Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has so much to offer. It's packed with stage magic and special effects, peppered with satisfying references to the Potterverse of the first seven books, and brimming with beloved characters. As Jenny Jules, who plays Hermione, points out, that opportunity to reconnect with old literary friends is one of the most compelling reasons to spend the better part of your Saturday (or Sunday or consecutive weekday nights) in a dimly lit theater. But Jules also has a special perspective on another one of the show's most marvelous aspects: the opportunity for audiences new to the Wizarding World to connect with J.K. Rowling's flawed but fierce characters.
In Cursed Child, Hermione is, for the first time explicitly, a person of color. For Jules, that character choice is important because it makes the brilliant, wild-haired witch a more accessible role model for more people. But the color of Hermione's skin is only one aspect of the role that Jules calls an honor and a privilege to play. As for her other traits, Jules explains that the grown-up version of Hermione is pretty much exactly who you thought she'd be — and more importantly, precisely what tween Hermione always knew was possible.
In Cursed Child, Hermione is the Minister for Magic. How do you think Hermione has matured since the books?
She's grown up…and she becomes the person she knows she is. She's the smartest person in the wizarding world. She says, "Listen to me." And they do.
And what I love about Hermione is, she gets her love. She gets to be with Ron, who she's always loved. I'm reading some of the books again, and I'm laughing at how they just butt up all the time! And that's that energy of, "What is it that makes me spark when I'm near you?" She doesn't have that same relationship with Harry because Harry is her brother. She identifies with Harry. He's an only child; so is she. He was raised in a Muggle land; so was she. She understands him better than anyone else in the magical world. But Ron is her heart, and she gets to be with her heart. I love that she experiences the world with that.
And Matt Mueller I am in love with. His Ron is so funny; he's so warm and silly and smart and scaredy-cat. And that's what I love about him: He's so afraid, but he's the most courageous of all because he has the most fear, but he will stand in the front and he will always volunteer to be first.
Even as an adult, what is at the core of who Hermione is? What is her mantra?
The words compassion, responsibility, and honesty. She takes responsibility for all the actions that she does. And when things go badly, she even takes responsibility for the fact that she might have made a mistake. Her shoulders are so broad; she will stand and take the shots. She won't pass the buck or blame anyone else. She's not into that. She's just like, I'm gonna stand up. I'm gonna be a stand-up person who will be accountable. She's an amazing leader.
Do you see the casting of Hermione as a person of color as a color-blind or color-conscious choice?
I think in casting [original Cursed Child Hermione] Noma Dumezweni, it was color-blind and color-conscious at the same time because she's such a brilliant actor that John Tiffany just chose the best actor, but in doing that, he said, "I'm going to start this journey with this person who happens to be of this racial ethnicity and I have to think about the future of this character." And I think that in being color-blind, he was color-conscious because he then had to cast me! And Rakie [Ayola] and whoever else is cast in Melbourne. And there'll be somebody else cast in San Francisco and wherever else the show goes. So I think he was starting a revolution. And…I'm so thrilled to stand up and to take responsibility and to try and deliver something that honors the imaginings of young women of color — and young men!
There have been a couple of moments where I've felt that women have been looking at me kind of on the side, like, "You're not the Hermione I read in the book." And I don't know what to say to that. I don't have anything to say to that… Personally, I think we're all too tribal, and we all just see our own skin when we all look in the mirror and that's where we feel safe… And it doesn't matter to me because I'm a human being and I'm a woman of the world and a person of the world. I can connect to a frog in the Amazon, so connecting to a human being is easy!
This is about "everyone should be able to tell stories." Let [kids] see that there's every face of every color in the world who can achieve things… It's lovely to know there are people who go "[gasp] That looks closer to what I look like. And it makes me feel like I can do something in my life." It opens a door of possibility. You can be anyone. The person you imagine you're gonna be when you're little, you can be that person.
What reactions do you hear from kids in the audience?
We had this beautiful little girl in the front row on Saturday, and I won't mention what happens, but there's a bit in the show where people change and as soon as the first thing happened, she started squealing and squealing and I couldn't stop laughing. I was laughing for the next five minutes onstage because [she would] squeal and giggle. It was magic happening in front of her, and that just made my whole life. I thought I could do this every single day for that moment to happen.
What's most special about interacting with people for whom this story means so much?
I just love that these characters are living and breathing to people. Every night they can come and see the show and say, "Oh my goodness me! My friends are still here! My friends are still around." When I finished reading book number seven, I burst into tears and I cried for about three days because I was exhausted, and I was like, "Wow, this is amazing." But I also cried because that was the end of my friends. That was the end of that adventure and the journey. And what's lovely about The Cursed Child is, you get to have them back.