BWW Interview: Matthew Lewis Talks Sex, Intimacy and UNFAITHFUL
Matthew Lewis is beloved by millions as Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter films, but since his wizarding days he's taken on a range of projects, including Ripper Street and Happy Valley on TV, Me Before You on the big screen, and Our Boys in the West End. He's currently in rehearsal for Owen McCafferty's Unfaithful, which also features Sean Campion, Niamh Cusask and Ruta Gedmintas. The play has its London premiere at pop-up venue Found111 on 25 August, running until 8 October.
Had you been thinking about a return to the stage for a while?
I'm always open to offers from all across the spectrum. But I was talking to Matthew Macfadyen, when we worked on Ripper Street, and he said he tends to get a craving to do theatre every three years - it helps him focus and go back to basics, getting that rehearsal time. It really reminds you what it means to be an actor.
I thought that was really interesting, and realised it had been about three years since I did a play. I then went into a meeting for a TV comedy and was offered that, but the show was put back, so I suddenly had this gap in my diary. I read this play and thought it was absolutely superb - I fell in love with it immediately and read it cover to cover, just racing through it. It's funny and real, and I could picture it being a cracking piece on stage.
Tell us about your character
The play's about two couples. I'm Peter, one half of the younger couple, and he's actually a male escort. The way he can cope with that while being in a relationship is to treat it as business - just a job that makes money. But the question is, how much can he just ignore what's he doing, and what does it mean for his girlfriend. He plays characters when he's being an escort, so does he reveal everything of himself or keep something back? Can you have sex or be intimate without giving yourself?
The psychology of it is really interesting. The play's so layered - I keep picking up on new things in rehearsal. It's been fun to get into Peter's head and figure out what's it like to be him. Dark, but fun!
How do you think people will respond to it?
It's a very honest play that I think people will find quite uncomfortable, in the sense that it will challenge them - they'll relate to some of these characters and the situations they're in. The responses will be very interesting - definitely one to pick over and discuss afterwards.
Have you ever performed in an intimate space like Found111 before?
No! When I first saw it a month ago, I was immediately very intimated. I thought "There won't be that many people, so nothing to worry about... Oh, wait. They'll be right in front of me." So it adds a whole new dynamic, but that suits the play so well. It's very dirty and grimy and visceral, and people won't feel safely removed, in a big theatre with a programme and a glass of wine, but a fly on the wall, right amongst the action, feeling those feelings.
It's like when you glimpse a domestic argument unfolding on the Tube platform and you don't want to, but you have to look. This intimate space will give it a real, raw energy. I've been told once it's full of people it takes on a life of its own, so I imagine it'll end up changing the performance each night as well.
How does this compare to your other theatre experiences?
I did a six-month tour about five years ago, and then Our Boys at the Duchess in 2012 - all three have been very different. Because of the humble nature of the venue and the rehearsal area, this one feels like a group of friends putting on a show in someone's living room.
It's been very enjoyable, working in that relaxed environment, and it's useful because my theatre credits aren't extensive. This is definitely pushing me, and I feel quite a lot of pressure, so to have these people around me, the brilliant cast and our director Adam Penford, the environment they've created is brilliant - it feels very safe and supportive, all for one and one for all. We watch everyone's scenes and offer up ideas together, really unpicking the psychology of the show. None of us realised quite many interpretations there are going into it.
As an actor, that's something you don't get the opportunity to do enough in telly and film. So it resonates with what Matthew said - that theatre is acting in its purest form, poring over all the characters and their motivations and reasoning.
Do you relate to the themes of the play?
The language of relationships and sex, generationally, is very different - we're more open about stuff than maybe the older generation. With Peter in particular a lot of his story is about the face we put on when we step out the front door, and the characters we play in different social situations - whether at work, in the pub or at the football.
It's interesting to think about do we ever show our true selves to anyone, and do we even know who we are after playing characters for so long? As an actor, I definitely relate to that, but everyone does it, whether you work in a shop or an office.
And it happens now more than ever, with the faceless, anonymous internet meaning we create whole new personas online. That's similar to what Peter does, as a way to cope with his job, saying "It's not really me", but can that really work long-term? How long can you keep up those barriers?
Would you like to do more theatre after this or return to TV and film?
Whatever comes up really. I'm very fortunate to be in the position where I can choose roles - I know, as an actor, that's hugely lucky. So the way I approach it is, rather than think "What is this going to do to my career?", I think about whether I'll enjoy doing it over several months, if it's going to challenge me, will I get bored, or will I get a real kick out of it. This play I knew would tick all the boxes.
Finally, have you had the chance to pop down the road and see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child?
I was actually going to go down last week, but I was so busy with this, and it's really taking all of my mental energy. I think I'm scheduled to go in November, once this run's over. I've heard it's an amazing experience, so I'm definitely looking forward to it.
Photo credit: Darren Bell, Marc Brenner