'Malfoys' discuss burdens of Potter characters
So this is the face of evil: ice-blue eyes, an imperious brow, the sculpted features of Lucius Malfoy, the Muggle-hating wizard supremacist and implacable foe of Harry Potter.
As Malfoy, 48-year-old actor Jason Isaacs has plumbed his character's dark heart and chilled millions of moviegoers since he appeared in "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" in 2002. So it comes as a surprise to hear the British performer renounce evil.
There is, he says, no such thing. Even arch-villain Lord Voldemort is not so much wicked as misguided.
"No one is ever bad," said the disconcertingly genial Isaacs. "Voldemort sees the way the world ought to be, in his own eyes, and is trying to make it that way."
Isaacs returns as Malfoy in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," the last film in the magical saga, which premiered Thursday in London and opens around the world next week.
The film reunites Isaacs with Helen McCrory, 42, as his wife Narcissa Malfoy and 23-year-old Tom Felton as their son Draco, Harry's bitter rival at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
The Malfoys embody the dark side of J.K. Rowling's magical world. Staunch allies of Voldemort, they uphold what they see as the purity of wizard ways and wizard blood against the influence of ordinary humans, or Muggles.
Isaacs said Lucius speaks "the language of separation, the language of racism, the language of eugenics."
"You don't need to look very far in Europe nowadays to see politicians nowadays standing on those platforms and seemingly reasonably gathering an awful lot of followers and votes," he said. "And you don't need to go too far in America, either."
Such complexities helped to make Rowling's books best-sellers, with 450 million copies sold - and enriched the experience of the movies' cast.
"All her characters are rounded," Isaacs said. "They all have destinies they are struggling with or bonds that they're breaking or internal challenges."
Isaacs and McCrory both have a history of playing the bad guy. Isaacs' roll call of villains ranges from Captain Hook in "Peter Pan" to Col. Tavington, the nasty redcoat in "The Patriot."
McCrory is an accomplished classical actress whose stage roles have included a chilling Lady Macbeth. Less villainously, she played Cherie Blair, wife of the British prime minister, in "The Queen."
"Normally it's more interesting to play the bad guy because it's usually better written," said McCrory, who will be appearing soon in Martin Scorsese's film "Hugo Cabret." "Good is seen in a lot of drama today as a very, very dull thing."
She says Rowling's stories are rare in that "goodness is seen with the same complexity as badness."
"She has written her main protagonist as somebody who has the immensely difficult task of being good in this world - which is for many young people now, very difficult," McCrory said. "It's a wonderful archetype to show to people, that you have to have intelligence and bravery and complexity and individualism in order to be good."
Rowling's seven Potter books set orphaned Harry on a collision course with Voldemort, the wicked warlock who killed Harry's parents and seeks to control the wizarding world. "Deathly Hallows: Part 2" brings the battle to a head, as the massed forces of Voldemort and his Death Eaters confront the plucky defenders of Hogwarts.
It is an epic finale and fans' expectations are high. Many moviegoers are preparing to shed a tear.
For the actors, it's a farewell to a well-loved pillar of Britain's film industry. The films made stars of young leads Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, who were not yet teenagers when the series began in 2001.
For a decade, they've also given work to the cream of British acting talent. The Potter roster includes Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort, Alan Rickman as ambiguous teacher Severus Snape, Gary Oldman as Harry's mentor Sirius Black, Michael Gambon as headmaster Albus Dumbledore, Maggie Smith as Professor Minvera McGonagal, Helena Bonham Carter as bad witch Bellatrix Lestrange and Julie Walters as matriarch Molly Weasley.
Isaacs said he realized during filming of "Deathly Hallows'" final confrontation - when practically the entire cast stands in rival armies as Fiennes' Voldemort lays siege to Hogwarts - that the experience was unlikely to be repeated.
"We were all there for weeks and weeks and weeks, watching Ralph," he said. "I remember looking out and thinking, this is probably the most highly qualified bunch of film extras there has ever been in film history.
"There's dames and knights of the realm and people I would queue round the block in the rain to see on stage - all of us standing around with literally nothing to do."
Isaacs, recently seen as private eye Jackson Brodie in the BBC crime series "Case Histories," is about to move to Los Angeles to star in "Awake," a new NBC series about a detective caught between parallel realities.
Still, he is sorry to let Lucius Malfoy go.
"Most films that I've ever been on - most television programs, most plays even - there's an undercurrent of fear: 'We're all going to lose our money, we're going to destroy our careers, no one's going to buy a ticket, no one's going to see this thing,'" he explained. "On 'Harry Potter' the opposite was true: We were buoyed up on this tide of confidence, this sense that the whole world loved what we were doing and couldn't wait to see what we were doing next."
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