Potter 3 more 'intimate, heavy drama' says Rankin
February 18, 2004 at 6:40 PM ET
Our very own editor Geri got a chance to sit down with actor Chris Rankin (Percy Weasley in the Harry Potter films) this morning. I'd personally like to thank Chris for the opportunity to pick his brain.
I'll let Geri's words set the mood:
Chris is one of the most down-to-earth people I have ever met. He exudes confidence and friendship. Meeting him, I would have to say, has been the highlight of my involvement in the Harry Potter fandom.
When I walked into the hotel in New York City and politely asked the front desk for his room I was unexpectedly told that there was no one by that name registered there. Quick waves of nausea filed my stomach - did I get the date wrong, was this the hotel? But just then Chris walked into the room looking around for someone who was going to interview him. So began my interview.
How did you find out that you got the part of Percy in the Harry Potter movies?
It was kind of bizarre really, I still don't understand it. It all happened really, really quickly in the summer of 2000. I saw something on telly about it and wrote off to the address they gave, and they said if you don't hear anything in two weeks you haven't got it, never write to us again, practically. Two weeks went by and nothing happened. In August, I'd gone on holiday and the day I'd come back there'd been a message on my phone, a London number. I rang it and was asked, "Do you want to come to an audition for the Harry Potter film tomorrow morning?" Well it was the morning of my school exams as well, so I had to go and do those (which was like the biggest thing ever for any 16-year-old) and then get on a train to London and go audition for the casting director. They had faxed the script so I could learn the lines the night before and I was there about 15-20 minutes, something like that. She said, "Oh, that's great, what are you doing next Tuesday, do you want to come and meet Chris Columbus and David Heyman, see the production crew and have another audition at the studios?" Yes, please!
Did you know what part you would be playing?
I asked to play Percy. I was 16 and ginger and I'd been a prefect at school - it was kind of me more than anything else. I suppose it was the part I could see myself suiting mostly because I had sort of the background for it. I didn't expect to get it in the first place anyway. Apparently just from the TV thing alone that I saw, they had well over 70,000 applications – I never saw anyone else with ginger hair when I was doing auditions. Rumor has it that Sean Biggerstaff was up for Percy Weasley, that's what I heard, long before I was even thinking about it. He'd been penciled in and then I came along and they rang him up and said, "Actually, do you want to play Oliver Wood?"
After you met with Chris Columbus how long did it take for you to know that you had gotten the part?
It was August bank holiday 2000, I had the audition on Tuesday afternoon and that evening Janet [casting director] rang and said, "You've done very well, they're really excited about your audition, touch wood this should go quite well for you." And then she rang me again on Wednesday afternoon and said, "You've got the part, you start next week."
I look at quite a few of them actually. To be honest, at the moment, that's where I get most of my news from. Well certainly HPANA is one of my favorites, I go on it most mornings just to see what's happening. I mean we all lead separate lives, so very few of us keep in touch that much. We spend so much time together, we just want to go home, have bit of a life when we've got the chance outside the movies. I also go on The Leaky Cauldron and DarkMark.
I'm curious about fan fiction and the connection between movie Percy and fan fiction Percy and how that makes you feel?
Ahh, it's fantastic, I love it all. No, it's very funny actually. Certainly some of the slash fiction I've read over the last couple of years has raised a few eyebrows. It's just highly amusing that anybody who's got such an imagination can come up with such a bizarre storyline. Percy and Oliver Wood, those seems to be the most popular ones. Someone sent me one about Percy and Ginny – now that was wrong! It wasn't nice. Some of them are very good stories, especially the slightly less revoltingly dodgy ones.
What is the strangest thing a fan has ever said to, done for, or given you?
One of the strangest things was when I last came to New York, mostly because it was the first time out of the country since we first started filming. I went to Canada just after I finished filming the first movie; in fact the film hadn't come out at that stage so nobody paid any attention to me. When I came to New York in May 2002 it kind of only hit home that this was huge. Obviously I get fan mail from everywhere, but I got to JFK Airport and was waiting for my baggage and a small child came up to me with a camera, walked up to me, took my picture and walked off again. "Excuse me, hello?" She didn't say, "Hi, can I take a couple of pictures?" I don't know. That was pretty strange.
What do you like to do on your time off?
