Interview with Oliver Phelps
Micah Tannenbaum: Okay, we’re now joined by Oliver Phelps who plays George Weasley in the Potter films. Hey Oliver, how are you doing?
Oliver Phelps: Yeah, awesome, thank you.
Micah: All right, I wanted to start off by asking you: If you could describe a little bit, what was it like arriving at Trafalgar Square a few weeks ago? Were you ready for that crowd?
Oliver: Kind of in a sense that we’d been told how big it was going to be. I knew that it was going to be a big thing because the map they showed us was an A to Z map which was like a big street map, really. But I think I was just blown away by the amount of people who were there. I think James and I were outside pushing the three hour mark, trying to meet everyone who had been waiting for hours and hours and days, even. So it was pretty insane but really, really cool to be part of.
Micah: And no rain, right?
Oliver: Yeah, that was it. It was really weird because earlier in the day, James and I went out to an interview. We went to a magic shop down the road in London, not far from Trafalgar Square, and it was really coming down hard and we thought, “Okay, it’s going to be raining all day.” And yeah, thankfully someone was spying up on us upstairs, as it were, and it was really nice and sunny, which was brilliant.
Micah: Cool. Now, what’s it like looking back over the last ten or so years, and now knowing that there’s no next movie to go to? It seems like there was a pretty set structure that you guys had where it was moving on to the next film to the next film, but now, there’s no Movie 9 to go to.
Oliver: No, I think it’s one of those things where – I mean, I really – I accepted a long time ago that we were doing the last movie, as it were. But it was quite odd at the premiere, seeing a load of people for the last time, that we’re all going to be in the same room, say, for a while, I would have thought. But it was good fun and it’s kind of one of those things where – what next? But at the same time, what better way to end the series and not go on to a number nine, because…
Oliver: …the films are the biggest, it’s the biggest movie ever, and that’s pretty cool.
Micah: Now, what’s the experience been like going through it with your brother, always having somebody there who you’re going through this with?
Oliver: It’s been – I mean, it was all really new for a long time, that’s how we perceived the acting world to be, and to have James there with me was cool because – especially going in something when you’re not from an acting background at all, to have someone there who you know, who you get on with, was really good to be able to share that with him and obviously we related always in that to our family when we’re back home – is quite handy because one of the things – I forget something and they all jump in.
Micah: Yeah. Now, as far as Deathly Hallows – Part 2, it shattered a lot of records both here in the US and abroad. What are your thoughts on how well Part 2 is doing at the box office?
Oliver: Yeah, I think it’s awesome and when we are making the movies, obviously we don’t judge how many people are going to be going to see these things, but I think that that was – I mean, my Twitter page was going wild…
Oliver: …on it every night. [laughs] Some people can’t know how – I think – I mean, I’m not exaggerating, it was over a thousand messages within about three hours or so of it opening in the States and everything. It was just insane. But that’s so cool to say I’m part of history, as it were, I’m in now. It’s going to take a pretty big chasm of time I think. That top spot as you say, breaking all the records worldwide, it’s – yeah, it’s pretty mind-blowing, really, because as you say, you don’t know how many people are going to be watching these things until you see it’s all over the news.
Micah: Yeah, I think it actually – it just passed Star Wars as the highest grossing franchise of all time, so – I mean, that’s just…
Oliver: Yeah, that’s pretty – especially because Star Wars has got probably twenty, thirty years on…
Micah: [laughs] Yeah.
Oliver: [laughs] Yeah, it’s mind-blowing, really. I think when James and I became part of it is because we chanced and went for an open audition, what, eleven years ago now? And we kind of just went on a whim. So I think if you were to tell me eleven years ago, “Oh and by the way, yeah, it will be bigger than Star Wars,” I’d probably laugh at you.
Micah: That’s a pretty good whim.
Oliver: Yeah, yeah, it was. I mean, it was – I mean, I’d read the first three books because the fourth one had just come out when we went to the audition, so I was familiar with the characters, as it were. But it was – yeah, it was kind of a – oh, you’re going to have to miss a day of school then. Oh no…
Oliver: …what can you do? So – [laughs] yeah. So massive, massive – it took a back burner for today, so to speak, and yeah, it worked out to be in our favor.
Micah: Yeah, definitely. Can you talk about the shift that – I mean, you guys have always been sort of involved on the comedy side of the films and it got a lot more serious in this film, particularly for you guys and having to film Fred’s death. What was that like?
