EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Harry Melling on Writing and “Peddling”
by Kat Miller · Published · Updated
Transcribed by Tracey Wong
Alyssa Jennette (AJ)
Harry Melling (HM)
AJ: All right, congratulations...
HM: Thank you.
AJ: ...on your writing debut. It was absolutely spectacular. I think everyone will love it, everyone who is smart enough to come see it.
HM: Yes. Well, thank you. Cheers.
AJ: I know this particular story was inspired by a childhood memory of yours.
HM: Yes, it was. Yeah. When I was about eight, we used to get lots of these kids in north London where I grew up, and one time my dad opened the door and he declined the sale. Sometimes he bought something, sometimes he didn't. And this time, my dad declined the sale, and the boy politely turned away and said thank you. And as he was walking down the path, he just switched and something just went. And I must have been eight at the time. I wasn't thinking, "Ooh, this would make a good play." I just remember being so surprised at what he did, which was he just became feral. He became absolutely wild and anarchic. And that kid has always stuck with me for a long while. I keep thinking, "How did he get there?" He must be pretty... you know, no roots or very thin roots. So it always fascinated me, I think. I kind of looked into about these kids and about how maybe one of them wouldn't know where he was going or where he had come from, and what happens then. And that's kind of the play, really.
AJ: And obviously, this just stuck with you for long enough to... you know, fifteen years...
HM: Absolutely, yeah. Well, I think I wrote the first version of it when I was about sixteen, I think.
HM: Well, it was crap.
HM: And it was a two-hander, but then I realized it had to be a one-hander, not because I wanted to have a showcase but because I just think this story is such a singular mission on his behalf and it's his journey to discovering something that might put his two feet in the ground.
AJ: Connect him.
AJ: Is this sort of like a one-off since this did touch you so much, or are you looking to write other things?
HM: I've got a couple of more ideas. It was quite surprising how this writing thing came about because I wasn't very good at English at school. [laughs]
HM: And so it's kind of born out of a need to see this character. And weirdly, when we first did this show at HighTide, another character just sprung to mind. I said, "I have to see him." So it's not been a lifelong need to write, if anything. When I was told that it was going to be published, I'd never been so scared in my life because I'm the kid at school that got C's and D's.
AJ: Was it difficult to rewrite for a solo piece?
HM: Well, I mean, it was... I started writing it about two years ago as a solo piece, so it's kind of been... I mean, writing is hard. I didn't realize how hard it is.
AJ: [laughs] It is.
HM: And I tip my hat to anyone who wants to do that thing as a profession. It's been incredible. But I'd love to continue because when... hearing your response is kind of just about [laughs] quantifies all the kind of tearing up (Alyssa's note: Tearing like tearing paper. Not tearing like crying.)
AJ: Would you say that performing your own work is more nerve-racking than another writer's work?
HM: I don't know, actually. I mean, I can imagine being sat in the audience kind of sweaty palms, wondering, "What are they going to do with my work?" And I guess the problem with writing your own stuff is you're always self-editing because you know yourself and what you want to say. No, I won't... [unintelligible]
AJ: [laughs] So now that you've... well, welcome back to New York. I know you had your premiere in January officially, with King Lear. Do you find that there's a big difference between reception in London and reception in New York?
HM: I do, actually. I haven't quite put my finger on what exactly it is, but I think there's a different quality of listening. I don't know yet that it's... it does feel... in New York, I feel they want to be far more active in it, and in London, I feel they are far more kind of "bring it to me" kind of thing. But I don't... I think that's a very simplified version of what actually happens because they're both... but it is different. It's really interesting. Yeah.
AJ: And I know that you've gravitated towards theater rather than film. Why is that? What draws you to theater more?
HM: Well, I went to drama school and... in fact, two of those people are my drama school friends.
AJ: They're the ones sitting next to us. I think they may have been...[laughs]
HM: I think. Maybe, maybe, yeah.
HM: And so I think... because I went to drama school and my first job out of drama school was theater, I think I'm just kind of [laughs] stuck in that circle, so...[unintelligible]
HM: Not in a bad way. I mean, I'd love to do some film and TV. I've done a bit of TV. I haven't done a film since Potter. But I just... I like to work on really interesting people, and I think so far theater has given me that more than film has. But it's not an active, like, "Oh, I only do theater now!" [laughs]
HM: It's not at all like that. I certainly want to do all... everything, really.
AJ: Is there anyone you want to work with in particular?
HM: I really, really, really, really, really, really, really want to work with Steve McQueen. And not the actor, but the director.
HM: Because... I'm kind of annoyed that now he's as big as he is.
HM: I kind of... when I saw Hunger, I just knew that there was something about this director who was completely outside the field of what other films I usually see. [unintelligible] But maybe...if I’m really, really lucky. [unintelligible]
AJ: [laughs] Well, I mean, you're heading in a good direction.
HM: Well, thank you.
AJ: What's next for you after this?
HM: Maybe possibly it's going to London because it actually hasn't been to London, and in a way, that's always been my goal because it's set in London. There's no other reason than that, really.
HM: And it's amazing that this opportunity came. It's amazing that I can say...[unintelligible] It's kind of like I'm still going through most of it. But I always thought, when I heard about this, "Oh, it would be nice to kind of maybe round it off at the place where it is maybe as close to the heath as possible. If not the heath." But we'll see.
AJ: So much about the show is full circle.
AJ: And I love it. And I hope it continues sort of life imitating art in that way. Thank you so much for speaking to us.
HM: Thank you so much. Thank you for coming to see it.