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words: CLEO DAVIS
photography: CATHERINE HARBOUR
Tom Felton has spent the last decade (and the best part of his teenage years) with bleached hair and a hoard of Harry Potter fans in tow, winning this year’s MTV Movie Award for Best Villian for his portrayal of Potter’s sworn enemy, Draco Malfoy. But having played the role for 10 years, he is now enjoying branching out as an actor. And with a list of new projects on the go, there’s no rest for the wicked.
Recognise Magazine: You were part of the biggest literary phenomenon of the Noughties. How did you cope with the attention?
Tom Felton: Well, when we made “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” there was no guaranteed sequel. It wasn’t as huge to begin with, especially not as big as it is now.
I’m lucky because I come from a quiet country town; I was born in Epsom (Surrey) and raised in Leatherhead. I just recently moved to Dorking. I was never treated differently. I have three older brothers who were a bit mean to me, as they wanted to be actors too. I have normal friends who have no interest in what I do, as I have no interest in what they do. We’d rather watch the cricket. I’ve also got great parents, people think that I must have had a pushy mother but she was the opposite, she wanted me to stay at school.
How did you get into acting and was it a childhood dream of yours?
I was always that sad kid sat in front of the mirror, imitating Jim Carey. I was always quite expressive and Mum thought the best thing to do was to put me in drama club after school. We did shows like “Bugsy Malone” and “Carousel”. The teacher twisted my mother’s arm to get me an agent and two weeks later I was doing a television advert.
How did you make the transition materialise from doing commercials to being part of one of the biggest film events in history?
After a few years of doing a bit of acting, I was told about these open auditions. I was a bit out of my element, everyone else knew about the book. They were asking what our favourite bits in the book were and the kid before me said, “I love the goblins and Gringotts” and I didn’t have an answer so I just said, “the same as him”. Chris Columbus who was the director of the first two films saw straight through me and I think he found some secret amusement in my response.
Did JK Rowling attend the auditions?
She wasn’t at the auditions but I’m sure she saw our takes before approving us. I didn’t meet her until half way through the first film.
The Harry Potter books had an international fan base before the films even came out. I imagine that every single kid who had read it wanted to be in it.
How many people were you up against for Draco?
I didn’t count but probably a few thousand. I actually went for the part of Harry the first four times and then Ron before Draco, so I had about eight auditions in total.
Did you realise what the role meant at the time, and how it was going to change your life from then on?
I didn’t realise what a massive success it was going to be. I just enjoyed acting so the job could have been a local play and I’d have been happy. Money wasn’t something that I, as an 11-year-old, really cared about, and I enjoyed school, so I wasn’t trying to avoid that.
Did your life change drastically from that moment?
Yes it did. I was lucky that I didn’t have to quit school, because some of the others did. Attending school allowed me to have a normal social life.
You have a huge fan base, with lots of girls in particular. What’s the most popular question that fans ask you?
Hair is a popular topic – I get asked how often I bleach it. Last year I had a bleach tally for every time I dyed it and I put it on Twitter. I forget how many times it was – possibly 20.
How did you feel when they said you were going to have to dye it? Did you worry it wouldn’t suit you?
Well I had to dye it brown for Harry, ginger for Ron and I was in the skateboarding stage so I thought it was cool, and Eminem was around so it was even cooler.
In an interview, JK Rowling said that a lot of kids prefer to dress up as Malfoy rather than Harry and that people are “getting too fond of Draco”. Do you think it’s slightly worrying that kids love the bad guy?
I guess people love to hate. I remember watching pantomimes and booing the bad guy, and never cheering the hero.
Is it more fun to play the villain rather than a “goody two shoes” character like Harry?
Undoubtedly. I feel lucky because some of the cast members are very similar to their character so it’s easier for me that I can switch into something different. I can go over the top with it.
Do you ever get a little too involved with the character and start pulling pranks on set?
Time is money on set so you don’t want to mess around. I left my phone on a chair once and it started ringing and I was looking around thinking who’s is that… Oh, it’s mine. We had a ‘red card’ tin, which meant a £10 fine every time our phones went off as it messed up the tape.
