Catching Up With Murder In The First Actor Tom Felton

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Draco Malfoy is all grown up.

Tom Felton, who played the devious Malfoy in all eight Harry Potter films, now stars as tech genius Erich Blunt in the new TNT series Murder in the First (which airs Mondays at 10PM).

The series, from legendary executive producer Steven Bochco (NYPD Blue), will follow a homicide investigation for ten episodes. As viewers learned in last week’s premiere, Felton’s Blunt is a prime suspect in two seemingly unrelated murders.Paste caught up with Felton to talk about the new series, whether or not he thinks Blunt is guilty and when he decided to become an actor.

Paste Magazine: How did this part come about for you?
Tom Felton: I’ve been a fan of Steven Bochco’s work for a long time so when I heard he was ramping up with a new pilot that was very exciting. And then I read the character and saw what he was about. It was a world that I wasn’t particularly knowledgable about—thankfully with Steven and [executive producer and co-creator] Eric Lodal, we managed to kind of get to the root of this character. As soon as we had those discussions, it was something I was immediately passionate about. I knew that I wanted to see this character through.

Paste: The series will run for ten episodes. Did you know how it would end when you started filming?
Felton: No, that was the exciting part. I’m very used to knowing where the character ends before we start. And not only did they not tell me, they insisted on not revealing anything, and just going from script to script which was kind of scary at first, because I’ve never done that. It was a real challenge. The characters seem to change so much. Everything you think you know about one person is flipped on its head in the next episode. It was a really exciting journey to try to figure it out episode by episode.

Paste: So you never knew who had committed the murders?
Felton: The entire cast and crew, every day we had new theories and new speculations on who we thought was in the firing line, and that was up to the very last day of shooting. We always said if we’re still guessing and we’re reading the thing then God only knows how gripped audiences will be in not exactly knowing who’s guilty. I’m pleased to say that, even as the character, I didn’t know until the very last minute. They were very keen not to share the information with us and it’s definitely a hell of a roller coaster of a ride.

Paste: So, they never told you whodunit. But while I was watching the first three episodes they made available to critics, I kept going back and forth about whether Erich was guilty or not. Did that happen to you? Or did you just decide, in your own mind, on his innocence or guilt?
Felton: That’s what I thought I would do at first, but Eric and Steven were very keen to get this idea in my head that it’s actually a lot more powerful as a character to do every single scene as this real experience. You essentially never know if you’re lying or not, which was kind of confusing at first but actually was great in the end. It allowed you to sort of completely dive into the scenes. You were focusing without looking ahead and thinking, ‘Oh, wait a minute—later on he does this or he does that.’.

Paste: You mentioned the tech world was not something you knew a lot about. Did you do some research to prepare for the role?
Felton: I did lots of interviews with these young CEOs to sort of see how they interacted. But more important than that, was getting in my head that these people are today in modern day society. Twenty, thirty years ago you had the Rolling Stones. They were the rock stars of their society, and nowadays it’s really these Facebook, Instagram-using, young CEO’s. They are basically the rock stars of today. Twenty years ago if you were a computer geek it wasn’t really the coolest thing to be in the world, and now it’s completely turned on its head. Not only is Erich a free thinker, but because he’s such a tech genius it makes him one of the coolest people on the planet and one of the most powerful. It was a realization to me to see what these people are in today’s society.

Paste: How did you relate to him as you began playing him?
Felton: It’s very immersive especially with the accent change. Someone like Erich, his train of thought isn’t on the same level as the rest of us. His frustration and his anger comes purely from what I think. When you have a mind that isn’t controlled or tainted by the society around it, it makes for a very peculiar thought process. But for him it’s completely normal and completely right.

There’s something very intoxicating about playing a character who is completely sure about everything that they say and do. There is no second-guessing. After a few episode that really stuck with me. Even when he’s not speaking, he’s very aware of what’s going on.

Paste: In last week’s pilot, we learned that Erich was the son of a drug-addict pimp and a prostitute. Will we learn more about his troubled childhood as the series progresses?
Felton: He’s an example of the brightest rose growing from concrete. He had a very rough and unstable childhood, but in an odd way that leads to him being the person he is today. Without shining a light on it too much, his background definitely comes into play later on.

Paste: You’ve been acting since you were a child. When did you realize you wanted to be an actor?
Felton: I’ve always enjoyed it. I never realized it to be honest with you. I don’t think I ever stopped to realize, ‘Oh this is what I want to do.’ People who are lucky enough to do what they want to do in their life never really realize it. They just never stop doing what they love. I get a lot of children asking me for advice on the best thing to do to try to get into this business and I always say, ‘Do it because you love it.’ I was part of a drama group from around six years on. I vividly remember imitating Jim Carrey in front of the mirror for days on end. God knows why.

I think the reason that it comes really naturally to me is because I used to do it as a youngster—I used to imitate what I saw on TV. It’s always been something that I’ve enjoyed subconsciously. Now I just get to be a lucky man and do it as my job.

Paste: Did you ever think about doing anything else?
Felton: There’s lots of thing I enjoy as well—music, writing, behind the camera stuff. The whole medium of TV, film, and music sort of fascinates me. I did several other jobs in the meantime—a paper route, I worked at a fishery for two years. I’ve had other experiences in the working world but as much as I enjoyed them, I always keep coming back to acting.

Paste: Draco Malfoy is such an iconic character. Was it hard to transition to more adult roles and to get casting directors to see you as more than Draco?
Felton: Harry Potter opened as many doors as it’s closed. But, ultimately, it’s been a good thing. I’ve been extremely lucky that the people that I’ve worked with since Potter have all been very helpful, and very happy to spend some time teaching me the ways of different mediums, from low budget films, to TV, to theater. It’s been very helpful.

Paste: Anything else you can tell us about what to expect for the rest of the season of Murder in the First?
Felton: It ends with a bang. I guarantee it.

Amy Amatangelo is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and a regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter or her blog.

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