Off to See the Wizard, a Chris Rankin InterviewRankin Interviews
The long-awaited Chris Rankin interview! Enjoy! Click on the link below for the whole interview, and click the pics for larger versions.
By Melissa Anelli for The Leaky Cauldron
On the yellow brick road
How busy has Chris Rankin been since finishing filming on Prisoner of
Busy. Busy. Buuuu-sy. So busy that we sat down for this interview Halloween
weekend, 2004, and this is the first opportunity TLC has had to post the interview.
Why? Thanks to a recording mishap, we had to reschedule/re-discuss part of what
we talked about that night. Not too much of a problem, right? E-mail is fast,
phone lines even faster, reconnecting should be a breeze.
Wrong. It took more than three months and many, many, too-many e-mails where
the most commonly expressed thought — as equally on one side as the
other — was, "No, that time's not going to work for me. How about
tomorrow?" Only when this absolutely determined TLC editor sent an
e-mail that read something like "10PM YOUR TIME TONIGHT RANKIN OR ELSE,
BE THERE!" was this interview finally finished.
So what has Chris been up to that's kept him away from frazzled and
capitalization-abusive interviewers? Not Goblet of Fire; as far as he knows,
Percy does not show a single pompous hair in the fourth Potter film. But as one of the
first HP actors to find acting life outside the films, he's sure managed to
do good work with the time.
He's playing tonight at the Norwich
playhouse as the Young Syrian in Oscar Wilde's Salome, the latest offering
from his very own theater group, the Painted
Horse Theatre Company. As he puts it, he's now actor/director/producer/God
to a small band of devoted thespians, and he's finding the theatrical life even
more thrilling than life behind a camera lens - especially when it leads to controversies about nudity onstage (more about that later).
Chris outside Wicked
When we met in October, it was to see Wicked, the hit Broadway musical based on the book based on the Wizard of Oz. It starred at the time Idina Menzel, who won a Tony award for her rendition of the Wicked Witch of the West Chris had, at that point, been listening to the Wicked soundtrack
for months, and was practically overflowing with excitement. As both of us love
Broadway with the force usually associated with, well, Harry Potter fans,
we literally went skipping down the street — all we needed was a picnic
basket, a yappy-type dog and some glittery shoes.
Chris was in the middle of a twister himself, a tour of the US that stopped
him in nine cities in less than two weeks. Our interview began just before the
show, on the way to pick up some pictures from a hotel room littered in Playbills,
memo pads, pens, books, and the odd piece of Harry Potter paraphrenalia
given to him by a fan. With fifteen minutes to curtain, we stopped for coffee
and began our chat: on theater, work, Harry Potter and life when you're
not filming one.
TLC: Do you dance around singing to it? CR: I do. The music makes me very happy. There's one song in particular called
"Dancing Through Life" that's kind of my song.
CR: Basically is what it says is people who have been to school don't get the
best of life. First line is, "The trouble with school is they always try
and teach the wrong lesson." And I kind of didn't really do school after
16. I did, but I kind of failed, miserably.
TLC: So what lessons have you learned outside of school?
CR: That it's all about life and experience and what you learn, which is where
Rent comes in. "No day but today."
TLC: What kind of life experiences are you talking about?
CR: Just that when you're 16 and you go off to make a film and at the time you
don't really realize it but it turns out to be the biggest thing since Ben
Hur, and you're kind of thrown into the world of Hollywood glitz and glamour.
You suddenly realize that you have to do what you want to do rather than what
people tell you to do.
TLC: What were people telling you to do?
CR: Well, people say, "You should do this, you should do that, you shouldn't
be doing this, you shouldn't be doing that." I'm going, "Now I'll
do what I like." If people stop and talk to me I'll stop and talk to them,
why should I go, "No, no, I'm famous don't talk to me."? Why, what's
the point? Generally people who want to be in the business but aren't tell you
how you should be living your life and give you their advice, and that's always
TLC: What's been the worst advice?
CR: Probably somebody told me I should never do theater work because you never
get famous by doing theater.
TLC: Who is this person?
CR: I can't remember, it was an extra, somebody who should have known better.
But you do get people who don't really know what they're talking about and don't
really know you, and think you do.
TLC: So why are you attracted to theater?
CR: The buzz, having audience there. Right in front of you. And the fact that
when you get to the end of the play they, hopefully, stand up and clap for you
and they go, "Yes, we like you," and you get the "People actually
like me" thing, whereas film, you do it and seven or eight months later
it's released and you never quite get the same feedback. Films end, people go
home. They don't clap, they don't applaud, they don't come to the stage door
and say, "Well done, we liked the show," whatever, afterwards. You
don't get the feedback. Also with theater there's that wonderful knowledge that
anything can happen, and if anything happens you can't say, "Sorry, can
we do that again?" You carry on regardless. If you [mess] up it's your
TLC: What's happened to you onstage?
