Having started out in amateur dramatics as a child, the Norwich native took part in a two- week intensive with the National Youth Theatre in London, aged 16, beginning the transformation of his hobby into a fully-fledged career. Now, the 24-year-old Clemmett is a fixture on the stage after having landed the role of Albus Severus Potter in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and The Cursed Child (while waiting for a place at a formal acting school). After the award-winning success of the London show, the play moved to Broadway this year where it has continued to mesmerize audiences.
A version of this exclusive interview first appeared in the pages of the 15th issue of ODDA Magazine.
How did you first get in to acting?
I started classes at my youth theatre group when I was about 11, mainly as a hobby to begin with because I wasn’t very sporty like most of my other friends at school.
You grew up in Norwich. How did your upbringing influence you in terms of your career path?
We are very lucky in Norwich to have such a vibrant arts scene, and I don’t just mean theatre. I was able to get along to theatre once every couple of weeks or so to see local work or UK tours of shows originating from London.
My high school also had a great arts scene and really pushed it as a subject. None of my family have an artistic background but love the theatre, so it was lovely to be surrounded by their enthusiasm for art as well.
What was your first acting job?
My first acting job was a production of Lord of the Flies at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in London. I played the small role of Bill, one of Jack’s little sadistic followers on the deserted island. It was a cast of 10 young lads… we had a blast!
Do you have any role models that inspired your journey into acting?
Anthony Hopkins is someone who I have always admired as an actor. After becoming obsessed with his work, I watched endless inter- views over and over to learn more about him as an artist and his pro- cess. He’s extraordinary. Someone else in my life who inspired me is my drama tutor back home in Norwich, Michelle Montague. She inspired, and continues to inspire me in whatever work I do. She is one of the creative heartbeats back home and I can’t thank her enough for the wealth of knowledge and passion she has given me.
“I FELT THE PRESSURE, YES, BECAUSE I WAS ENTERING INTO ONE OF THE BIGGEST AND MOST POPULAR STORIES THIS UNIVERSE HAS EVER SEEN” – SAM CLEMMET
Did you encounter many difficulties breaking into the industry?
Yes. Like everyone experiences, there is a lot of rejection. Everyone only hears and sees the success. But the endless rejection is hard to take. However, I truly believe it only helps build us as artists. I also didn’t train at a drama school over the course of three years, despite having auditioned. I reached the waiting list of LAMDA and Drama Centre two years on the bounce, but neither accepted me off the waiting list.
This was one of the hardest hurdles for me. However, work started to spiral and I’ve kept moving forward from there.
How do you approach new roles, in terms of building your character and finding their voice?
Well, during the first week of rehearsals, it is great to sit around and chat things through with the director and cast in terms of relationships, backstory, the crux of scenes and filling in any blanks.
During the beginning of this process, we all went away and created an event that would have happened in the lead up to the first scene the play.
That says a lot about who we are and where we are emotionally at the top of the play. Adding a lot of flesh to the bones of these characters before getting into the depths of the text is incredibly useful and is always part of my process. And, from there, the more we move through rehearsals, the more naturally a voice comes. Yes, I play with ideas, but that part for me is very organic.
Could you talk us through the process of auditioning and landing the role of Albus Severus Potter in Harry Potter and The Cursed Child?
I first auditioned in July 2015 where I met the casting director to read scenes (not from the show).
I then had several recalls where I met with our brilliant director John Tiffany and wonderful movement director Steven Hoggett. I was offered the final workshop for the show from these auditions which is when I finally got to read the script and see what the play entailed. After doing a week’s work on that workshop, they offered me the part. The process was about 3-4 months long in total and I can still remember the phone call with my agent, Charlie, to this day!
How are you finding the adjustment from the UK to the US?
I couldn’t believe how quickly I adjusted. It felt like home very quickly. I suppose it has many parallels to London which helped a lot. The energy this city has 24 hours a day is exhilarating and it is hard not to get caught up in that. I love it here!
How does working on Broadway in New York compare with the theatres in London?
From the work perspective, it is just like doing any other play, just on a bigger scale which is even more exciting as an actor. And, from the audience perspective, it feels more of an event here. British audiences are much more reserved. Out here, the auditorium is euphoric every night!
Did you grow up reading the books and watching the Harry Potter films?
I did! I read all the books when I was younger, as and when they came out, and watched the movies. I loved them.
But coming back and reading them with adult eyes was a very different experience and they had a much more profound effect on me.
What house would Sam Clemmett be in?
How did you find playing a character that is so much younger than you?
I mean, that’s always a challenge. I myself am 24 and there’s a maturity that comes with age. Albus is going through his formative years and is a very tricky, complex, young man. However, it is never about playing young, or playing a kid; it is about honoring them as a human being, understanding them as a human being and being truthful to that. It is story telling at the end of the day.
So much work has been put in to the magical production of the show. What impressed you the most as an actor to see translated from the book?
Seeing that translated from the page to the stage was thrilling. And as with every show, seeing these characters come to life and watching the actors around me sculpt who these people are is always exciting.
What has been your favorite part of the process of working on this production?
Rehearsals are always my favorite part of the process when creating any show, but particularly this one. It’s weird… it never felt like we were re- hearsing really. Always felt like a workshop, playing with ideas, constantly creating new material to help create this beast of a production.
Potter fans are amongst the most fanatical ones out there. Did you feel the pressure of its popularity when you were preparing for the role of Albus?
I felt the pressure, yes, because I was entering into one of the biggest and most popular stories this universe has ever seen. But, unlike the guys who have 7 books of backstory to take into account, myself and Anthony only have four pages.
I was introducing a new character to this franchise. And John said to both me and Anthony on the first week in London, “You have a blank canvas. Do your thing.” Which, of course, brought its own pressure, but not one that comes from popularity, as it were.
Other than theatre, is TV and film work important for you to explore?
Really important. I’m looking forward to, hopefully, doing more screen after I’m finished on Potter. I’ve done a handful of screen gigs, but it’s a medium I still feel very green in too. I’m excited to learn that process, and what that has to offer.
Are there any actors, or directors you would love to work with in the future?
Actors wise, Anthony Hopkins as I have already said. Also Bryan Cranston! Again, to name a few whose work I adore are Danny Boyle, Guillermo del Toro and Christopher Nolan.
What has been your career highlight to date?
Potter has been without a doubt. But, specifically to this job… preview was way back in London in May, 2016. All that hype and pressure building to that first show. And the reaction we had after was something I will never forget.
What is in store for you in the coming months?
For now, I’m enjoying my run on Broadway and soaking up all New York has to offer. We are here running for a year. As we near the end of it, hopefully, we will have something very exciting to move on to!
Is there any advice you have learnt along the way that you would love to tell the younger Sam Clemmett?
It is a marathon, not a sprint. Trust who you are as a person and an artist.
How did it feel to clean up at the Tony Awards?
It was a very special evening. Standing on that stage, looking out over Radio City, accepting best play with some of my closest friends who created this wonderful show together is something I will never forget.
Does the show claiming so many accolades now ramp up the pressure of future shows and your career after Harry Potter?
I mean, yes, it adds some pressure I suppose… but we all still treat this like any other play. It is always about the work. It is something we’ve created and are very proud of. A story about fathers and sons, friendship, love, family, grief, isolation. A story that has a profound effect on so many people.
Both Potter and non Potter fans. That’s the most important thing for all of us. Everything else is a wonderful, delightful bonus.