Oliver: Yeah, it was a huge shift as opposed to what we had done in any other film before that. I mean, even in Part 1 it gets quite serious because Fred and George do have quite a bit of banter with each other. But yeah, to portray the same characters in a totally different light was pretty interesting, and not many actors get to be able to do that. But it wasn’t a scene I’d like to do too often because it was quite – very emotional because the way David gets you to – like trying to get you to react is to relate it to a certain part in your life to bring it real, which I’m all for because you really get the real emotional side of it. But it was quite draining seeing my own brother laid out on the floor all pale and not moving. It was quite an emotional couple of – I think we only took about five takes because it was so…
Oliver: It was – yeah, it was quite weird because I thought at first it would be a closed set, which means that no one is on set except the director, the cameraman, and the people in the scene, and then I walked into the Great Hall and – you see in the film, the whole hall was just filled with people. So yeah, that was a bit odd because I’m not really a crying type of guy, and to do that in front of a couple of hundred people was different, to say the least. [laughs]
Micah: Yeah. No, I would imagine it’s a pretty difficult scene to be able to shoot. But I guess kind of flipping it around, what was your favorite part of Deathly Hallows – Part 2?
Oliver: My favorite – what do you mean, to film or to watch?
Micah: Ahhh, both.
Oliver: Both. Well, I think to film, it would be – there’s the scene when Voldemort comes into Hogwarts and when we were filming that, it was quite a chilly day – and I think it was just before Christmas, yeah, so it was quite crisp in the air, as it were. And yeah, we were just standing there and the performance, what Ralph Fiennes gives, is just the ultimate villain, and you see how evil this bloke is and it sent shivers down my spine just filming it, so to do that was such a cool scene. And to watch – I mean, I quite like the scene when Matt Lewis, Neville, gets to chop off Nagini’s head.
Oliver: It was quite a cool scene.
Micah: Yeah, it was really cool.
Oliver: I think Matt is going to be talking about that for years.
Micah: Did you see that in 3D where the head sort of flies off at you?
Oliver: Yeah, yeah, it was awesome. I mean, the first time I saw the film, we were in Madrid on the promotional circuit, as it were, and there was only eight of us in this screening room for it, and it was this high definition 3D projector thing. And yeah, and to see it in that I thought, “Wow, it adds a totally different dimension to the school as well, engage a good size and scope of the whole thing.”
Micah: Yeah. Now, have there been any scenes over the years involving the Weasley twins that you would have liked to make the films but they didn’t? And it can either be maybe something that was deleted or something that you read in the books that you thought was really cool.
Oliver: Yeah. I mean, there’s a few, obviously, we would’ve liked to have them in. I think the swamp scene in The Goblet of Fire would have been cool, but that was never even in the original script, so – obviously timing purposes, but something like that would have been cool. Or maybe to have Peeves throughout the series would have added to the Fred and George thing, but it worked quite well without that. And scenes we filmed that didn’t make it – I can’t really remember too much, to be honest with you. You actually forget the scenes, when you filmed them, and then those are not in the film.
Oliver: [laughs] I’m not too sure on that, to be honest.
Micah: No problem. What has the fondest memory been at Leavesden over the last ten years? I mean, I guess you have a decade’s worth of memories there.
Oliver: Yeah, you really do. There’s a lot of people who come and go as well throughout the whole thing. I mean, one of my fondest memories was the Yule Ball scene in The Goblet of Fire, walking onto that set, because there was so much going on. There was – although The Weird Sisters didn’t make the final cut because there was some – there was a band called The Weird Sisters or something and it all got a bit political, so unfortunately that didn’t actually make it, but it was like a proper concert. One day when they were filming and they didn’t tell us anything that was going to happen, so there was all these pyrotechnics going off in the background…
Oliver: …and it was so cool. And it was just before Christmas as well, so everybody was getting into the festive spirit, actually.
Micah: That’s cool. I have a couple of Twitter questions here, that people sent in, and the first one here is from Bethany McCoy. She wanted to know:
“How did you guys decide who was going to play Fred and who was going to play George?
Oliver: We didn’t have the decision, it was quite funny. When we got to the first read-through – basically all the cast sit down in a big room and read through the script so they can gauge timings on it and everything. And we got there, and we didn’t know who was going to be Fred and who was going to be George. So Janet Hirshenson, who was the head casting director, was there and we said, “Do you know who’s playing who?” She said, “You’re kidding, right?” and I said, “No.” So we had to trot off and go speak to Chris Columbus, David Heyman – and J.K. Rowling was sitting there, and she came up and said, “Ahh, James, you’re Fred. Oliver, you’re George.” So we’d like to think that there was a lot of thought and…
Oliver: …real thinking about what was going to happen, [laughs] but it may have just been, “Oh yeah, you can be George.” So I’ll never know that question, but I probably don’t want to know the answer, to be honest.
