Matthew Lewis: Fighting for a life after Harry Potter
In the second of two features on Leeds actor Matthew Lewis, he ponders his future and talks to Rod McPhee about Neville Longbottom’s heroic role in the final Harry Potter film.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. With just days to go before the spectacular conclusion of a movie phenomenon, Lewis knows it’s potentially make or break time.
In the second part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Neville Longbottom emerges from the shadows of the lead characters, and heads up a resistance force of Hogwarts students battling against the evil Lord Voldemort.
It’s the peak of the narrative for a character which runs parallel with a career high for Lewis. After a decade as one of the few cast members to star in all eight wizard movies, he’ll gain global exposure like never before.
“Neville’s story arc comes to an end and you discover what the point of it all is – in other words why he was in Griffindore in the first place,” he says. “It actually shows that he could have been Harry Potter had the prophecy gone the other way.
“But I don’t know exactly what is in the final film yet. I’ve seen bits I’ve worked on, a lot of it is in there and it’s actually better than I thought it was going to be. The director, David Yates, has done a great job.”
Up to now, Longbottom has always been much more of a supporting character to the leads. But the latest instalment is expected to see him vie with Radcliffe, Grint et al, to steal some long-overdue limelight.
All will be revealed at the London premiere tonight when the Harry Potter circus takes over Trafalgar Square. The film goes on general release next Friday and in the run-up numerous bus stops and billboards are carrying posters picturing Longbottom with blood running down the side of his face.
It’s a striking image from the closing, violent battle scene, and it could make fans view him in a whole new light.
Lewis, 22, certainly hopes so, as much as he’s loved his alter ego, he’s also keen to use this moment as a springboard into a whole new chapter.
“It’s been brilliant playing Neville,” he says. “But I very much do want to move on now, I want to do something different and hopefully the change of image will help with that too.
“But I think, above anything else, the new release will hopefully show that there’s more to me as an actor.
“Of course I’m worried about what happens next. Everyone in my situation does – whether it’s a soap opera or a movie, you’re bound to be connected to it, but that’s also what fires you up and motivates you to do new stuff.
“Dan (Radcliffe) did a brilliant thing because, you’d think he’d be the one that would struggle after Harry Potter, but he went off and did Equus which was a very brave, clever move. It wasn’t one I could have done mainly because I’m not keen on taking my clothes off in the West End!
“But I don’t hate being Neville, I could never hate it because of where it’s got me and what I’ve achieved.”
Over the past 10 years the lad from Horsforth has travelled the world meeting everyone from Paul McCartney to The Queen.
Then there’s the acting greats he’s starred alongside in the movies – Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Gary Oldman and, of course, Ralph Fiennes.
He has a back catalogue of unbeatable anecdotes ranging from the minor – chatting about making scrambled eggs with Alan Rickman – to really quite major – having his eardrum accidentally pierced during filming by a wand-brandishing Helena Bonham Carter.
It’s all left him more worldly and more wealthy, but he still wants more out of life.
“I’m very fortunate because I’m in a position where I’ve got money and I can go and take a chance on stuff,” he says. “Am I set up for life? No, I need to go on and work. I need to get out there because, apart from anything else, I can’t just sit around doing nothing.”
Lewis admits to jetting out to LA two years ago for talks with agencies about potential projects, but he also admits he felt it was premature given the fact that the Harry Potter franchise was yet to draw to a neat end. “I’ve still got quite a few friends out there though,” he says, clearly leaving that door ajar.
Now he feels no restrictions and as well as considering a future production in London is currently reading a couple of movie scripts.
Making the transition from the movies to other genres has been difficult for someone used to being Neville. First he took a chance on featuring in an independent movie, The Sweet Shop, but the project has been put on indefinite hold after the lead actor, Seb Hurtado, committed suicide.
More recently he had a supporting role in Verdict, a touring version of the Agatha Christie play, which saw him spend six months performing almost 200 shows. It was initially something of a low point.
“It was something so incredibly different to what I was used to and I just couldn’t do it at first,” he admits. “It was such hard work and in the beginning I was saying: ‘I just CAN’T do this!’ because it’s such a different school of acting with the stage.
“In a theatre everything is about projecting, it’s almost over-acting. But I’m so used to the close-up on camera and a microphone close to you. This was all very OUT and not what I’m used to.
“After the early performances of Verdict I was like: ‘I’m NEVER doing this again’. But the rest of the cast backed me and, after a month or so, by watching the other guys, I started to pick up on little things and work on stuff. Then the reviews were largely positive. Then I realised I could do it – and I’m not averse to doing it again.”
Would he ever consider quitting acting altogether? Perhaps move into an entirely different, even more lucrative career?
“No, not at all, I just want to act whether that means I’m getting paid a lot or nothing at all,” he says firmly. “I might have had the odd day where I’ve asked myself whether it’s what I really want to do for the rest of my life but the answer is always yes.
“So I don’t mind if it’s on TV, in a movie or on stage, I want to keep on acting. But even if I don’t ever work again I can still look back on Harry Potter and say I had a fantastic 10 years.”