Harry Potter and the class of Hogwarts 2000
The movie franchise, currently the highest grossing series of all time, is drawing to its conclusion with the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 next week and Part 2 next July. The series has thrust Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson into international stardom.
But while supporting characters like Luna Lovegood, the Weasley twins and hapless Neville Longbottom are given precious air time in films which seem to rush through the action-packed stories without catching a breath, the actors who play them are by no means household names.
Despite press attention which would suggest otherwise, it was not just only Radcliffe, Grint and Watson who grew from awkward adolescence into sleek adulthood before our very eyes in ten years of filming. The vast supporting cast did too.
Staunch Potter fans can debate endlessly the merits or demerits of a franchise that has been handled by Christopher Columbus, Alfonso Cuaron, Mike Newell and latterly David Yates. But I think its fair to say that, like Potter, the films have been frequently rescued from a linear or overly serious trajectory by the timely intervention of a funny one-liner from the supporting cast.
Another figure in the book with quintessentially English characteristics is Neville Longbottom. Matt Lewis, 21, from Leeds, was cast to play him ten years ago. Herbology-loving Neville is supposed to be rather chubby and ungainly looking – something which, as Lewis grew increasingly tall, slim and handsome, had to be rectified with fake ears, teeth, overlarge shoes and baggy robes.
Out of costume Lewis is virtually unrecognisable. “I’m pretty lucky that I don’t look much like Neville,” he explains. “It meant I’ve been able to do all the fun stuff like stay in nice hotels when promoting the movies. But then I can go back home to Leeds and go shopping for bread and milk and not get mobbed.”
Neville is a striking character in Rowling’s books because the tragic murder of his auror parents by the evil Voldemort exactly mirrors the death of the Potters. Neville and Harry are linked by a prophecy which could refer to either of them, something which was rather skipped over in the sixth film, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.
“In the film there wasn’t really time to put in all the prophecy stuff,” he said. “But I found it interesting that Neville could have been very much like Harry, except that he wasn’t under such pressure. My character didn’t have to mature until the seventh book when Harry leaves Hogwarts. It’s almost because Harry is absent that Neville can form a sort of French resistance to the Death Eaters and really find his strength.”
That Neville could have been rather like Harry but isn’t under nearly the same sort of pressure is a situation which exactly mirrors Lewis and Radcliffe in their careers. Lewis admires Radcliffe in his international stardom – “He’s just the nicest guy you could ever meet” – but his relief that he can maintain anonymity in Leeds is palpable.
Although it is not yet known how Neville’s part in the Hogwarts-based resistance against Voldemort is going to play out in the two final films, from the books it is clear that the battle against the Death Eaters and the elimination of the Horcruxes could not have been won without him. His transition from bumbling geek to heroic figure is something that Lewis takes in his stride.
“David [Yates] and I talked about his defining moment during the Battle of Hogwarts,” he says. “Neville is very adrenalised (sic). He’s just running in head first and putting his life on the line. But as the death toll mounts, there are a couple of scenes where he starts to look really tired and realisation hits that the battle is almost lost.”
The billboards advertising the final Harry Potter films are emblazoned with the words “It all ends here…” The Phelps twins, Lewis and Lynch all express their deep sadness that after a decade of attending wizard school they’re being booted out into the real world. But it also sounds like a bit of a relief.
“There are two sides to it,” Lynch explains. “On the one hand I love it and don’t want it to end. But then again you’re tied to it. It’s a contract. Yeah you can try and do other things at the same time, but Harry Potter has to come first.”
The four actors have all expressed a desire to stay in the film business. Lewis has been acting since he was five years old (“It’s all I know”), the Phelps twins would like to try a Bond film (“I’d be the evil twin,” Oliver says. “Just like real life,” James adds) and Lynch says she’d happily drop her studies for another year for the right role.
Unlike Watson, Radcliffe and Grint the supporting cast in the Harry Potter films will largely evade the acting pitfall of being indeterminate from a character in the consciousness of your audience.
For many, Luna, Fred and George and Neville, the rest of the Weasleys, the Malfoys, the Creevys and other ubiquitous Rowling charcters will bear the faces of the actors who played them in the film. But those faces will go on to represent many diverse characters and it will be interesting to see where the class of Hogwarts 2000 ends up in another ten years.
Let’s just hope that this lot, who all scored an impressive O grade in Charms, don’t forget what they’ve learned.
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