About Magazine took off to Dallas this past weekend to attend LeakyCon, the largest Harry Potter convention in the world, where editor-in-chief Anthony Ramirez caught up with Chris Rankin, who played Percy Weasley in the films to chat about the movies, their impact on LGBTQ people, and what he’s been up to since.
(DALLAS) – LeakyCon is the largest Harry Potter convention in the entire world, which began nine years ago in Boston. Now, getting ready to head into its tenth anniversary year in 2019 with two celebrations (one in Dallas and one in Boston) after celebrating its ninth in Dallas, it’s clear to About Magazine staffers why the convention is so popular for fans of the Harry Potter series — it’s friggin awesome. From booths selling hand-carved wands, to pints of butterbeer, to actors and creators of the Harry Potter universe meeting with fans and speaking about their experiences. From Sorcerer’s Stone all the way up to Fantastic Beasts and Cursed Child, the convention celebrates it all — and proved to be especially accommodating to the LGBTQ community (see photo of bathroom signs below). There’s not shortage of things to do, balls to attend, panels discussing everything from rape culture in the series to JK Rowling’s Twitter presence. Attendees parade about in cosplay — one man in particular even striking an eerie resemblance to the late Alan Rickman — and rest in common rooms appropriately decorated for each of the four houses of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (Ramirez claims to be a studious Ravenclaw, while his friend/pretend employee if anyone at LeakyCon asked, Kirby Mitchell, asserts he is a courageous Gryffindor, but is more likely an undercover Hufflepuff).
And while there, About Magazine editor-in-chief, both Ramirez and Mitchell were given the opportunity to meet one of the film’s stars, Mr. Chris Rankin. Rankin appeared as Ron Weasley’s elder brother Percy — the perfect prefect that had a knack for being a bit of kiss-ass but that turned out to be a hot, ass-kicking wizard nonetheless — in all but two of the franchise’s original eight films (adaptations of Goblet of Fire & Half-Blood Prince didn’t include Percy’s character). But eighteen years after his first audition, Rankin is a lot more than just the goodie-two-shoes of the ginger-headed Weasley family. He’s hard at work back on the stage in a forthcoming production of The Wizard of Oz at the Bradford Playhouse in metropolitan West Yorkshire, England; and just recently, Rankin wrapped editing on his directorial debut — a short-film entitled Dad, which will air on the BBC sometime this winter. Between his film and stage work, Rankin takes kindly to meeting up with fans of Harry Potter across the world at conventions, conferences, and other public appearances. At LeakyCon, Ramirez and Mitchell were given the chance to talk to Rankin about how he got into the Potter-verse, his feelings on Wizarding World’s representation and diversity, and what it’s like to know that the LGBTQ community relates so much to a world he helped bring to life on the screen.
Anthony Ramirez: I really feel like … in doing these interviews — and I want to preface with this —
Chris Rankin: [Laughs] I love when an interview starts with, “I’m just gonna say this first …”
AR: [Laughs] I know. Right? It’s just — I mean, I talk more in interviews than I listen. But it’s fine.
AR: No, but I feel like y’all probably get the same questions over-and-over about Harry Potter.
CR: [Thinking] Yeah.
AR: So we’re going to try and be a little bit outside of the box. But I bet you that everyone thinks that they are.
AR: [Laughs] So first off, um, I guess to sort of get the general questions out of the way, did you ever think that when you got into this franchise that it was going to be continuing onto this level today?
CR: Umm … no. I think it’s fair to say that none of us really knew what we signed up for at all. I mean … we were kids. But having said that, I don’t even think the grown ups would have particularly realized that it was going to be like this. And I don’t think — yeah. Even when we kind of realized like, This is a big deal — which I think for most of us was around the time of the premiere of Sorcerer’s Stone — we kind of went, “Oh, God. There’s real people out there and they want to see this film.” I think even then, and probably even most of the way through — probably way through to like 2011 when the last film came out — I don’t think that any of us anticipated that we’d still be here … now. And I know there’s Fantastic Beasts, and that’s sort of keeping the thing alive.
CR: But I don’t know. It’s been eighteen years since we started filming. But it was kind of unprecedented.
AR: Well, we [Anthony and his friend, Kirby] were talking about that last night, too. Trying to figure out how long it had been. And we were both kind of like, “Omigod.”
CR: It’s eighteen years next — no … eighteen years in about ten days time since I had my first audition. And then I started shooting about September 2000.
AR: Wow. That’s crazy.
CR: It’s terrifying.
AR: [Laughs] .
CR: I’m 35 this year. It’s … weird.
AR: I bet. And you said not even the adults were expecting it. And you were working with people like Alan Rickman and Maggie Smith who had been in film their entire lives.
