Interview: 'It's the Most Magical World to Be a Part of': James Howard on His Seven Years With HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD in the West End

'We've been through a lot in the seven years that I've been here, but the constant has been the joy of the show, and magic of the audience reactions. '

By: Jul. 29, 2023
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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Both Parts

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is now celebrating its seventh anniversary in the West End and James Howard, who plays Draco Malfoy, has been with the production since the very beginning. BroadwayWorld spoke with James about his near seven-year-long journey with the hit show since it opened in London in 2016. We discussed what has made him stay with the show for so long, what it is like to welcome a new cast each year, and what it is that makes the show so magical.

How did you first get involved in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child?

I've been with the show since it opened in 2016, and my first audition for it was back in the winter of 2016. It was a few months before rehearsal started, and it was still obviously top secret at that point. No one had read the script, no one knew what was in the script. So I had a first-round audition, which was very short, meeting one of the directors and just getting an idea of what might be involved. And the second round involved going to a top-secret location and being allowed to read the script, which was incredible. I've never experienced anything like that before. And then shortly afterward, being offered a role in the company, which was just so exciting.

In the first year, I was part of the ensemble and I was covering not just Draco, Harry, and Snape. So it was quite a big task in that first year! There was a lot to learn because we were creating the show from scratch. We were putting it all together as one big ensemble, but at the same time, I was also having to learn those roles as well. And then from Year Two, which was 2017, I was getting the chance to play Draco, and I've been playing him ever since!

What made you want to be a part of the show?

It's the most magical world to be a part of! And because at the time, no one really knew what was going to be involved. There were little hints that were being dropped that it was going to involve a continuation of the story. So there was the knowledge that there were the seven stories before that, and intriguingly, the last chapter of [Harry Potter and the] Deathly Hallows is called “19 Years Later.” So there were already hints placed in that last book of what might happen in the future, and it was just incredible to think that I could be a part of a world that has captivated so many people, including myself! I first read the first book in 2000, which was actually quite late! So I'd read that first book years before, and to suddenly think that I could be playing some of these characters, including an old version of Draco, was just too good an opportunity to turn down.

Is Draco a favourite character of yours?

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Both Parts
Jonathan Case & James Howard
Photo Credit: Charlie Gray

Yes! Draco is such a fascinating character to play because he has so much of rich backstory. And so many people think of him as being the nasty schoolboy of the books, the bully. The antithesis of Harry, and Ron, and Hermione, and the nemesis, of course, of Harry. And that's what makes him so fun to play as an adult because there's all that to draw on, but then we get to see the older version of that character. And we get to see his relationship with those old school enemies and see how those relationships have developed as they've got older and Harry, Ron, Draco, and Hermione have got kids who go off to Hogwarts and start their own adventures. And so we get to live the stories again through the eyes of the kids, but also of the adults seeing how their children are getting on - or not! - at Hogwarts.

Did you go back to the original books and movies to do research for the show?

Yeah. I gradually managed to, because the books get longer as they go on. I started with the shorter, easier, earlier ones and then as the books get on, I was getting deeper and deeper into the stories. By the time I got to play Draco, I had read all the books again. I think I’ve watched the films two or three times anyway, just because they're such great films! I've seen them all at the cinema and I've watched them all again on DVD in the run-up to rehearsals. So I was pretty steeped in the world before we started. But actually, there were such a huge range of actors involved in the show; some of them knew nothing about Harry Potter! And still, to this day, some people know nothing about it. And some people are absolute Harry Potter whiz kids. They know everything. They certainly know more than me, particularly some of the younger ones who joined the company in recent years. They've grown up with the books, and to see the excitement through their eyes is actually partly what makes the job still so much fun to do.

What do you think it is that has made you want to stay with this show for so long?

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Both Parts
MIchelle Gayle, Thomas Aldridge,
Susie Trayling, Jamie Ballard, ​James Howard
Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

It's just the most magical story to tell on stage. And of course, here in London, we tell the story over two parts, so it's a full day of theatre. As an actor, there aren't many shows that give you that opportunity, to do a whole story over the course of two shows, over the course of a day. And there's just something so exciting about that.

Most actors, if you do eight shows a week, you do matinees and the evening shows and you're repeating that same story twice a day. Whereas we tell the whole story over those two days, and that doesn't get old. There's something brilliant about taking an audience on that journey from two o'clock in the afternoon through ‘till the end of the evening. And knowing that they've got a dinner break in between where they can go away and talk about what they've just seen and think about what's coming next. The reactions from the audience have never changed. There's always been shock, joy, awe, disbelief, and generally huge acclaim; those reactions are quite rare to get as an actor. So it's an adrenaline rush every single night.

What was it like learning the magic for the show?

It was a lot of fun! I've never done magic before, and it is obviously a real skill. The top magicians in the world are highly, highly skilled. And I remember, in the very first day of rehearsals back in 2016, the head of the illusions taught us this simple trick, making a coin disappear and reappear. Really simple stuff. I just couldn't get it right! I kept on mucking it up, and I thought, “I hope this isn't a final audition,” because I failed! But actually, it was a really lovely introduction to it.

It's a very technical show, but a lot of it is also about confidence and deep breaths - Going with whatever the magic is and allowing it to happen. Because if it's well supported, then the simple things are actually the most effective. And the reactions that we get from the audience to the really simple bits of magic are the most satisfying. I still get people asking me about a certain bit of magic. It's quite satisfying knowing that people are still trying to guess how these things are done.

