A MONTH OF MAGIC: Hero Complex is counting down to the Nov. 19 release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1” — the penultimate film in the history-making “Potter” franchise — with exclusive interviews, photos, videos and reports from the set. Today’s post: Our Patrick Kevin Day catches up with actor Jason Isaacs to discuss the villainy of Lucius Malfoy and the current whereabouts of his flowing blond wig.
PKD: Have you said goodbye to the “Harry Potter” films?
JI: I came to the end of the line last Christmas. Sometime in December, I think it was. I’ve been trying to milk it as much as I can with a bit of ADR and publicity and stuff because I can’t bear to say goodbye. I don’t think any of us can.
PKD: What is it exactly that you can’t bear to leave — the people, the character, the story itself?
JI: All those and more. There’s lots to love about “Harry Potter.” All the things you normally experience on films, the very opposite is true of this. The set is a very happy and comforting place. Most sets are places with a throbbing undertone of fear that everyone’s taken the wrong job in the wrong thing. That no one’s going to watch the film, no one’s going to like the story, no one’s going to work again. Actors generally can float above that stuff, but there’s something very different going on with “Harry Potter.” You know you’re making a story that you love taking part in and that you know people will obsess over. It’s the difference between throwing a party and wondering if anyone’s going to come and having the party people are having to wait to get into. Everything about it always feels right. So that’s just on the storytelling front. And then on the sheer star-struck front, I still pinch myself after almost a decade of it, that I get to go to work with the kinds of people I do. Where on most big special-effects films, you complain about all the time sitting around, there was never enough time sitting around if you’re sitting around with Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman and Bill Nighy and Jim Broadbent and Imelda Staunton and on and on.
PKD: It seems like being in the “Harry Potter” cast is as noted in the English acting community now as coming from the Royal Shakespeare Company.
JI: Yeah, I agree. Forget the pleasure of being in it, which is magical and I’ll never forget. I feel sorry for the people who have not managed to get into this club over the course of 10 years because now the doors are shut. And there’s a finite number of us. There’s that sense of having to join the ranks of it. When every year there’s a new film, there’s another two or three people to join the cast. I’ve an awful lot of friends who were waiting for the call up and now it’s not going to happen.
PKD: Did the book series coming to an end – and knowing that ending – change your interpretation of the character filming movies based on earlier books in the series?
JI: Yeah, I feel quite lucky actually because Lucius had an actual journey. There’s a number of characters that didn’t change that much but he started off being such an arrogant [jerk] and a monstrous bigot and racist that I was hoping he’d get his comeuppance at some stage. But I didn’t imagine I’d be so publicly deflated and humiliated. Lucius thought he’d stand by Voldemort’s side and fall with him. Instead I’ve been completely emasculated by him and rejected by everybody, and as an actor it’s a tremendously juicy thing to do, not play the same part time after time. So after all that early hope and arrogance, I think it is very satisfying to the audience and to me to see him so crushed.
PKD: Did you get to keep your Malfoy wig?
JI: No, I didn’t. I did ask for it, funnily enough. There were many, many wigs. The style changed over the years – it ended up being slightly more Lady Gaga in the final incarnation. It started as Pamela Anderson, I think. There were many of them and I don’t know where they are – forming a band or something, I think.
PKD: Did you have any real-world model for your interpretation of Malfoy?
JI: When I got cast and looked at the first film, I saw Alan Rickman, who is the world’s greatest bad man and was tremendous as the sinister Snape, and I thought, “What the hell am I going to do? How am I going to pull off anything that’s in any way distinctive?” All I had to do was look around. I don’t know what you have in America, I’m not familiar with your rabidly right-wing politicians, but we have plenty of people in Europe standing up and saying the kinds of things and thinking the kinds of things Lucious thinks about racial separatism and racial purity and it’s really not far-fetched at all. It seems ripped from the daily headlines. So that sense of arrogance and entitlement is something you’ll see in any newspaper in Europe on any given day.
PKD: Would you say Lucius is the worst villain you’ve played?
JI: No, he’s not the worst. He’s a terrible coward. And in the end he doesn’t really get to do very much. He’s all bark and no bite, really. If he were capable of doing anything, he might be among the most vicious and the consequences would be calamitous. But he’s far more concerned with what he looks like and what he sounds like in the mirror and being in the newspaper than he is about taking action. And I think Voldemort’s quite right in seeing that he’s addicted to his status and addicted to his swanning around and spending too much time at the tailors and not enough time getting his wand sharpened.
PKD: Who would you say is worse than Malfoy?
JI: Col. Tavington in “The Patriot,” where he slaughtered all those prisoners and children. That’s relatively immoral behavior, depending on your standpoint. I played a monstrous character in a movie called “Tennis, Anyone…?” which was written and directed by Donal Logue that wasn’t seen by many people. My character was named Johnny Green and was as stomach-turning as it comes. I don’t imagine I’ve played that many villains. There was “The Patriot” and a number of other roles, but somehow those few roles have foisted themselves on the public consciousness and I don’t mind that at all.
PKD: Has the “Harry Potter” series over the course of eight years allowed you take more chances when you’re not doing these films?
