Tom Felton Takes These Life Lessons From the Harry Potter Movies Wherever He Goes

·7 min read

When Tom Felton shows up for work, rest assured he's not going to be that guy.

"It only takes one thorn to ruin it for everyone," the English actor told E! News ahead of the release of his latest film, the World War II thriller Burial. "You have to care about it, you better know your lines, you better turn up to work prepared."

That may sound like Professionalism 101, but considering the sort of behind-the-scenes drama that can afflict any movie, the 34-year-old knows he's lucked out a bit. "You hear stories, horror sets and people barking orders and shouting," he said. "I've never had that experience."

So, he consciously tries to conduct himself a certain way. And yes, they teach you that at Hogwarts.

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"We certainly learned from the best in the business," Felton, just 12 when he was cast as resident mean boy Draco Malfoy, said of the Harry Potter series' world-class ensemble. "And I don't just mean the quality of their acting. I mean more how they held themselves, how they interacted with each other—how you talk to everyone, really. That was the most important part."

Tom Felton, Burial Film Premiere, London
Can Nguyen/Shutterstock

But to each generation its challenges, and the COVID-19 pandemic threw even the most seasoned moviemakers for a loop. Felton recalled production on Burial getting underway when casts and crews were still inching back to work after months-long delays.

Being "masked up to our eyeballs and not allowed to go anywhere near each other" made filming "slightly trickier," he said, but "we were in a relatively remote area and also mostly shooting outdoors, so we had a lot of things in our favor."

With the the Estonian countryside standing in for the Eastern Front, Felton plays a deserter from the German army who, in a twist of it's-certainly-possible historical fiction, ends up aiding a small band of Soviet soldiers who've been tasked with stealthily transporting Hitler's body back to Russia in the spring of 1945.

Tom Felton, Burial, IFC Films
Courtesy of IFC Midnight

After being "hooked" by writer-director Ben Parker's script, Felton also had personal reasons for wanting to take on the role.

"I'm fascinated by World War II," he continued, "especially the fact that it was so recent. My grandparents were digging trenches at 19 years old, while I played a wizard for half my life. The opposites are so far apart, it's quite remarkable. And I felt a huge passion to want to honor the people that gave their lives and sacrificed everything for us to be able to sit on a Zoom call and enjoy films."

And, one might add, have the time to compile memories and write a book. Beyond the Wand: The Magic & Mayhem of Growing Up a Wizard will be out in October, and Felton knows fans "will get a massive kick out of it."

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Consistently amazed how Harry Potter has "seeped into every corner of the world" but admittedly skeptical about committing to an entire book based on his experiences, he gives credit to the family and friends who encouraged him to write everything down over the years—just in case.

"Twiddling my thumbs during the pandemic helped, and the [20th anniversary] reunion helped definitely, sparking memories," he shared. "You tend to forget bits and pieces. It's only recently—very recently, really—that I considered it to be worthy of a book. But we got it to a place where I'm super proud of it."

Further making the most of that Zoom call, Felton also talked to E! New about why seeing his Harry Potter co-stars is still so special, his never-ending appreciation for the fandom and the perks of doing theater for a change:

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E! News: What was working with such huge stars so early in your career on the Harry Potter films really like?

Tom Felton: We were very much untrained kids—and we were trained by the end of it. It's bloody intimidating if Ralph Fiennes or Jason Isaacs walks onto the set, and they're so confident in what they're doing. Luckily, we were young enough at that time where we didn't even know who they were! When Richard Harris is saying kind words, we've got no idea who Richard Harris is! So it's been a really lovely experience reveling in how casual and disarming that they all were—the most ordinary, down-to-earth people you could possibly imagine. Being surrounded by the best—and I don't mean quality of their work, I mean quality of their personalities—I like to think that I've stolen, or borrowed, some of that over the years.

Tom Felton, Harry Potter
Warner Bros.

E!: Only so many actors can relate to the level of fandom you and your co-stars experience. Is that part of what bonds you together—that you all get it?

TF: There's definitely an element of that. But it's remarkable how normal everyone is. Honestly, when we all get together there's a 60-second, British, awkward "Hello, how are you?" "Yes, hello, we're good." And then we just slip straight back into being the people that we were before, trading war stories. I think it's a lot more fun to enjoy it together than it is to enjoy it separately.

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E!: What do your fans have to look forward to from your book, Beyond the Wand?

TF: It sounds like a really cheesy thing to say, but I can spoil it for everyone now: The first page says, "This is dedicated to all the fans that got me here." I'm so grateful for everyone's support, and I genuinely think the fans will get a huge kick out of this, because there's a lot of stuff that hasn't been said or talked about.

E!: Looking back now while you were putting the book together, did you have any sense of Draco's eventual arc early on?

TF: Absolutely not. As a 13-year-old kid I was thinking about stealing my brother's BB gun, I wasn't thinking about an arc of any character. But I was very comfortable playing the slimy git for five films. I never expected him to have a redemption—not that he does. But I like to think I've made a decent attempt to bring popularity to Slytherin, or certainly acceptance. We did the Potter test, my family and I, to settle it once and for all. I can clarify that I did get Slytherin, thank the heavens! But four out of five of them were Hufflepuff. I was distraught.

Tom Felton
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

E!: And congratulations on your play, 2:22 A Ghost Story. How do you stay in physical and mental shape during what must, at times, feel like running a marathon?

TF: I let Willow my dog do the taking care of, she does most of the hard work. I just look after the house. But it's been one of the most amazing experiences of my life. We've got eight shows left and then that will be it, 140, 150-odd shows. I can't think about it logically 'cause I'll just burst into tears. It's a completely new discipline—for me, it's the closest thing to a 9 to 5 as possible. Every other thing I've ever done has taken me away from home for limited stints of time and then sort of plunked me back, for a few months or a few weeks, then taken me out again. Which is not great for family life. My dog doesn't appreciate it.

E!: What have you enjoyed most about doing theater?

TF: Usually you get a few hours to knock out a scene, or a few days if you're lucky, but to spend 17 weeks with just this one piece of work and really trying to get it right—it's been highly enjoyable. I'm really proud of all the Potter fans that I've managed to lure into the theater. I think there's been a lot of people that probably didn't expect to enjoy it as much as they did. Or as much as I did—I saw it five times before I was in it. I thought that was half the reason I got the role [laughs], but apparently not.

(This interview was edited for length and clarity.)

Burial is in theaters now and available on VOD/digital. Beyond the Wand will be on U.K. shelves Oct. 13 with more release dates to follow. And you can catch all eight Harry Potter films streaming on Peacock.