To get into the mind of his character in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Anthony Boyle thought about dogs. In the two-part play, Boyle routinely steals scenes as Scorpius Malfoy, son of Harry Potter’s regular school rival Draco, scion to a vast, vaguely evil lineage — though Scorpius is less evil and more just a dork. The Malfoys were purebred wizards, and so Boyle reasoned, like purebred dog breeds, after generations spent within a similar genetic pool, “somebody comes out a bit weird.” Scorpius, as Boyle plays him onstage, is a bit like a purebred puppy: well-meaning, but a jumble of tics and pathos. He’s always trying to impress his friend, Harry Potter’s son Albus (Sam Clemmett), always a disappointment to his father.
Thanks to Boyle’s performance, Scorpius ends up being one of most endearing characters in the play, holding the audience’s attention in the midst of impressive stage magic over the course of the two-part drama. The 23-year-old newcomer eked out a surprise win for Best Actor in a Supporting Role at the Olivier Awards in London last year, and as the show transfers to America, Vulture sat down with Boyle — who, in case you’re wondering, is not blond in real life — to discuss his whirlwind success, the shock of going from Belfast to drama school, and why Scorpius has a “small wand complex.”
Were you a Harry Potter fan growing up?
I was a little bit. My dad read the books to me and my brother when we were younger, and I really enjoyed it. My little sister is 13, so we were kind of the second wave, watching the films and things. I wasn’t a Potterhead, I don’t think. I remember one chapter in particular, called “Cat, Rat, and Dog,” in the third book, Azkaban. It’s when the reveal happens of where Peter Scabbers was the rat. I remember it freaked my mum out, I remember as a kid going, “What?”
That was always my favorite one, the third book.
My favorite as well. Plus I love Sirius Black. He’s a bad boy. I love him so much. When I first got the call for the Harry Potter play, I was still at drama school. I went, “Oh, they probably want me to play Sirius Black.”
So you were just auditioning without knowing the character?
The director, John Tiffany, would say, “Imagine he’s a bit more awkward than you are, a bit more slouching.” Then we just started to sculpt. I remember reading the play in a guarded room; I just couldn’t turn the pages quick enough. By then, I knew I was going for Scorpius, I thought, “This is the most beautiful character.” So then I went and read it before John, and [producer] Sonia Friedman, after just blitzing it for about three hours, and it went okay. They gave me the role, so it was lovely.
Unlike Sirius, Scorpius is a very awkward person. He loves quizzes, and loves books, and is kind of a dork. What was your reaction to the character?
I loved it. So much of him is so far away from me, but it’s just an absolute dream for an actor. It’s got that light and that darkness. The thing with his mother [who is deathly ill], that’s really the root of him. Christine Jones, the designer, and I worked on the wand. I remember being given a wand, and it was like the wand wasn’t right, so we came up with this idea about having a small sort of twisted wand that’s darker than everyone else’s to develop a sort of “small wand complex.” He goes to Ollivanders, and the only wand that would pick him was the tiny little crooked twig. There’s the shame of having his father there trying to barter with Ollivander: “Please, can I get a bigger one?”
You get the sense that he doesn’t think of himself as being able to live up to anything, or living up to Draco. A lot of the play is about these younger characters looking up at the older characters. “How do we relate to our older generation?”
Scorpius and Albus immediately relate to each other and find support in each other. What do you think bonds them so quickly?
Both of them are just natural outsiders, and I think both this weight of their fucking dads and their legacy, be it good or bad. Also, I think what connects them is humor. I think in the first scene on the Hogwarts Express, there’s a moment where Scorpius is making his weird jokes and beating himself up about it … but Albus is laughing.
I always just imagined it like Scorpius’s mum would find him funny, but his dad is like, “Who the fuck are you?” It just means a great deal to him that Albus finds him funny. I think humor is a key form of friendship. So hanging out with Albus is probably just the sort of solace that he has. Yeah.
You were right out of drama school when you got cast in this play, and it’s a Harry Potter play, it’s a ton of attention. What was that like?
The producers did an amazing job of keeping us away from all of the hype. Media weren’t allowed in to the rehearsals, so it felt like we were just doing a secret, lovely … It felt really rudimentary. I really enjoyed the character. I just focused on that. So when all the hype did come, it was like, “Oh, shit.” Like I’m at these press things, and there’s my acting heroes doing interviews beside me, and it was just really weird. I was just sort of like, “Fuck, I don’t want to fuck things up.”
Have audiences in New York felt any different than ones in London?
