In the first “Harry Potter” film, released nine years ago this month, there’s a signature moment at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry with the Sorting Hat ceremony, in which a magical, sentient hat is placed on the head of each student to place him or her in one of the school’s four houses. In the scene, the hat — which has a face inside the folds of its brown, furrowed peak — hesitates with some students but makes an instant decision when it touches the blond hair of Draco Malfoy, who, clearly, belongs among the sinister ranks of Slytherin.
On a recent blue-sky afternoon in Burbank, the hat and Malfoy were reunited on the Warner Bros. lot. “Oh, I remember this old man,” actor Tom Felton, now 23, said as he picked up the floppy hat that was part of a “Potter” props and costume exhibit for tourists. The London native started to put the hat on and then, with a faraway expression, decided it was best if he just put it back with the other museum pieces. A little later, he said: “We’re all ready to move on. The experience has been amazing, to say the least, but it’s exciting to go on to something new.”
The opening weekend of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 1,” the seventh film in the series, has just pulled in a huge worldwide box-office take of $339 million, and fans already are bemoaning that they must wait until summer for the eighth and final film based on the J.K. Rowling novels about an orphaned boy wizard and his friends. For the young stars of the franchise, Felton among them, these are bittersweet days for a different reason: With principal photography complete, they have graduated from Hogwarts but aren’t sure if the rest of their acting careers can live up to the magic of their youth.
At the moment, no one has more film projects lined up than Felton, who has three movies between now and the end of 2011, not counting the “Potter” finale, and several more rumored. The month before “The Deathly Hallows — Part 2,” Felton will star opposite James Franco, John Lithgow and Andy Serkis in “Rise of the Apes,” the high-profile Fox revival of the “Planet of the Apes” property that is set in the present and introduces a genetic-engineering premise to the familiar mythology of an Earth gone ape. Felton also has the collegiate sports film “From the Rough” and, next September, “The Apparition,” a sci-fi thriller in which a dangerous campus experiment leads to contact with the afterlife — horrific contact, no surprise.
“It’s a sci-fi thriller with a dash of horror, and we shot it in Berlin,” Felton said of the Todd Lincoln film. “It’s based around the paranormal. Ashley Greene from the ‘Twilight’ films is the lead, and Sebastian Stan is in it. I thoroughly enjoyed working with them. My character is the instigator of all the madness, all the experiments, and he’s in search of proof, and, of course, that leads to the downfall of the group. It’s kind of in the tradition of ‘Flatliners,’ but there’s more of a horror element there, and it’s very technological.”
The emphasis on special-effects films and themes of the fantastic are no coincidence. Last summer, Felton became the only “Potter” cast member ever to appear at Comic-Con International, representing one of the Hogwarts films at the world’s largest pop-culture expo, and in front of a cheering crowd of 6,200, he got a strong reminder that genre work is a way to create a bond with a fervent sector.
“I love fans with passion, and I learned from the ‘Potter’ experience what it can be like to be part of something that gets people excited before they’ve even seen it,” Felton said. “It adds a certain pressure — it can turn into a love-and-hate thing too, because people are literally waiting for every screen-shot, every trailer and every new detail. They lean forward, and that’s what you want, that’s the way to lean.”
At last week’s New York premiere of “Hallows,” Felton was the picture of relaxed confidence as he spread rumors that his fellow cast members had gotten lightning bolts tattooed on their rear ends as a souvenir of their shared time in the world of wizards. “All good fun,” Felton said, exuding movie-star ease in front of the flashbulb barrage. Afterward, he said he had come to enjoy the celebrity glare that had seared the sensibilities of others his age. “You avoid the hype while you’re working, you have to, but the premiere is the one night of the year where you can enjoy it. … My heart used to race, and I used to worry about falling over or saying something. I’ve learned to enjoy them.”
In the eyes of the “Potter” brain trust, Felton has matured from that sneering bad seed of 2001 to an actor who shows flashes of the cerebral British malevolence of a young Malcolm McDowell. Director David Yates has praised “the shadings” that Felton brought to young Malfoy, a character who got caught up in a swirl of desperation, fear, family pressure and dark legacy as the franchise moved into its later installments. Oscar-nominated screenwriter Steve Kloves, who wrote seven of the eight “Potter” scripts, said Felton left the franchise as one of the sparkling graduates of the magical set.
“Tom has been plying his craft for a very long time and even as a child was a particularly deft actor,” Kloves said. “As Draco transformed over the last two pictures from mere foil to a haunted, multi-dimensional young man, Tom’s skill has only become more evident. … [In the sixth film,] Draco is slowly crumbling from within due to the pressures imposed on him from outside forces of great power. Tom reveals the fissures slowly, so that over the course of the movie the hairline fracture he displays early on becomes, by the conclusion, a shattering of the soul. He’s respectful of the written word and applies his energies to interpretation, with often quiet but thrilling results. He’s a writer’s dream.”
There are a significant number of “Potter” observers now engaged in career handicapping. Fans are even voting in online polls about which of the younger cast members will move on to bigger things and which will find the post-wizarding spotlight elusive. Emma Watson, who plays Hermione, has her academic pursuits at Brown University and alternatives beyond acting, such as the fashion world that she finds so compelling. Rupert Grint, who portrays Ron Weasley, seems less driven than some of his peers although Kloves and producer David Heyman predict his natural comedic timing and hound-dog charm will carry him far in his on-screen work. Radcliffe, the most intensely focused of the peer group, is turning his attention to the stage with a starring role in the Broadway revival of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and has lined up film work beyond that.
Felton, who shares a home with one his brothers back in England, said he truly admired the younger Radcliffe and had learned much by watching his friend’s dedication to craft. Felton said he marveled at the serendipity that put together a cast of young actors who meshed so well, and he said it was hard to say goodbye to the movie set where they grew up together. “It was a group that were picked, and we got on when we were 11, and we all got on when were 20, and that’s amazing to think about. The families had a lot to do with it, the people that did the casting had a lot to do with it, and then there was luck too.”
At the premiere last week in New York, there were rumors that reshoots needed for some scenes in the eighth film would be bringing the “Potter” stars back for spot duty, and sure enough, on Tuesday, reached by phone, Felton said he would be heading back to Leavesden Studios outside London for some fill-in work. That means getting back into the platinum-blond Malfoy mode, a look that the actor didn’t expect to revisit. The one-day reshoot is a bit of challenge for his schedule, but he said it’s worth it to make the final film perfect. And, he added, he hoped Rowling would someday extend her bookshelf saga so Draco Malfoy — and Tom Felton — could return to the stone corridors of Hogwarts. “It would be amazing. I would not say no, that’s for sure.”
— Geoff Boucher
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