He may have cut his acting teeth at Hogwarts, but Matthew Lewis tells Finlay Greig why Harry Potter - and that fat suit - almost snuffed out his love of performing for good.
In the BBC’s Victorian crime drama Ripper Street, Matthew Lewis plays the forward-thinking Sergeant Samuel Drummond. The actor describes Drum’s journey as a bit of a “roller-coaster”, a word that that could equally describe Lewis’ own life since his departure from the Harry Potter franchise.
The Leeds-born actor has since appeared in a variety of roles, from romantic drama Me Before You to a murder suspect in series two of Happy Valley and admits that his work post-Potter reignited a passion that waned during his final years at Hogwarts.
“I felt like a kid who got lucky and was doing an acting gig,” he explains. “Now I feel like an actor. I’ve learned more since leaving Harry Potter than I did in the previous decade.”
For 10 years from 2001, Lewis was synonymous with the lovable, hapless yet ultimately heroic Neville Longbottom. Despite the character’s universal popularity, however, he was keen to step into some different shoes.
“Whenever you’re involved in a big machine like Harry Potter it’s easy to get lost among it,” he says. “As well looked after as we were on those films, and as much as a pleasure as they were, I was sick of playing the same character over and over again.
“I wasn’t sure if acting was what I wanted to do. Now I’m working on smaller films and TV shows. They are the kind of projects you feel more involved in.
“I’ve learned more in the last five or six years, than I did in the previous 10. I’ve been really fortunate that people have allowed me to keep working and play a variety of characters. It’s really opened my eyes to the industry.”
In this the fifth and final series of Ripper Street, Drummond is afforded a more prominent role. Torn between siding with the police force and friends and fugitives on the run, Lewis says he has relished portraying a character with greater depth.
“He’s someone who likes to do things by the book. He’s quite straight laced and believes in law and order. But now suddenly the black and white lines that he’s been so used to seeing throughout his career become grey.”
Saying goodbye to the rest of the cast was inveitably sad, but writer Richard Warlow had always planned to draw the show to a close after five series and the finale promises to leave no lose ends untied.
“Richard wanted to round it off before the turn of the century and the death of Queen Victoria,” says Lewis. “That was always the plan. It was really satisfying to be involved in a show that actually got to play out its ultimate goal.”
One thing that Lewis won’t miss about Ripper Street is Drummond’s trademark moustache. The 27-year-old shaved off the facial hair the same day filming wrapped. That said, Lewis is used to modifying his appearance for his art.
At various points during the Harry Potter franchise, he had to wear a fat suit, false teeth and pieces of plastic to make his ears stick out. This contributed to his doubts over pursuing acting long-term.
“As a 15 year old kid, I thought: ‘I’ve had enough of this’.”
Now he’s much more appreciative of his place in the Harry Potter universe – despite the unflattering costumes.
“As a teenager I wasn’t sitting there thinking about character and about motivation and about the effect that Neville was having on people from home. People who were inspired by him. I didn’t think about all that. I wish I’d been a bit more grateful perhaps.”
Lewis is making up for all those years in a fat suit however. In 2015 he appeared in a revealing cover shoot for Attitude magazine, launching himself to unlikely sex symbol status.
“It’s not something that I ever anticipated,” he says. “I never thought as a kid that anyone would want to put me on the front of a magazine.”