Beyond the Wand by Tom Felton book review


Beyond the Wand,” Tom Felton’s self-portrait of child stardom and adulthood aimlessness, follows beats not unlike the arc of his Harry Potter performances. As Slytherin bully Draco Malfoy, Felton delivered a requisite amount of sneering during the eight-movie series’ early installments, then cast a more nuanced spell in the last few films. Such is the rhythm of the 35-year-old actor’s memoir, subtitled “The Magic and Mayhem of Growing Up a Wizard”: After offering many a rote recollection from the saga, he summons his demons and delves deeper in the final pages.

That introspection, about Felton’s more recent struggles with drugs and alcohol, elevates what otherwise would be a diverting but disposable tome of Harry Potter trivia. Still, if you don’t know a horcrux from a hippogriff, feel free to move along — “Beyond the Wand” should only be assigned reading for Hogwarts completists.

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That’s partially because Felton liberally pulls from the wizarding lexicon, referring to his parents and three older brothers as his “Muggle family” and recalling how Harry Potter props “miraculously apparated” inside one mischievous sibling’s bag. But it’s mostly because Felton’s on-set observations feel painstakingly curated. Although he has little to say about the Harry Potter filmmakers (aside from original director Chris Columbus) and dances around touchier matters (such as co-star Jamie Waylett’s arrest and franchise exit), Felton does drop endearing tidbits about the movies’ parade of British acting royalty.

Michael Gambon is the subject of a charming story from the filming of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” when he and Felton shared a smoke between takes of Dumbledore’s death scene. Felton also recounts Hagrid actor Robbie Coltrane’s playful streak, and marvels at Jason Isaacs for being able to flip a switch from the heinous Lucius Malfoy to his gentler real-life persona. An anecdote in which Felton draws Alan Rickman’s ire by trampling on his flowing robes amuses, as does the disarming thought of the Snape actor lining up for lunch on set. “I was rather intimidated by Alan from day one,” Felton writes. “But seeing him wait patiently, in full Snape mode, for his sausage sandwich took the edge off just a little.”

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When it comes to being cast as Draco and rocketing to global fame, Felton is self-aware about his good fortune and cautions that he was “born enthusiastic rather than talented.” He’s more generous toward his youthful cohorts, lauding Daniel Radcliffe for playing Harry with dedication to his craft and portraying Rupert Grint as an easygoing goof with a big heart — not unlike Ron Weasley. But he has the most to say about Hermione Granger actress Emma Watson, whom he acknowledges had to navigate altogether different terrain in a world that unfairly sexualizes female stars. Dutifully, if vaguely, he addresses their long-standing dating rumors: “I’ve always had a secret love for Emma, though not perhaps in the way that people might want to hear.”

For a book so dominated by Harry Potter — down to the chapter titles, which are chock full of Easter eggs — it’s Felton’s experiences outside the Wizarding World that make “Beyond the Wand” worth reading. His brothers come across as colorful characters whose ribbing went a long way toward keeping Felton grounded. (The story of one brother overindulging on champagne at the premiere of “The Borrowers,” Felton’s first film, is a riot.) And Felton’s disastrous audition alongside Anthony Hopkins for the 2012 film “Hitchcock” is deliciously cringeworthy.

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When Felton finally opens up on his personal struggles, the change in tone isn’t entirely unexpected. Earlier, he alludes to the uneasy burdens of being a teen star — including receiving a death threat when he was 15 — while also citing his problems with tutoring and a few brushes with the law. As Felton details his post-Harry Potter life in Southern California, grinding through the audition circuit, he paints a striking picture of a well-adjusted actor beaten down by Hollywood’s superficiality.

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“Beyond the Wand” finds greater purpose when Felton explains how he fell into his drinking habits, and chronicles the intervention that shook his world. His experience sneaking out of rehab and wandering the Pacific Coast Highway, trying to find his way back to his neighborhood bar on foot, is especially distressing. “Just as we all experience physical ill-health at some stage in our lives, so we all experience mental ill-health too,” he writes. “There’s no shame in that. It’s not a sign of weakness. And part of the reason that I took the decision to write these pages is the hope that by sharing my experiences, I might be able to help someone else who is struggling.”

Ultimately, the hook of Felton’s memoir is his perspective on living a one-in-a-billion experience. Yet “Beyond the Wand” is most insightful when Felton translates his tale into something more universal. Sure, the “boy who lived” was never Draco’s moniker — but considering his eventful existence, it suits Felton just fine.

Thomas Floyd is a writer and editor for The Washington Post.

The Magic and Mayhem of Growing Up a Wizard

Grand Central Publishing. 304 pp. $28.

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