CR: Oh, God, all sorts of things. First time something dreadful happened
was when I was in Jesus Christ, Superstar, at 16, and I was playing Jesus,
which was fun, but we were doing "Strangely Mystifying," which
was right at the beginning of the show, and the guy playing Judas didn't
come on. No Judas. I'm just standing there going, "OK..." He
came on eventually. The band fortunately realized. Offstage you hear people
going, "Gary? Where's Gary? Quick, get Gary!" We danced and
we got through it.
In professional stuff generally when things go wrong it's in pantomime, and
with pantomime you get audience participation and you have to stay on your toes
because you never know quite what people are going to throw at you.
TLC: You're doing pantomime again this year? [Note: Chris played in
the Derby Pantomime, in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, in December.]
CR: This year will be my third pantomime. It's a show that's
put on at Christmas for kids. It's a family show, always done around Christmas,
based around fairy tales. We're doing Snow White this year, but I've done
Jack and the Beanstalk, the lot. General thing is you have your beautiful
princess, a comedic character who's usually court jester, and then his
mother, who is always played by a guy in drag and people — the tradition
was people shout out and everybody always knows what to shout out and
when to shout it out, and all that stuff, and then you get the people
who know what to shout out but shout out the wrong things at the wrong
time so you're not expecting it, which makes every single performance
different, because people will shout out different things. The comedian
will improvise to throw you off script, that's always fun, when you go
onstage and you don't know what's going to happen. Ever.
TLC: Have you ever improvised on set?
CR: Yeah, sometimes. Chamber of Secrets was interesting. In the Burrow scene,
with Julie Walters and Mark Williams, in the breakfast scene, most of that was
improvised. For instance the line where Bonnie, Ginny, comes down the stairs
and says, "Mom, have you seen my jumper?" and she says, "Yes
dear, it's on the cat." Not in the script! The bit where Mr. Weasley says
something about, "So, what exactly is the purpose of rubber duck?"
I think we did 20 takes, every one was, "What is the purpose of a dipstick,
what is the purpose of a lollipop?" etc. So we did it every time something
different came out and we laughed and laughed and laughed at that.
With Alfonso, Alfonso's quite literally improvisational, kind of, see what happens,
put the camera on, know where you're moving. The scene comes to an end and then
he'll keep rolling anyway to see what kind of comes naturally after that, which
is always fun, which is why I like working with Alfonso, because he just pushes
TLC: What are some things that came naturally after the scene ended?
CR: There wasn't so much with me, but you know, he'd just kind of, quite often
with cinema the scene finishes but what happens in that scene hasn't necessarily
finished. So he just kind of carries it on to a point where, for instance, they'll
be in the Great Hall and they're having a talk and it snaps next to a Snape
classroom scene or whatever, Alfonso will take the dialogue [in the Great Hall
scene] past where it is until they say, "We have to go to Potions,"
and just sort of roll it on until they get up and go, and that sort of thing.
TLC: Did he indicate to do it that way, or did the actors?
CR: He kind of said, "We'll get to the end of the scene, and go with the
flow until they cut and see what happens."
TLC: Did you get the idea that that was for the purpose of footage or
CR: A bit of both, I think. Because it means, rather than just going to the
end of the scene, for instance, "Keep an eye on the staircase, they like
to change," cut, you kind of go, "Keep an eye on the staircases, they
like to change. Now come on, quickly, up the staircase, up we go, next to the
Gryffindor common room!" So it kind of flows more.
TLC: That's something you really can't do with theater, so which form
do you find better for character work?
CR: I find theater better for character work because I don't go into this,
I don't go in for the Mike Leigh approach of 26 months, being your character.
Mike Leigh, I was talking to, on this thing I did for the BBC, The Rotter's
Club, I was working with Timothy Spall's son, who is fantastic, but he
was saying, his dad does a lot of work with Mike Leigh. His Dad was saying
the guy will spend six months following you around the streets, and you
have to go into shops as your character, buy things, interact with people
as your character, and he follows you around from a distance. He kind
of makes notes and all stuff like that. I'm not into that. For theater
I find it's, with me the character comes when you get into costume and
makeup and things like that. For instance in pantomime I play the baddie
with a kind of Richard III hump, and I black one of my teeth out an I have
this huge scar on my face and really black eyes...and that's when the character
comes. It kind of comes naturally after 10 minutes or so. I played Fagin
in Oliver when I was 15, and we spent six months rehearsing it, and I
just could not get the character. We went into dress rehearsal, I got
the nose and the beard and the costume, complete utter makeover. The director
was like, "Where did that come from?" That's what I like. When
it suddenly clicks.
TLC: When did it click with Percy?
CR: Pretty much right away, because Percy, he's not a big enough character that
you have to think too hard about. And the way I play it, I play him over the
top, I play melodrama with Percy a lot of the time.
