Playing the bully: Tom Felton talks ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’

by W. Andrew Powell

Tom Felton was 12-years-old when he first won the role of Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. At the time, Warner Bros. had picked up the rights to the first four books from author J.K. Rowling, but it is hard to imagine that anyone realized then just how big the franchise would become.

Now, with the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Felton is 21 and has nearly spent half of his life in the role of Harry Potter’s school-yard rival. Felton’s role as Draco Malfoy has also become more complex, and in the latest film he turns in one of the best performances of his career.

Last week, Felton visited Toronto to meet with fans and chat with the media about the new film. Here’s what Felton had to say during the round-table media event where he chatted about the films, his life, and what lies ahead.

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Andrew Powell: How was the film? It was a long process I bet…
Tom Felton: Yeah, I mean we finished shooting it over a year ago, so I’m thrilled that someone’s actually asking questions about it.

Seems like we’ve waited so long. It was great fun to shoot, and I was a massive fan myself, and I was just as eager to see it as anyone else was, so I’m trilled – I think it’s brilliant.

Other Press: When did you see it first?
T.F.: Sort of like two weeks ago. I actually went on one of these press conferences and they were asking me what’s great about the film and I hadn’t seen it yet so the publicity team were very keen to get me in to see it.

O.P.: Is this your first time in Canada?
T.F.: It is, it is my first – I’m only here for twenty hours, but I’m gonna make the most of it.

O.P.: What do you think of it so far?
T.F.: The hotel’s beautiful. No, I mean, everyone seems great. The people seem all a joy to meet so far. I’m thrilled to be here. Looking forward to coming back as a bit more of a holiday and spending a bit more time.

O.P.: Are you on Twitter? Are you twittering that you’re here?
T.F.: I am, I am. I went out this morning, because there’s a car that’s taking us around, which has actually got all the Harry Potter logos and stuff on it, so I took some pictures of that and put it on up. As soon as I saw it I though this is hilarious, I love this.

O.P.: With Draco, up until this film, you think you know Draco, but then you don’t…
T.F.: Certainly, Jo [J.K. Rowling] has been establishing Draco as this two-dimensional bully character.

When I first read the story it was pretty amazing, but to get the script was even more exciting and slightly scary to be honest with you. I wasn’t quite sure… it was so different to where we had been going in previous years. But I was very nervous about doing one-on-one scenes with Michael [Gambon] and Alan Rickman, of course, but David Yates pulled me aside before we started shooting and was very clear with where he wanted to go with it, which made me feel a bit more confident. And slowly but surely we got somewhere that I was happy with and I thoroughly enjoyed doing it.

O.P.: Have you ever had a chance to tap into the experience of someone like Michael Gambon or Alan Rickman and get some advice from them?
T.F.: Umm, yeah, yeah. It’s not so much sitting there and asking them questions non-stop, but they’re a wealth of stories and of great jokes. So I think acting-wise you learn more from them just watching.

It’s quite incredible to see Michael Gambon drinking tea and having a cigarette and then two minutes later he’s this sort of mystical wizard. So, yeah, it’s great fun for me as an actor to see these things happen around you.

O.P.: Do you think the films go out of their way to be British?
T.F.: Sure, yeah – I’m glad you said that. They’ve all got that sort of British stamp on them, but I think this one especially, certainly with the humour.

I feel that Michael Gambon and Jim Broadbent really lay on that subtle British humour brilliantly, and I think Jim Broadbent was a fabulous addition to the cast.

A.P.: Jumping further into the film, how did you prepare for the key scene? It’s obviously a difficult scene.
T.F.: Yeah, I don’t really know. It’s kind of hard because you’ve got Michael Gambon who just jokes every two seconds flat and there was a bit in there where I messed up a line of some nature and I was so nervous and embarrassed to do it in front of Michael. And I was so apologetic for about twenty minutes afterwards and he was like, ‘Do you know how much I’m on a week, we can do this all day.’ And he was like, ‘Keep messing them up if you can.’

