BURBANK, Calif. - In the first "Harry Potter" film, released nine years ago this month, there's a signature early moment at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry with the Sorting Hat ceremony, in which a sentient magical hat is placed on the head of each student to judge them for membership in one of the school’s four houses. In the scene, the hat - which has a face inside the folds of its brown, furrowed peak - hesitates with some students but makes an instant decision when it touches the blond hair of Draco Malfoy, who belongs in the sinister ranks of Slytherin.
On a recent blue-sky afternoon in Burbank, the hat and Malfoy were reunited on the Warner Bros. lot. “Oh, I remember this old man,” actor Tom Felton, now 23, said as he picked up the floppy hat that is part of a “Potter” props and costume exhibit for tourists. The London native started to put the hat on and then, with a faraway expression, decided it was best to just put it back with the other museum pieces.
A little later he said: “We’re all ready to move on. The experience has been amazing, to say the least, but it’s exciting to go on to something new.”
The opening weekend of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1,” the seventh film in the series, pulled in a huge $339 million in worldwide box office, and fans are already bemoaning the fact that they have to wait until summer for the eighth and final film based on the J.K. Rowling novels about an orphaned boy-wizard and his friends.
For the young stars of the franchise, Felton among them, these are bittersweet days for a different reason: With all principal photography complete, they have graduated from Hogwarts but aren’t sure if the rest of their acting careers can live up to the magic of their youth.
At the moment, no one has more film projects lined up than Felton, who has three movies between now and the end of 2011, not counting the “Potter” finale.
The month before the release of “Deathly Hallows — Part 2,” Felton will star opposite James Franco, John Lithgow and Andy Serkis in “Rise of the Apes,” the high-profile Fox revival of the “Planet of the Apes” property that is set in modern day and introduces a genetic-engineering premise to the familiar mythology of an Earth gone ape.
Felton also has the collegiate sports film “Beyond the Rough” and, next September, “The Apparition,” a sci-fi thriller in which a dangerous campus experiment leads to contact with the afterlife.
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Steve Kloves, who wrote seven of the eight “Potter” scripts, said Felton leaves the franchise as one of the sparkling graduates of the magical set.
“Tom has been plying his craft for a very long time and even as a child was a particularly deft actor,” Kloves said. “As Draco transformed over the last two pictures from mere foil to a haunted, multi-dimensional young man, Tom’s skill has only become more evident. ... (In the sixth film) Draco is slowly crumbling from within due to the pressures imposed on him from outside forces of great power. Tom reveals the fissures slowly, so that over the course of the movie the hairline fracture he displays early on becomes, by the conclusion, a shattering of the soul. He’s respectful of the written word and applies his energies to interpretation, with often quiet but thrilling results. He’s a writer’s dream.”
Felton, who shares a home with one of his brothers in England, said he marvels at the serendipity that put together a cast of young actors who meshed so well. He said it was hard to say goodbye to the movie set where they grew up together.
“It was a group that were picked and we got on when we were 11 and we all got on when we were 20 and that’s amazing to think about,” Felton said. “The families had a lot to do with it, the people that did the casting had a lot to do with it and then there was luck, too.”
At the premiere of “Hallows” in New York, there were rumors that reshoots needed for some scenes in the eighth film would be bringing the “Potter” stars back for spot duty and Felton confirmed he would be heading back to Leavesden Studios outside London.
The one-day reshoot is a challenge for his schedule but he said it’s worth it to make the final film perfect. And, he added, he hopes Rowling will someday extend her saga so Draco Malfoy – and Tom Felton – can return to the stone corridors of Hogwarts.
“It would be amazing. I would not say no, that’s for sure.”