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Best known for playing Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter films, Tom Felton has penned a brilliant memoir about growing up playing an iconic role in the series. He reflects on his time shooting the movies with a wide cast of talented actors, detailing behind-the-scenes shenanigans and trouble he got into while on set.
While filming Harry Potter is the bulk of this memoir, Felton also gives readers a taste of what it was like growing up the youngest of four brothers (and how one of those brothers wasn’t exactly the best on-set chaperone), night fishing when he should have been sleeping in preparing for shoots the next day, and getting his acting start in movies like Anna and the King and The Borrowers. And with the type of honesty that comes with time and self-reflection, Felton also writes about his past struggles with alcohol and his time in rehab. It’s a beautiful memoir — with a forward by Emma Watson herself — that captures the heart, charm, and wittiness of the man beyond the wand.
BuzzFeed had the opportunity to chat with Felton about his book, Beyond the Wand: The Magic and Mayhem of Growing Up a Wizard — out wherever books are sold.
Farrah Penn: Have you always known you wanted to write a memoir? And why do you feel like now was the best time?
Tom Felton: I've always written my whole life, really. Poems, doodles, notes — and bits and pieces. And I'm constantly reminded that details tend to get lost and blurred into one, the more time passes. So, originally, it was inspired by doing Comic Cons around the world and being asked questions about how we were all brought together to make the films. All that sort of stuff. I used to tell brief answers, and then, I'd go back to my hotel room or home, whatever it was, and just start furiously scrambling down all the bits and pieces that I didn't have the time to say. This is certainly three or four years of compiling, but about 10 years in the making. Probably more than that.
FP: The title is very fitting, of course. Is it something that you came up with?
TF: It was a bit of a joke with a running friend of mine, Derek. He suggested it many, many years ago. Slightly tongue in cheek. When it actually came [time] to sit down and compile the stories, I thought it was quite fitting. So, I think he was joking at the time, but I think it's just right.
FP: In the book you talk about how, upon landing the role as Draco, you were very blasé about receiving the news. You write that you were playing football with a friend, unsure of how this will change your life. So, I was curious if you did have any friends at the time, who were impressed knowing you'd be in the films, or if any friends or family had read the books, and were like, "Wow, you got this role!"?
TF: I'll make it an easy answer. No. They weren't impressed then. And they're not impressed now. There's a nice, healthy blasé-ness between my friends and family and all of this, and that's how it should be, really.
FP: What was your favorite part of the book to write, and what part was the most challenging for you?
TF: It was all written really, without thinking too much about someone else reading it. So, none of it was too challenging on that front. I thought it was quite interesting cross-referencing stories with other people. My family, and obviously the other Potter cast members, when I sent them the stories to say, "Remember this?" Some of them were like, "Wait a minute, that's not how it happened. This is what happened." So, it was quite funny doing a lot of that. And obviously, I was right all the time, and everyone else was wrong! That was a fun part of it. The only tricky part was putting it into an accurate timeline. You know what it's like, when you go to school, it's hard to really tell one year from the other when you were 12, or when you were 14, or when you were 16. Trying to put that into a timeline took a little bit of time, but with a little bit of help from my friends and family, it was achievable.
FP: A lot of the book is divided up into certain chapters of life. You have a chapter about Emma and Dan and Rupert — and you're saying they sort of read the chapters before to make sure that you're remembering things correctly?
TF: That makes it sound like it was a legal affair. It wasn't like that. In fact, Emma [Watson] was a big reason that I sort of decided to make this, really. I think a lot of the stories that I'd written down over the years, I shared with her. She was very encouraging. She read a lot of the early scraps of paper [where I was] just sort of sharing stories. And she was very encouraging to write more and sort of [helped] fill in the blanks as far as to what my normal muggle life was like inside and outside of Potter.
FP: You write so beautifully about your friendships, and your relationships with all the cast, especially Emma. It seems like you have this special connection with her. Even if your friendship didn't start off on the best foot! You really seem to understand each other. So, I do have a two part question here: Do you think that Emma will one day write a memoir like you have? And do you think the two of you will ever act alongside each other again, if the right opportunity arose?
TF: I like to think yes — I think we would do it in a heartbeat. Honestly, if the right project came up. I can't say there's anything on the imminent horizon. But as far as the first question, I've got no idea. I'm afraid you're gonna have to ask her that one.
FP: You said, I think in the book, that you've read the series once and have watched the films once at their premieres, if I'm remembering correctly. I was curious to know which books and movies are your favorite?
TF: I speak about it a bit in the book where every other kid auditioning knew exactly what Harry Potter was. And I didn't. I think trying to lie to Chris Columbus, the director in the auditions, about Gringotts — and he could tell full well that I was lying — I think that helped me get the part of of Draco. It was just that time in your life where reading was suddenly not something that was that cool to do. But I am reminded of when I first heard the idea of a story about a boy under the stairs. It wasn't much of interest to me, but I remember reading Chamber of Secrets and thinking, "Wow, let's just give it a go." And then obviously, I was absolutely hooked like every other kid out there — and adult out there! So, that reinvigorated my passion for reading. I'll always have a soft spot for Chamber of Secrets. Film-wise, it's not like I've avoided them. It's just that I've obviously seen them at the premieres, and they come on TV at Christmas and stuff. And my friends like to make fun of me of how young I looked. I'm just kind of, like, saving it for that, like, super epic Potter marathon one day, which I plan to do hopefully with my own family. It's something that I'm saving because I treasure it so much.
FP: I think people will — and won't — be surprised that you're a bit of a rule breaker both on and off set. And also, your brother Chris would keep you out all night fishing when you had to work in the morning. Did your parents ever find out I mean, I guess they're gonna find out when they read your book, or was anyone on set suspicious?
