Jamie Parker has been playing the title role in “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” for over 200 shows, starting with the play’s 2016 premiere in the West End and now at Broadway’s Lyric Theatre. Yet he still remembers the moment he realized the enormity of the role.
“It was when the music started and I was waiting to come on for the first preview in London,” recalls Parker, who’s joined by the six other original main cast members for the Broadway production.
“It’s like jumping out of a plane — which I did once 12 or 13 years ago. It’s just a moment of insanity really, like when you realize, ‘My ankles are outside of the plane, what the hell is going on!’”
‘Harry is not perfect’
Though Harry is not the star of the play, all eyes are on Parker. “Cursed Child” is considered the official eighth part of the Harry Potter series co-written by J.K. Rowling and John Tiffany and adapted for the stage by Jack Thorne. The story picks up at the epilogue of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” and focuses on Harry and Ginny’s son, Albus Severus Potter, who befriends Draco Malfoy’s son Scorpius. Together, they try to escape their fathers’ pasts and make their own mark on the wizarding world.
Harry himself is struggling with his role as a father. Parker praises script as “uncompromising” for its willingness to be honest about what kind of parent Harry would grow up to be after a childhood shaped by such trauma.
“They want to explore that; they don’t want to pull punches,” he says. “Harry is not perfect — he’d gone through a lot of difficulty, and the happiness there is hard won. He goes to some pretty upsetting places and he does some questionable things and says bad things to good people, and he has to wrestle with that as much as his friends and family do, as much as the audience do.”
From book to stage
At 38 years old, Parker is very nearly the same age Harry would be now in the real world, and shares a bit of life experience with the Boy Who Lived. He, too, went to boarding school at age 12 in Scotland, where Hogwarts is located somewhere in the Highlands. They even had similar round glasses.
But Parker had only read the first book and seen some of the movies when he got the part. He “went full Hermione Granger” to catch up and has now completed multiple read-throughs, a process that’s helped shape his performance.
“It does evolve, inevitably,” says Parker, who won the 2017 Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Play for the role. “Sometimes it cycles back on itself and you come back to something very obvious that you had early on. But sometimes also I look back on the early days performing it and go, ‘Oh, that was so simplistic.’ I’m still making connections with the books now. I’m hearing echoes from lines from five novels ago and going, ‘God I’ve only just noticed that.’”
Though beloved by hundreds of millions of children and adults worldwide, Rowling’s books still do not command the same respect afforded other classics of literature. Parker himself started with the same “superficial idea that it was this big thing with wizards,” but has since grown to appreciate its craftsmanship, even comparing its enduring mythos to Shakespeare’s Henry V.
“Jo’s writing is willing to tell children the truth,” he says. “You do learn through her, guess what, grown-ups make mistakes, there is darkness in the world, don’t believe everything you read through the newspapers or sometimes institutions don’t have your best interests at heart. It’s complex and complicated, and she doesn’t patronize young minds.”
‘Arts and sciences’
A common refrain in reviews of the play is the script tells only half the story. Audiences are urged to #KeepTheSecrets of how exactly the magic is brought to life, but the consensus is that “Cursed Child”’s stagecraft has revolutionized live theater.
When the actors cast spells, their wands glow and spew fire; at one point, the theater is beset by Dementors, while the sequence where the new teenage trio use a potion to transfigure into adults draws gasps. “The blend of arts and sciences in this production is profound, and it’s something I’d dearly love to give a TED Talk about,” Parker says with a rueful laugh. “It never fails to fascinate me.”
Though Cursed Child is a play, Parker describes what the actors need to do to make that magic happen almost like the choreography of a musical: “You have to stand very specifically, sometimes to the centimeter, on the stage or look in a particular way or adjust the angle of your body just by a couple of degrees in order that the audience doesn’t see what we don’t want them to see.”