‘Harry Potter’ countdown: Toby Jones say ‘unrepeatable’ franchise will stand alone forever

Oct. 15, 2010 | 3:17 p.m.

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 set-visit reports. Today’s post: Toby Jones reflects on life as a house elf.

Dobby in "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets." (Warner Bros.)

When “Harry Potter” fans approach actor Toby Jones on the street, he says they often make the same request of him.

“Are you Dobby?” they squeal. “Do Dobby! Go on, do Dobby.” But Jones, whose voice helped bring the beloved oddball house elf to life in the “Harry Potter” films, doesn’t even do the high-pitched, cracking voice when reading the books with his young daughters, Holly and Madeleine.

“I always resist it, and it’s not because I’m a hardhearted, child-catching sort of a person; it’s more that it actually takes quite a lot of warming up to be able to do it,” Jones said during a recent interview. “I get [my daughters] to do the voice. The voice is such a strain on my own voice that I try and keep it to a minimum.”

Though the British character actor is perhaps best known in the U.S. for his role as Truman Capote in “Infamous,” he is best loved as the pint-sized meddler in the second film, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.” After an eight-year absence from the big screen, the diminutive Dobby is poised to return in a big way for the two-part cinematic adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s final novel in the bestselling fantasy series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I,” opening Nov. 19.

“Everyone’s aware of the significance of these last two films,” Jones said. “There’s a much greater sense of expectation and obligation with the last two films.”

Toby Jones as Truman Capote. (Warner Independent Pictures)

In the final book, Dobby becomes a pivotal figure in Harry’s fight against the dark lord Voldemort, and Jones said he was excited to have the opportunity to reprise the role.

“I think that [Dobby] will make a big impact in this film, from my work on it,” Jones said. “We haven’t really finished work on it yet. There’s still work going on, but everyone knows what happens to Dobby. All the fans know what happens to Dobby, and I hope it will live up to expectations.”

Jones said he felt the responsibility more keenly now than when he was working on “Chamber of Secrets,” in part because of the character’s heroic actions in the seventh installment. But Jones also admits that when he was first cast as the kindhearted house elf, he hadn’t read the books.

Jones as Truman Capote. (Warner Independent Pictures)

“I was aware that Harry Potter was a big deal, but the movies hadn’t quite become the phenomenon that they are now,” Jones said. “When I told people I was going to be doing the movie and the voice of Dobby, they were kind of awestruck, the people who knew about Harry Potter. I felt rather guilty that I didn’t really understand the scale of the job I was about to take on. Now, I am well aware of what I’m doing, and actually, it feels a very serious acting responsibility.”

CGI characters in kids’ movies often run the risk of being seen as cloying or, worse, annoying. But Dobby is beloved for his earnestness and dedication — nuances Jones was able to explore by treating Dobby the way Harry and friends try to: like a human being.

“All I’ve done is what you do with any character,” Jones said. “I think he’s a character of extreme emotions, and I try to make them so they’re not ridiculous but more linked to humans, how we feel. He probably feels things more intensely.”

Potter fans tell Jones that Dobby in the movie is “exactly” how they imagined him in the book, Jones said. “Enough people have said it for me to feel confident I’m doing something right,” he said. “I think I’m very lucky in that people bring so much affection to the character, and I don’t take it for granted that people could have said, ‘Well, that’s not at all how we imagined him.’ ”

Jones is quick to praise the technicians at Industrial Light and Magic for their role in bringing Dobby to the screen, describing the technological development in CGI since 2002 as “extraordinary.”

“It’s fantastic animation from those people, and I always feel they get slightly neglected, and I get all the credit for Dobby,” Jones said. “I think it’s a sort of link of what I propose and what they are frankly able to deliver, which delivers the character. … Compared to the Dobby that was developed and appeared in the second film, I’ve been able to be much more involved in terms of my movement, and in terms of what I can offer vocally, and in terms of my acting.”

Of course, plenty of other things have changed since the last time Jones ventured into the world of “Harry Potter.” (For starters, the last time he worked with Potter stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, they were children.) But, unlike when he was working on “Chamber of Secrets,” there was a palpable feeling on the set of the two-part finale that something “unrepeatable” was drawing to a close, he said.

“It’s hard to imagine a film franchise ever being like this again: using children who grow up with the franchise, that the franchise is so successful, that it sort of grows in that way,” he said. “You feel that it’s the end of a very specific epoch for not just the actors and not just the audience, but also for the technical crew and everyone. … It’s sort of like a family they’ve been developing over 10 years, which is quite remarkable in the world of film. Not since the studio system, I imagine, did you ever have that. It’s a sort of phenomenon, and I feel very grateful that I was chosen to be part of it.”

– Noelene Clark

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