Matthew Lewis has played Neville Longbottom, classmate of Harry, Hermione, and Ron at Hogwarts, for all eight films. Like the character he plays, Lewis has surprised the fans by turning from an awkward child into a young man of great courage and dignity. It was a pleasure to see Neville’s important contribution to the final movie on screen and an equal pleasure to chat with Matthew about his experiences from his first audition to the final scenes.
You really are the hero of this movie!
That’s what they keep telling me. It’s been a lot of fun.
You’ve had an extraordinary opportunity to observe and learn from some of the greatest performers in the British theater, which means they are among the greatest performers in the world. What did you learn from co-stars like Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, and Michael Gambon?
I’ve learned more from them than they’ll ever know. Being around them on set, watching their professionalism, and even watching how they hold themselves off the set. They’re lovely people. Michael Gambon tells filthy jokes. Alan Rickman talks about having scrambled eggs for breakfast. They’re really just normal people who happen to be very, very good at what they do and it is very cool to be around them. I’m privileged.
And you’ve also worked with a variety of directors over the eight films. What did you learn from them? How were they different?
Chris Columbus was dealt the shortest straw, I think. He was given a bunch of children to work with who were not actors. Apart from his tremendous directing ability, he was brought in because of the way he worked with children. He must have found it so difficult at times and yet he never lost his temper, well, I imagine he did lose his temper, but never in front of us! He was so great to be around and he made us all go from being terrified young children to really enjoying what we were doing, having a great time as well as making a film. He made it enjoyable. And then Alfonso [Cuarón] came in and made it much darker, but still obviously enjoyable because Alfonso is crazy! He was always playing tricks and pranks, having as much fun as the kids were. His directing style was quite similar to Chris in terms of working with children, but a lot crazier and wackier. And it was much more about what drove our characters, more of a profession then, looking at it as an art form, too.
And the Mike Newell came in and we were all a bit older, and he wasn’t afraid to give us that kick up the ass. If you weren’t pulling your weight he’d shout, “Put your back into it!” And at that age, that’s what we all needed, telling us we could do better. I thank him for that because it was a breath of fresh air.
And then David Yates came in, and he’s the loveliest man in the world. He took me into his office before we started the film and asked me to do some research. We really talked about Neville in depth and it was the first time I’d sat down with one of the directors and talked about Neville, what motivated him and what pushed him. I started to see acting as a real science. That really helped me grow as an actor. I owe them all. They were different in what they brought to each film, but David Yates in particular was one who really inspired me.
He’s the unlikeliest of heroes. That shy little boy who was bullied, and no one ever thought he’d amount to anything, and turn him into this savior of the wizarding world. It’s inspiring. I think a lot of people can relate to his character. School can be a pretty lousy time for a lot of people. Neville shows that it doesn’t have to define you. You can stay true to yourself and your friends, you can do the right thing, you can do with your life whatever you want to. I think that’s a lovely message. I feel very proud and very humbled to have been able to play him.