Q&A: Matthew Lewis

Actor


Matthew Lewis has spent half his life making Harry Potter movies. Cast as Neville Longbottom in Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone at age 10, he’s appeared in all eight films, slowly evolving from an awkward tween to one of the series’s bravest characters. In Toronto for the premiere of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2 earlier this week, Lewis talked about growing into his character, what he’s learned from working with the massive cast and his sudden notoriety as a hottie of Hogwarts.

You’ve literally grown up on the Harry Potter set. Some of the other actors have called it the best drama school they could ever have wanted. What was it like to be surrounded by all these British movie stars?

I feel like I learned so, so much. Things that they probably never intended to teach…. I just tried to absorb so much. Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes – their professionalism, the careers they’ve had and yet the lack of ego. How can they be so lovely and so easy to work with and get on with? That’s really inspiring, actually, and I think it’s helped everyone stay very, very grounded. They’re just people – Michael Gambon tells filthy jokes, and Alan Rickman talks about scrambled eggs. It’s just what people do, and it’s nice.

It wasn’t intimidating? I’ve met some of them, and I certainly was… except for Robbie Coltrane – he’s practically Santa.

Robbie Coltrane, what a guy. Robbie and I were out in Orlando for the opening of the [Harry Potter] theme park, and we went to NASA. Robbie’s huge into space shuttles and mechanics and all that kind of stuff. We had a great time. He was doing a tour of the U.S. in an old car that he’d renovated himself. He found an old space shuttle book… and he thought of me and sent it to me. What a lovely thing to do. It just shows you that those guys, no matter how big they are, they’re just regular, lovely people.

You’ve spoken of your admiration for Alan Rickman.

I’ll tell you something about Alan Rickman. On his last day, I went to his trailer to tell him how amazing he is, because he was a personal hero of mine, and I’d never told him over the whole filming process, but I thought, “Last day, I may as well go and admit it.” And I expected him to just say thanks and close the door. He said “Come in, sit down,” and we chatted about what was next. That’s why I’m doing theatre – because he told me to. When Alan Rickman tells you to do something, you do it.

Now that it’s all finally done, has it been hard to leave Hogwarts behind?

Gee, just so much. The familiarity of everything, knowing everybody, being able to experiment with the role and not having to worry about it – being able to fail, and not having to be concerned with anything. Again, it’s that part of there being no egos on set, and everyone just being such good friends, and I’ll miss that. Every time you start a new job, you have to get to know everybody, and it’s a nerve-racking time. We never really had that with Potter – well, in the beginning of course, but after that first time, we’d come back and we’d just get on with it.

Is there anything specific that you’ll miss?

I tell you what I’ll really miss – I’ll miss being able to present our films to the fans at premieres. I finished the filming, and I never felt the emotion that everyone’s now talking about. I didn’t really get it. It was sad, but I never felt like crying or anything like that – and then we got to the premiere in London just last week. I looked out over this sea of people and realized this was the last time I’m gonna be presenting our film, Harry Potter, to these fans – and we really do have the best fans in the world.

So, Neville’s kind of a badass in this one – defending the bridge to Hogwarts, standing up to Lord Voldemort and doing that thing with the sword. Did they send you to action camp for this one?

We’ve always trained. Me, Dan [Radcliffe], Alfie [Enoch], a couple of the guys – for the last couple of years, we’ve been training with the stunt team. Kick-boxing, martial arts, various circuit training – you know, just to try and stay in shape. The stunt team is much more confident in letting us do stunts when they know what we’re capable of, [and] it definitely relaxes the insurance people. On this last film, the guys felt confident with me, and I tried to do as much as possible.

Sword training was something we had to do – I’d not really had to wield a sword too often in my 22 years. I play a lot of sport back home, so I’m sort of used to the physical exertion side, but we got pushed a lot. I mean, we went on some pretty late nights, two, three in the morning, just running up and down that bridge. But it looked great. I was so pleased with it.

And somehow your biggest moment is a dialogue scene with Ralph Fiennes.

I’ll tell you something about Ralph – he’s frightening. That scene where Neville steps forward and stands up to Voldemort, we read through the lines in our own clothes. Ralph had hair, he had a nose [laughter]. And I don’t know whether he meant to do it – whether it was part of his method acting or he had a plan or what – but he just stared at me, he never took his eyes off me. It looked literally like he was staring into my soul. I didn’t know what to do.

And then we went away, got dressed, got [our] makeup on and came back to do it – and it worked. Everybody else just melted away, and I had this tunnel vision, just me and Ralph. I realized I really had to up my game, because [he’s] so brilliant. So intense. And he’s not like that in real life. [laughs]

The British press has responded by tagging you as the movie’s breakout star. How does that feel?

I’m overwhelmed by it all, to be honest. I mean, looks aside for a moment, I’m just so pleased to have the positive responses from reviewers and fans. This is the one I really wanted to get right for Neville. The moments that Neville has in this film were kind of crucial, and I knew as a fan how important they were and I wanted to make sure we really nailed them. So to hear the critical responses, it’s lovely and very overwhelming…. I’m very awkward with it. It’s not something that I’m used to.

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