In London, there’s a lot more decorum. In London, people are like, holding tea and saucers. Here, it’s just raucous. There’s a funny thing, people here vocalize recognition. So if something happens that they understand, they go, “Ah.” I think if I go back to London, I’ll be like, “I want more energy!”
The laughter here is a lot longer and more vocal. So it can start to fuck with bits of rhythm, it can change. I’ve started to change different tone and cadence, for a more American rhythm, for the comedy bits. You guys have been so entrenched in Friends and these different things, and in England, the comedy comes from like a sort of unspoken awkwardness. Whereas here, it’s more light.
Like a difference between the British Office and the American Office?
That’s exactly what it is. I can’t watch the American Office. I hate it.
Is it too kind?
I feel it’s very put on. Do you know what I mean? Did you watch the British one? I was obsessed with David Brent. I could quote every word.
Was there a point growing up where you knew you wanted to go into acting?
I always was very creative and wrote poetry. I was expelled from school when I was 16, and my mum and dad were like, “We’re going to throw you out of the house if you don’t get a fucking job.” I knew that I wanted to do acting, so I just Googled auditions every day. I’d done so many bad productions.
This was all in Belfast?
Yeah, I was doing these ghost tours, I was playing a hangman. I had a bag over my head. I’ve done some awful things.
Do you mind if I ask why you were expelled?
I was a bit mixed up when I was a kid. I think I had a lot of creative energy and no output. Where I’m from, no one really becomes an actor, it’s more boxer or drug dealer or something, so I was in a sort of bad environment. I was a bit of a scallywag. Do you guys have that word over here?
It sounds, to us, like a very British word, a little lighter than what you might mean.
Yeah. Scallywag [laughs].
Then you were noticed in Belfast?
I was doing these plays at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast, which is our national theater, and a teacher saw it from the drama school, and she said, “I’d love for you to audition.” I was like, “But I don’t have any money.” I wasn’t even aware drama school was a thing. She was like, “Well, you should come to this school [the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama].” She helped me financially and everything else to go to this school. I had this amazing time. It was gorgeous. It’s in Cardiff, Wales’s capital city, and it’s this amazing building, and outside is a national park. So we’d be rehearsing Shakespeare, and outside you’d see fucking ducks and swans. It was just like a complete world change, culture shock. We’re eating hummus and drinking green tea. I made the best friends, and then left the third year for this play, but it was really idyllic times.
I’d never really read any contemporary plays. I just dedicated myself to read four plays a week for two years, because I didn’t want to be behind. I got quite obsessed.
Did your friends from Belfast come and see Cursed Child?
Some of my best pals came over, which was fun. They know you in one vein, and then seeing you in that is like, “What the fuck?” They were really proud. Really bursting with pride. My brother’s one of my best pals. He sees me in everything. My brother and my friend, who used to be a drug dealer. Bringing him to these events feels like a weird thing. I did a Stephen Adly Guirgis play In Arabia We’d All Be Kings, and I played a character called Skank. They always say to me, “It wasn’t as good as Arabia.” Which I quite enjoy. They don’t give a fuck because it wasn’t as cool as that other one. There’s no reverence.
You won an Olivier Award for playing Scorpius last year, was that a shock?
It was grand because I had my brother with me, and my ex-girlfriend, and I just didn’t expect to win, so I was like, “We’ll go out and just have a fun evening.” I practiced a loser clap the night before. I was just so tired because it was at the end of a full week, and I remember drinking water while it was coming up to my nomination, and I remember this dying need to piss. Then I didn’t write a speech, so the speech — don’t know if you’ve seen it — but it was a fucking car crash. It’s really bad. I got people’s names wrong. I said Tiffany Johns instead of John Tiffany. I didn’t even thank my mum and dad either. God, my mum does not let me forget about that.
I’m sure everyone asks about this, but according to IMDb, you were a Bolton guard on Game of Thrones.
[Laughs.] Oh my God! It was my first week of drama school, and I flew back to do it. It was my first job. The same play a teacher saw me in and asked me to go to drama school, a casting director, Carla Stronge, asked me to come in and do like three lines, and I did. I must have been 17, and I get asked about that all the time. It just makes me laugh though, because I’m like the only Cockney in Westeros. It was the only English accent I could do, and it was just so bad.
Are you conscious of how your accent sounds now?
My accent’s changed a lot. No one used to understand a word I said. I’m from a really rough place. You wouldn’t understand a word my brother would speak. So I had to consciously change the way I sounded, so it’s not like turning full English, but enough so that people can understand. But when I go back home now, everyone says, “You sound English,” and then when I’m in England, people go, “God, you sound really Irish.” So I’ve got this best of both worlds.