Harry Melling Discusses the Complexities of Chess in “The Queen’s Gambit”
One does not have to love chess to enjoy this seven-episode Netflix drama, The Queen’s Gambit. The story is solely in the character arcs, such as Harry Beltik’s (Harry Melling, who played Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter films). Melling talked with Awards Daily about the quiet moments of the game of chess and the character’s relationship with Beth, the protagonist of the series.
Based on Walter Tevis’s novel, the story is about an orphaned young lady, Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy), who rises to fame from her incredible chess skills while also struggling with substance abuse. Harry is her chess rival, a mentor, and a brief love interest.
Believe it or not, Melling had never played chess before the series. He learned with a chess coach, Bruce Pandolfini, who workshopped style and personality into his character. Melling describes a time where he got too aggressive with a chess piece, and coach Pandolfini questioned whether it was something Harry Beltik would do or something Harry Melling would do. Melling also studied and based his movements on professional chess player Magnus Carlsen.
I remember being very obsessed with the angle of how he would handle the pieces. It’s a very kind of vertical to them and how he moved them. It gave him a nimbleness and an elegance and a delicacy that would be in keeping to who Harry was.
Many would think a show about chess would be tedious. But Melling describes it as an intense mind game, trying to predict an opponent’s next move, credited by the genius of creators Scott Frank and Allan Scott.
I think Scott [Frank]’s genius is investing the game of chess with emotion. For some people, that’s quite an extraordinary hook. I tell people that I’m doing a series about chess and they roll their eyes. It’s like, ‘No, no, it’s not what you think.’ It’s an intense game, and I thought it was clever how the themes of the game cross the themes of the story.
Of course, the most vulnerable moments for Melling’s character come after he’s rejected by Beth. When he realizes that she doesn’t need him, professionally or romantically, his character takes a huge shift away from chess.
There’s something about re-evaluating his life after meeting Beth…and he’s not a scratch to her. That’s a pretty huge pill to take, and that’s any profession. You can apply that to anything. Often when you go back to the thing that you consider a first love or choice of occupation, it’s always a painful experience. You always think about how your life didn’t turn out the way you thought it would.
The Queen’s Gambit is now streaming on Netflix. You can watch the trailer below.