So yeah, no, we had a lot of fun and they’re very good at making you feel extremely comfortable, very quickly, so I’m very grateful for that.

O.P.: How does it feel knowing that people have watched you grow up in this lifetime franchise?
T.F.: Yeah, it’s really bizarre, especially looking back at some of the early pictures of when we were all yay high with sort of round faces and extremely high voices.

But yeah, it is great, and I don’t think it will truly ever sink in until we’re finished and doing something normal again. It’s a huge honour to obviously be part of the franchise and a huge privilege [because of] the people we’ve met over the years, that’s certainly going to be the biggest loss when it’s all over.

O.P.: When you signed on board back then did you know it was going to be this big?
T.F.: Of course no, I mean I think only three books had been written, or even two… we had no idea there was going to be any more, let alone seven, slash, eight more to come. I think if you had told us that then we would have laughed at you, but it’s amazing how it’s still picking up steam every year it goes on.

O.P.: Do fans stop you in the street…
T.F.: And boo me, yes, yes… [Laugh]

O.P.: …talk to you like you’re the character?
T.F.: Umm, yes, occasionally. More overseas than in England. I think the English are too, sort of, too polite to say anything, but certainly America, it must be said. A lot of people under the age of 40 probably boo me every time they see me. But I can only take this as a compliment. If I’ve managed to fool them into believing I’m a horrible child then I must be doing something right.

O.P.: In the scene when Draco is in the tower with Dumbledore, the element of choice is there, and he starts to crack and we see that other side. Do you think that as the characters have gotten older and more mature that the director is trying to treat these as more cautionary tales for a young-adult audience?
T.F.: Yeah, there’s been a lot of talk about that, about the film sort of growing up in the respect that they’re not as child-friendly as they used to be. I just think the whole films have evolved and obviously the characters are now sixteen, seventeen, so things that were relevant when they were twelve are no longer relevant.

And things like romance, there’s lots of romance at Hogwarts this year, and I think that’s part of the success of the stories – the fact that you really are watching them grow up. And these things actually happen to people in real life. Although it’s set in this magical kingdom, all of the things that happen are actually all human traits and I think that’s why it’s such a relatable story really.

O.P.: With the next two films already scheduled, are you able to find time to tackle other projects?
T.F.: Yes, there are lots of interesting projects going about, but the hair is a bit of an issue. Yeah, it’s slightly an iconic haircut, which can’t really be used in much else. So, unfortunately, I’m going to have to wait until next year.

Truth be told, there have been options to sort of chop and change and go into another project for four weeks and then come back, but I feel that since this is the last instalment I want to, A: Give it my all, but B: More importantly just enjoy it because this time next year it will all be over, which is a very sad thought.

As excited as I am to look forward to future roles and playing a good guy maybe one day, I am revelling being the nasty guy for one last year.

O.P.: He’s evil, and what’s up with his hair…?
T.F.: I know. I don’t really understand, I mean where Draco finds the time to get his roots touched up every week. It’s a very iconic hairdo, I guess no one else really has it.

There have been times where naturally, getting your hair dyed isn’t that pleasant, but saying that, I’ve grown quite oddly attached to it over the years. People have asked me, at the end of it are you planning on cutting it off, but I can see myself strangely keeping it. I’m not sure about it yet. I’m not sure what my girlfriend has to say about that.

A.P.: What about your music career? Is that a career opportunity?
T.F.: It scares me that you mention it as a career, because that’s certainly not where I was angling. It’s always been a passion of mine and I learned to play on the Harry Potter set, lots of hours to yourself, so that was a great way of killing the time. And yeah, I’ve shared a bit online, about a year ago now and it seems to have done pretty well, so it’s a personal thing for me. It’s certainly not a career that I’m looking to jump into just yet, but as long as people enjoy listening to it, then I’ll keep sharing.