TLC: Why did you make that choice?
CR: Because the way he's scripted, if you said it seriously he'd just sound
stupid. Not lines to get your teeth into, really. But you kind of go, [puts
on Percy puffed-out voice] "First years, follow me, quickly, this way,
mworha ha ha ha," and it becomes funny. The humor comes in the melodrama
with Percy. And Percy's so pompous and over the top anyway. In the third film
we kind of toned it down because Alfonso's style is much more natural and deadpan
than the Chris Columbus's style, which his good in its own right, sets the films
up brilliantly, but the way Alfonso works is much more levelheaded and you play
it as you would be yourself eventually.
TLC: But you still do have that moment of "I'm Head Boy!"
CR: Yes, "I'm Head BOY!" Yeah, that was fun, that. I have bruises.
TLC: Did they all trample you?
CR: Devon Murray pushed me over every single take. I love the boy but, damn
TLC: Did he gun for you?
CR: Yeah! He's like, "Chris!" [Chris mimes being pushed down.] We
have a lot of fun.
TLC: What's the most fun you've ever had on a Potter set?
CR: Burrow. Burrow or the Halloween scene, the one with Quirrell, which was
fun because it went right to take, which is unusual. Usually you'll spend three
or four takes just rehearsing it, you'll take a rehearsal take. But this one
went straight through to take. None of us knew what Ian Hart was going to do
when he ran through that door. We knew what the line was, but when he came running
through that door, that was his first take, that TROLL IN THE DUNGEON!
TLC: In the movie, that was his first take?
CR: Yeah, I believe so. None of us knew what was going to happen. And
we'd all been eating — we'd been doing background shots all day,
kind of close up, and all that. So we'd all been eating sweets all day,
we're all on sugar highs. Daniel, Rupert and Emma were all, what, 10,
11, at the time. Kids that age, and sugar, bad bad bad bad bad move. And
you know what Rupert's like when he gets giggly, we've all seen it.
TLC: Did he?
CR: Yeah. At the end of the day Rupert was just sitting there in the corner
going [mimes giggling]. They went through a stage of serving us Red Bull in
the games room. Bad, bad, bad. I don't think it was meant for the kids but the
kids ended up drinking it and caffeine is bad. I did a show when I was 14, and
I was cycling to and from the show every day, which is five mile sthere and
five miles back. And it was like a three and a half hour show, and we're drinking
Red Bull, and I was driving there at 40 miles an hour on a push bike. Forty
miles an hour on Red Bull.
TLC: How many hours were you usally on set?
CR: It depends what you're doing. A good example is the Great Hall scene. For
me, that would be 14 hours. The scenes in the first film in the Great Hall,
the opening scene, that took 14 days to do because of the thousands and thousands
of kids, the visual effects with Nearly Headless Nick and the food appearing.
It took a long time to do and there was a lot of precision work involved. But
yeah, that was long. They can't work minors until 7 o' clock at night so after
that generally I'm free, unless they're doing something that involves Percy;
maybe close-ups or whatever, they put the stand-ins in and they have extras
that come in late at night so they can film. But they can't work the main cast
past seven, I think it is.
TLC: They're getting to the age, though, where it will be okay.
CR: Yeah, once they're 16, problem solved. Muah ha ha.
TLC: Since the fifth book came out, how much thought have you put into
CR: I don't put too much thought into Percy generally because I think he kind
of happens on his own and when it happens in book five, it's sort of BAM, it's
there. I mean, we know in book four he's an a--hole anyway. He's an a--hole
generally most of the time. But when it gets to book five it's sort of, "Oh
my god, where did that come from?" So I'm kind of, if I get as far as film
five, it'll just come out of nowhere.
Right about here we realize it's time to go to the show - an amazing and
After a tour of the sets, we notice Joey McIntyre, who played Fiyero (Elphaba
Oh, yes: This was also the night that the Boston Red Sox won the World
We flopped into chairs in a hotel lobby, still seeing visions of green
TLC: And the book Wicked, I don't know that I think it's fantasy.
TLC: So they're using the Harry Potter thing?
TLC: Instead you have a theater company. Tell us about Painted Horse.
TLC: So you sit in front of your computer in a nice outfit.
In the time between our first and second chats, Chris Rankin's Painted
"Nicole Kidman has done it and was hailed as “theatrical
Salome, the title character, takes off a wedding dress to seduce King Herod
When we spoke again in February, Chris was in the middle of this dustup.
TLC: Did you read about Idina Menzel falling [and breaking a rib] on
TLC: The "Salome" 'nudity' issue; does it bother you that
Our name's been kind of splashed all over the national media. People know who
Hopefully we can play that to our advantage in that, people are going to come
TLC: Have there been diasadvantages?
TLC: How was filming on The Rotter's Club?