Alfred Enoch recently graduated from Oxford University with a degree in Modern Languages and is now appearing in both Antigone and Timon Of Athens at the National Theatre. If that’s not enough to make you hate him already, you might after learning he also appeared in all but one of the global phenomenon that was the Harry Potter film series as the magical gang’s friend Dean Thomas.
It’s pretty hard to dislike the young actor for long however, being as he is probably the only person to ever apologise for talking about himself too much during an interview. Frequently breaking off into infectious laughter and stopping to thank the people who have helped him get to the National Theatre stage or that he has had the privilege to work with so far – currently he’s appearing alongside Simon Russell Beale, Jodie Whittaker and Christopher Eccleston to name but a few – his friendly manner is only matched by a passion for acting so huge it would give those NT regulars he admires so much a run for their money.
Enoch spoke to Charlotte Marshall about finding inspiration watching his dad on stage, how it feels to be recognised and what it’s like standing alone in front of an expectant audience.
CV in brief
2001-2011 Appears as Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter film series
2011 Stars in Dinner at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
2012 Makes professional London stage debut in Happy New at the Old Red Lion
2012 Currently appearing in both Antigone and Timon Of Athens at the National Theatre
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the same place I am in now, Gospel Oak in North London. I went off to university and came back and thought it would be quite nice to move in with my friends, but I thought with everyone doing normal hours I’d be a bit lonely being on my own in the day and in the evening I’d be off doing a show. My dad and my mum are quite good company so I thought I’d stay around with them! It’s something I think I should maybe be more embarrassed about than I am, but I’m not really [laughs].
You recently graduated from Oxford University, is that right?
Yes I graduated without actually being there for the ceremony because I had a show that day. I got my certificate and now I’m officially a BA in Modern Languages.
Did you ever want to go to drama school instead of university?
When I left school I knew I wanted to go to university, partly because that was where the school I went to pushed me, not in an unfair way, but I think the general tendency at my school, which was quite academic, was that you’d apply to Oxford and Cambridge and would go if you got in. My father went to Oxford and I thought [it] would be an interesting way to spend four years because I enjoyed the subject I applied for – Spanish and Portuguese – and my Mum’s from Brazil so doing Portuguese was something that really interested me.
How did you first get interested in acting?
I’ve always wanted to act, which sounds like a bit of a ridiculous thing to say, but I think it’s to do with the fact my father’s [William Russell] an actor and I grew up going to watch him in plays, which was always tremendously exciting. When you’re an eight year old kid, seeing your dad do his job can always be quite an impressive thing, especially when it looked like it was so much fun. When I was eight or nine, my dad was in the opening season at the Globe; watching Mark Rylance playing Henry V, my dad was the King of France. To call it a formative experience is a bit much, but it’s something I remember so clearly and it was just so exciting.
What was it like being part of something as huge as the Harry Potter films? Did it take over your life?
No it didn’t really. It was a lot of fun. I had read the books before I got the part so I knew exactly what it was about. I was seen in a National Youth Theatre play that was at the Globe and then went on tour and asked if I would like to audition. Initially they came around lots of schools and they came to my school and asked me to audition and I thought ‘Nahhh, why would they pick me?’ I was very defeatist about it and didn’t audition. So when the second opportunity came round I thought ‘wow, I better take it’. I was very fortunate because it’s not often you get a second chance like that.
On the first film I did 60 days [of filming] which is a lot considering I had one line! When you’re that young you just throw yourself into it and have a good time and don’t really worry about anything, which is quite nice really.
Did you have any crazy fans?
I’m always surprised when anyone knows who I am in all honestly. I was in all of them but, one but I don’t do that much; that was the nature of the films. It was such a huge film and it’s brilliant they managed to create such a complete world, but in reality, if I’d have seen the film, I wouldn’t have known who I was if I’d walked past me! When someone says ‘were you that guy in Harry Potter?’ I think ‘wow, you must have seen that film at least five times’! Or maybe people are just a lot more observant than I am.
You’re currently appearing in both Antigone and Timon Of Athens. How did that come about?
I have a lot to thank my parents for. My dad was very enterprising and said, when I got the part in Harry Potter, ‘well now you’re going to need an agent’. He got me a terrific agent who has been fantastic and looked after me since I was about 11 years old. I finished the show I did at the Old Red Lion [Happy New] and I was going up for a lot of things and I eventually got offered the National to do Antigone and Timon Of Athens and I thought ‘how exciting would that be?’ Antigone’s got Christopher Eccleston and Jodie Whittaker in it and Simon Russell Beale is in Timon so I was thrilled to bits at the audition, I just thought ‘don’t cock it up now’ [laughs].
How did you feel when you first stepped out onto the National stage?
It was amazing. On Antigone, moving from the rehearsal room into the theatre for the tech, I remember looking up and thinking ‘wow’ and that was before I’d even stepped onto the stage. Antigone starts with everyone running on, it’s a very exciting start, it gets your blood pumping anyway but the moment you freeze and you realise there’s this wall of people, it’s just the most exhilarating thing. It’s a really extraordinary space to stand in, it’s like a football stadium.
I had that feeling again, even multiplied, at our first preview for Timon Of Athens because I have a small soliloquy to the audience. It was like jumping out of a plane! It was probably one of the most exhilarating experience of my life. I just came off shaking and saying to everyone who would listen ‘that was brilliant’! It really was an unforgettable moment.
Timon Of Athens is quite relevant to the present day, isn’t it?
Yes. It’s a really rarely performed play but I think it’s interesting there’s been two productions since 2008 [at the Globe], I suppose it’s the time for putting on Timon Of Athens, a play about a man who over extends himself beyond his means without taking into account how much money he can afford to spend.
I think it’s good that we’ve put it in modern dress because that doesn’t shy away from that relevance and hopefully that will make it more powerful, immediate and urgent in some way.
You’ve worked with some incredible actors already. Is there anyone who has particularly inspired you?
Everyone that I’ve got to work with! I know that seems like a cop out answer but quite honestly just coming out of university and being fortunate enough to work at a place like the National is extraordinary. Really just being around experienced actors who know what they’re doing and know the space and have worked there before, it’s fantastically informative to be doing scenes with them and see the way they work.
I mean Simon Russell Beale [breaks into peals of laughter] it’s been just…amazing, absolutely amazing watching him work. He has a soliloquy that closes the first act and I watched it from backstage on a tiny little monitor and it was absolutely extraordinary, it was something else.
Whose career would you have if you could emulate anyone’s in the world?
I think someone who has been able to play great Shakespearean roles. I fell in love with watching Shakespeare going to see my dad at the Globe and that space is absolutely magical to me.
Would you like to work on stage and screen?
I would love to do both, who wouldn’t? I think in an ideal world that’s what I’d love to do but doing theatre is always something that’s really excited me and it’s how I first came to acting through watching plays. There’s something about that feeling that I had in that first preview, stepping out and all of a sudden being alone on stage and having a wall of people [in front of you], that thrill that it gives you to have an audience and be able to share it in the immediate sense, that’s something that you don’t get on camera.
What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t an actor?
I think I might be teaching languages. I got an email from my old Head of Spanish, who I became friends with and I still see now and then, and he said ‘just to let you know, we’ve got a temporary vacancy in school for teaching Spanish’ and I looked at it and thought ‘that would be so much fun’! That would be my own little captive audience, the classroom. Maybe that’s why it appeals.