Interview with Harry Potter star Matthew Lewis
From boy to man, Leeds to Hogwarts, Matthew Lewis’ role in the final Harry Potter movie also sees him become hero of the hour.
In the first of two features Rod McPhee looks at the ascent of our homegrown movie star.
THINK Neville Longbottom and what image does it conjure up? Cuddly kid? Protruding lugs? Wonky teeth?
But the Leeds actor who’s portrayed Harry Potter’s sidekick for the last decade, he’s a very different prospect. When we meet Matthew Lewis in his hometown he has flush ears, trim waistline and a gleaming Hollywood smile.
The image upgrade also includes designer stubble and a tattoo of his lucky number, 11, on his right forearm.
Yes, it’s still Neville alright, but while female fans simply wanted to mother him as a geeky teenager, they’d probably feel differently now he’s all grown up.
It should be stressed that the 22-year-old hasn’t just emerged from an adolescent chrysalis. For the past two or three years he has, to borrow a phrase from every mother the world over, grown into his looks.
During that time the studio bosses not only made him wear a fat suit, they went so far as to push his ears forward with stuck-on bits of plastic. As for the teeth, they practically begged him not to get them bleached.
“It just helps with the whole image of Neville.” says Lewis. “He’s not supposed to look like Brad Pitt, the character is described in the book as being very round-faced.
“But from the third film onwards they started sticking the fat suit on because I just grew up. I simply grew taller and thinned out. As for the teeth, it was something I’d always wanted to do but it would have meant me wearing a brace for two years, which I just couldn’t do.
“In fact Warner Brothers said if I put it off until we’d finished filming they’d pay for it – and they did. But they were always keen for me to look less than perfect.”
So does he think he looks perfect now?
“Well…” laughs Lewis, clearly joking. “I don’t want to blow my own trumpet or anything…”
Although his character reaches something of a career zenith in the second part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – which premieres on Friday – when puberty came along Matthew initially feared for his film future.
“Thing is, initially I was only signed on to do the first two films,” he says. “And there was a concern that they might have replaced me when my looks started to change. I’m sure it must have come up in an office somewhere in America, but they never suggested recasting me.”
Back in Horsforth, the north Leeds suburb where he was born and raised, Lewis sits in his local, Sandbar, with nearby drinkers oblivious to the presence of a movie star.
“People in Leeds don’t really bother me now,” he says. “I only really get it if we go to America or somewhere like that. But I really don’t mind it – it comes with the territory and Harry Potter fans are just amazing.
“I still get recognised now and again in Britain, which I think is a bit strange as my appearance has changed so much, but back home they don’t give me any unusual attention.”
As well as living in his hometown, Lewis has embraced his status as a Loiner in other ways and is always keen to help out local charities and organisations and never too much of a star to be pictured doing so.
It’s almost easy to forget he’s been part of an $8 billion film franchise which has made the cast global megastars and fantastically rich.
Although Harry Potter’s lead characters – played by Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint – have a combined worth of £80m according to The Sunday Times rich list, Lewis won’t divulge too much about his millionaire status. Suffice to say he bought the first of several houses at the age of 14. It’s just a few hundred yards from his parents’ home in the town centre and at present he lives there most of the time.
Lewis has fame, wealth and a sexier look, so it’s a surprise when he claims he doesn’t have a girlfriend. Even more surprising is the fact he says he doesn’t get much attention from girls.
“Well, I do get it a bit. You just have to be aware of who’s talking to you and for what reason, if you know what I mean?” he laughs. “Not that they’re necessarily going to sell a story but you do think: why are you actually talking to me? To be honest I’d rather go out with my friends and keep my head down.”
But maintaining a low profile hasn’t been easy for Lewis.
His career started at the age of five when he starred as the son of Jane Horrocks in ITV drama Some Kind of Life, in which a family is torn apart by a father being left disabled following a motorcycle crash.
From there various bit parts in TV dramas followed, fuelled by Lewis’s precocious desire to act and the fact his older brother, actor Anthony Lewis, was a familiar face on Yorkshire soap Emmerdale.
It must have been a strange time for Lewis’s parents, neither of whom were in the business – dad was a systems engineer for a cable company and mum was a youth worker.
“Mum used to take me along to watch Anthony filming,” he recalls. “So I just grew up with it. The story goes that I just assumed that acting was what everyone did and from the age of four I wanted to do nothing else.
“I nagged and nagged at my parents to let me do it and eventually they just gave in and got me sorted out with a special agency and it was about then that I got the part on Some Kind of Life, which was an absolutely amazing part to get as your first role.”
And that launchpad was what first brought him to the attention of Hollywood producers behind Harry Potter, which Lewis signed up to, still at the tender age of 11.
The next seven years would prove tough for the teenage star, dividing his studies at St Mary’s School in Menston with filming on set or location.
Fortunately the school has always provided a background for sporting and creative talent. The alumni not only includes most members of the Kaiser Chiefs, but also Yorkshire cricketer Joe Sayers and Leeds United player Aiden White. On top of that, three young stars of Emmerdale were also pupils alongside singer Sean Conlon of boyband 5ive.
But perhaps the greatest support came from his co-stars, all of whom he now considers friends.
“Dan, Rupert and Emma, we were all in it together from the beginning,” he says. “So we knew we could call on each other for help should we need it.
“The thing is, with Harry Potter we were all in the same boat because we’ve all done it since we were 11 years old. It’s not like Macaulay Culkin, who had fame thrust just upon him at an incredibly early age and then had to carry the films and fame all on his own.
“Plus I have a strong base around me – my mum and dad, who’ve been there for me with my brother being in the business too, and all my friends, most of whom are friends I’ve known since school, since before Harry Potter really took off.”
But despite the success and the support of loved ones Lewis admits he still can’t entirely deal with the fame and pressure that comes with being part of one of the biggest cultural phenomenons of modern times.
He says: “It’s still something I struggle to come to terms with. I love it in a way but in another way it can be so confusing.
“I mean, I have 90,000 followers on twitter – 90,000 FOLLOWERS! That’s enough people to fill Wembley Stadium, it’s just mind-blowing really.
“I think what helps me cope though is that most people are really lovely – if I had 90,000 people telling me I was a d**khead then that would be a different story.”