Micah: David Givon says:
“What was your favorite prank that Fred and George played throughout the series?”
Oliver: I think there’s the scene in The Half-Blood Prince – was it The Half-Blood Prince? No, not at all. The Order of the Phoenix when you see them testing out the Skiving Snackboxes, and there’s this one lad sitting there and he gets the mumps, and his jaw just swells up and drops down. That was really funny.
Micah: [laughs] Payola says:
“If Fred hadn’t died, where would you have seen him and George nineteen years later?”
Oliver: Nineteen years – I think they’d probably have a chain of Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. Yeah, they’d probably be up there, a franchise in itself, I think. But yeah, I’m not too sure what their personal stance is. They’re probably married with kids who are causing just as much trouble as they do.
Micah: [laughs] Now, did you get a chance to take anything, any props, from Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes?
Oliver: There was only – I mean, you’re not supposed to, but I think everyone was having a go that day…
Oliver: …so I thought, “Oh, I’d be quick.”
Micah: Hypothetically speaking. [laughs]
Oliver: Hypothetically, it would be – yeah, there’s a bag, what they sell in – or what they put all the products in when they sell them, and I would have taken one of those, so to speak. It looked really cool to have and it’s quite different. It’s not like the normal part of props. So yeah, I’d have that and have that framed on my wall because that was only Fred and George’s thing.
Micah: Nice. And Tom asked – this is a bit of a different question. You’re a big sports fan. Do you follow anything here in the United States?
Oliver: Yeah, the NFL would be the main thing I watch over there. Obviously with the lockout, I’m not sure if we’re going to see it. So I’ve been to the last two NFL games in London.
Micah: Oh wow.
Oliver: Yeah, I never really got into it because we were in Chicago for the world exhibit, and they were opening it there and the guy said to us in the warm-ups, “What do you want to do?” So I said, “Oh, I’d quite like to see the Bears play. They’re playing tonight.” So we were fortunate enough – I felt really – I felt like I was taking it from someone who really deserved it, but we went to – we were actually able to go on the field before the game and everything, and I got really into that then. But it’s more of a tactical game so I think if you don’t understand it, it could seem quite boring. But yeah, I really got into it, so ever since then I’ve been watching it all the time and yeah, my team is the Bears. They’re actually playing in London this year, so hopefully I’ll be able to get down there and see them kick stuff.
Micah: Yeah. Yeah, I think the lockout is actually supposed to hopefully resolve itself in some capacity today, so hopefully…
Oliver: Oh right. Oh cool. Yeah, because the news here is a bit hit and miss at times in between, really, over here, so sometimes you hear that they’ve – that something’s happening and other times you don’t, so – oh, that would be awesome if it does.
Micah: Yeah, absolutely. All right, the last few questions I have here are kind of like really quick questions. What was your favorite book in the series?
Oliver: The Goblet of Fire.
Micah: What is the favorite scene that you filmed as George?
Oliver: The ear scene in Part 1 when they bring him in and he’s all a bloody mess.
Micah: The holey scene.
Oliver: Yeah, the holey scene.
Micah: [laughs] Favorite character?
Oliver: Probably Voldemort, to be honest. As I say, you got the ultimate villain. I don’t think there’s ever been a villain in film or literature where he just doesn’t seem to have any leeway, like you see him in Part 2 where he just kills this bloke who questions him once, because – yeah, I can’t remember why now. He says, “Don’t you think you should give the kids some more time?” and that’s the end of him.
Micah: [laughs] Favorite creature?
Micah: Favorite spell?
Oliver: Probably Expecto Patronum just because – I was able to do it in the film, but I never saw what the Patronus was for George. I would have been intrigued by that.
Micah: What do you think it would be?
Oliver: Probably something like a monkey.
Oliver: Like a cheeky monkey or something like that, always up to mischief. You don’t know what it’s ever going to be doing.
Micah: And if you could have one of the Deathly Hallows, which one would it be?
Oliver: What would it be? Probably the Elder Wand just because it could come in handy when you’re doing jobs around the house, like I’ve just come back from the promo tour last week and I still have all my stuff to do, like cleaning and everything, so I think the Elder Wand would come in handy for that.
