that they did not appear quickly. “It occurred more slowly than you might expect,” Felton recalls, “and it’s not like I was very prudent: I purchased vehicles for my brothers, a house for my mother, and skateboards and video games for myself.” Also, it was never a given that Felton would be cast in all eight movies, despite their presumably rich contracts. “Initially, we planned to make two,” he explains. “If, after the second, the children still appeared sufficiently young, we might do a third. Then one more. It continued like this. We never agreed to a 12-year contract. I assumed at some point that they would replace us with better performers, but they never did.”
Throughout filming, Felton never entertained the possibility of pursuing a professional career in the industry. It was difficult not to feel a little out of place when he stood on the Potter set and observed Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, and Michael Gambon. “I was not required to memorize ten pages of dialogue for the audition,” Felton explains. “All I did to get the part was show up as a snotty child who fit the description.” Jason Isaacs, who portrayed Felton’s nasty father on-screen, provided Felton with kindness and insightful advice off-screen.
“He was gracious and supportive,” Felton recalls with a smile. “It was an extremely significant relationship for me. He never spoke to me like a child and guided me.” Felton still occasionally refers to Isaacs as their father.
“Jason was a major element in eliminating my impostor syndrome,” Felton adds. “I believed that all I did was stand around and look miserable for a long time.” Felton believed he had received a lucky break after landing a role as a child. “He advised me to snap out of it,” Felton explains. “He said I was fine, but I had room for improvement.” To work on it now.” Felton was 20 years old while filming the sixth installment in the franchise. Then, he finally paid attention to Isaacs’s instructions. He advised me to get in shape, acquire an American accent, and find a reliable US agent. Felton followed instructions. Felton was on set for Rising of the Planet of the Apes almost immediately after hanging up his Hogwarts robes for the final time.
Soon after that, he relocated to Los Angeles. There are plenty of independent films and a scattering of television gigs, though nothing on the magnitude of Planet of the Apes or Harry Potter. “I slowed things down, but not necessarily by choice,” he explains. If Planet of the Apes 2 had been released, I would have purchased it immediately, but I am satisfied as it is. Each Potter film requires six months to produce, although independent films are typically completed in six weeks. “Therefore, I enjoyed life in California,” he continues, “surfing, composing music, and hanging out with my dog.” This type of schedule allows me to have a more balanced existence.”
Was it difficult not to compare his path to the other Harry Potter children? “I’ve always been their biggest booster,” he recalls, “so I’ve never had that. There was a Draco-like moment when I saw Daniel on Broadway for the first time: fucking crap, he’s so good. “I wasn’t comparing myself, but it motivated me.”
Their appeal has not diminished since the last Harry Potter film was released more than a decade ago. For everyone associated with the franchise, life on set – and the feeling of being a part of its enormous, unprecedented success – is a matter of enduring curiosity for an ever-expanding global fanbase. I anticipated that Felton would find discussions of the wizarding world frustrating, if not tiresome. He began producing them as a young child and is now in his mid-30s; the auditions occurred more than two decades ago. I expected he would be eager to move on at this time, thank you very much. However, Felton appears anxious to address it. He is most excited while discussing Harry Potter, continually bringing it up of his own volition. Indeed, he is relieved to be diverted from the strain of rehearsals.
“I feel fortunate,” he continues, “and I enjoy talking about it even when I ought to be promoting other ventures,” Felton claims that he is still adjusting to its success. “Daniel, Rupert, and Emma were featured on the posters,” he continues. “They were removed from school and placed on press tours.” My life was much more normal.” Felton claims he was rarely if ever, stopped on the street during his years of filming. He recently discovered a more significant interest in Felton: the actor who portrayed Draco Malfoy. “For ten years, I strolled about with blond hair and was never stopped on the subway,” he recalls, “but that is changing. Fans approaching me now were not even born when the first film was produced. It has grown through transmission from one generation to the next.” He is beginning to understand that it will never go.
Felton returned to the UK permanently 18 months ago. After many years apart, he realized that his five-year-old niece was now twelve. He missed his family, friends, and life in London. As he went from audition to audition as a child actor, his mother would take him as a treat to Lillywhite’s sports shop near Piccadilly Circus to admire the cricket bats. “When I was the first cast in this play, I had no idea where the theatre was,” he explains. It turns out to be adjacent to Lillywhites. “My entire career is due to the right place, time, and a wonderful mother,” he explains. “The fact that it exists feels unique. Even though I told her I could get her into the first four concerts for free, she has already purchased tickets. This is a play for her.” Felton recently went to Los Angeles for a vacation, during which he visited California’s Harry Potter theme park. “I was simply pampering myself,” he recalls. “My friends had never done so.” Felton witnessed a young girl having the time of her life, complete with tears of delight. “I couldn’t help but approach her at the conclusion, remove my hat, and tell her I’d see her in the Slytherin Common Room. Seeing her expression brighten? It never ceases to the amaze me how happy it makes people.” With that, Felton departs. He requests a photograph and then dashes back to the rehearsal area. When a waitress comes to collect his uneaten chicken fingers, she grins and asks me, “Excuse me, but was that Draco Malfoy?”
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