A.P.: And speaking of angling I’ve read you’re into fishing as well…
T.F.: Yeah, I won’t lie, that’s one of those quotes that I said when I was twelve that has just plagued me ever since.

A.P.: Oh no…
T.F.: No, no. By all means, it’s not your fault. I mean, it goes around a lot. The fishing rod has been put down for a few years now and I’ve picked up the guitar slightly more. I’m still a country boy at heart, and I do love my country pursuits, but fishing has taken a sideline for now.

O.P.: What’s on your iPod these days?
T.F.: God, what is on my iPod? Most recently bought stuff is probably the new Greenday album. Bought that the other day – I’m thrilled with that.

I’m an old fan of Greenday, I’ve been listening to them since I was like twelve or thirteen. Someone said, ‘Oh you’ve got to get it, it’s good.’

Thoroughly enjoyed that, but I like a lot of Jack Johnson, a lot of the one man band stuff; Jason Mraz’s new album, I enjoyed that a lot as well. But, yeah, I like a real mixture. Someone got me into Vivaldi, the Four Seasons, a bit of classical there, getting me into that. I like a bit of hip hop as well.

O.P.: Lady Gaga and Black Eyed Peas, Boom, Boom, Pow…
T.F.: No, not so much the commercially successful stuff, no. People ask me that all the time. I got one yesterday, you know, it was like a coolness test…

O.P.: Did you fail it?
T.F.: Massively, yeah. There it was, ‘Has Harry Potter stolen your childhood’ and they brought up all these famous musicians. Who’s in the top, who’s number one at the moment and I didn’t have a clue. So I well and truly failed that one.

O.P.: Lady Gaga…
T.F.: Yeah, thank you. Bit late now, man.

O.P.: So tell people in thirty seconds why people should go and see this movie.
T.F.: The first thing in my mind is that it’s funnier. A lot of people are saying it’s darker, but I think it’s funny more than anything. I think it’s great to watch the characters evolve into romance and all that other stuff, all of it very funny. But it is also scarier and it’s grown up, it’s a lot more evolved now. So, yeah, I think overall if you enjoyed the last five films, this is sort of all five in one. I don’t think there will be too many fans disappointed.

O.P.: Was there one crazy moment that was just outrageously crazy?
T.F.: I probably shouldn’t say it, but as you’re all very fair to me I’ll dive into this tale.

At the very end of the scene, after Snape has done his bit, we’re sort of walking out of the Great Hall in this sort of goose, v-wing formation in which he’s at the front. He’s the sort of leading goose if you will, and he’s got this sort of wedding-dress cape on that goes three metres on the ground.

The director was very keen for us to stay close behind to him and of course, don’t look at where your feet are going. And actually, before we started filming Alan turned around in his very sinister way and said, [imitating his voice] ‘Don’t step on my cloak.’

And we also didn’t know if he was joking or not, so we’re all, ‘Ha ha, very funny, very funny.’ So naturally, on the second take I planted my heel well and truly on it, which ripped his neck back in a hilarious fashion in my eyes, but at the time it didn’t go down well and there was a rather awkward silence after.

Saying that, Alan is an incredibly nice guy and one of the funniest on the set. There’s a lot of confusion there, that he’s a very sinister guy, but he’s hilarious.

O.P.: What’s on your shirt?
O.P.: It’s Mohammed Ali, right?
T.F.: Yeah, you tell me. Please, I was dressed. This is a t-shirt, I think.

Yeah, it is Ali, isn’t it? Yeah, through the years.

I’m not much of a fashionable man. If you left me to my own devices it would probably be a hoodie and jeans 365 days a year. So I’m glad I have a very talented girlfriend to do that for me. [Laughs]

O.P.: Who likes Mohammed Ali?
T.F.: Yeah, of course. She must be a big boxing fan. [Laugh] That is a joke, just to clarify.

Watch a scene from the film, and see an on-set interview with Tom Felton:

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince opened in theatres on July 15.

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