Do you ever get booed on the street?
Not on the street. Americans are keen to boo. When I young, I was invited to present a kids Bafta award. I got to meet Neil Morrissey backstage and I was terrified. When I got on stage everyone booed me – they found it funny. I actually found it funny, it’s nice to have something a bit unique.
Your role was playing a bully – do you worry about being typecast and forever associated with Draco Malfoy?
Yeah, but I don’t see it as a problem. I’ve been doing this for ages but I’m still so young – I was only 23 yesterday (23rd September). I thoroughly enjoy playing someone who’s completely the opposite to me and I think any actor would say the same.
Has the Harry Potter connection been a hindrance or help when auditioning for new parts?
It’s gone both ways after Harry Potter. As soon as you walk in they say “Harry Potter”. But I’m lucky because my hair is not bleached anymore. I look like the guy from the film but not actually him.
Who are you closest to from the Harry Potter team and hang out with off set
We all share a bond and have always been professional and friendly. Daniel is a good friend, I look up to him for his acting. We’re both lovers of cricket and English country pursuits. We’ve been to Lord’s a few times but now filming is stopping I want to meet up with everyone again. We’re such a tight cast we won’t fall apart.
Having done a whopping eight Harry Potter films, you have worked with renowned directors like Alfonso Cuaran and David Yates, but if you had the opportunity outside of Harry Potter, which director would you work with in the future?
Edward Zwick, who directed “Legend of the Fall” which was one of Brad Pitt’s early ones. Alejandro Gonzalez, Mexican guy who did “Babel” and “Twenty-One Grams”. Other than that, David Yates who directed the last four Harry Potters. I would love to work with him on something un-wizard-related.
Your older brothers were also into acting. Was there ever any rivalry or jealousy when you got the part of Malfoy?
To be fair, my oldest brother is 30 now. He quit acting the day I got my first film. I don’t know what that was about. He’s a chiropractor now, which is his true calling.
Have you ever met JK Rowling and did she ever give you all advice on how to play Draco?
We’ve met a few times, and she sent me a nice letter after “The Half Blood Prince”. She said I was really evil and menacing which is the ultimate compliment. My brother opened it and told me it was from some woman called Jo and I saw the envelope with an owl on it. It was handwritten and now it’s framed on my wall. It’s always great to get the director’s compliments but it’s amazing coming from JK. She’s very smart and I didn’t know if she thought I was any good at the part. It’s such a nice relief to get the ultimate reward.
Were there many negatives stemming from your role, like bullying or jealousy at school?
Not really bullying – I got verbally bullied but I did it back so it’s more like banter. Turning up to school with bleached blonde hair just looked bizarre. I looked like an albino. A lot of the older kids didn’t know what I was doing so they just probably wondered why I looked like that. Harry Potter wasn’t the coolest thing in the world for them.
Did you explain to them what you were doing or did you just let them find out for themselves?
No, you just take the bad with the good. I was having such a good time with my friends that I wasn’t going to let it ruin my day.
You were involved in the Soccer Aid charity match in 2008. How did that come about?
I do get roped into things. They asked me to do it two weeks before they were playing as they didn’t have enough people. I said I had no footy qualifications. I can’t even kick the ball and said I’d just embarrass them. But they said they were really struggling, they had nobody for a young audience, so I said I would do it.
There are lots of professional footballers that play in that aren’t there? Did you manage to keep up and show off your skills?
I played with some amazing footballers – England’s greatest, such as Shearer, Sherringham, Seaman, Le Saux and Redknapp. We had three days of training before we went on the pitch so I thought I’d give it my all. Harry Redknapp was managing and I don’t think he was keen on me. It’s been a long time since I’ve run for that long so I kept getting stitches. By the time the match came round my legs were killing me. But it was ok – I didn’t let the guy go past me to score an open goal. It was really cool because all my friends are football nuts and they were so jealous. That was half the reason I did it so they could come and watch!
As a young actor with thousands of Harry Potter fans watching your every move, is it important for you to do charity work and set a good example?