I don't get much time off. Time off from Potter is mostly doing other things, I'm running a theatre company now and that's really starting to take off. We have a musical show in March and then Hedda Garbler in April. Bear in mind we only started after Christmas, so we're doing really, really well already. It's quite scary. I just moved house as well so that's kind of everything at the moment, that's just taking up my life.
If you weren't an actor what would you be doing now?
I'd be at university studying drama. I think the original plan was to be an actor, it's what I always wanted to do since about 11. But I think I was aiming to go to university, study drama and then see what happens... teach drama. [Touch wood] So far I'm a reasonably successful actor. I think I probably will go later to university, at some stage, I might do distance learning, it depends how things pan out. I don't know how long Potter is going to be going on for. I certainly contracted to do four but we don't know if they are going to make 5, 6 or 7, if Rowling ever gets around to writing the rest. But, I'll see how it goes; if things are looking quiet I probably will do something academic at some stage of my life.
I read at one of your fan sites that you play the violin and piano – is that true?
Yes, I've played the violin since I was two, 18 years. I don't really play piano, I sort of plonk a bit, and I could get away with it. Music is what I did before I started doing drama.
You seem very accessible to your fans, but does that intrusion on your everyday activities worry you in anyway?
I've had a stalker. It was a bit bizarre, it was while I was doing a pantomime in Norwich last Christmas. A guy followed me out of the theatre and down the road to the pub and then home, running after me calling out my name – really bizarre, but I've not had much problems with that. I like to be accessible, but there are certain things - my number isn't in the directory. If someone came knocking on my door I'm not sure what I would do, I certainly know Dan [Radcliffe] has problems with that.
Why do you volunteer to do so many HP-related things?
Because I am a Harry Potter fan. It does get a bit crazy sometimes. I'm a Harry Potter fan as much as the next person, I loved the books long before I got into the movie and I think that's half of it. For me it's exciting, it's not just a job, it's something that I'm interested in outside of the work, so I think that's why I get involved sometimes like the book launch and things like that. It got really busy but I loved it. If people ask me to do it I'm not going to say no much of the time.
What's your favorite kind of cheese?
At the moment, it's a bizarre Dutch one, I can't remember the name. It comes in packages from the supermarket and it's really good on toast.
You already answered the question about how many Potter movies you will be doing. Is everybody signed to do four?
As far as I know the same principle cast will be doing the fourth film and hopefully doing the rest of them. The only one I wasn't too sure of originally was Tom Felton, but as far as I know he's doing it.
Is it true that Tom is now 6'1"?
He shot up, he really has. It's quite scary for me having done nearly three years of the film because I was 16 when I started so I'd kind of stopped growing-ish, but watching them sort of shoot up... Emma was nine the first time I met her and she's now 13. It's weird watching then grow, I get quite brotherly about it.
How did you celebrate your birthday in November?
I'd been to the Young Environmentalists of the Year Awards in London, at the Dorchester Hotel, a big celebrity event. Pam Ferris was there, Zoë Wanamaker, so that kind of overshadowed my birthday. Had a few friends around, had a few fireworks, chocolate cake – it was quite nice really.
What kind of music do you listen to?
Everything, it's the most bizarre collection. I'll check [looks in his bag]. We've got Ragtime the musical, Lou Reed, Daniel Bedingfield, Michael Jackson, Jamie Cullen, David Bowie, you name it. Some classical stuff in there, there's Rolling Stones, there's Aerosmith, everything. I love it all.
Who are your greatest influences acting-wise?
Good question, I don't know. One of my favorite actors is Kevin Spacey. For women it would probably be Julie Walters or Maggie Smith to be honest.
Which living person do you admire most and why?
There are lots of people, not practically famous people but I admire for various different reasons. Through doing Harry Potter I've met quite a few people in the last few years. In the UK I met the parents of Holly and Jessica, two girls who had been murdered about 25 miles from my house. That was quite an experience and it's those kinds of people I admire more than, I'd say, the Queen. It's those people who have to get on with their lives with sort of a huge burden on their shoulders that was quite an experience.
If you could have lunch with one person, real or fictitious, who would it be?
It would be Q from the James Bonds films - find out how gadgets work.
What is your favorite place, real or fictional? Why?
