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Brief Encounter With ... Harry Melling

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Harry Melling, who is best known for his portrayal of Dudley in the Harry Potter film series, stars in Blanche McIntyre's revival of Christopher Hampton's first play, When Did You Last See My Mother?, which opens at Trafalgar Studios 2 tonight (16 September 2011, previews from 14 September).

What's the play about?
It’s about two 18 year-old lads, Jimmy and Ian, in their summer after finishing school. They’ve rented out a bedsit in London, and one day Jimmy’s mother comes to visit for tea. And then it gets complicated!… and they all spend the rest of the play trying to work out what’s going on, what happened, if it was right, how they feel. And this is all set against the backdrop of Britain in the mid-60’s, when so much was changing - changing to a much more open, free, less stiff upper lip place. I guess the play is about how these characters survive in this unknown territory.

Were you aware of it, and Christopher Hampton, before you got involved?
I was aware of Christopher Hampton. I love his writing, especially Total Eclipse. I remember thinking his translation of The Seagull at the Royal Court was perfect. But I was completely unaware of his first play, (as it seems so many people are). I find it quite staggering that he wrote it at 18, it’s jealous making. It’s very layered, and delicate trying to pick it apart, with brilliant director Blanche McIntyre, has been challenging and joyful. So much is going on with these characters, and how they choose to articulate that (by often saying the opposite) has been wonderfully exciting to explore.

Tell us about your character
He's called Ian and like the characters you dream of playing as an actor, is so many different things. He is a wonderful amalgamation of contradictions, which makes him brilliantly human. He’s 18 years old (like Hampton at the time) so just left school and the play finds him in the summer before going to Oxford University. He’s fiercely witty and intelligent, head moving at a millions miles per hour, with a not so developed emotional capability.

You come from a theatrical family. Did that encourage you to become an actor?
Without a doubt. Being taken (far too young) to see my uncle David (Troughton) in his many RSC shows was massively influential. I fell in love with the idea of it. How someone has the ability to be many things. His Caliban in Sam Mendes’, The Tempest will always be very vivid and special. And again following cousin Sam (Troughton) has been incredibly important to me.

Were you sad to say goodbye to the Harry Potter films?
Yes, it was sad. It’s weird to think that you’ve sort of grown-up in front of lots of people. Although I wasn’t on set everyday or needed throughout the whole year, like a lot of the Hogwarts lot (I usually did about a month block) it was obviously still a huge part of my life. I’m very lucky and proud to be involved in it. And sad to say goodbye.

Are you worried about getting typecast as a bully?
Um, no. I don’t think so. Well, hopefully not. I think as an actor you’re always worried about being typecast. Well at least I don’t think Ian is a bully. I’ve had a run at playing two fantastic, colourful, foppish characters in the past two theatre jobs. So maybe fops are my new thing!? I think I’ve been very lucky with not always being recognized as Dudley, not because I’m embarrassed by him, in fact the exact opposite, hugely proud. But I rather like the fact that whenever I mention Dudley, people generally are surprised by it, which I feel can only be a good thing. The careers I admire, and aspire to have, are the ones who constantly surprise. Those ‘chameleon’ actors who never remain one thing for too long.

What have you got lined up next?
I finished filming a new character in Garrow’s Law about a month ago. It's an 18th century law drama, about real life barrister William Garrow, played by the brilliant Andy Buchan. The program is a kind-of Robin Hood of the courtroom. It will be on the BBC, but not sure when yet.

When Did You Last See My Mother? continues until 8 October 2011.


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