IGN has published an interview with Tom on their site – he talks about ‘Murder in the First’ and more:
Tom Felton on Playing a Tech Industry Prodigy Turned Suspect in Murder in the First
Known by millions of people around the world for his portrayal of Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series, Tom Felton is taking on his first role in a US TV series with Murder in the First. Debuting Monday on TNT, the show comes from legendary TV producer Steven Bochco (Hill Street Blues, LA Law, NYPD Blue) and Eric Lodal and centers on detectives Terry English (Taye Diggs) and Hildy Mulligan (Kathleen Robertson) investigating two seemingly unrelated murders. Felton plays Erich Blunt, a hugely successful Silicon Valley prodigy, who becomes of great interest to English and Mulligan when he turns out to be a common denominator connection to both of the victims.
Earlier this year, after Felton had shot the pilot for Murder in the First, but before he had begun work on the rest of the series, I sat down with the actor to discuss his new role and just how much of a “bad guy” the antagonistic Erich is. We also discussed J.K. Rowling’s upcoming new Harry Potter spinoff film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and his thoughts on being part of the Potter legacy.
IGN TV: This is your first U.S. TV show. What made you interested in the project?
Tom Felton: Honestly, the character. The characters had a lot of edgy, dynamic personalities. It’s hard, because you’re signing up for 10 episodes, and you only get one. Upon reading the first one and saying, “Who’s doing it?” and seeing the wonderful names — not only acting in it but also directing it — I was like, “This sounds like a no-brainer. Let me just read the next nine episodes, and we’ll put our thumbs up.” I was told then, “No, no, no. They haven’t been written yet!” So I was like, “Well, what’s going to happen? How am I supposed to base my decision not knowing?” So I kind of had to be educated on how TV works in the states. But it’s been such a pleasant experience. I feel like I really landed on my feet with Steven and Eric, because they’ve been very open with communicating with me about what sort of character it is.
Ultimately, yeah, it was the character, but now I’m learning that working with people where you feel like you have an easy relationship is actually the best part of it all. I think in a way you’re not allowed to be creative if you don’t feel comfortable in your skin. Even when I said yes to it and got the part, which I was very excited about, I didn’t know at all if this was going to be something that I was going to be kicking myself in a few months thinking, “Argh, I shouldn’t have signed up to it,” but quite the opposite. I’m so excited about what’s to come.
IGN: Like you said, you go into a show like this and they don’t have all the scripts yet. How much have they told you, especially it being a whodunit?
Felton: Oh, sure — nothing! [Laughs] I had to Skype, which is terrible, to do meetings with Skype, because that two-second delay really kills any sort of fluent conversation — but I was very keen to know. I figured in my mind, actually, I couldn’t do it unless I knew what was going to happen. Eric and Steven were as tightlipped as ever. When we started shooting, I actually realized that there’s a lot of credit in not knowing what’s going to happen. They know exactly. They’ve got the story completely mapped out in their head, and it’s quite nice when you’re portraying the character to not even know whether this guy is lying or not. You’re told that he’s telling the truth, but you don’t know that. So I think that holds a certain excitement. I’ve given up trying to press them for answers, you know, “Did he do it? Did he not?” So now I’m just getting a script a week, and I’m reveling in the pages.
IGN: Is it interesting though deciding on your performance, because it could be a crucial moment if he’s being asked this question and if he’s completely lying or not. So how do you balance your performance so that you can play it both ways?
Felton: That was my whole argument to start with. I said, “I’m not very comfortable doing a scene if two weeks later you’re going to tell me that, “Oh, you were actually lying.” I thought I should know that. But quite the opposite. Obviously, having Steven and Eric on-board, you feel pretty comfortable in their previous work. We had [The West Wing’s] Tommy Schlamme directing the first one, who really — any doubts that were there, he completely eradicated. So it’s great to work with people where you have absolute faith… Even when you feel like you’re doing something not right or not great, you just have complete faith. They know what they’re capturing, they know what they’re after, so I feel like I’m in their hands really. I’m at the mercy of their writing. That’s what made me initially uncomfortable, and now that actually kind of makes the whole project exciting.
IGN: Erich seems very much a product of this time. We’ve seen guys like this, but how would you describe him?
Felton: Well, Eric and I, when we first talked about it, he was like, “He’s the future rock star.” How Guns ‘n Roses and The Beatles were idolized in their time, the rock stars of today are now these young tech guys, people who essentially have very little social skills, weren’t the cool kids at school. For the past 100 years, these guys have almost been ignored. Now the likes of Zuckerberg or whoever it may be, these young CEOs who are starting companies, are now the most powerful people on the planet. I wouldn’t want to guess the average age of people working at Google, but I’m sure it’s pretty young! So that was really exciting actually, diving into that world. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to go up and see Googleplex, but Steven and Eric had, and they really painted a vivid picture of how the boundaries of office spaces and stuff like that have all gone. There’s this new modern way of doing business. Other than that — his obvious tech abilities — there’s a ruthlessness to his character. Tommy and I talked about the sort of psychopathic tendencies that a character like this kind of needs to have, because I don’t see him as a bad guy. He’s not a villain at all. I just see him as a guy who doesn’t have an ability to empathize or to really care about someone else’s feelings. His vision and his dreams are so strong — I feel like his path of thought is so above what everyone else is thinking that he’s definitely a unique individual. You know, not knowing what’s going to happen does make me feel slightly nervous about how defined I think the character is, because he may be someone completely different in episode three. [Laughs] That’s when I’ll be calling you saying, “Can you scratch that answer I gave you, Eric?” [Laughs]
IGN: [Laughs] “Let’s do an update there.” You mentioned the rock star aspect. He definitely seems to have fallen into that thing of very quickly becoming accustomed to being catered to and thinking he’s a very superior person in a lot of ways. You also mentioned not seeing him as a bad guy, and I know every actor says, even if you’re playing the guy who’s the villain on the poster, you don’t think, “I’m the bad guy!” because then that character wouldn’t play.