AR: And it just blew out of the water so quickly.
AR: When it comes to the Harry Potter universe — and it keeps going with Fantastic Beasts and Cursed Child — do you see that at any point there might be some sort of end to that? Or do you think this is going to be something that carries with generations and generations to come like it has so far?
CR: I think — I don’t know. At some point there kind of has to become a point where Jo [Rowling] stops giving us new original creative material to work from.
AR: Well, and she won’t live forever either. So …
CR: No. Well, and that’s true. Unless … you know … well, you just never know with Jo. You don’t know.
AR: [Laughs] She’s got the Philosopher’s Stone.
CR: It’s entirely possible that Jo knows how to do that.
Kirby Mitchell: [Laughs].
CR: But we’ve been promised five total Fantastic Beasts [films]. There has to come a point where enough is enough in terms of milking it. You know there’s only so much you can get ‘blood out of a stone’ wise. But, having said that, even without Fantastic Beasts, because again I’m 35 this year, I started reading Potter when the second book came out, so in ’98. So when I was 14. So I’m kind of first gen, original Harry Potter group of people. I’ve got friends who I went to school with who’ve got fourteen or fifteen-year-old kids who have obviously started reading Harry Potter five or six years ago who are second gen. And it’s not that they’re only reading it because Fantastic Beasts exists or because Cursed Child exists. They’re reading it because their parents are going, “These books are amazing.” And they’re going, “Oh, yeah. These books are amazing.” And that will carry on and carry on. So, yeah, feasibly, we could still be doing this in forty years’ time on like fourth generation Potter fans. It’s entirely possible. How well the films stack up against age, we can only say.
AR: Well, it’s certainly one of those things like with with The Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings — those books span generationally.
CR: Yeah. Even Star Wars, which is like thirty or forty years old. You can still watch the original Star Wars and go, “Yeah. The graphics are a bit pokey. […] The storylines are terrible and it’s cheesy as hell. But … it’s great.” Maybe people will be saying that about Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets in about thirty years’ time. But, yeah they could be better. But you know what? They’re classics.
AR: At that point all movies will just be in 3D.
KM: We’ll just have VR [virtual reality] movies in forty years.
CR: AR [augmented reality] movies probably by then.
AR: Exactly how did you get to — because obviously you were very young at the time — but how did the audition come about?
CR: It was — basically there was a TV show on the BBC, it was called Newsround, it was a kids news bulletin and young adults, I guess. And they put the last article on the program [which] was, “And finally, Warner Bros. is making a film of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and they want normal kids — just every day kids — to audition to play the parts in the film. So, if you want to be in film or you like Harry Potter and you want to do that, write to this address, send them a photo and a letter and say I wanna play whoever because of whatever. And if you don’t hear from them in two weeks, forget it ever happened.
CR: And a mate of mine I was at youth theatre with — I was sixteen at the time and he would’ve been 14 or so — he was ginger, as well, which is key. He rang me up on the landline, because this was before mobile phones — that’s how long ago this is.
CR: And he said, “Did you see that thing on Newsround? I think I’m gonna write in and say I wanna play Ron Weasley.” And I was like, “Yeah. I saw it. But I didn’t think anything of it.” And he was like, “Well, you should do it, as well.” So I did. I was like, “Yeah. Okay. Why not?” And my brain process was like, “Okay, well who should I play for?” Because I was sixteen and was sort of like, “Okay, well I’m sixteen. I’m too old for Ron. Harry’s not likely — besides everyone wants to do that. Hermione? Probably … unlikely.” And then I sort of thought, “Well, I’m ginger.” And Will, my mate, is ginger, as well. So I was kind of like, “Well, we’re both gingers. So Weasley is an obvious option. I’m not a twin. But I am sixteen. Percy’s sixteen. And I am a prefect. Percy’s a prefect. I’ve got ginger hair. Percy’s got ginger hair.”
AR: Wow. That aligned really well.
CR: It was like, “If I’m gonna get a part, it’s most likely to be Percy.” And that’s kind of just what I wrote. And then I didn’t hear anything for like five months. And then they just rung up out of the blue one day like, “Yeah. Can you come in tomorrow for an audition?” And I was sort of like, “Yeah. Sure.” And I did. And then like four days later I met Chris Columbus and David Heyman and reauditioned. And I started about a week and a half after that.
CR: When it happened it was just like poof! There you go! And then we were like on the Hogwarts Express chugging into Hogsmeade to do our first days’ filming.
AR: That’s insane. You were a very realistic sixteen-year-old knowing all of that, too.
CR: [Laughs]. I hedged my bets. I was like, “What part am I most likely to get? Let’s go with that.” Nobody likes Percy. He’s probably like the least popular choice.
