Q&A: Oliver Phelps talks Universal's Harry Potter World theme park
Harry Potter readers, some travel dreams can come true. Apparating may be but a fantasy, but now you can finally ride the Hogwarts Express.
As announced in January, Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter is expanding. Currently, visitors can check out a replica of Hogsmeade village. Starting this summer (an exact date hasn’t been announced), fans will also be able to wander through Diagon Alley. Connecting these two attractions? Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s very own Hogwarts Express train, of course.
At a media event Thursday night, representatives from Universal Creative — as well as Oliver Phelps, who portrayed George Weasley in the films — revealed details about the expansion, including their excitement over the one-of-a-kind train. They explained there will be a Platform 9 3/4 that will allow fans to “transition through the wall” on their way to the train. Once on board, the Universal Creative team stressed that unlike Universal’s King Kong ride, which depends on 3-D imagery, guests will be able to look out the windows and see an actual Harry Potter scene play out. Depending on where participants are seated on the train, the scene will appear differently.
Read on for EW‘s chat with Phelps from the event, where he discussed the building of Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes (!), his favorite Potter scenes, returning for more, and his take on the latest Potter rumors.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Can you tell me about the first time you saw everything at Universal Studios?
OLIVER PHELPS: Back in 2010, they did a soft launch. There was James [Phelps], Matt Lewis, and Robbie Coltrane. And I remember walking through, like, Simba’s World in Disney World, and then you walk through and you’ve got Hogwarts castle in the distance. I remember thinking it was totally different than what [I thought] they’d make. I thought they would just put up a few signs, like, “Hogwarts.” Not that level of detail, that much justice — everything about it was Potter.
For this round with Diagon Alley, have you been able to go into the Weasleys’ joke shop yet?
Yeah, it was the first thing I did. When they showed us around Diagon Alley, I was like ‘Yeah, there’s Gringotts, there’s King’s Cross, WHERE’S THE JOKE SHOP?’ [Laughs] Seeing that being made – it wasn’t dressed or anything, it wasn’t painted — it was still very much workman in their hard hats. The size of it just blew me away; it’s exactly how they built it in the film. I think that’s going to be cool for a lot of people because when I [talk to fans] they say, “I want to buy [candy],” so that will be cool to do, to go in there and get that.
As part of the Hogwarts Express technology, riders can look out the window and see you flying on a broom. What was it like going back into character to film some of this stuff, after you thought you were done?
That was the weirdest part of the whole experience.
Did you ever think you’d return to the Weasleys again?
No, because the last thing my brother and I filmed [in Deathly Hallows] was the battle sequence when Voldemort’s army is about to come in and we’re saying, like, “Are you all right?” We knew what was about to happen. And then we thought that was it. We finished for the day and we wrapped. I’d said my goodbyes to the characters, I said by goodbyes to the hotel where we stayed, everything.
And then we got this call, asking us to do it again. I said, “I’m not dyeing my hair again!” [Laughs] And they said, “That’s OK.” And as soon as I got a wig, and got back into costume, it was nice. It was nice seeing the crew again…same camera people and all that. So that was great. It was the same stunt guys who do the broomstick movements. It was a weird time lapse where you felt like you were never away from it, but at the same time you were on a brand-new soundstage.
What’s been the craziest fan encounter over the years?
It happened last week, actually! It was great. We were at a hotel in Brazil and someone tweeted the name of the hotel where I was, and there were a couple hundred people camped outside. It was surreal that even still [people care]. They were really excited for me to be there – and in South America! It just goes to show the scope of Potter, the gravity of the whole thing.
I know this all happened years ago, but can you tell me about when you finally read the seventh book, and filming the later movies knowing what’s going to happen to your character and Fred?
We were in Japan, James and I, and we were on a train reading [Deathly Hallows], and it was quite good because we can’t read or speak Japanese, so there was no spoilers coming through. I read the first half in the first day, and I thought we’d got it pretty bad with [George] losing an ear…and then I kept reading, and I was like, “Oh. It could be worse. Look what happened to Fred.” A friend of mine actually texted me, “Did you really annoy J.K. Rowling or something? One of you dies, one of you…” [Laughs] It was quite a weird experience to read that, but I always wanted the characters to have some battle; be in the battle as it were, and so I was happy they got their battle scar, or worse.
Obviously you had the books as a jumping off point, but did you and your brother ever create a backstory for yourselves that didn’t make the film, but that you knew about?
Not really. We always said there was a set of twins in our year group at school, Carl and Chris, who were, to me, Fred and George. They were very much the jokers, very much devil-may-care attitude. So we kind of based it on them: very silly at times, very sarcastic. That may be a twin thing, because my brother and I do that as well.
Looking back, what’s your favorite on-set memory?
There’s so many, but the one that sticks out in my head to film is the Yule Ball scene. We filmed it the week before Christmas, and we spent three weeks before that learning to dance — which was nerve-wracking. It was like a kids school disco: Boys on that side, girls on the other. And then filming it with the guys from Radiohead! They had a concert, which didn’t make the cut of the film. But we didn’t know what the concert was going to be, so for however long it was, like an hour, they played these songs in the Great Hall. It was just brilliant.
Finally, there was big news online recently when J.K. Rowling gave an interview saying maybe Ron and Hermione shouldn’t have ended up together. Did you hear anything about that?
Only though the media reports. People definitely make up their own backstories; they’re very funny and passionate about it. Someone said to me once, “Why didn’t Fred and George, when they looked at the Marauder’s Map, ever realize that Peter Pettigrew was right next to [Ron] on the map?” And the answer is…[Shrugs and laughs] I don’t know!
Add it to our list of questions for J.K. Rowling.