20 Questions: Harry Melling – 'I find it hard to unwind after this'

The ”Harry Potter” graduate talks about his new solo show ”Peddling”, ripping his trousers on stage and swapping places with Francis Bacon

'You've got to treat writer and actor as two different people' - Harry Melling
'You've got to treat writer and actor as two different people' – Harry Melling

1. Where and when were you born?
1989 in Mill Hill, North West London.

2. What made you want to become an actor?
Watching Sam Mendes' RSC production of The Tempest at the Barbican Theatre. My uncle David Troughton was in it, playing Caliban. I was too young be in the proper audience, so my uncle organised a booth at the back of the stalls for my family to watch – they all thought I was too young to go, but I was pretty determined to make my first date with Shakespeare.

3. If you hadn't become an actor, what might you have done professionally?
I don't know really. It's the only thing I've ever really wanted to do. If I had to choose something, it would have to be art related; drawing, making music, something arty and fancy.

4. Big break?
Probably have to be the Potter films.

5. Career highlight to date?
Really enjoyed When Did You Last See My Mother? directed by the amazing Blanche McIntyre. And also Peddling, obviously.

6. Any regrets?
I don't think so. Not yet anyway.

7. What was the first thing you saw on stage that had a big impact on you?
The Tempest (see above). Huge impact. Absolute conviction in my need to be involved in something that can do that to people.

8. And the last?
A View from the Bridge. Total. Theatre.

9. Who are your idols?
I go through actor obsessions, and at the moment it's gone full circle back to Mark Rylance. I just think he was so extraordinary in Wolf Hall. Not the slightest bit of any acting going on, at all. Erm… how?!

10. What's the best advice you've ever been given?
There's only one of you. So make sure you do that.

Harry Melling in Peddling
Harry Melling in Peddling
© Bill Knight

11. What inspired you to write Peddling?
I met this a door to door sales boy when I was very young and have been fascinated by him, and others like him, ever since. I guess the play allows me a way of re-meeting him.

12. Is it strange to perform your own material?
Very strange. You've almost got to treat writer and actor as two very different people, otherwise you will go slightly mad.

13. Favourite line in the show?
"she carefully…
manoeuvring herself over
anti-climb spikes –
which pierce through reebok shoe."

14. Have you made any changes ahead of the Arcola run?
Yeah, quite a few. It's handy having done it twice before. You know the things that were previously quite tricky to hit right. It allows you time to stew, and tighten those moments.

15. You took it to New York – how was that experience?
Great. Really different from here. I didn't quite realise how I took the London references for granted, and had to be careful in planting those ideas – about class, the geography of London – carefully with New Yorkers, because it's not familiar.

16. What's your favourite post-show hang out?

17. How do you unwind?
I find it hard to unwind after this one. I just try and go to bed.

18. If you could swap places with anyone for a day, who would it be?
I'd love to know what was going on in Francis Bacon's head. I think he's an absolute genius. He does on canvas what I want to achieve in theatre, in terms of form, structure, expression, skill, discipline, colour. I mean, no doubt it would be a messy day, but it's only for a day, right?

19. Favourite theatre anecdote?
When I played The Fool in King Lear at Chichester I spent a lot of my time in a squatting position – it felt suitably fooly. On press night I assumed the position for the first time and completely ripped a hole in the backside of my trousers. So I spent the whole scene concealing these white Calvin Kleins – it wasn't a modern take on Lear – poking through my dark costume. Luckily no critics picked up on this.

20. What's next?
I don't think I'm allowed to say yet. But should be confirmed very soon…

Peddling continues at the Arcola Theatre until 28 March