I’ve been involved with Great Ormond St and some hospitals in America. You can change people’s day by just saying hi, and that’s a real honour. The football was for UNICEF – they only have to show you a 10-minute video for you to know you’re doing it for a good cause. There are lot harder ways to help people than playing football.
You must spend a lot of time working in the city. Do you like to escape?
I am a country boy but my lovely girlfriend is from north London so she’s brought me round to the delights of the city. I love going to the theatre. I try to go every other week. If I had it my way I’d have a country pad and a little place in the city. It’s nice once you’re home, it’s just the middle bits. I’ve spent a lot of time on the M25 in the last few years.
So what’s next? Any exciting projects in the pipeline or do you think you need a tenyear break after Harry Potter?
On the acting side, I’ve just finished shooting “The Apparition”, with Twilight’s Ashley Greene and I’m going to LA next week to do some reshoots. I shot a film in Vancouver which is the “Rise of the Apes”, the prequel to “Planet of the Apes”. I played an English gentleman called Dodge, who’s not the nicest chap. I had lots of fun shooting for four weeks in Vancouver with James Franco and Andy Serkis. I’m about to go to New Orleans to do an independent film called “From the Rough” based on golf in America and the adventure of four young golfers.
Harry Potter is a huge hit across the pond too, so how do you find America? Have you been to the Harry Potter theme park in Florida?
Yes I was there for the opening. Americans don’t do things by halves. It’s built like the whole book, its not selling merchandise and the greatest thing is that no branding is allowed, so you can’t buy anything from the muggle world like Coke or McDonalds. You just have things like Shepherds pie and butter beer and odd concoctions.
Are there any scary rides?
Not really, they’re more enchanting. The food and drink were the highlight for me and so were the massive sweet shops.
Harry Potter films are shot in many different countries. Where was your favourite location?
Well in the end it worked out cheaper to build whatever they wanted at the studio rather than travelling. Scotland was fun – we were supposed to be there for four days but we ended up staying for four weeks! It was a bit of an adventure; my brother was my chaperone, which was more fun than if it had been my mum.
You’ve got some music on YouTube, which has been kept quite under the radar. Was that deliberate? Is this something you’d like to pursue and is it going to take over from the acting?
It just a bit of fun and it got a warmer response than I had imagined. I was making music in my room so I put it on iTunes. Recently two friends wanted to invest in an album but I’m more interested in the idea of attracting young artists. I started my own record label. I want to do it under the radar – anyone who wants to find it can find it, but I don’t want to advertise myself. I don’t have an album cover with me on a broomstick. It’s more of a passion project.
Do you write your own music or are you just the front man?
Yes I write everything I’ve released or will release. I describe my tracks as nursery rhymes for adults because they’re not too serious.
Someone said it’s like a male Lily Allen why is that?
I sing with a British accent so maybe it’s that. Someone referred to me as an English Jack Johnson. I take it as nothing but a compliment.
What’s the vibe?
It’s quite Jack Johnson-esque; just one man and his guitar, nothing too serious. Simple.
[New Post] @TomFelton talks music, Potter and more in @recognisemag (new pics!) http://feltbeats.com/2010/11/06/tom-felt…
One of his best interviews! Thanks so much for sharing! ^__^
me likey pictures <33333 Tom es muy muy muy guapo
Did anyone else think it was funny that he called the soccer field a pitch lol :)) Clearly not a football fan our Tom.
Clearly you are not from the UK.
In the United Kingdom, we call it a pitch-not a ‘Soccer Field’.
I haven’t the faintest idea why this young man likes to make himself look so rough-hewn. He’s a post 80’s. Tom, be normal.
Fantastic interview, and I LOVE the last picture! It’s just simply amazing! As soon as I saw it, I thought he was either crying or in pain! I just want to give him a huge hug!!
I agree, that I’d to reread it a second time before posting! *lol*
Thomas, your maturity shows more and more in your responses, as well as your honesty.
And if I wanted somebody to take me around the delights of the English countryside, that would be you. For I’m pretty sure you’ve got much to teach me than I.
I love Tom in interviews… he is so sweet and down to earth… a very well put together young man!! I love the pics too… just gorgeous!!
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