Perhaps the most beloved character of the Harry Potter series isn't Harry, Hermione or Ron. Especially in the Deathly Hallows films, the real stand-out is clearly Neville Longbottom. So we were excited to hear Neville's inside story from the actor who brought him to life.
Actor Matthew Lewis shared a few thoughts with reporters at the Deathly Hallows Part 2 junket on growing up Longbottom, his massive character arc in the last film, and how he almost killed someone filming during the Battle of Hogwarts.
Can you talk about the moment when you were reading the last book when you realized that the character that you play would have such an epic moment in the end and the pressure that you must have felt delivering that speech?
Matthew Lewis: Well I was in bed actually when I was reading that. And I remember, because J.K. Rowling had already told me a few years previously that she'd just finished and she had written a rather exciting bit for Neville Longbottom, and I didn't really know what to expect to be honest, but then I read the book and I remember just suddenly sitting bolt upright in bed and thinking wow that's going to be cool. And I knew Neville was special and he had something to give in this last book, but I didn't expect it to be something quite as epic as that and then naturally immediately after the excitement calmed down, the immense amount of pressure started to build and I realized that it was going to be crucial. I was a huge fan of the books and I know what these stories mean to a lot of people around the world and I wanted to make sure we got that right. And I remember reading the script, I got the screenplay, and all that stuff with Ralph Fiennes was in there and I remember being very, very nervous, and when it came to the day when we had to do that scene I was terrified, I mean Ralph is a very, very frightening man, especially when he looks like that.
Basically, David Yates is very keen to get it in the first few takes. He believes that they are the best, and I think I agree, so we try to get it as real as possible and so we don't do much rehearsal and we literally all we did for that scene was we did blocking and we had a quick run-through of the lines all in our own clothes, Ralph had hair, a nose, and yet he was still terrifying. And he did this thing, and to this day I have no idea whether he did it on purpose, whether he's even aware of it, but he just stared at me, like the whole time, even when other people were speaking, his eyes never left my face and it was like he was studying me, and I just went to pieces. I suddenly felt like I was in the hardest exam of my entire life and it was frightening, but it spurred me on. It gave me that extra boost, that kind of challenge as an actor is what you need. I think actors tend to be in their element when they are pushed out of their comfort zone. I don't know if it's any good. I have no idea. That's up to the audiences to decide, but I loved every single minute of it and being able to work one on one with Ralph despite the pressure, despite the nerves, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life and I will never forget it.
Can you talk a little bit about the physical aspects of this? I would imagine it's really hard?
Yeah, bits of it were. Lots of running around. I'm not very good with a sword. I nearly killed somebody actually; we'll come to that in a moment. It was tough, but again I loved it. I like playing sport, I like being quite active anyway, so I was very keen to work with the stunt team. And they trained us all for some time actually, Dan [Radcliffe] had been training with the stunt guys , we did a bit of kickboxing and a lot of cardio work just throughout all the films really because when it came to us doing stuns, the more comfortable the stunt team were with us, the more they knew about our capabilities, the more relaxed the producers were in us doing our own stunts. So we used to train with them, so that we could get to know each other and do own stunts. So we already had a good rapport with those guys.
But this one was a lot of running, and I don't like running. I don't understand people who run, so that was hard, but it was fun. When you've got explosions going off around you and you've got blood and Nick Moran was brilliant, really good laugh with him, and even though you're doing it at 2 or 3 in the morning in the freezing English cold, it was great, every second of it. And people kept saying: "Are you tired, do you want to take a break?" And I was like, "No, man. Let's keep going, this is good." When you're a young man, a young boy, all you want to be is that action hero, you want to be the James Bond, and I got to do that for a bit, and that was great.
And I nearly killed someone with a sword. When you do that big swing in the film and the sword came off of the hilt and just went about 30 feet in the air, and I was just holding the hilt looking terrified in the camera, it's a great outtake, but it goes up, and obviously everything that goes up must come down, and it landed amongst a load of children — at the last place I wanted it to go, into the load of children — and amazingly, it missed everybody. I don't know how. I was very thankful and if you see it in the museum, if it's going to be in a museum, it's dented and bent, and that was because I did that.
In part 2, Neville and Luna sort of have a flirtation going on, but it's not with whom J.K. Rowling has announced Neville ends up with, so what did you think of that?
I liked it. Obviously I thought it was terribly coincidental that Harry and co managed to end up with people that met in high school, that doesn't happen often. So I thought maybe [Neville] and Luna could have a summer fling, perhaps, and then he could go on to marry Hannah Abbott. It suited them. They were both outcasts when they were younger, but they had so much to offer that people couldn't see at face value, and they both came good in the end and really stood up to the plate and they are both really endearing, inspiring characters, both of them. Both come from very humble beginnings, people think they will never amount to anything, and yet they both do, and I think that's nice. They are suited for each other. But Luna is probably a lot scarier than Voldemort. Girls in general are scarier than Voldemort. It might have been the next challenge for Neville.
During the films, Remus was one of the few teachers to really take an interest in Neville and believe in him, what was it like working with David Thewlis and the other adult actors as you grew up on set?
It was funny how it sort of changed. In the early days, they've always been lovely, but in the early days it was very much like the children and the adults and as we got older we realized that we actually could speak to them, and they wouldn't kill us. We started to chatting to them on a level and it was fun. I enjoyed the later years so much more because I was just sort of chatting with Alan Rickman about scrambled eggs and really inane things and it was just someone at work, it was a lot of fun.
And David Thewlis was great, one of the first adult actors that I really had much to do with and it helped me grow up in confidence working with those guys. Their professionalism and, again, the idea that they could just have fun as well. Alan Rickman, for example, plays a frightening, frightening character, and he's got such an aura and a presence, and [yet] he's such a good person to be around, so much fun. And Michael Gambon tells filthy, filthy jokes. And they're just people and as soon as you realize that, then you can start to have fun with them and they are good people and I learned a tremendous amount from them all.
In summary, what do you take away from this whole experience?
How do you summarize this experience really? It's tremendously difficult to do. I have just had the most amazing experience, I think, for the last 11 years. I've met the most wonderful people, I have traveled the world, I have been to many exotic locations. I'm sat in the Waldorf Astoria in New York City and talking to assembled journalists, is not something that I expected to be doing 10 years ago. I feel like I am living somebody else's life and every day I sort of have to pinch myself or try and think is this really happening to me. And if I never work again, I will always look back and go: you had a pretty good run there.
And I just feel so honored to be able to play a character like Neville as well, who is a hero and he's really inspirational. He inspired me. I think Jo did a truly wonderful thing with Neville, that journey – spectacular. I think a lot of people can relate to that school is pretty lousy for a lot of people and it just shows that you don't have to be perfect and you can still be a hero. I think that's inspirational, I feel very honored have been able to be a part of that and that's what I will take away really. I don't know – it's hard to describe, but I will take away all the memories, all the friends, the sense of how lucky I am.