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Stardom, studying and a wizard role

PUBLISHED: 10:31 23 November 2010

Six-year-old Isobella Spillman, from Hethersett, casts a spell on Harry Potter actor Chris Rankin at the John Lewis store in Norwich on Saturday.; Photo: Bill Smith

Six-year-old Isobella Spillman, from Hethersett, casts a spell on Harry Potter actor Chris Rankin at the John Lewis store in Norwich on Saturday.; Photo: Bill Smith

Archant © 2010

Norfolk boy Chris Rankin has found fame over the past decade with his appearances in the Harry Potter films. On a return to Norwich he told Keiron Pim about his hectic life combining film stardom and studying.

With the new Harry Potter film now showing at cinemas, Chris Rankin is gearing up for one of the occasional spells in the spotlight that he has enjoyed since the series began in 2001.

Chris plays Percy Weasley, older brother to Ron Weasley, and although he hasn’t been in every Potter film to date, he’s certainly in the first instalment of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which he completed filming in the summer.

As the film begins, the evil Voldemort’s power is growing stronger, to the point where he has control over the Ministry of Magic and Hogwarts. Harry, Ron, and Hermione decide to finish their late friend Dumbledore’s work and find the rest of the Horcruxes to defeat the Dark Lord – but little hope remains, so everything they do must go as planned.

Anticipation is building among Harry Potter fans, and last Saturday saw Chris autograph more than 300 photographs during a signing session at Norwich’s John Lewis department store.

The second part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will be released next summer, but both films were made in one burst, which Chris admits has left him slightly confused as to how long he’ll be on screen in each one.

“Because we filmed both of them together, I’m not entirely sure what’s in what film – they haven’t told me where the cut point is,” he says.

“With part one, I shouldn’t be in it an awful lot, but I am in it.

“In the book Percy doesn’t turn up until the battle right near the end. There’s some scenes at the Ministry of Magic at the beginning of this one and I’m there, you can see that Percy is working there, but I’m not a major part of this film. I’m just kind of lurking,” he laughs.

Chris, who has just turned 27, is using his fame to support a Norfolk charity that is very close to his heart. He is a patron of Nelson’s Journey, which supports bereaved young people in the county. Chris knows what it is to lose a parent at a young age and is hugely impressed by the charity’s work. “I’ve been involved with Nelson’s Journey for five or six years and it has been phenomenal. My dad died when I was 19 and that’s why I am so involved with it.

“They are a phenomenal group of people, they really are, and the work that they do actually is life-changing for a lot of people. I know that it’s easy to say that, but I’ve been on a couple of their residential camps and the work they do is incredible.”

Nelson’s Journey is currently trying to raise the £350,000 it needs to build its own dedicated headquarters – at present it operates from cramped premises on Sprowston Road, donated by Livability, and Chris is fully behind the Smiles Appeal, which is officially supported by the Evening News’ sister paper, the Eastern Daily Press.

“It’s going quite well so far –they have raised more than £40,000. I’m trying my best to help. I tweet about it at least once a week, and I did tell my Twitter followers that we could raise about £20,000 between us if we donated a quid each.

I’d got about 18,000 followers the last time I looked. I try not to look! I find it a bit odd... it’s fab, but I don’t know what pearls of wisdom they think I’m going to come up with!

“Me talking about how many sugars I have in my coffee is really not the end of the world.”

Chris was born in New Zealand and his family moved to Norfolk when he was six. He grew up in Dereham and attended Northgate High School. For the past couple of years he has been attempting the tricky task of returning to full-time education while continuing his acting career, by studying Media Production at the University of Lincoln.

He manages to see his mum in Norfolk every three weeks or so, spends his weeks in Lincoln and heads over at the weekends to mid-Wales, where his girlfriend Megan comes from.

He has a home in Norwich as well, where he and Megan lived together for a couple of years while they attended university together, but now she has graduated and returned to Wales. All in all, it is a hectic sounding lifestyle involving a lot of travel.

“It’s a bit of a schlep, but it’s worth it,” he says. “Last year was a bit interesting, trying to make Harry Potter while doing my studies.”

How did he manage? “Not particularly successfully, it has to be said! But I muddled through, so that was good.” After he has finished university Chris and Megan are planning to go travelling in New Zealand, reconnecting him with the country of his birth, as well as visiting Australia and the USA.

He’s also involved in a movie about Black Shuck, East Anglia’s legendary ghostly dog, which will be filmed in Norfolk and Suffolk.

“I haven’t quite decided if I’m going to be in it or not, but I’m certainly involved in the production side of it,” he says. “And I’ve got a couple of other things on the go, but nothing definite.”

Although he was allowed to take on other acting roles while making the Harry Potter films, in practice it proved difficult.

“It’s the fact that they take so long to make, and there’s not much time left to do much else. Because of the way the films have been made, it’s not always been entirely possible for them to say ‘you will be needed on this day and this day, and not on these days’. So quite often if you were offered another job, they would say ‘To be honest we would rather you didn’t because you are already contracted to us – we might need you.’

“Which was fine, but life was busy enough without needing much else to do. I did a play while I was filming the fifth film, which was a bit of a nightmare.”

For now he is just focussing on finishing university and then going travelling, he says.

“I’m nearly up to the end of my first term of the third year,” he says. “I finish in May. It’s good, it’s busy – we’re in the middle of making a 20-minute film, I’ve got my dissertation of 10,000 words, and I’ve got a research and development project which is mammoth – I’ve bitten off an awful lot with that.”

So does the course he’s studying suggest that he sees himself spending more time behind the camera as his career develops?

“I’ve always really enjoyed producing as much as I have acting. I had a theatre company for three or four years and loved it, I produced in it and it was great to have this feeling of watching something and thinking ‘I made this happen’. It’s a lot of fun, and making a film from behind the camera is fascinating, trying to make it as good as you possibly can. So that might be the future.”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part One) is on general release now. For more information about Nelson’s Journey and the Smiles Appeal, see www.nelsonsjourney.org.uk

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