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Harry Melling Graduates From Harry Potter's Cousin Dudley to Frank Langella's Fool in King Lear

The rising British actor is making his New York stage debut at Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Legions of filmgoers know Harry Melling best as the obnoxious Muggle Dudley Dursley in the now-legendary Harry Potter film franchise. It was a role he played for the better part of a decade, ages 12-21. Yet if you passed him in the street, you'd hardly recognize him — the chunky youngster shed enough weight that, in order to appear in the last film in the series, he had to don a whole lot of padding.

In the years since the Harry Potter film series ended, Melling has turned his attention to the stage, appearing in West End revivals of Mother Courage and Her Children (playing son once again to his screen mum Fiona Shaw) and Harold Pinter's The Hothouse (opposite Simon Russell Beale). Now he's making his New York debut as the Fool to King Lear starring Frank Langella at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

In the midst of previews, TheaterMania chatted with Melling about his crucial role in this storied tragedy, his thoughts on the Harry Potter legacy, and his upcoming off-Broadway playwriting debut.

Harry Melling plays the Fool in Angus Jackson's production of Shakespeare's King Lear at BAM.
(© Johan Persson)

Is this your first time doing Shakespeare professionally?
It is. I've done Restoration and a Jacobean [plays], both in quite big houses in the UK, but I've only done Shakespeare at drama school. It's a very new adventure for me.

How did this role come about?
The director [Angus Jackson] saw me in a couple of shows in the UK and then invited me to meet him. Then, there was a second round, with Frank [Langella], and then I met again with Frank, and then it was an offer. It was nice that Angus was familiar with me and my work. It's quite a usual routine to get a job, as opposed to, he saw me in this and said "Yes, I want you!" It was a three-round process.

What's more intimidating — a direct offer or a three-round audition process?
It can work both ways. The jobs I've been offered straight have been very scary in their own way because you feel like you haven't proven yourself yet. The rehearsal period is almost more precious because you feel like you've got something to prove. At least with going in a few times, they can get a sense of what you want to do with it before hitting rehearsal.

Tell me about your take on the Fool.
I've always been fascinated by characters who are extremely dangerous —that are the truth tellers throughout the play. Although they can potentially come across silly, there's a well of truth that he almost throws like daggers towards Lear, to try and steer him back onto a path of reason. Angus already made a choice by casting him young, which is nice because that allows me to get away with things that perhaps an older Fool wouldn't. Most important [I didn't want to] make him into a dancing, juggling, annoying presence on stage.

When the Fool disappears, where does he go?
That's the big question, isn't it? My interpretation, at the moment, is he goes off to kill himself. My rather tricky job is to make my last line [incorporate] the future of what's going to happen to him — just living in one line.

What is it like working with Frank Langella?
It's been brilliant. He's a real force, not only on stage, but offstage. How he does it every night, to the degree to which he does, is remarkable.

I understand you're also doing a show later this year at 59E59 Theaters?
It's a play I've been writing for two years, called Peddling. It's one person on stage talking. It started out as a story that I experienced when I was eight years old. This door-to-door salesman came around. We said we weren't buying anything, and he said, "OK, thank you," walked away, and for the next two hours, threw gravel stones at our house and completely lost it. I've always been completely fascinated about how you get to that point. I wondered what happened to him after, where he went to and where he's been. That whole narrative has been living in my head for over a decade.

Switching gears entirely, what do you think of this planned Harry Potter stage play?
I think it's great. I have no idea how it's going to work, tonally or stylistically, but it will [work] because the narrative is so interesting. I'll be there, definitely. [pause] I probably won't be in it, but I'll definitely be there.

Harry Melling (left) as the Fool opposite Frank Langella as the title role in William Shakespeare's King Lear at Brooklyn Academy of Music.
(© Johan Persson)