Micah: Yeah. All right…
Oliver: Yeah, it could just get all my stuff, and wash it and everything.
Micah: Yeah, you were traveling around quite a bit, right? It seemed as if you were all over the world.
Oliver: Yeah, yeah, we really enjoy doing the promo things because it’s a good way to go and meet all the fan base. As I say, you don’t understand how many people have seen it when you’re filming, so to be able to go and watch it, and meet people – I mean, we went to Helsinki, the noise out there was insane. It was so loud. And then – yeah, we do. So in the space of about two weeks, we went to Florida, to the Wizarding World in Orlando at the Universal Resort. Then we went to Madrid, Amsterdam, Rome, London for the main premiere, Dublin, Helsinki, Paris, and then Hong Kong.
Oliver: So it was quite a fun trip, but we have [unintelligible], so you got to make the most of these things while you can.
Micah: So you racked up a few miles there.
Oliver: A few. Yeah, I did join a few…
Oliver: …loyalty clubs, shall we say, so I may cash those in one day.
Oliver: It’s one of those things you think, “Oh, do I really want to do this?” I mean, we were always very fortunate with the way we travel. It’s not like we’re doing it in a shoebox. They would put us at the front of the plane, so to speak, so we have some nice leg room. I mean, I’m quite tall. I’m six foot three, so I’m really glad with the leg room that we get.
Micah: Yeah. No, I’m about six foot, so I understand where you’re coming from.
Oliver: Yeah, especially on the long-haul trips.
Micah: Yeah. And just quickly, speaking of the Wizarding World, I mean, what’s it been like going there after having spent so much time on set?
Oliver: It’s absolutely amazing to see that they’ve been able to do that in a totally different environment, really. I mean, it’s not like a film set where you’ve got time to set things up and it’s all – everything needs to be built and really well out there, and I think that’s the cool thing about it because when they told us originally that they’re building a theme park at Universal for Harry Potter, it’s like, oh right, okay. Yeah, it’s just going to be a roller coaster and I’ll stick a Harry Potter sticker on the side of it, that type of thing.
Oliver: And it’s totally all about Harry Potter. I mean, we’ve been fortunate to go there three – four times now, even. And the guys at Universal really know their stuff and – we went back there last month, it was the first time that we had seen – like, with people in there, and it’s just been so cool. They said it was a quiet day, God knows what the busy days are like. So within a month, they passed a million people on the ride, and within I think eleven months, over seven million people had gone on the Forbidden Journey ride. So it’s doing well, I think.
Micah: Yeah, what did you think of the Forbidden Journey?
Oliver: Yeah, it was awesome. I’ve never seen technology like that. It was fantastic. I remember when we did a little cameo at the end when we’re just standing waving in the Great Hall.
Oliver: And again, they were using these huge cameras to get the whole realistic thing of it, and the thing with the ride is that you don’t really know where you’re going to be seeing it or anything like that, but it’s just a fun, fast-moving ride, which is really cool. And I think the best way to describe it to people who haven’t been on it is it’s almost like an arm for what they used to make cars. It’s probably the best way to describe it, the robotic arm type of thing, and you’re on a seat in that, and it’s taking you all around Hogwarts and everywhere.
Micah: Yeah, yeah, they flip you a million and one different directions, too. You never know what’s coming next.
Oliver: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, exactly. So it’s – and it’s a really cool part when the Dementors come near you and you see your face in the…
Oliver: …clouds and everything. It’s pretty cool.
Micah: Yeah, that was really cool. Yeah. Well, before I let you go, I just wanted to ask, do you have any future projects that are coming up?
Oliver: Yeah, there’s a few things certainly in the pipeline at the moment. Both James and myself are looking to do stuff separately. I think that’s the important thing, or how we see it, is to define ourselves and [unintelligible], which we’re happy to do and we like doing it, but it will just be good for our own self-esteem, I think, to be able to go out there and do something different apart from each other. So there’s one thing that I’m still waiting to hear on, that’s looking quite promising, which is a film. And there’s another thing which is I’ve been asked to do a film called Latin Quarter, but I’m not too sure when that starts filming, it keeps getting pushed back, but – yeah, hopefully that will be sometime in the near future.
Micah: Cool. Well, really appreciate you taking the time to come on the podcast with us.
Oliver: Awesome. No problem. Well, thanks for all the support over the years.