Growing Up with Harry Potter
Matt Lewis: growing up with Harry Potter
Matt Lewis, who played Neville Longbottom in all eight Harry Potter films, talks about spending 10 years in the spotlight.
At 22, Matt Lewis has spent half his life playing Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter films, with a memorably heroic appearance in the final installment.
Now, as the DVD release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 marks the end of the most successful film franchise ever, he talks about growing up in the movies – and in the glare of the media spotlight.
What was it like doing the last film? Nervous Neville turned out to be a bit of a hero, didn’t he? And suddenly people started noticing that you don’t resemble Neville in real life…
It was a pretty daunting experience, to be honest with you. The film came out while I was flying to Australia. When I landed there was all the news about [box-office] records being broken, and various bits of press about me – all the headlines about how I’d been “transformed”.
I called Will [a friend] and said: “I don’t like this.” It was very, very weird, and I suddenly felt very exposed. People started focusing on my appearance rather than my work, and I was uncomfortable with it. It was all very nice things they were saying, very flattering and humbling, but it was very odd. I just wanted to get back to [my hometown] Leeds and focus on work.
Did you get any modelling offers?
No. But I was offered Strictly Come Dancing. I turned it down because that celebrity world is not what I’m into. To be fair, if I was going to do any of them Strictly would be the one, but I’m just not interested in it.
When did you first became aware you were a part of this great cultural phenomenon?
The first time I thought, “This is big” was when I arrived at the first premiere in Leicester Square. The film hadn’t been released and, as far as I was aware, nobody knew who I was. But there were all these people shouting, “Matthew! Matthew!” I was an 11-year-old kid, and I was thinking, “How do they know who I am?” It really scared me.
Until the last film, I’d just been left to get on with my own bit in the background, and I was happy with that. Then suddenly the character was out there, and I was in America being reported in all the magazines that I read like The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. I’d always dreamed of being in them and now I was.
How much did Harry Potter take over your life during production of the eight films?
A lot. We filmed for months and months. [The two parts of] Deathly Hallows we filmed together. I started in February 2009 and finished at the end of summer 2010, almost 18 months, five days a week. Every now and then you’d get a couple of weeks back at school. In the early days, it was six months filming and six months at school.
Warner Brothers were really good with us. They had so many kids working on the films that they had a whole floor of classrooms. We had to do three to five hours of lessons every day.
How did your increasing public profile affect things at school in Leeds?
I was so lucky: I know a few of the other [Harry Potter stars] had problems. In the early years, I kept to myself, though I had friends from before Potter, and I’m still friends with them today. They’ve helped me keep my feet on the ground.
Last month, I turned on the Christmas lights in Ilkley [in place of Sir Jimmy Savile, who died shortly before]. I was having a quick picture taken in the church and hundreds of girls, and lads as well, stormed the church: it was like something out of [zombie movie] 28 Days Later – terrifying. In the end, the police had to come in. There were four policemen shielding me, taking me out into a riot van and then a police convoy to get me out of there. It was insane.
I can’t go to my local Morrisons [supermarket] a lot of the time because of the school next door. The other week, I made the mistake of going during the school lunch break and I didn’t get much shopping done. They just sort of follow you around, and every time you turn down a new aisle the number of kids has multiplied.
Playing Neville you had to wear false bad teeth, you had sticky-out ears, and you had to wear a fat suit. How difficult was it looking like that as you went through adolescence?
When I was about 15 or 16, I hated it. I thought this is what the rest of the world thinks I am, what I really look like. I was so sick of the fat suit I used to take it off as soon as I came off set even if it was only for 20 minutes.
Then I started to appreciate what it was all about. Becoming a character was important, and by the end I had a whole new appreciation of it. That fat suit and the make-up did help me get into the role. I’m glad I stuck with it.
What are the popular myths about being in the Potter films?
Last weekend a student came up to me in Leeds with a look of disgust on her face and she said, “What are you doing here?” “Well, I live here,” I said. There’s this idea that we must all live in mansions in Beverly Hills or something.
People assume that when you’ve been in a film like that you’ve turned into Brad Pitt with an entourage that’s going to accompany you everywhere. The one thing I insist on if I’m asked to do something is: Can I bring a mate? So, if I’m in New York doing an interview with USA Today or whatever, it’s nice to be able to look across the room and see my mate Nick from Otley. It keeps me on the ground.
Does everyone assume you and the rest of the cast are all mates in real life?
Either they assume we’re all going out every night together, living together, or they assume we all hate each other and that there was in-fighting all the time. It’s neither really. I’m friends with them all obviously. And, of course, when you work together for 10 years there’s bound to be the odd disagreement. But there were never any major arguments or people refusing to talk to each other.
Was there a split between the kids in the film and the older actors?
In the early days, definitely. We were all just messing about acting like kids – writing love letters to each other, all that kind of nonsense; and they were serious actors coming to do a job. Then, as we all got older got to 18 or 19, that all changed.
In the last film, shooting the big courtyard scene with Ralph Fiennes and Jason Isaacs and all the other guys it was just on a level. That’s not to say I’m on a level with Ralph Fiennes because I’m not, but it felt as if we were all mates doing a job together.
We didn’t get any formal career advice [from the studio], but we did get advice from the older members of the cast. Alan Rickman told me to go and do some theatre, and I’m glad I did.
What was the most memorable moment in the whole Harry Potter experience?
At the premiere of the first film when the credits rolled, John Williams’s music welled up, and everyone stood up and applauded, I just had this feeling, “Wow, I made a film that’s amazing.” You feel a part of something very special. I thought there might be another film, but I never thought I’d be here 10 years later still talking about it.
You’ve just done six months touring Agatha Christie’s play Verdict. What comes next for you?
I’m recording a new BBC TV series called The Syndicate by Kay Mellor about a group of supermarket workers who win the lottery. I play Jamie, who is one of the five who win the lottery and who is not very nice.