Oliver Phelps, best known for playing George Weasley in the Harry Potter films, talks to us about swapping magic for murder as he makes his stage debut in The Case Of The Frightened Lady.
What can you tell me about The Case Of The Frightened Lady?
The Case Of The Frightened Lady is a thrilling whodunnit set in the 1930s, based on an Edgar Wallace novel. The police are called to an old manor house to investigate a murder. I love that aristocratic era in which it’s set.
I play a young detective who’s very vigilant. He’s switched on and always taking notes. And he’s always watching what his superior officer, Detective Tanner, is doing because he’s trying to learn from him.
Why did you want to be part of this show?
When I read the script, it just kept me guessing right to the end. That is the sign of a great story. There’s nothing more boring than going to see a whodunnit and realising who did it early on. This play certainly doesn’t give you that. Your mind changes throughout the show as to who has committed the crime.
This is your professional stage debut. How are you feeling about performing live theatre?
You’re right, it’s something I’ve not done before, which I’m really excited to be able to try. The way I see it, if you want to be taken seriously, you’ve got to be able to do theatre.
I’m lucky, because the majority of the cast have already performed the show lots on tour. Joining the company, I thought it might be a ‘first day of school’ situation, but they were all brilliant. I know I need to prove that I can do it live in a theatre, but I love that sink or swim challenge and I’m sure I’ll find out there’s no better place to sink or swim than on the stage.
Looking back on it now, how was the experience of starring in the Harry Potter films?
It’s only when you look back that you realise it really was huge. It still is. When you’re so close to it, you don’t understand the size. You think every film has a £120 million budget. I’ve since learned that isn’t the case. At the first premiere Robbie Coltrane said to us “Guys, this is like having a Rolls Royce for your first car.” At the time I didn’t understand what he meant. I now understand it a lot more.
My brother and I have travelled a lot with Harry Potter: The Exhibition. It’s amazing to see people who came to that who weren’t even born when the films came out but know everything about them. When you’re filming, you don’t realise you’re part of something that has that impact.
Are there any moments from that time that really stand out?
It was pretty terrifying when Barak Obama’s family came for lunch in the Great Hall and the secret service were on the roof with their rifles. You needed to have your staff pass that day.
And when we had the last premiere in London. It was full of thousands of people who just wanted to see us. Some of them had queued outside for days on end to watch people go into a cinema to watch a film that they wouldn’t see for another fortnight. It’s a pretty hard concept to get your head around.
How do you feel about living the touring life with this production?
When I was filming the Harry Potter movies, I virtually lived in a hotel room for nine months of the year, so I know how it can be. You can just sit down and do nothing the whole time. It’s the worst when someone asks, “What did you do?” and you say, “I don’t know,” which I have been guilty of doing before. So I’m really looking forward to visiting parts of the country I haven’t seen before. And I’m taking my golf clubs and my gym bag. I’ve already been exploring places to play golf.
Are there any places you’re particularly looking forward to visiting?
Quite a few of my pals who don’t normally go to the theatre are coming along. It will be a new experience for them, so I’m looking forward to those dates. In Leeds, a friend actually works for the theatre. Another friend has a company based in York, so people will be coming there. And then there’s Coventry. I’m from Sutton Coldfield, only 25 minutes down the road, so a few of my pals will come there.
Do you think, like with your friends, you’ll attract new people to the theatre?
Hopefully. If people want to come and see someone who was in the Potter films, but they enjoy the experience and it brings them back for another show, that’s a great reason to do this.
Theatre engages with people, not just on the story front but with the whole experience of going in person and not being sat on your own. When I saw the show a couple of weeks ago, it was fantastic when the interval came down; the first thing you see is people turning to each other and discussing it.