What’s it like interacting with fans at stage door?

The Harry Potter universe is full of the most amazing people, and they love the stories, they love the characters, and they have a huge love for everything that's been created in this world, including this show. We've got people who come from around the world. We've got people who've been to see it once, we've got people who come to see it hundreds of times. And whenever we speak to people at the stage door, there is just so much love and desire to find out about not just how the magic is done, but about the characters and the relationships between those characters. And it's really special.

Have you seen the show yourself, having been in it for so long?

Yeah, I love it! I take any opportunity I can to go front of house and see how things look and how it works, with an audience in as well. And quite often, if there are understudy runs or performances that I'm not a part of. It refreshes me all the time, that I can see how those reactions play out in front of an audience. And it just makes the whole thing alive again. I also got to see one of the parts on Broadway in 2018. And to watch our show being done in America was even more special because an American audience reacts very differently to a British audience. Some of the reactions are so much bigger. They're already big here, but to hear those reactions on Broadway was incredibly exciting.

How do you feel that you as an actor have grown during your time with the show?

It's quite emotional, actually, for me, because so much has happened in the world since we opened in 2016. So many good things, but a lot of bad things, including a global pandemic, and that had a huge and traumatic effect. Post-COVID, it was all about getting a sense of normality back into the world, and to show the world that there was still joy and magic to be had for going to the theatre. And the importance of theatre, the importance of being together in an audience. We were so used to sitting in front of our laptops, doing Zoom calls, or watching theatre productions online or on Netflix. But actually, it's the joy of being together - Having that experience in the theatre is everything. So coming back to the show in 2021, after such a long break, was incredibly emotional. And that did affect the way that I felt about the show. I felt that those moments in this show of darkness were that much more powerful. And the light that was incredibly important to the story, but also to bringing that light and joy back to theare as well, was so crucial. And ever since then, I don't think there's a single actor in the world who will ever take for granted again that ability to stand on stage and perform in front of 1,400 people on a nightly basis. So we've been through a lot in the seven years that I've been here, but the constant has been the joy of the show, and magic of the audience reactions. You just can't replicate that anywhere else.

What is it like to be adapting to a new cast each year?

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Both Parts
Thomas Aldridge, Susie Trayling,
James Howard, MIchelle Gayle, Jamie Ballard
Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

Every year has been different, and that's what's so lovely, because everyone, every company, and every cast member has brought something different and unique to the show. And even within each individual year, because we have so many people playing so many roles, on different days, you can perform with different actors than you performed with the night before. So it's always fresh.

Of course, there are things that have to stay the same. There are lighting effects, and steam effects, and costumes that have to look the same. But within that, everyone brings their own perspective and experience of the character to it, whether it's Draco, Harry, Albus, or Scorpius. I've seen now so many people playing all of those roles, bringing something ever so slightly different and unique to it. And there's no there's no right or wrong performance, there's just a different perspective of a character. That's been really fun to be a part of. And of course, every time you get a new company, you get that fresh injection of youthful energy and blood in it. An amazing thing about the show is that we've got actors in it from fresh out of drama school right the way up to in their 70s who've been in the business for most of their life. And that mix of experience and youth and energy is so addictive. It really is an ensemble company performance. We couldn’t do the show without everyone being in the right place at the right time, doing their thing.

Have you ever given any advice to those playing Draco?

Oh, no! No, because I bring my own version to Draco, and my own experience of an actor to playing that role. Yes, there are certain scenes or certain lines that help if they're delivered in certain ways, but each actor has to find their own way into that. Something that I may find particularly funny, or sad, or disturbing, another actor might find something completely different in it. That's what's so fun about playing opposite someone else did playing Harry that night, or Scorpius, is that they will throw you a line in such a completely different way that it forces me to reassess everything that I think about the show!

What do you hope audiences take away from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child?

I think and hope that each audience will leave having had an incredible, magical experience. And actually, it doesn't matter whether they know everything about Harry Potter or nothing about Harry Potter - There is something that each individual can take from it. It's a rollicking good story with fantastic magic, and special effects, and lighting, and costumes. But it also tells a really beautiful story. Its heart is actually a really simple story about the importance of friendship and family, and the bond between fathers, and sons, and friends. And that story has only got richer as the world has got increasingly dark.

And finally, how would you describe Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in one word?

Indescribable! [Laughs] Perfection. 

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child runs at the Palace Theatre.

Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan


Interview: Its the Most Magical World to Be a Part of: Howard on CURSED CHILD Photo
Interview: 'It's the Most Magical World to Be a Part of': Howard on CURSED CHILD

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is now celebrating its seventh anniversary in the West End and James Howard, who plays Draco Malfoy, has been with the production since the very beginning. BroadwayWorld spoke with James about his near seven-year-long journey with the hit show since it opened in London in 2016.


The hit play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child resumed performances at the Palace Theatre in London this week! Go inside reopening with a new video from inside the show's magical return!

CURSED CHILD Will Resume West End Performances From 14 October Photo
CURSED CHILD Will Resume West End Performances From 14 October

Tickets for the West End production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child are currently available for performances at the Palace Theatre until 27 March 2022 and remain priced from £15 per part, and for every performance there are over 300 tickets at £20 or less per part. 

From This Author - Kat Mokrynski

Kat Mokrynski is currently a writer for BroadwayWorld UK, having previously written for BroadwayWorld as a part of the Student Blogger program from November 2019 to September 2022. Some of her favouri... Kat Mokrynski">(read more about this author)



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