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Take two for the Weasley Twins: After ten years as the Hogwarts double act, Harry Potter's chums have ditched their ginger hair dye to head for Hollywood
Call it karma, but when James and Oliver Phelps were cast in the Harry Potter films as the red-headed twin wizard brothers of the equally flame-haired Ron Weasley, James knew that he was in for a spot of payback.
‘I used to walk to school with a boy called Andrew who had bright red hair,’ he says, ‘I used to tease him constantly about it. Then we got cast as the Weasley twins and had to dye our hair red for the next ten years. All the years of joking at Andrew’s expense just came back and slapped me in the face.’
As Fred and George Weasley respectively, James and Oliver had to dye their brown hair ginger every few weeks. ‘We miss a lot of things about doing Harry Potter, but dyeing our hair isn’t one of them,’ says James. ‘I’m a Birmingham City fan and I was at a match with my friends and they were asking me if I wanted to get a drink afterwards.
‘I said: “I can’t — I’ve got to get my roots done” and everyone in the crowd turned to look at me. There’s a time and a place to talk about your hair and a football match probably isn’t one of them.’
Oliver and James were just 14 years old when they auditioned for the roles of the Weasley twins, ostensibly, says Oliver, ‘to get a day off school’. A couple of months prior to the auditions, their drama teacher had advised them not to bother with acting, ‘because you won’t do anything … you should try something else’.
Now, some 12 years and eight Harry Potter films later, the 26-year-olds have arrived in Hollywood to try their luck.
As Hogwarts’ resident pranksters, Fred and George Weasley dressed the same, acted the same and even finished each other’s sentences. But in the flesh they are very different: James in his white T-shirt wears his hair longer and has a smattering of stubble across his face, while Oliver, dressed in black, has much shorter, darker hair.
The eldest by 13 minutes, Oliver tends to take charge during the conversation. James may be the quieter, more relaxed of the two, but he usually waits till his brother finishes before coming in with a quip.
Asked whether the Harry Potter films made them grow up quicker, Oliver replies: ‘When we were making and promoting the films we had to understand grown-up kind of things about how hotels worked, what we needed when travelling, stuff about airports, motorways, that kind of thing. But I wouldn’t say we lost out on our childhood — it just added to it.’
To which James responds: ‘I learnt that it cost £4 for a pint in London. That made me grow up a lot quicker.’
Today, they live just a couple of streets from the wide sandy Pacific beach in Santa Monica ‘so it’s a bit different from our home in Sutton Coldfield’, says Oliver.
When the final film of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2, was released last July, James says: ‘It was a bit scary. We’d been doing the films for ten years and the safety net was taken away. It was really sad, too, as we had such great times doing it’.
Oliver and James are far removed from the cliché of jumped-up child stars, as can be said of the other members of the Harry Potter cast — Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, Emma Watson as Hermione Granger and Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley —– who have all kept their feet on the ground in spite of their fame and fortune.
‘We all started together,’ says James, ‘so we’re just a group of mates and there are no huge egos. If there was any stepping out of line, we’d all take the mick. Oliver got a text from Rupert about one of the old cast members who got sent down [Jamie Waylett, who played Hogwarts school bully Vincent Crabbe, was jailed for two years for his part in last year’s London riots]. We were all saying that if you’re going to do something that idiotic, then you deserve all you get, really.’
It’s a no-nonsense attitude that appears to have filtered down from the senior cast members.
‘Michael Gambon was just one of the best role models we could have hoped for,’ says James, ‘one day, he was filming the scene where his character Dumbledore dies, so it was quite an important day for him.
‘He asked me what I was doing at the weekend and I happened to be recording Peter and the Wolf. He could easily have said: “Great, well have fun!”, but he asked me for the script and took ten minutes out to write down some pointers.’
Similarly, Julie Walters who played their mother Molly Weasley was, ‘pretty cool’, says Oliver, ‘and we could always go to her for advice. We were going to do something in Manchester and needed help with our accents. She wrote down all the voice coaches she could think of. She made a big effort for us.’
They remain good friends with their ‘younger brother’ Rupert Grint. Oliver says: ‘We have the same sense of humour and he’s just the coolest person — I’ve yet to meet anyone who says a bad word against him.
‘He had the best dressing room, so that was our unofficial Green Room and last year he called up asking if I wanted to go to Wimbledon. He got us into the Royal Box and I was saying: “Mate, this has ruined me for anything else”.’
They’ve also kept in touch with Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe. ‘We were in New York last year and saw him on stage in How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. He knew all the cool places to go, especially this one place where it was three knocks to get in and then there was this really huge restaurant inside, so we were sitting there with Kevin Spacey about three tables behind us.
‘We haven’t seen much of Robert Pattinson [who played Cedric Diggory], but he was a top guy who wanted to have a good time and because it was before the whole Twilight thing, there weren’t always a load of screaming girls whenever we went out.’
And they haven’t seen Emma Watson recently either, she’s in LA filming the latest Sofia Coppola film, The Bling Ring. ‘But she was great,’ says Oliver, ‘and she beat me at table tennis.’
Typically for brothers, Oliver and James have a competitive streak. ‘Whether we’re playing golf, PlayStation, or we’re on Twitter,’ says James, ‘and yes, I know that he’s got more followers than me because I was off it for a month or two,’ he grins.
Would they both go up for the same roles? ‘Yes,’ says James, ‘We decided we should go for the same parts. If I don’t get it, then I’d much rather Oliver got it than someone I don’t know.’
In addition to Potter, they have also appeared in Stephen Fry’s comedy-drama Kingdom as a pair of mischief-making twins similar to the Weasleys. But they also have separate projects on the go, with James due to appear in the film Ward 3, and Oliver making the Pablo Picasso biopic The Latin Quarter with Dean Cain and Martin Landau.
James and Oliver remain very close to their parents Susan and Martyn, who are both retired. ‘This may sound cheesy,’ says Oliver, ‘but maybe one of the reasons we haven’t gone off the rails is because we have a very open relationship with our family and we’d hate for our nan to something nasty about us.’
It’s their grandmother, Joan, who sorts their fan mail — ‘I hope none of it is saucy,’ says James. ‘But if it is, she probably puts it straight in the bin.’
Is there anything they wouldn’t do on screen for a role? ‘Wear an Aston Villa shirt,’ says James without hesitation. ‘You probably shouldn’t say that,’ says Oliver. ‘I remember watching Kate Winslet in Titanic when I was young and thinking: “Why the hell would someone dye their hair ginger?” ’ He grins. ‘Famous last words, or what?’