When 20th Century Fox unleashes its “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” Aug. 5, moviegoers will see Tom Felton — a.k.a. Draco Malfoy of the “Harry Potter” films — playing a cruel caretaker at an ape compound where his coworker is played by none other than Jamie Harris. Jamie is the youngest son of the late Richard Harris, whose vast body of work, of course, included playing Dumbledore in the first two “Potter” movies. Harris’ scenes are with Felton, and it’s not good.
“My character has great difficulty in communicating with other human beings. He’s much more in tune with apes than humans, and he has a kindness and understanding toward them. He’s a good man, as indeed am I,” declares the affable Harris with a lilt. Felton’s character, on the other hand, can be viscious to beast and man alike. “He does a lot of pushing me around, beating me up. I go out and he gives me a good old kick. But he does it with that sort of adorable smile,” says Harris.
“It was great chatting with Tom. What he told me, as far as ‘Harry Potter,’ was how kind Dad was to them all — that he took them all under his wing and kind of nurtured them. I very much appreciated that,” says the actor, who envisions his father enjoying himself in heavenly surroundings, “having a Guinness with God.”
He adds that Felton “does a fantastic job” in “Apes” — and absolutely plays against his real personality. “He’s a very gentle, kind person, really — an absolute sweetheart, and yet he’s so good at playing these evil characters.”
Harris can empathize, having played perhaps more than his share of nefarious types. “It’s great to not always be cast as a serial killer. I never understand why I am cast as those. Perhaps because I’m tall and gangly. They see me and say, ‘Aw, well — he must be a serial killer.”
Right now, not only does Harris have “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” coming out — with James Franco, Andy Serkis, JohnLithgow and Freida Pinto. He also has two indies by filmmaker Bernard Rose on the way, “Mr. Nice,” the story of an elite British drug smuggler, with Chloe Sevigny and Rhys Ifans; and “Two Jacks” with Danny Huston and Sienna Miller. The latter is Rose’s new take on a Tolstoy short story, now set in a “Hollywood that’s this kind of evil empire where people get their hooks into other people’s lives,” as Harris puts it.
“Apes” is the big ticket item, though, for reasons including its pioneering use of motion capture photography techniques on a live action set. “It was a lot of fun. It was very exciting. There was definitely an element of you didn’t really know what was going on,” Harris says. “As an actor, you were told all these things were going to happen all around you, and you had to put your trust in that and go with it…The camera department did ‘Lord of the Rings,’ so they knew what they were doing.”
Harris acted opposite “people dressed in these tight leotards covered with green dots and cameras following their every move — there were no green screens.” Other takes, he acted opposite nobody, which he admits was a challenge: “Pretending you’re being dragged around by apes, that’s very tricky.”