Felton: Of course not, sure.
IGN: Have you talked about what he was like growing up and what would make him the guy he is today?
Felton: Yeah, and we have pieces about his childhood that we know about. But ultimately, he’s one of these individuals that you meet that has such certainty of what they’re saying and what they’re doing and what their vision is that nothing you say could possibly alter their way of seeing it. Some people would meet someone like that and deem that vastly arrogant or being very cocky, but that’s definitely not his — for someone who essentially got bullied at school and they suddenly now have money, fame and power, it’s very easy to think that, “Oh, he’s going to turn into this hugely arrogant guy who demeans everyone else.” He doesn’t do that at all. I just think his passion for what he wants to create is so strong that he may come across as being, not condescending, but definitely on another level, I think.
IGN: Is it true what they say though, that you definitely have some fun when you get to play a character like this, whether it’s an outright “villain” or simply someone who’s so antagonistic?
Felton: Oh, are you kidding me? It’s so much fun. People don’t think about it as well that we’re on set for 12 hours a day, and maybe actually shoot, roll cameras, for two or three of those hours. A lot of time, where it’s Tom, Taye [Diggs] and Kathleeen [Robertson], we’re not in character, obviously, and I get to speak in my own accent. It’s a lot of fun. We joke around, and the camera guys are showing us how the new flip-cam works. It’s a very, very fun atmosphere, and I’m a pretty easygoing guy. I like to chat and get the day going and stuff. But when they roll cameras, you get to completely lose that and turn into someone very different. It’s very nice. It’s very empowering. I feel like Kathleen and Taye, they’re not intimidated or put off by Tom at all, but when we’re in character, I feel there’s a real power being in Erich’s shoes. He has to say very little to get what he wants. There’s something really quite fun about that.
IGN: Nothing’s set in stone, but it would seem, based on the way that this series is structured with following this one crime for the one season, that your character, whatever happens this season, would probably be done with his story at the end of this season — but you never know.
Felton: Yeah, sure. I’m already fishing for a spinoff.
IGN: [Laughs] Right, right. Well, that actually leads me to my next question, because this is sort of a stepping stone for you as far as doing U.S. TV. But would you be willing or look for something that is more of an ongoing thing?
Felton: I already expressed my nervousness about stepping into this world, because it was one I didn’t know much about, and generally with films you don’t sign up to a seven-film thing — even with Harry Potter, we did one film at a time. We were never told we were going to do 10 years of filming. But yeah, as I just expressed about how excited I am to be working with these guys, I feel like if they told me now, “This is going to go on for a couple more seasons,” I’d be over the moon. I mean, there is still a massive desire to do as many things as possible. I feel like at this age you have to do that and just stretch your limits a bit — and not get too comfortable, I guess. A character as enjoyable as Erich is and working with people like Steven and Eric, to me, it’s a no-brainer. If I did this for the rest of my life, I’d be pretty lucky I think.
IGN: I have to ask you, what was your reaction hearing that J.K. Rowling was doing that new Harry Potter-universe movie?
Felton: Yeah! I’m still kind of mix-matched on the details. My first thought was, “Are we going back? Then I’d get to dye my hair blonde again.” I was getting kind of excited. But I know nothing. I’m literally an ignoramus. I was at one of these Comic-Cons not so long ago and someone asked me this, and they knew all the answers far better than I did. But as an obvious fan of her work, I’m just excited to geek out and see another story in that world. From what I understand, she’s not revisiting characters that she’s previously written, which I think is good. Not that she would, but why risk tainting such an amazing legacy of work? But I think, as we see with these Harry Potter theme parks and various films, there’s a desire for the magical world. It’s still as strong as ever. I’m excited for all the fans, that she’s allowing people to revisit that world in some capacity.
IGN: But if there was some opportunity…
Felton: Oh, are you kidding me? No-brainer! I’d be a tree. I’d do it just for the fun of it. I’m still lucky, back at home, I live not too far away from the Leavesden studio tours. Occasionally I’ll just throw myself in there and just have a little look around — freak out a couple of fans who are walking around.
IGN: People love that tour!
Felton: It’s actually really good. I was kind of prepared to think, “What junk have they managed to keep over the last 10 years?” but they’ve got everything — all the stuff that I hadn’t seen in eight years. So it’s really cool for me, when I start getting a bit doom-and-gloomy and want a taste of the past, I can just go walk back through there.
IGN: [Laughs] Is it like going back to your high school, in a weird way?
Felton: It is. I was going to say that I can’t speak for all the cast, but I think I can. We’re all so proud of what we did, I think, growing up there. I had someone ask me the other day, “What are you doing to try and shake off the burden of being in such a big franchise?” and I couldn’t think of that as a more ill question. I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of it, and hopefully I get to talk about it for the rest of my life. I’m definitely not trying to shake it off. So yeah, honestly, any excuse to revisit the cast and crew, especially somewhere as precious to us as Leavesden, is a great thing. I think what Warners have done there actually is really awesome. Every fan that I’ve seen there has had the best time — and it showed me how stuff was done, even I didn’t know! [Laughs] They did a good job, for sure.
credit: Eric Goldman / IGN