Calgary Journal reporter Veronica Pocza gets to know twin Harry Potter film actors, James and Oliver Phelps

phelpsbrothersIt’s a normal, – 16 C winter day in chilly Calgary, Alta. I’m sitting patiently, on a somewhat uncomfortable couch in a lavish café awaiting my famous British interviewees. I couldn’t decide what was making me more nervous, the fact that I had to somehow interview two people at once — a first, for me — or the fact that I was about to sit down with James and Oliver Phelps, identical twins famous for their roles as Fred and George Weasley in the Harry Potter film series.

What in the world brought these two to the cold prairies of this province? Well, other than the excitement of an interview with the Calgary Journal, the twins are in Calgary promoting this weekend’s opening of the Harry Potter: The Exhibition at the Telus World of Science Edmonton. The launch is expected to have many Calgarians making the trip down the highway for the Nov. 22 midnight premiere.

I’ve been a Harry Potter fan for most of my life, reading all the books—more than once—and re-watching the movies all the time. As a young child or teenager, I’ve always thought what it would be like to meet some of my favorite cast members. Little did I know, I’d sit down with them as a reporter years later.

Recorder ready and notepad in hand, I see the Phelps’ and their group make their way towards this secluded corner of the dining room.

Thank goodness for maturity, I easily slip into the role of a reporter, leaving the fangirl behind. I want to know, for many others, and myself what these two have been up to, where they have been and why. Fortunately, they were happy to tell me.

Still “up to no good”?

Having been cast for their life-altering roles as the Weasley twins at the young age of 14, the two have been involved with the Harry Potter franchise for more than a decade of their young lives.

“I always think there’s going to be a final goodbye to Potter,” Oliver says — I quickly note he’s wearing the black sweater, James in blue, to avoid a mix-up — “But something just always seems to be popping up.”

The two describe the places that the exhibit alone has taken them since it’s global launch in 2009, noting that it’s hard to keep track.

“We’ve been fortunate, Chicago was the initial launch and its been all over to Toronto, Singapore, Sydney, and New York,” Oliver adds.

This exhibit is only a recent fraction of their work with the Harry Potter franchise, not to include the constant filming, promoting and appearances that have flooded their lives since 2001.

“I wouldn’t say Harry Potter is a huge part of our working lives right now, but it’s always nice when it comes up,” Oliver says of the appearance opportunities.

“It’s a nice break actually, because it’s very comfortable and familiar. The guys with the exhibition (exhibitors at Global Experience Specialists) are comfortable asking us to come because we are familiar with the set up and what’s included,” James says.

On the topic of Harry Potter appearances, the two agree that they will always want to be involved with the happenings of the franchise. They go on to says that is a common mentality among themselves, as well as some of their friends who are involved with franchises or series, to pay respects to the roles that “started it all.”

“I just don’t understand when people don’t like talking about something that made you famous, it’s part of who you are and I think you should embrace it,” James says.

Did the message really “sink in”?

phelpsbros2resizeVeronica Pocza sits with the Phelps twins to discuss the past and future of their acting careers.

Photo by Mike Stegar, Telus World of Science EdmontonIn their humbleness, the two explain — no, not in perfect Weasley twin unison — how grateful they are for what their experiences with “Potter” have taught them. When asked what may have heightened the experience for actors on Potter sets in comparison to other sets, they have a hard time narrowing down the reasons.

“We were spoiled, really, it was the biggest and best of everything in the film world,” James says. “There was advice from senior actors readily available — great ones like Maggie Smith (Professor McGonagall), Michael Gambon (Professor Dumbledore) and Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid).”

What were some of these wise words? The twins say the other cast and set mates taught them how to behave both on and off the camera. These are life skills that have been directly applicable to their careers as actors but also responsible for who they’ve grown into as adults.

“I remember, from day one, being told that you need to be grateful for your work, because there are thousands of other actors who are willing to do the job. It’s responsible to always know your lines and be there on time and we really try to stick to that,” James says.

With a wealth of knowledge and years of experience in the acting world, it’s natural to assume the twins plan to apply all they’ve learnt into furthering their acting careers. However, it may be part of their plan, but not all of it. It came as a shock to me to learn this wasn’t even their plan from the start.

