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'Say Your Prayers' interview: Harry Melling talks 'Doctor Who', JK Rowling and 'Harry Potter' (exclusive)

Ben Falk
·6-min read

Watch the trailer for Say Your Prayers below...

People like talking about Say Your Prayers star Harry Melling on the internet. It’s not surprising really, considering his role in one of the biggest movie/book/lunchbox franchises of all-time: Harry Potter.

But a quick glance online and it’s clear his fans and followers have one very simple goal for Melling – play The Doctor in Doctor Who. Some of this may stem from the fact that his grandfather is Patrick Troughton – aka the Second Doctor – but as Melling says, “I don’t really know how that gives me a good standing for it? Oh, I’m related to someone so I must now be that.”

In fact, he admits he’s not the biggest fan of the BBC series and while it’s never say never, the #HarryForWho army are almost certainly going to end up disappointed.

Read more: Who is the best Doctor Who?

“I think there are plenty of different people who should play Doctor Who other than me,” he says. “I would be the least interesting choice…Another white man with curly hair, we know what that is. It would be good to see different incarnations.”

Harry Melling in a still from <i>Say Your Prayers</i> (Central City Media)
Harry Melling in a still from Say Your Prayers (Central City Media)

In fact, Melling is for the moment more focused on the big screen. Twenty years on from playing the “pig-like demon child” that was Dudley, he’s going toe-to-toe with Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand in Joel Coen’s cinematic Macbeth (out next year), while he’s leading the cast of the new British religion-themed comedy-drama Say Your Prayers, opposite Derek Jacobi and Roger Allam.

Melling plays Tim, a sweet young Christian raised by priests who along with his more volatile brother is tasked with carrying out a heinous act in the name of God. And while there are laughs along the way, there’s plenty of complexity too.

Derek Jacobi and Harry Melling in a still from <i>Say Your Prayers</i> (Central City Media)
Derek Jacobi and Harry Melling in a still from Say Your Prayers (Central City Media)

“I think people may think they’re in for an out-and-out comedy, but what it says is something quite bleak,” he says. “It does make its point in quite a surprising way.”

But with such controversial subject matter – religious fervour, atheism, terrorism – was he at all concerned about how it would go across?

“There’s always a worry when you’re dealing with something that is a sensitive subject matter,” he agrees, but adds that this brings something new and interesting to the table. “The idea of Christians being fundamentalists, or being radicalised, is something I don’t think we’ve seen.”

Tom Brooke and Harry Melling in a still from <i>Say Your Prayers</i> (Central City Media)
Tom Brooke and Harry Melling in a still from Say Your Prayers (Central City Media)

Variety and challenging himself is at the heart of the 31-year-old’s career plan (not that he consciously has one) even if he’s not as worried as occasional screen collaborator Robert Pattinson (the pair have both appeared recently in Waiting for the Barbarians and The Devil All The Time) about blowing up his past.

“I get quite nervous if I’m locked into something – into a role or a genre,” he says. “There’s an element of Tim in that journey. I’ve played a few dislikable people in the past and I think Tim is the most lovely character that I’ve come across. I think your taste changes. My taste when I was a 10-year-old in Harry Potter is very different to my taste now. You just follow your nose.”

Read more: Why did Harry Potter never win any Oscars?

That nose, along with the rest of him, looks markedly different from the chubby child who tormented Harry for all those years. Melling famously shed the puppy fat (there’s an entire, slightly creepy, subculture of nerdy-Potter-kids-who-grew-up-to-be-hot stans) and after going to drama school, broke into adult gigs via Merlin and Garrow’s Law on TV before scoring roles in The Lost City of Z and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (where he first worked with the Coen Bros.)

VENICE, ITALY - AUGUST 31:  (L-R) Harry Melling, Ethan Coen, Bill Heck, Tim Blake Nelson, Joel Coen walk the red carpet ahead of the 'The Ballad of Buster Scruggs' screening during the 75th Venice Film Festival at Sala Grande on August 31, 2018 in Venice, Italy.  (Photo by Daniele Venturelli/Daniele Venturelli/WireImage)
(L-R) Harry Melling, Ethan Coen, Bill Heck, Tim Blake Nelson, Joel Coen at the 'The Ballad of Buster Scruggs' screening during the 75th Venice Film Festival, 2018. (Daniele Venturelli/Daniele Venturelli/WireImage)

But just because he has a thriving career, don’t think that means he’s come to terms with the enormity of his screen past.

“No, I don‘t think I have, to be honest,” he reveals. “It’s a very strange thing knowing that people have effectively watched you grow up. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, I just think it’s a strange thing. You’ve got these home videos of yourself as a 10-year-old kid playing this despicable character for the world to see.”

“And what I can’t get my head round is the fact that generationally it keeps going,” he continues. “Friends of mine have kids and they’re starting to get into Harry Potter and suddenly Uncle Harry has turned into a different Uncle Harry because they’ve seen me as Dudley. That’s a lot to get your head round and often I try not to because it’s too much.”

Richard Griffiths, Harry Melling, and Fiona Shaw as the Dursleys in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. (Warner Bros.)
Richard Griffiths, Harry Melling, and Fiona Shaw as the Dursleys in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. (Warner Bros.)

Does that mean that given his time again, he would have said no?

“No, I had it really good,” he says. “I was in for a month and I went back and did my school and had my life and then I came back for a month. Playing Dudley led me to Fiona [Shaw], Fiona Shaw (who played Aunt Petunia) led to me to cement my love of theatre, which led me to drama school…”

Melling is a young person for whom JK Rowling had an enormous impact and he takes his time to answer when asked about the recent furore surrounding the author and her comments that were perceived by some quarters to be transphobic.

Read more: Warner Bros. responds to JK Rowling controversy

“My take on it is that I think the most powerful thing we have as human beings is choice and I think everyone has the right to choose what they are and who they are. That’s kind of what I feel about it,” he says. “I obviously can’t talk on behalf of anyone else. My feeling is that we must be allowed to choose – that seems to me to be the most empowering way of looking at it.”

Derek Jacobi, Harry Melling and Tom Brooke in the <i>Say Your Prayers</i> poster (Central City Media)
Derek Jacobi, Harry Melling and Tom Brooke in the Say Your Prayers poster (Central City Media)

As far as online backlash however, he’s more immediately concerned with his character’s woolly hat in Say Your Prayers.

“It was a really good idea to begin with,” he laughs. “And then we had two bobbles either side which for continuity were a nightmare! In this scene the bobble was behind the coat and in this scene the bobble was in front of the coat, so I’m sure there’ll be a lot of internet forums going mad for that!”

Say Your Prayers will be released on demand 28 September. Pre-order on iTunes.