Shelley Carter caught up with Oliver Phelps, aka one half of the Weasley twins, to talk travel, the power of Potter, lightning bolts and Brum
Probably the most famous set of twins on the planet, Oliver and James Phelps are best known as Fred and George Weasley from the Harry Potter franchise. Such is the power of Potter, that despite being seven years since the last film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, James and Oliver are still recognised wherever they go. So how did two teens from Sutton Coldfield with very little drama experience make such a monumentally life-changing move?
Firstly, they had no idea how big this would become, so ‘monumentally life changing’ really didn’t register. When the open audition was advertised including a requirement for a set of twins, a friend suggested they should go for it. Oliver remembers: “We just thought ‘why not?’ and plodded along.”
Thousands of people turned up to a swanky hotel in Leeds, many of whom Oliver recalls were wearing fake glasses and had lightning bolts scrawled across their foreheads with their mum’s lipstick! Realising they were the only set of twins not wearing matching outfits – something the boys had avoided their entire lives up until this point – they made a dash to C&A (yes, it was that long ago) to bag some new twinning togs. It killed some of the two-hour wait until their audition.
There were two rooms for auditions, one left, one right and Oliver thinks the choice of door – left if you’re wondering – was instrumental in getting the part. The casting director was behind their chosen door who thought the boys had the right look – and luck – as it happened. After a six-week course in the summer of 2000 plus five further auditions Oliver and James bagged a screen test. Oliver recalls: “We were on holiday in Crete when mum got the call about coming in for a screen test. It meant we were plastered in sunblock for the rest of the holiday. The casting director was expecting two pale ginger kids, so we had to make sure that’s what they got!” They nailed it and got the parts.
With Julie Walters playing mum and Mark Williams cast as Mr Weasley, it was a right Midlands affair at their on-screen home, The Burrow. There was a scene in the second film when the foursome read their lines in Brummie dialect which had them in stitches and the predominantly American crew scratching their heads.
Having Midlands parents on-screen was pretty nice says Oliver. Aged 14 when they got the part, being away from home was weird at first, but soon became the norm. “Being on location and moving around was cool, but filming in the studio got a bit samey.”
Oliver admits being star-struck initially when all the cast members sat down together for the first read through. Afterall, the cast list reads like a who’s who of British acting royalty. When filming stopped there was a moment when both boys thought they’d be a bit lost. Oliver says: “We’d been with this amazing group of people for such a long time and we thought ‘now what?’ but thankfully it didn’t just end abruptly.”
Oliver and James, who are keen travellers, went on a publicity tour of sorts promoting Harry Potter across the world. They still do some of this along with an increasing amount of corporate work in the States as well as acting and ambassadorial roles with a number of charities including Birmingham’s own Help Harry Help Others as well as the Teenage Cancer Trust to which Oliver donated an arcade game he’d been gifted by one of the cast of Harry Potter for his 21st birthday. “I saw what the guys were going through and thought they needed it more than I did.”
SHOT IN DUDLEY
On the acting front, Oliver and James appeared in Danny and the Human Zoo, a fictional account of Lenny Henry’s teenage years, filmed around Dudley. Oliver also stars in 7 Days: The True Story of Blind Dave Heeley. Still living in the Midlands, Oliver has never felt pressure to move to the capital although he has been known to say he lives in London for auditions which helps apparently.
“I could have moved south, but London’s just an hour or so away, so there’s really no need. Plus there’s a lot going on in Birmingham. There’s talk of Channel 4 moving here which would be great. We’re so lucky to be where we are. It’s a young city full of genuine people.” He adds: “The regeneration going on is incredible – thank God we got rid of the old library.” As someone who mourned the loss of the brutalist beast I twitch slightly.
America has a pull though and there are various projects bubbling away. In fact, James and Oliver have just recorded a travel based pilot show in Chicago which four companies are interested in taking on. In a nutshell the programme sees the boys travel to a city and show two sides to the place. Oliver has the high-end experience while James drew the short straw at the budget end of the market.
Sibling rivalry is no secret and twin rivalry is on another level, although Oliver won the ultimate race down the birthing canal by 13 minutes. Oliver supports Aston Villa and James supports Birmingham City which makes for some interesting dinner table chat. The golf course can be the Phelps’ cauldron of competitiveness too. Oliver had a bad car crash last year which meant he was out of action for four months, but he’s ready to get back on the course and take his handicap of 10 into single figures. “I’ve the Belfry on my doorstep where the course is looking the best I’ve seen it for two years.” James and Oliver are also set to compete in the Farmfoods British Par 3 Championship at Nailcote Hall in August.
Rivalry aside, Oliver and James spend an enormous amount of time working and travelling together and for two brothers who were keen to be identified as individuals, not twins as children they are very much a package in many ways. Mind you they’ve learned from experience not to go for the same parts anymore. This pair have confused many a casting director.