Mischievously Managing a Role

As accomplished 27-year-old actors with a career ahead of them, I prepare myself for a typical “spent our entire lives working for this and finally got our big break” type of explanation. They definitely got a big break, with Oliver adding that a common saying among the twins and other cast mates is that “acting in Harry Potter movies for a first job is like having a Rolls Royce as your first car.”

Although it’s evident they are grateful for their unexpected break, they are not shy of revealing that it sort of just “happened to them.”

“None of our friends are into acting and we didn’t really grow up studying it intensively,” says Oliver, adding that the extent of their experience and audition was through their junior high school. They agree that they would have never specifically gone out of their way to pursue acting — simply because they didn’t see any opportunity to build on it as a future career.

With their lives changing drastically at a young age, the brothers say they were able to avoid the sometimes difficult reality of “choosing a career path” that many young adults have to face. I asked them what they might have chosen if they did have to make this decision. They both lean back into the stiff couch and think to themselves for a moment.

“It’s honestly really hard to say,” Oliver says. “We just never had to make that choice or even think about it, it was fortunately just presented to us.”

What about now?

“I’m very glad I came into it (acting) at all, I really feel this is what I can and should do. Not in a cocky sort of way,” he says, “but where I’m comfortable and sure that acting is what I’m meant to do.”

– James Phelps

James adds that if he had thought about it, he may have seen himself working with his hands or preparing to go into “some sort of trade.” His thoughts have shifted since then, explaining that acting is without a doubt the right career choice for him, feeling this way “now more than ever.” He says that his past experience with Potter and current projects in live theatre have allowed him to understand and channel his inner passion.

“I’m very glad I came into it (acting) at all, I really feel this is what I can and should do. Not in a cocky sort of way,” he says, “but where I’m comfortable and sure that acting is what I’m meant to do.”

Oliver is also pursuing theatre and acting shows in the industry, but he’s learned quite a bit from his travelling with Harry Potter.

“Thanks to our work with the films, we’ve gotten to travel to many far places, places many wouldn’t think to go,” Oliver says. I become curious, as travelling everywhere from Singapore to a café in cold Calgary is sure to provide some sort of insight about the world. I lean in, what I hear next is too good to be true.

“I’ve actually started travel writing,” he says. I collect myself from my current state of admiration, awe and complete shock. I had no idea one of the twins and I share a similar dream of this beloved art form. He’s started a blog — known as Jop World— to document his projects.

“I really want to summarize the places I’ve been and give my readers ideas about cool places to check out or things to do while there,” he says, adding that he’s tired of seeing “too many negative reviews” on blogs lately. Oliver adds that travelling for Potter works well for this, as when he’s visiting with work he gets “spoiled” and taken around by the local media specialists of wherever he is.

The twins share this outlook, saying that they plan to embrace the culture of wherever they are to it’s fullest, because if you don’t absorb the culture, you “may as well just be on Skype,” Oliver says.

Embracing their experiences

Alas, my time with the twins is almost up. On the note of embracing culture, I ask them what their visit to Calgary and Canada has been like so far. With a smile, they explain they’ve “been to Tim’s” and even visited local coffee house Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters. As we are heavily discussing Oliver’s Tim Hortons breakfast order, cue two gentlemen, hockey sticks in hand, walking past the window and through the snow. This is followed by the twins synchronized laughs.

Well, welcome to Canada, Oliver and James.

In hopes to enhance their cold prairie experience, the two will be seeing an Edmonton Oilers hockey game before the Friday midnight launch of the Potter exhibit at Telus World of Science Edmonton. The midnight event is sold out, likely due to the twins’ appearance — but the exhibit is open for business until March 9, 2014, with tickets around the 20 dollar mark.

Naturally, I plan to make the visually stimulating drive to Edmonton to find out for myself and fellow Potter fans what this exhibit holds, and a photo summary will be available.

Don’t have tickets to see Oliver and James at the midnight launch? Not to fear, as the twins mention this recent and also past visits to “Calgary and Alberta have been great, everyone’s really friendly, and we will be sure to be back.”

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