Many actors bear some real-life resemblance to certain of their characters. Daniel Radcliffe, for example, has turned out more than a little like Harry Potter – both are all-round nice guys with fluffy dark hair and sweet smiles. But what about Tom Felton, who played the Hogwarts school bully and generally unpleasant person Draco Malfoy? Well, as it turns out, he’s a major exception to the rule.
Tom Felton was cast as Draco Malfoy at the age of 12. And that’s a pretty young age to become part of one of the most-loved franchises on the planet! But unlike some of his less-experienced co-stars – Rupert Grint, who played Ron, for example – Felton already had a good grounding in the world of acting.
But although the young star had appeared in a few commercials and done a bit of voice work beforehand, his first movie role didn’t come until 1997, when he was cast in The Borrowers. In the family-friendly film, Felton played a cute little curly-haired moppet called Peagreen Clock.
And his performance in The Borrowers marked Felton out as a child star to watch. Not only was he a good actor, but he was an absolutely adorable kid. And when the movie was released, a cute little Felton told reporters that he thought that being a star was “really, really good fun.”
Two years after The Borrowers, meanwhile, Felton appeared in another movie, Anna and the King. He played the son of Jodie Foster’s character, spent four months filming in Malaysia and ultimately delivered another charming performance.
But none of these other movies, good as they were, could have remotely prepared Felton for the fame that Harry Potter would bring. The first movie alone raked in over $970 million – and added millions more devotees to an already huge fanbase, too.
When the second film came out, then, Felton was 15. At that point, moreover, he was settling into fame but also starting to consider what he wanted to do with his life in the long run. “I’d like to own my own garage and my own fishery,” he told the BBC in 2002. “I’d also like to be a professional fisherman. But I’ll take whatever happens.”
Yet he seemed destined for the acting world in a big way. What’s more, after the third film in the series, Prisoner of Azkaban, Felton was starting to find himself a bit of a pin-up of teens and grown-ups alike. “When you get a woman of 40 screaming out ‘Draco’ at you, I’m never sure how to handle it,” he told The Sun in 2004.
He wasn’t an idol to children, though; they only knew him as the nasty bully who was mean to their hero Harry Potter. “[Kids] just sort of run away and hide behind the corner, shield themselves behind someone’s legs,” Felton said to Scholastic, as his fame grew and grew.
But while Draco became more and more evil in the Harry Potter movies, Felton did the complete opposite – he turned into a nicer and nicer young man. In fact, no-one ever had a bad word to say about him, and he was often seen doing charity and educational work.
Felton continued to win praise for his acting as well. “Tom’s nuances in the new film [Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince] are terrific,” series producer David Heyman said during the making of that movie. “It feels like a deeper richer character than we’ve seen to date.”
And Harry Potter fans agreed with Heyman’s sentiment 100 percent. Indeed, Felton’s performance as a more mature, more damaged Draco Malfoy in Half-Blood Prince saw him pick up the MTV Movie Award for Best Villain in 2010. And as if that wasn’t enough, he was handed the award again in 2011 for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1.
By now, however, the Harry Potter movie franchise was starting to wind down, and all the actors in it were beginning to wonder what they would do once it was all over. “Let’s be honest: we weren’t picked for Harry Potter for our acting ability,” Felton told the Daily Mail in 2011. “We’ll be lucky if we’ve learnt something over the past ten years. It’s a question of what we do with that now, where we go from here.”
And so when the very last Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, came out that year, it was a bittersweet occasion. “The beauty of it is, I don’t think this is really the ending,” Felton told New York magazine at the time. “It’s going to continue in some way, even if I’m not clued in to what that is.”
But by this point, Felton felt he was ready to take the leap into a full acting career. “I wouldn’t be worried about playing a bad guy for the rest of my life. Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman and Jason Isaacs have made fantastic careers out of being memorable villains. I’d be happy to follow in their footsteps,” he added to the Daily Mail, paying homage to some of his Potter co-stars in the process.
Mere days after Deathly Hallows: Part 2 finished filming, though, Felton was asked if he’d like to be in the film Rise of the Planet of the Apes – playing a blonde, bullying villain. And, needless to say, he said yes.
And so in the first few post-Potter years, it seemed likely that Felton would be typecast forever more. In the 2013 period drama Belle, for example, he once again played a wealthy blond bully. In fact, at the time The Guardian noted that he was “doing a grown-up version of his earlier performance as Draco Malfoy.”
But slowly Felton began to win more diverse roles – a heroic viscount in Labyrinth, a Roman soldier in Risen – and the tide began to turn. Plus, on social media people were starting to see more of the real, and very witty, Felton.
It didn’t hurt, either, that like his Potter co-stars he’d got steadily more attractive as the years went on. And then, all of a sudden, this new and mature Felton was everywhere. He was in movies, on Twitter, doing charity TV sketches and, understandably, attending the odd Harry Potter event.
And in 2016 Felton bagged a role which was perhaps his furthest away from Malfoy yet: Julian Dorn in The Flash. Yet even a stint in a superhero franchise won’t permanently sever him from Harry Potter fans. To them, he’ll always be Draco: just the much nicer and friendlier version.