Playing Harry Potter on Broadway — talk about a charmed life
Broadway has always had a touch of magic to it, but now that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has made good on its long-awaited New York arrival, that magic includes actual magic. After a smash debut in London, the eighth Potter story officially opens on Broadway this weekend at the Lyric Theatre. Staged as an epic, emotional two-part play, Cursed Child follows Harry Potter’s son Albus as he enters Hogwarts and sets off on an adventure of his own.
Ahead of the show’s opening night, EW called up actor Jamie Parker — who reprises his role from the London production as Harry Potter, now a father of three and hard-working Ministry of Magic official — to discuss Cursed Child and other elements of the wizard/actor life.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How have previews been going so far?
JAMIE PARKER: They’re great, thanks! New York’s been very welcoming. You guys are louder than London, I know that much.
Is that true?
Yeah. It’s a global audience, so everyday in London we had people from all over the world anyway, and it’s the same here. But the baseline level in New York is just… [Laughs] A couple of notches up from what we’re used to. It’s great.
How else has Broadway compared to doing the show in London?
In London, we had the big clock ticking down to opening and we were still building the show from scratch [and] still figuring out what it was. Sometimes we’d have a production idea that was fairly late in the game and you’d have to go, “Right, okay, we just have to make it happen.” Here, they’ve renovated the entire theater from scratch, more or less, so the main feeling in the building is everything is a slightly little bit more solid. [Laughs] There’s more prep time, they know what they’re building this time. The new theater really is stunningly beautiful, and it’s a real home for the show. The audiences have felt at home when they arrived. So it has a wonderful kind of completeness to it.
Were you well-versed in the books and film before this? Did you go back and reread any?
Honestly, before we started, not so much, [but] now I’m an entrenched Potter-head. When I first got the call, I didn’t know the second half of the canon nearly at all — I’d only read the very early stages. I’d seen a few more of the movies but I hadn’t finished the stories, so I was initially confused by the idea of playing Harry as someone in their late 30s. I had visions of going back to my History Boys days, being a fully-fledged adult wearing a school uniform for the next however long. But then meeting John Tiffany and Steven Hoggett and Jack Thorne, the creative team, and becoming immediately aware that they wanted this to be as excellent as it possibly could be… they weren’t interested in just throwing on a franchise … they’ve given everyone the resources to work in the way they need to work as good as they can. … So knowing that, I went, “Right, I’ve got to get organized.” And I just threw myself into the books and must be on my fifth or sixth time through them now. And it helps having a seven-year-old son because we’ve been getting a little bit of them every day, so it’s been a wonderful blend of work and pleasure.
What’s Harry like now as a grown-up, and as a dad?
I suppose ultimately the question becomes to what extent Harry ever managed to get past his childhood at all, given how traumatic it was. They’re all still the characters that you know over the books, but it is quite a thing — it constantly takes me by surprise to remember that in the play Harry is more or less twice the age his father ever made it to before he died, and in the case of parenthood, Harry’s just been making it up. And so that pressure is what comes to bear on the relationship between him and his middle child, Albus. And that’s the main meal of the play, growing up being Harry Potter’s son and also being Harry Potter, having no idea how to be a dad, really, and the father figures he’s had have all died violently or they’ve been lacking. So that’s what he’s trying to figure out over the course of the show.
For audience members, would you say it’s better to read the script beforehand, or go in blind?
I know that a lot of people have bought the script and deliberately not read it because the script is the script; it’s not the experience of seeing the show. For my money, I wouldn’t read it — I’d discover the show in real time.
Do you need to be a Harry Potter fan to see Cursed Child?
You don’t have to know the books to enjoy the show at all, but there will be revelations in the play where the rest of the audience will be gasping or going “Ahh!” about something somebody said. Given the way everyone else will be reacting to it, you might want to read them all by the time you finish it.
I’m always jealous of people reading the books for the first time — how they’re going to get to discover all this amazing stuff.
The thing is, when you read the first book it’s only with hindsight that there’s any suggestion of where you’re gonna end up by the end of the seventh book. The tone of the first book is the tone of a story that was written for 11-year-olds. And it’s just so much more complicated and murky by the time you hit 17. And guess what! [Laughs] Life gets even more complicated after that! So Cursed Child is this double-pronged thing where it’s for the original generation who are continuing to relate to these characters and find solace with these characters as they go through their lives, but also introducing a new generation who are coming into this world for the first time and they get to see it through they eyes of Albus and Scorpius and Rose.
The plot of the play is being kept close to the vest, but what should audiences expect to see when they come?
They’re definitely going to see a piece of theater; they’re not going to see a movie or a rehearsed reading of a novel. Most of the audience who are coming are first-time theatergoers and what they’re thriving on is that sense of conspiracy between the audience and the actors. There’s that understanding that this is a story that’s full of magic but it’s going to take the audience to make the magic happen just as much as the actors or the budget or the so-called special effects. The effects don’t have anything to do with computer-generated imagery — they’re happening live in the room, sharing the same space. And that’s the uncanniness of the illusion and the magic, is that feeling you only just have to get out of your seats and walk up over there and you can touch it — but you can’t do that. [Laughs] So it’s as much about what you can’t see as what you can see. And sharing the space with 1,500 likeminded people who are also keen and eager to hear the story is something that you rarely get in a movie house.
Let’s end with a few lightning round questions, if you’re up for it. If you were to compare New York to a part of the wizarding world, what would it be?
I don’t know Fantastic Beasts very well, but that’s New York, isn’t it? The hustle and bustle of Diagon Alley, I suppose!
Which Harry Potter book is your favorite?
Might be Half-Blood Prince.
And which movie?
I’ve only seen the first five … [but] I’ve got a fondness for the first one.
What’s the best spell to cast?
In real life, I wish I could do a Scourgify. That would just be incredible helpful, when I know the rest of the family is gong to be back in 30 seconds and I haven’t tidied up. That would be really helpful.
Last one: What’s the best wizarding world invention?
Ooh … I want to say Felix Felicis.