JI: Yes, it has. It definitely has. It’s meant that putting my name to much smaller things makes them more likely to be financed. It’s meant that I can be slightly lazy as well. Occasionally, I can do things I think are fun or interesting, either on stage or on screen, that might not have an audience. But because I know I’ve got another nice, big, reasonably well-paid and high-profile job to go back to, I can do them.
PKD: I read how you read the first four “Harry Potter” books in three days’ time. Are you a big fan of children’s or fantasy literature?
JI: No, not at all. In fact I was slightly sniffy about these books. I didn’t understand why some of my contemporaries were laughing at them and asking if I’d read them. I take the tube a lot in England and grown-ups – people of drinking and volunteering for the army and marriageable age – were reading children’s books. I got slightly stuffy about it until I dove in myself. They’re so beautifully written, you’re transported. There’s great value in that. They’re such a beautifully realized escape. It’s like sitting on a magic carpet when you open the front cover.
PKD: There’s so much great detail in the books.
JI: I didn’t have kids when I got the job in “Chamber of Secrets.” They’ve been very generous with our schedule to allow me and lots of actors to do other things. But one of the things they did was schedule around the birth of my first daughter on “Chamber of Secrets.” So subsequently I’ve read an awful lot of children’s books. Not only did I enjoy the “Potter” books at the time, in retrospect, I see just how successful they are at appealing to many different ages. And they mean different things to kids at different ages. I’m actually on the first round of reading it to my 5-year-old now and I’m wondering at what point I stop. She keeps wanting to go on to the next book and I’m thinking about what point they get too grown-up. But she’s absolutely got her mental hooks into it and won’t let go. She’s seen the first two movies. I think they get too scary after that for her at this age.
PKD: Is it strange for your child to see you as the bad guy in a story she’s very involved in?
JI: They don’t really see me in it. My kids also like “Peter Pan,” which I thought was a beautiful film, a P.J. Hogan film I was in. And they don’t really see me. It’s not really me on the screen. It looks a little bit like me, but they forget that in about five seconds. I’m glad they don’t really get it. They’ve been on the set of “Harry Potter” a number of times and they can see that it gets a response from their friends, but to them it’s just Dad at work and they have more fun in the trailer. It’s an odd thing having fan interaction. When people come up and ask for a picture or an autograph, it’s something I hate to do when I’m with the kids. Because it’s just too surreal a dynamic for them to take on board. It’s like the world gets switched off for them. It’s like they just stop being for the few minutes I interact with fans and I’m nice and polite and take a picture and sign things. And then I turn around to them and they come to life again. It’s as if there’s a part of the world they’d rather not engage in. And so they’ll just live in denial of it. And I’d rather they do that than get too involved. It doesn’t seem like a healthy thing. I’d rather they like to watch “Peter Pan” because they like Peter Pan and they like mermaids and they’d like to be able to fly. I want them to like Harry Potter because they like Harry and they like Dobby and it’s incidental that the guy with blond hair looks a little bit like their dad.
PKD: You don’t want your kids associating you with the mean man on screen.
JI: No, I don’t think they would. Though when my daughter Lily was just a year and a half, I was swimming in the ocean in Australia and I got swept away by a wave and as I was out there bobbing up and down waiting and hoping they would see me, and waving my hands up in the air, knowing I was going to drown in a minute, I thought to myself: I should have left more video of me talking as me because all I’m leaving them is a bunch of bad-guy stuff.
PKD: What’s next for you?
JI: I’m speaking to you from Edinburgh, where I’m shooting a series for the BBC. When that’s finished, I’ve sold an idea to American television. So I’m trying to develop that. Actually, I’m slightly done with traveling the world. One of the many great things about “Harry Potter” is that normally I don’t care at all about the film – the end result, whether people watch it. I like the process of making it. I can’t go out for a ride with a wizard, but I can go out riding with cops, which I find fascinating. It’s the making of the film that I like. It’s what all of us like to do. Except with “Harry Potter.” There’s something about the pleasure that it gives to the world that makes it a joy to be around. There’s also the thing of working at home. Knowing you’re working in London and once every couple of years knowing you can sleep in your own bed. Most people who don’t spend their life on the road and in hotel rooms don’t appreciate what that means. I’ve had a lot of years of enjoying myself in Holiday Inns and airports and becoming an air-miles gazillionaire. But I’ve been looking at doing a lot more television recently because I like to see my kids every weekend. Because I know that one day it’ll be car keys and rehab and right now it’s cookies and ice skating and I’m trying to bank the good bits.
PKD: What’s the BBC series about?
JI: It’s based on a series of crime novels by a woman named Kate Atkinson that are very popular here. Det. Jackson Brodie — he’s a very unusual detective. He doesn’t really do any detecting. He does a lot more intuiting and empathizing. He’s an interesting guy. Oddly, I’ve avoided being the detective almost my whole acting life. That’s one of the staples of the acting world. I’d done the audio books of the Kate Atkinson novels, and I played all the characters. I played hundreds of characters. So when they came to me to see if I wanted to play the main character on TV it seemed like synchronicity.
— Patrick Kevin Day
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