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Draco Malfoy is no reflection on Tom Felton

Used to the boos

July 16, 2009|Michael Ordona

He's only 21, a cricket-loving young man from the English countryside south of London, and he scares small children.

"It depends on their ages and their lunacy in regards to the film," Tom Felton says of the reactions he gets when people recognize him as Harry Potter's schoolyard nemesis, Draco Malfoy. "Pretty much 7 and unders, I tend to get nothing but boos. No matter how kind I am to them, they're not interested in being kind back."

In his rapid Surrey speech, he acknowledges that since the public really only knows him from the "Potter" franchise, bad impressions tend to stick. Children often don't want to shake his hand. And people are surprised to learn he and the actors from the House of Gryffindor actually get on quite well, thanks.

"What people have to bear in mind is that we spend 99% of our days off-camera, so we have plenty more time to be friendly to each other than we do to be nasty. We save all the tension for on-camera," he says with a laugh, singing the praises of his costars and adding that he and Daniel Radcliffe are "big cricket fans and have a fair bit in common. So there's plenty of friendship off-screen there."

Putting aside the odd scene of Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy palling around over the sports pages, it can be difficult to peer through the never-ending Harry hoopla to recognize a young actor growing up in a multibillion-dollar franchise. The latest entry, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," offers Felton a chance to show more of what he can do.

"A friend of mine who's a die-hard fan read the book, like, within four hours of it coming out. She rung me at about 5 in the morning and said, 'Get the book right now, you need to know what happens.' When I read it, my eyes did light up," he says.

"It was pretty nerve-racking stuff, actually, to know we were going to do these one-on-one scenes with Michael Gambon; opposite Alan [Rickman], etc. But I was excited to show a bit more of the depth of the character."

The actor, speaking by phone from New York, says Draco is a victim of circumstance, pushed from birth into a family business (in this case, serving the Dark Lord Voldemort and becoming a Death Eater) that doesn't really suit him. "Prince" shows other sides of Draco as he teeters on the edge of that abyss.

"This child has had the worst parental influences you can have. The books are all about choices, making the right choices. Young Draco really didn't have any choices; he was never given an option to go good or evil," he says.

"[Director] David Yates, the first thing he said to me was, 'If we can get an ounce of empathy for you by the end of the film, I'll consider myself job done.' "

Felton was actually one of the more experienced performers when the series launched, with a handful of previous roles in film and television. And now that he has had years in the company of some of England's finest actors -- the likes of Richard Harris, Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh have graced the halls of Hogwarts -- he's growing as an actor.

"Bear in mind, when we first started we were children. I don't really know how much any children know about acting. Every year we've subconsciously been learning and picking up more and more.

"This year, my approach was far more serious. I wanted to make sure that I delivered and they were happy. It was a far more satisfying approach in the respect that we've really put our heart and soul into it and now to be reaping the rewards, it feels great."

And, lately, he has been dipping his toe into independent film.

"I did a couple of quick projects in between the last two, just to experience what the real world is like with films," he says.

"The last film I did outside of 'Harry Potter' was called 'The Disappeared,' and that was shot for about $200,000, which I think is about our lunch spread on a given day."

Laughing, he notes that apart from the nearly all-consuming 'Potter' schedule, being stuck with Draco's practically white blond locks also restricts his casting. He doesn't even know what his real hair color is anymore.

"I have no idea," he said, guessing at the "mousy brown" of his eyebrows. "It's been nearly seven years since I've seen my proper hair color."

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Where you've seen him

Pre-"Potter," Tom Felton had roles on British television and in the films "The Borrowers" (with John Goodman, Hugh Laurie and "Half-Blood Prince" costar Jim Broadbent) and "Anna and the King" (with Jodie Foster and Yun-Fat Chow). In the recent indie drama "The Disappeared," he got to reacquaint himself with non-epic filmmaking: "I was only there for six days; it was only a small part in it, really. But I wanted to experience what it was like to play a normal guy again, not a wizard. It was fantastic. We had literally no time at all, everything was shot on location, hand-held cameras, stuff like that. It gave me an opportunity to put a little bit more of myself into it."

-- Michael Ordona

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