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Wednesday 21 November 2018

Girl from Termonfeckin casts spell on Harry Potter

Evanna Lynch's dream came true when she won the movie role of Luna Lovegood, writes Aine O'Connor

Actress Evanna Lynch. Photo: AFP, Getty Images
Actress Evanna Lynch. Photo: AFP, Getty Images

Aine O'Connor

Once upon a time there was a little girl in Co Louth who was obsessed with Harry Potter. She queued for each new book and film and sometimes wrote to JK Rowling. In one such missive the little girl, Evanna Lynch, said that she'd love to act in one of the films, but doubted she ever would as she came from "this sleepy little place called Termonfeckin".

To the little girl's astonishment she received a reply in which JK Rowling told her not to be too hard on Termonfeckin, "it does have a brilliant name and I come from a very sleepy place".

In 2006 they held open auditions for the new role of Luna Lovegood, 15,000 girls applied but it was Evanna Lynch, then 14, who got the role -- a choice later described by Ms Rowling as "perfect".

Three years on, Evanna and her co-star Matthew Lewis (who plays Neville Longbottom) are in Dublin for the premier of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. She is 17, he is 20, both Harry Potter fans whose ultimate dream came true and who are now familiar to millions of others.

Matthew was an 11-year-old from Leeds who had read the first four Harry Potter books when he was cast as Neville. Although he'd been acting since he was five, he was too young to appreciate the who's who of acting talent that made up the adult cast. "At first I didn't really appreciate who Richard Harris or Maggie Smith were. Even when Richard Harris passed away I didn't really know, he was just approachable and he signed my books."

Evanna agrees, "when you're that age you're not watching all these old films". In fact, because she joined the cast in the fifth film, her awe was directed elsewhere. "When I came on set, I was thinking [of the adults], 'I don't care, they're not the main guys'." The main guys were the young stars. "I was starstruck, because to Harry Potter fans it doesn't matter who you are, it's whether you're true to the character and do them honour."

Despite his earlier nonchalance, Matthew got starstruck in hindsight. "About 13 or 14, I started to become very serious about film making and I went back and watched older films, then suddenly became very worried about working with Alan Rickman and those guys." So worried that when Helena Bonham Carter accidentally burst his ear drum with a wand he said nothing. "I couldn't hear anything but I wanted to be professional so I said I was fine, carry on with the film!" It didn't last, the doctor was called, Bonham Carter was most apologetic, and the ear is fine.

But the stars are "just normal people," says Matthew. "Michael Gambon tells filthy jokes with Alan Rickman and all the others sitting around laughing."

Despite being part of such a global phenomenon and having such fervently devoted fans, both say it isn't difficult to divide life into Harry Potter Life and Ordinary Life. They have had very positive feedback and Evanna explains that any criticism by fans of casting "is not really jealousy, it's that they love the characters and they don't want them to be altered in any way. That's why I was so determined to get the part, I loved Luna so much. I would have been annoyed if someone else had played her, anyone else. I'm sure there are some people like that for us still though..."

Inevitably, there are some difficulties to filming at this ever-evolving time of their lives. Evanna cites how each film picks up directly from the last, but the actors have moved on. "I've grown three years since the start -- and Matthew nine years -- so it's like you have to press pause and say, 'OK, where exactly was the character?'" She adds that having to be on good form all the time is also difficult but important, "because you don't want to come off as a grump".

Matthew found most difficulty in the transition from being a child actor who just did as directed to realising he was an adult actor who had to find his own motivation, "and," he adds, "there's times when you're going to premieres and you've got spots. But you get over it".

Currently filming Deathly Hallows, which will be the two final films, they shoot a few days at a time, over a few months. Evanna starts her Leaving Cert year in September and will go back and forth. "I just need to go back to school occasionally for that motivation because when you're on the film set you are not thinking what maths homework you have to do!"

Matthew doesn't worry unduly about being associated with such a high-profile role. "You have to be wary of being typecast, but I'm quite lucky because I like to think Neville's quite different from myself. But Harry Potter has given me everything."

They both believe it's important to enjoy it while it lasts. "People keep asking if we're sad about the end," says Evanna, "but there's no point in focusing on how sad or depressing it is because then you'll just ruin it. Deal with that later."

"In six months time this could all be over," Matthew says. "I don't like to think about the end and that it might be the last thing I do but you have to, or it will be the last thing that you do."

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