Actor Matthew Lewis on saying goodbye to Harry Potter
As goofy Neville Longbottom, actor Matthew Lewis spent a decade lighting up the silver screen alongside boy wizard Harry Potter. Now, as the curtain falls on this most magical of film franchises, he reveals to Dave Owens why he’s reinventing himself on stage
MATTHEW Lewis confesses he’s managed to pull off the neat trick of leading parallel lives during the last decade.
The Leeds-born actor is familiar to millions as the hapless Neville Longbottom in one of the greatest screen franchises of all time – Harry Potter.
However, unlike the film’s stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson who are mobbed at every turn, Matthew reveals his luck at leading diametrically opposed existences – one in the unrelenting glare of Hollywood’s bright lights, the other a slice of quiet anonymity back home in Yorkshire.
“I only get recognised when the films come out and it’s in the public eye,” he explains in his broad avuncular Yorks brogue. “Although that’s the benefit of growing up, I can now grow a beard and no one recognises me!
“It’s not like Dan, Rupert and Emma, who get recognised everywhere,” he continues. “I can still pop down the shops and not be bothered. I’ve been hugely lucky in that respect. ”
Matthew, a Potter fan since the first book was published, has been acting since he was five. He won the role of Neville, aged 11, after begging his mum to take him to an open audition at the Queen’s Hotel in Leeds. After a few months of waiting he was called back for further auditions in London, where he battled five other aspiring Nevs to win the part.
He dismisses the suggestion – oft put to child stars – that spending his formative years on a film set meant there’s a gaping hole where his youth should have been.
“People always ask me if I’ve missed out on my childhood and I honestly don’t think I have,” he muses. “I was terribly homesick at first. It was hard being away from home and I have missed a few family gatherings through filming, but I always tried to get back home as much as possible, and have always kept the same friends back in Leeds.
“If anything it felt like I had two childhoods,” adds the self-confessed Leeds United fan. “The one with all the mad stuff going around the world promoting Harry Potter and then back to normality hanging out with all my mates and going to Elland Road to watch Leeds play.”
When the final instalment in JK Rowling’s bank rolling fantasy films – Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2 – hits cinema screens this summer, it will signify the final chapter for the boy wizard and his Hogwarts pals, but it will also open a new volume in the career of Matthew Lewis.
The 21-year-old who has appeared in all eight Harry Potter films, faces a new challenge. He’s swapping fighting the dark forces of evil, for something a little more sedate but nonetheless rewarding – a stint treading the boards.
Matthew will be appearing in his first ever stage role – Agatha Christie’s criminal melodrama Verdict alongside seasoned pros such as Drop The Dead Donkey’s Robert Duncan and Wild At Heart’s Dawn Steele.
“Yes, it’s the first time I’ve ever acted on stage,” he chuckles “Theatre is something that has passed me by.
“Now I want to go with it and see where it takes me. When you’ve played the same character for 10 years you don’t want to become typecast, you want to be seen in a different way.
“That’s why it’s a pleasure and privilege to work with experienced stage actors. It’s a great foundation for me to appear in such a great production.
“We opened in Windsor and I have to confess it was a bit terrifying,” he jokes. “We didn’t have much rehearsal time, only about three weeks in all. The first night it was nerve-wracking, but once I got that first performance and then the first week out of the way it it’s been easier.
He admits switching from the discipline of acting on the big screen to stage has not been without its problems.
“On camera it’s easier to convey emotion with the aid of close ups, cutting and editing. For me the hardest thing on stage has been facial recognition, being able to carry the story to the back row of the upper circle, as much to the front row of the stalls.
“I found that difficult at first, it almost felt like I was over acting compared to film.
Now five weeks into its run, Matthew is in Plymouth where Verdict plays before arriving in Cardiff next week for a stint at The New Theatre.
While the play runs for a year, Matthew is only contracted to the end of June. Then he has to leave the cast for the little matter of promo for the final Harry Potter instalment – one of the most eagerly awaited films in cinematic history.
Despite severe prompting from me, Matthew won’t give too much away, wary of spoiling the plot for the worldwide legions of fans. Although he does reveal that Neville will be at the heart of the action fighting the fount of all evil Lord Voldemort as part of Dumbledore’s Army – alongside his Hogwarts chums Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger.
He also confides that there were no tears and no sadness on the last day of filming, although it was an incredibly emotional moment.
“I didn’t feel sad, I felt incredibly proud,” says Matthew, who has become firm friends with Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson. “I felt a special bond with all the cast and all the crew that have worked on the films for 10 years.
“It’s been an incredible achievement to complete the series and have the privilege to see at first hand what the films have meant to so many people.
“It’s also been a huge pleasure to work with such brilliant actors as Alan Rickman and Jason Isaacs who were always so tremendously generous in offering help and advice to the younger members of the cast.
“It hasn’t quite sunk in yet, that this is it, the end of the Harry Potter films. We will all be getting together for promo in June, so it’s not like we won’t see each other again.”
Matthew says that he, even now, he is still surprised at the frenzied devotion this most of magical of tales inspires in fans – especially as another round of promotional work swings into action.
“I remember the premiere for the first film when I was 11, getting out of the car and hearing people shouting Matthew, Matthew,” he recalls. “I was thinking how do these people know my name. It was all a little confusing.
“More recently I was entrusted with doing the promo for Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2 in South America, which I thought was a little dangerous,” he laughs. “It was the first time we’d ever done promo there. I went on a whistlestop tour of Brasil, Argentina and Chile. It was incredible. I had never experienced anything like it.
“Hundreds of fans had turned out at the airports and followed the car to and from the hotel,” he remembers, still sounding a little dazed by the memory. “I felt like Paul McCartney or The Beatles. Although I kept stressing to every body I met that when I returned to Heathrow I could guarantee there would be no one waiting for me!”