New Zealand, I haven't been home in 14 years, but it's still my favorite place.
Who is your least favorite actor? Why?
It varies, depending on which film, but I think at the moment (because I watched it about two weeks ago), it would have to be Josh Hartnett, particularly for Blow Dry. Possibly the most abysmal acting role I've ever seen. Never ever get an American to do a Yorkshire accent; it's not going to happen. It's a great film apart from Josh Hartnett.
Who's your favorite author? Why?
It would be either Roald Dahl or Stephen King. I love Roald Dahl books, I've probably got one in my suitcase. His adult stuff like Tales of the Unexpected, the short stories, bits are really twisted so well. I like Stephen King because he's so funny.
What do you like to do for fun?
When I have time, I like to go out with my mates, driving actually. Sounds bizarre but I really like getting in my car and going somewhere for a weekend or going off to Edinburgh or something like that, getting away, going for walks. I like having my own private time as well, long walks and relaxing.
Why do you think the Harry Potter books have captured the imagination of people of all ages right across the globe?
I'm still not entirely sure. As big a fan of them as I am, there is nothing I can see that is any different from, let's say Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or any Roald Dahl books, or Enid Blyton. It must be something subconsciously that we all relate too. I don't know how the sudden hype started, because obviously when the first book came out it was kind of ignored for a while and then suddenly there is this huge thing about it.
What was the general consensus on the film set about book 5?
I'd only done a little bit of work since that came out, since I'd finished the majority of my filming for Azkaban by May last year. I think a lot of people had laid off reading it until we'd finished filming because you don't want to get bogged down in the details really. The general consensus was that it's good, but there is quite a bit to get rid off if we're going to film it. I think there are a lot of producers walking around saying, "My God - 7 hours."
What do you hope fans of the books get from the movies?
I reckon most of them find it quite bizarre, the true fans of the books I find don't necessarily like the movies. Every fan has a very different image of how they imagined Hogwarts and how they imagined the charactors to be. I think they get overprotective of their own imagery, but sometimes in the films there are bits - certainly in the third one - where you can read more into characters than what's in the book, because I think JK Rowling had a bit more to do with the script this time. With the direction Alfonso [Cuarón] has taken it, he's sort of taken a huge left-hand turn at the traffic lights and gone off on a much different way. I think it's going to bring a lot more of the book out.
When thinking of Percy's role in future books what do you think/hope will happen with him?
I would like him to become an evil, nasty person. I love playing evil, it's just the best thing ever. But I'm not sure; I think he's just going to remain pompous and stupid. I'm not sure because she [Rowling] won't tell me anything and you just can't read her at all. I've asked her before and you can't see the starting of a grin or anything. He [Percy] might get into some trouble and panic but I don't think he's intentionally going to go to the Dark side.
How do you feel about the development of Percy's character in the Harry Potter books, especially in Order of the Phoenix?
I got hate mail. I quite liked it actually but that's just me. I mean I can't understand people who like Percy as a character. I get mail from people going on about "Percy's my favorite." He's not that great, he's not that big. I don't think he ever will be pivotal to the plot.
How has it been to work with Alfonso Cuarón and how is he different from Columbus?
He's very different. His background is in independent films and more adult drama. He is much more a serious director where obviously Chris' background is in Home Alone, fun children's movies, which certainly the first two were. But I think probably with the third book you couldn't have done it any other way, it's going to be a dark and dramatic film, certainly the bits that I've seen.
How do the Dementors look in the film?
Well they look... they are kind of how I imagined them. They're kind of like the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come from a Christmas Carol, but a lot scarier. I think [the film] will get much better reviews than the first two did.
What was it like filming the third film?
For me it was the best fun I've had, mostly because I identify with Alfonso's way of working. It's more my style of acting. I prefer doing high tension, sort of intimate, heavy drama. It's more how I would want the films if I was directing and I found I could understand where I was going with the role more on this one than I could on any of the others. I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe because I've grown up more and become more independent and I've got used to the people I'm working with, I found it a much more satisfying experience, and less tiring.
Who is your favorite fellow cast member and why?
