Portraying an icon is never easy. But actor Jamie Parker had a strange task ahead of him when he took on the title role in Broadway’s new Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: He had to bring to life the famous literary figure but in adulthood—a phase author J.K. Rowling had not inscribed in her best-selling series. Cursed Child begins where the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows finished, 19 years after the Battle of Hogwarts with Harry and Ginny—now married—and Ron and Hermione—also married—seeing their kids off to the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Even though Potterheads barely met this “19 years later” Harry, there is pressure to get him right. Since being cast in the role for the world premiere production in London’s West End (and earning an Olivier Award for it) Parker has felt excited at the opportunity to answer clamoring fans with this work. “That huge audience of hundreds of millions of people who want to share that world with him, it’s a pretty vivid and vibrant place to live,” he says. Now, bringing the character to Broadway, Parker digs deeper into Potter lore and his own capacities to create an enriched Harry.
The actor considers the series a “seven-volume backstory there to fill in the gaps” but he relies on Jack Thorne’s script to dictate present-day Harry, who is a husband, a father to three kids, and a working wizard. “You’re always trying to find common ground with whatever you do, but you want to not be thinking about yourself when you’re performing a play,” he says. “The job is getting yourself out of the way and letting the character go about the scenes.”
In creating the monumental figure of “the boy who lived,” Parker explored pieces of Harry to unlock the man behind the legend:
Father to James, Albus Severus, and Lily, Harry finds himself pushed to new limits. “Everybody Harry ever loved has either been at serious risk of dying or has actually died horribly. He’s got a lot of survivor’s guilt; there’s a lot of self-recrimination. How does that all manifest itself as he goes along? It’s made him a fighter,” says Parker. “His familiar ground is conflict, and that can make him not the easiest person in the world to get along with. He’s flawed, and sometimes he says bad things to good people and that’s what Albus is wrestling with, this intensely famous father who can be quite brittle and reactionary to small things. He’s been on guard his whole life and you go on your guard with your child and expect them to be happy and comfortable and confident in your company, and to flourish in your presence, whether you’re physically there or not. You have to learn how to drop his guard. For a lifelong fighter, that’s going to be difficult.”
A building block of the Harry Potter series is the deep friendship binding Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Having met on the Hogwarts Express at the age of 11, the trio grew up together. Now that 19 years have past, Parker and his castmates must convince audiences their friendship has strengthened as lifelong friendships would and that Harry's marriage to Ginny has manifested far past his high school crush. “The difference between theatre and film is that you do get to spend a lot of time with each other,” says Parker of forming real-life bonds with Poppy Miller, Noma Dumezweni, and Paul Thornley who play his comrades. “But Harry won the lottery with Hermione and with Ginny. Hermione convinces him that he’s not alone, that he deserves not to be alone in spite of everything that happens. What’s amazing about Hermione and Ginny is that they can both handle him. Hermione is cleverer than him. Ginny’s fiercer and more constant than him. Her steadfastness combined with her passion is deeply moving just by its very existence in Harry’s life. Ron can disarm him by making him laugh—that is real friendship. It’s something I wish I could do. In spite all of his misfortune, Harry’s an incredibly lucky guy because of the people he’s picked up.”
Witchcraft and Wizardry
From the first Alohamora!, audiences must feel Harry is a highly trained expert who’s practiced magic for 30 years. “Wizarding is technical to me,” says Parker. “When you get something that adds up to more than the sum of its parts, that feeling is magic to me. That’s a kind of alchemy. So when you take on a new skill set, like weaving illusions, you’re like a newborn baby trying to grip hold of stuff and you keep dropping it and you keep getting it wrong and being really rubbish at it for a long time. The practice is just repetition until it becomes second nature.” Parker compares advancing his wizardry to martial arts classes. “I was in the beginner level, but the top level (seventh stand) were there in the beginners’ class; they just didn’t leave after we left. The masters always go right back to the basics. With magic, you try to make it as unthinking as you can. My wand feels like an extension of my arm. It lives on my left and I know exactly where that pocket is and it comes out at a moment’s notice.”
Before he celebrates his 11th birthday, Harry Potter goes through unimaginable tragedy. “To me, the wonder of Harry isn’t that he goes to any of the dark places he goes in the story of Cursed Child, but having been raised by the Dursleys and gone through the trauma of his adolescence that his behavior is as good as it is,” says Parker. But the residual pain of losing his parents as a baby, being tortured by his cousin, and facing death in the face of Lord Voldemort multiple times, roars to the surface through Harry’s scar—the most distinctive element of Parker’s character. “It is post-traumatic stress. It manifests itself in this sort of behavior,” he says. “The moments his scar hurts—it’s a lot of screaming. I’ve done a lot of shows over a long time and I’ve lost my voice on plays before and it’s because I’ve been thinking closely about what I’m doing with my voice. Babies can scream all day and never lose their voice because they just mean it. As long as you mean it, then it carries you through. It’s do it or don’t. [Rowling] is pretty brutal in her writing about the pain, about what it feels like, his head splitting open and it hurting so badly that he loses all sense of time and place. He gets to the point of wanting to retch and the experience being this sort of proper, extraordinary almost exorcism. You just got to do it. Do it or don’t.”