TF: I feel really lucky, to be fair, because Draco and Tom share absolutely no resemblance when it comes to their upbringing. I've got three older brothers that I talk about a lot in the book. And my parents have always been loving and supportive. But I do share a slightly Slytherin streak of mysteriousness that Draco definitely had. So, yeah, there were lots of times where I probably should have been tucked up in bed, and actually, I was fishing with my brother. It's quite nice, actually, after all these years to finally be able to share the stories.
FP: It was funny to read your perception on how divisive the Voldemort hug became between the UK and the US audiences, and how it was improvised. As was the "I didn't know you can read" line. I know you also mentioned in the book that they ran a tight ship when it came to sticking to the script, but were there any other times you improvised or maybe wish that you could have improvised at certain moments?
TF: The improvisation of the line "I didn't know you could read" was a very on the day thing. The Voldemort hug — I don't think Ralph [Fiennes] even knew that he was about to hug me. That's why it was so creepy. When his arms are open and, bear in mind, we shot that scene at least 50 times already. I'd already walked past him at least 50 times. And then, that time, when his arms are open, I thought, "There's no bloody way he's trying to hug me. Oh God, he is!" So, that's why I think it was so creepy and so evil [for him to] present a physical sort of affection. I mean, not as much improvising. I know the books were all so rich with characters and content that I'm sure loads of fans out there, like myself, would have wanted. But the truth is the films would have been seven hours long if we put in absolutely everything. So, I think they did a fantastic job fitting in as much as they possibly could.
FP: Toward the end of the book, you so eloquently open up about your struggles while living in Los Angeles, and your time in rehab, which is a very vulnerable topic. Was it a cathartic process for you to write about? Or challenging in any way?
TF: I find writing pretty similar to talking to a friend. It's nice to put it down on paper. So, you can imagine Penguin and Ebury's surprise when I walked up with a stack of little scribbles on pieces of paper and not some organized document. Because it's quite difficult to put it into format. But, yes and no. None of it was written down with the full preparation of other people reading it, which I hope will really lend itself toward the genuine nature of the book and my voice. Because it's written conversationally, and it's supposed to sound like me talking to you. Because that's exactly what it was. Trying to put it into context and processing all those difficult times I had, especially what I mention toward the end of the book, is from the encouragement that I had from other people. A lot of my Potter cast mates, my family, and Emma specifically, gave me a lot of bravery to feel comfortable sharing. I don't know what the response is going to be. But I'm more than comfortable to share my vulnerability in the hope that other people that are going through similar things won't feel so confined to have to keep them to themselves. So, fingers crossed that [this] will help them through their moments of darkness.
FP: It was very moving and powerful to read.
TF: I was quite keen to not leave it out, but I didn't really feel the need to talk about it too much. It was only through the encouragement of others who said that it's quite uplifting to hear other people talk about their own struggles. I'm hoping that it will be empowering to other people that they get a chance to know that they're not alone.
FP: I do feel like I need to ask, since at BuzzFeed, we work to provide a safe space for our readers — and Hogwarts has been such a safe space for so many readers and fans throughout the years. But highly criticized anti-trans statements from J.K. Rowling has caused so many to feel excluded, to say the least. I wondered if you had any intention of echoing the sentiments of your cast mates, Dan, Rupert, and Emma and advocating for and standing by trans and nonbinary individuals?
TF: It's difficult to weigh them with specificity because I don't know. My dog and my family and friends keep me far too busy to go into exactly what people have said or not said. All I can say is that I'm very pro-discussion, pro-love, pro-people, and so, in that regard, I'm very pro-Potter, because in my experience, at least, I've been so lucky to travel the world with Potter through Comic Cons. And I've not seen a single part of the world that hasn't been positively influenced by these books, and [it] has brought more people together than anything else that I know. So, for that reason, I'm really, really grateful for the Harry Potter stories. I'm really grateful that Jo woke up one day and chose to write them down. All of the others' specific politics, I couldn't speak to, and I think it would be irresponsible for me to wade in on something that I just simply don't know enough about.
FP: What do you hope readers take away from your book?
TF: I hope they know a little bit more about me, I suppose. But again, I'm encouraged to bring it back to Potter. I think we all — in fact, I know we all — when we finished the filming, we fully expected the Potter fandom to sort of start dwindling a bit and maybe start to sort of die down. Clearly, that hasn't happened. Most fans that come up to me now and ask me to say "Potter" or whatever, weren't even born when we were making those first films. And I'm reminded, especially with the sad passing of Robbie Coltrane, that these are fantastical tales. And they're all fun and games. But actually, there's so many positive, moral elements of the story that keep bringing people together. So, I can only hope that this book will be an extension of that.
FP: I truly am so sorry to hear about Robbie's passing over this past weekend and wanted to just express my deepest sympathies to you and your cast mates.
TF: I talk about it in the book, but he set the tone very fast. He sat next to Emma [at the table read], and he whispered in her ear before they started. So, I was like, "I'm Tom Felton, and I play Draco," and Emma Watson and Robbie obviously switched, so Emma was like, "Hi I'm Emma Watson, and I play Rubeus Hagrid" — and you had Robbie Coltrane saying the opposite. That set the tone for how much fun we all were allowed to have on the films. So, I will always be very grateful for Robbie's influence.
FP: Tom, thank you again for your time. My last question — what's next for you?
TF: Well, I've got a very hungry Labrador, so she'll be needing attending. I just finished doing a theater run in London, and I sort of purposefully sort of carved out the rest of the year to sort of enjoy talking about the book. And I've got music on the way. I've got more literacy. But mostly, I'm just trying to keep spreading the good vibes.
You can learn more about Tom Felton by following him on Instagram, and you can now purchase Beyond the Wand: The Magic and Mayhem of Growing Up a Wizard wherever books are sold.