We all get on OK, most of the time. I mean, obviously there are problems every now and then because we spend so much time together, especially with the 40 million extras we have every other day. It can get a bit stressful sometimes. On the whole we all get on very, very well. I found it slightly bizarre on this film, going between being a child and now being an adult. On the previous films I was more lumped in with the other kids, but on this one I was with the adults. I think that was kind of a strange. I missed Sean on this film and I missed having Gemma [Penelope Clearwater] because they were my age, so I'm stuck out on a limb on this one.
Can you tell us of any antics that happened during filming?
There was a bizarre moment on one of the last scenes I was filming in September: We had a day when a load of press was coming from all around the place, and one of the extras in the Great Hall passed wind. That lost us for about an hour. It was getting on to 5 or 6 o'clock in the evening and we were on about the twentieth take I think, and we'd all got very tired and very gigglely, and when Rupert [Grint; Ron Weasley] gets the giggles there is no helping anybody.
What is a typical day on set is like for you?
There are about 1,200 extras and about 60-70 or so main cast and that usually starts at 6 a.m., breakfast at 7:15; make-up and hair about 8; on-set about 9:30; break at 11:30; lunch at 1 p.m.; tutoring then home around 7 p.m. On second unit days, get-up is around 6 a.m., get to work around 7; breakfast at 7:15; make-up and hair about 8 and sit there for 10 hours and go home.
How does it feel to work with the same group of actors and actresses again and how was it working with the new cast members?
It's nice working with the same people because I know where I am now. If I fall off the staircase or trip over my feet I can laugh and I know I can do it again. It's nice having the new cast members. Having a new Dumbledore this year also changed the feeling of the film.
Did you get to do any filming in Scotland or were you in the studio all the time?
No, I didn't do anything in Scotland. I was supposed to do a scene but then they cut it down, it was literally one line. I think they had lost so much time due to the weather, that it didn't happen.
If you couldn't play Percy, but you could play ANY other HP character regardless of appearance and whatnot, whom would you want to play?
I'd like to have had a crack at Tom Riddle. He's my favorite character from the books, and he's the quintessential baddie. There is so much more to playing baddies. Heroes most of the time are average; baddies have some sort of background to them. Yea, either Tom Riddle or maybe Mr. Weasley.
What was your favourite scene in the third film and what are you looking forward in #4?
One of the scenes I enjoyed the most is where they discover the Fat Lady's portrait slashed, which was quite a moment. In the trailer, when Mr. Weasley is telling Harry not to go looking for Black, I'm in it. I'm there and there are some special effects, which are a bit bizarre. I don't know what they are keeping for the 4th so I don't know. I'm quite looking forward to doing the bit with the Dark Mark at the World Cup. Hopefully, if they don't cut it down too much I'll have a good fun time.
Why haven't you gone to premieres outside England?
Call Warner Bros. I'd like to go.
Was there a joker on the set?
Dan and Rupert can be, it's usually them. If there's anything going on you can usually look at them or Bonnie [Wright; Ginny Weasley] as well.
There's actually one coming out! A friend of mine runs a Forbidden Planet-type of shop and he keeps getting messages from Mattel saying this season it's this character and they keep shoving mine down the list which suits me fine to be quite honest. I think he should have a chain from his back that you pull and he says stupid things.
Do you have any fears about being typecast after the success of the films?
As long as I keep working I don't see it as a problem. I think I will be, but the handy thing about having my own theatre company is that I can kind of do what I want to do at the same time. I don't think there's much harm in that, I think Percy is the kind of role that suited me at 16. But now I think I've grown beyond Percy, I've gone in a different direction. When I started I wasn't having to consciously be Percy but now I have to act it a bit more – I'm having to concentrate a bit more. It's a bit of a shame, really. I think also with the third film Percy's grown with me a bit. We've made a few changes here and there; he's got acne for a start, which is highly amusing. Really, really bad spots and ridiculous hair, kind of like the breakfast scene at the Burrow. He's kind of gone wacky with his head boy status.
How do you feel about always being asked the same questions in interviews over and over again?
It's getting curious now three years on, because somebody always asks me something new. It's usually the same set plus new ones. But the old set are now getting different answers.
If you were interviewing Chris Rankin, what question would you ask him?
"Why did your parents name you after someone who created smocks?"
Now what's the answer?
Because they're mean and evil.
And what's the stupidest question you have been asked in an interview?
Someone did ask me what my real hair color was.