AR: Oh, gosh. I don’t know. I always related to Percy because … I was a snitch.
AR: So we are an LGBTQ publication.
AR: And that obviously has a huge fandom just within the Harry Potter fans, too. And a lot of comes just from within the fact that LGBTQ people identify with Harry Potter’s story. As somebody who was a part of creating that story and bringing it to life, what does it make you feel like when people who are not just queer people, but people of color, and people with disabilities find that correlation — when they’re able to see themselves in those characters?
CR: Yeah. I think it says an awful lot about the world that Jo’s created. Interestingly, in my panel yesterday, somebody asked me about the lack of diversity in Harry Potter, which really kind of threw me, for a start. Literally the entire room went deathly silent.
AR: That’ll happen.
CR: Yeah. And I was like, Shiiiit. How am I gonna answer this without digging myself into an enormous hole?
CR: But what I was trying to say, although what i couldn’t quite work out how to say, is that there is a lack of diversity in Harry Potter. We can’t get away from that fact. However, the diverse masses have sort of focused on it and said, “This is the book for me! This is the book that makes sense and that I identify with.”
CR: And that’s regardless of the fact that it’s mostly white, straight, middle-class people. It fascinates me. However, it is a story about a selection of people who, for various reasons, don’t fit in with the “normal” population. Like … it might be because Harry’s an orphan who lived in a cupboard half his life and therefore doesn’t understand friends, doesn’t really know what love is, and doesn’t really know who he is because he’s lived this life of being a muggle when he’s really not — he’s actually a wizard. And suddenly he’s a wizard and he goes, “Oh. Hello. That makes sense.” One could liken that to sort of living your life as a straight person and then going, “Oh. I see! This makes sense. I’m not that person. Now this all clears up.”
CR: And you look at the Weasleys. There sort of just a whole family of people who don’t really fit the norm — who don’t really fit into this pureblood society that they’re supposed to be a part of. And I think that it’s really special. I think somehow Jo has created this perfect little mathematical equation that can answer so many questions and that provides so many different answers that — even if you don’t know you’re looking for them — you can find them. And even — and I’ve been talking about Harry Potter for the last eighteen years of my life pretty much on a weekly, if not daily, basis.
CR: And I do ramble — and I know I ramble when I’m answering questions.
AR: No, it’s okay.
CR: Especially when I’m not entirely sure what point I’m trying to make. But sometimes in the middle of all of that, I realize that another penny has dropped. And I’m just like, “Oh, shit!” [Snaps] “That makes so much sense!” All of the sudden this like rambling nonsense is suddenly, “AH! Got it!”
AR: [Laughs] I do the same thing. I get it. It’s revelation after revelation.
CR: Yeah. And Harry Potter — you could liken Hogwarts to Professor Xavier’s Academy for Gifted Youngters — you know? It’s a place where you don’t fit into the normal world. And that fits with a million different ethnicities, religions, races, genders, sexualities — everyone can go, “I don’t fit into this category.” Everybody. Even straight, cis, male, white, middle-class people can say, “I don’t fit into this community,” and therefore I can find something that I identify with in Harry Potter. It may be that, “Oh. God. I’m really like Draco Malfoy.” … which … is not necessarily a good thing. But if you can identify with him, then it’s a great thing.
AR: No, yeah. Absolutely. So I did want to ask you one last thing, because I know you’ve started working more in TV production, and you’ve started to move from in front of the camera. So what else do you have going on? Anything exciting happening?
CR: God. So much. I literally last week finished editing a short film I’ve just directed for the BBC–
AR: Oh, wow.
CR: … which will air in the UK in like November or December time. It’s a short film. It’s only ten minutes. It’s the first thing I’ve ever directed.
AR: Congratulations. That’s awesome.
CR: Thank you. I’m really excited about it.
AR: And what’s the title?
CR: It’s called Dad. And it’s written by a guy called Joshua McCord. It’s based on — it’s not loosely based, but sort of semi-based on something that happened in his childhood. And it’s interesting because it’s a piece sort of about accepting differences in people, interestingly. Yeah. And it’s really, really sweet. And I’m really happy with where it’s going.
AR: That’s amazing.
CR: Yeah. And I’m back on the professional stage this Christmas. I’m giving my Scarecrow in a sort of pantomime version of The Wizard of Oz. I have done proper stage work in ten years now, so that’s going to be fun. So, yeah. Life’s exciting. I’m having a go at everything.
AR: Yeah. You’re doing a little bit of everything. That’s amazing.
CR: I’m loving it.
AR: Well, congratulations, and thank you so much for sitting down with us.
CR: It was my pleasure. We should do it again sometime.
AR: This has been Chris Rankin — [gayer voice] Percy Weasley from Harry Potter.
AR: Can we get a selfie?