James and Oliver Phelps work the old Weasley magic at Florida Supercon
The Phelps brothers are up to their old tricks (and some new ones) at Miami Beach's Florida Supercon
Standing in line for the doors to open to the Grand Ballroom A of the Miami Beach Convention Center, I find myself standing behind a throng of Hogwarts students, each with robes straight from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. One fan (a Hufflepuff) gave me a great tip on keeping the roles of the guests of honor straight: twins James and Oliver Phelps are in the same alphabetical order as Fred and George Weasley.
The house DJ, Atomic Blonde, warms up the crowd with an appropriate soundtrack including remixes of 'Valerie' by Amy Winehouse, (“And I miss your ginger hair”) and Chris Brown’s 'Forever' (“Double your pleasure, double your fun”).
Atomic Blonde asks “Who’s excited to see the Weasley twins?” The audience cheers. Everyone knows exactly what they’re here for. This isn’t a crowd of Danny and the Human Zoo fans.
“Magic here is gonna be alive, literally!”
Then, moderator Cameron Matthews takes the stage. “Magic here is gonna be alive, literally!” he says. Because, you see, magic is a recurring element in the Harry Potter franchise. It’s quite clever.
The moderator preps the audience on proper decorum for the Q&A segment, as James and Oliver take the stage. James has shorter hair than Oliver, who keeps it at shoulder length. It’s Oliver’s first Florida Supercon, and the first time James has been to Miami in 12 years. “It’s grown a bit. Just a bit,” he acknowledges.
Cameron notes that of all the actors in the Harry Potter franchise, it’s James and Oliver who always show up to be the face of fan events. Why do they keep coming back?
Oliver says it’s for the fans, naturally. It’s never a hard ask to come back and talk about filming.
James says they’re asked all the time what it’s like to film with his brother, but he never knew any different. “It was nice to always have someone who could remind you that pickup’s at 8 AM tomorrow.”
The Phelps brothers' last Harry Potter scene
The moderator prompts the Phelps twins on his favorite Weasley twins scene, a relatively quiet moment where one twin simply checks in with how the other is feeling in the middle of the Battle of Hogwarts before leaping back into the frey.
“That was actually the last scene we shot in Harry Potter.”
Oliver reveals a bit of trivia: “That was actually the last scene we shot in Harry Potter.” Everyone awws.
“If you’re awwing at that,” James says, “I can’t imagine your reaction to the scene after that.”
“Too soon, too soon!” Oliver protests.
Oliver continues on how it felt to be filming that scene. “They were literally bulldozing as we were filming to get ready for the next film on the lot, and it really brought home that this was literally the last time we were going to play the characters.”
Then they drop a bomb that stuns the crowd: that “You all right?” scene from Harry Potter in the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 was completely ad-libbed, as a reflection of how they felt about each other in that moment.
“Part of that scene was showing some vulnerability in them,” James says, “Because they weren’t going to be joking around in that moment.”
What if the Phelps brothers were in charge of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park?
Cam asks one last question, turning them to one of their favorite subjects: the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park. If they were in charge, what would they add to the park?
Oliver’s biggest ask has already been met – Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes, the joke shop founded by the twins in the series. “When they brought the cast to see Hogsmeade for the first time,” Oliver shares, “They were knocking on all the walls, because on set it was hollow. We couldn’t believe it was real.”
As the floor opens for questions from the audience of excited Weasley fans, we should probably come clean about something: every time we’ve referred to Oliver and James in this piece so far, we’ve switched their names. Only joking. That’s James with the long hair, not Oliver. We figure it’s just the kind of pranksterism Fred and George would approve of. We’ll keep it straight from here on out.
The first attendee at the mic, Colin, asks a question about the Harry Potter video games. What were those like for them?
Phelps brothers' involvement in the Harry Potter video games
“When you’re filming there’s a lot of waiting around,” Oliver says. He played a lot of FIFA, and always tried to make the character look like himself. “Starting with the third film they asked us to do motion capture and voice it, and it’s unbelievably cool. It was different because every time you needed to walk into a wall, how many variations do you need of 'Ow'?"
Oliver starts walking around the stage robotically, miming bumping into walls.
“Unh. Ugh. Hi, Harry!”
The Phelps brothers' animation interests
Next, an attendee asks if they’re into anime, too. “Not so much,” James says. The audience is mortified.
“In the '90s I’d watch the Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon,” he says hurriedly. “I’ve actually just noticed Knuckles in the first row.” The crowd cheers. He’s won them back.
The Phelps' brothers most enjoyable scene from the Harry Potter films
The next question asker is Yvonne, a young girl I met outside the panel with a stuffed dragon on her shoulder. The dragon’s name is Blaze.
“What were the funniest moments from movies 1-6?” Yvonne asks.
“Well then, that’s as far as we go, no more spoilers.”
“Is that all you’ve seen?” Oliver asks. It is. “Well then, that’s as far as we go, no more spoilers.”
Oliver says that for him, it was getting real dancing lessons for the Yule Ball scene in the fourth movie, Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire. “And we were all just like the awkward boys in the movie. We were all like… all right. I’m not going to say I was the most amazing dancer, but a shoulder turn DID make the movie.” He’s proud of this. “I’m not saying I’m Dancing with the Stars material, but…”
“Oliver, Rupert Grint, and I got the giggles in the Room of Requirement scene,” James says. “And every time we did it, we started giggling. Eventually we had to hold each other, pinching each other’s legs. Like, ‘We’re nearly done, call cut, call cut!’ And then you’d hear…” James starts to giggle, and everyone giggles along. “It took us 20 takes.”
What OTHER film franchise would the Phelps brothers like to be in?
The next attendee challenges the twins to a hypothetical. If they could be in another franchise or universe, what would it be?
“I’d say probably the Rocky franchise,” Oliver says. “But not a boxer, because it would be a pretty short fight. Something like a horrible promoter.”
“Sonic the Hedgehog,” James says, getting more cheers. “But you know, like one of the robotic crabs.”
The most difficult Harry Potter scene for the Phelps brothers
Grace asks, “What was the most difficult scene for you to film, aside from… what transpires in the seventh film?”
“Good save!” James says.
“Quidditch was very difficult,” he answers. “But what was cool was that you saw the technology develop as you shot. At first you were on a bicycle seat that moves around, and eventually it was like sitting on a horse. The worst one was the scene that was set in the rain. You’ve got this huge fan in your face going, and you have to hit a certain mark. You have to be inch perfect. So the first couple of takes I was literally like…” He mimes squinting into the wind. The audience laughs.
Oliver agrees, but admits that “As long as it’s not you, it’s quite fun.”
How the Phelps brothers felt after the end of the Harry Potter films
How did they feel when the series ended?
“We knew it was coming,” James says. “At the end it was a sense of completion, like we finished a race. It was going out at the height of its popularity, the biggest opening ever in London, so we were going out with a bang. We were literally living in hotels for 11 years. What caught me off guard was checking out.”
Gabriela asks for their favorite quotes. Their answers are prepped.
“Morning,” Oliver intones darkly. Big laughs.
“This is the one I always sign,” James says. “Mischief managed.”
Isa asks: If you could change the ending of Harry Potter what would it be?
“I mean… I could think of one thing,” James says. Knowing laughter fills the room.
The host steps back in with a question of his own. Did they do much acting before Harry Potter?
“In England you have to figure out what you’re doing when you’re 14,” Oliver says. “And my drama teacher said ‘You’re not going to be an actor, don’t take drama.’”
“And then the next week we got the Harry Potter audition,” James says.
And there’s a lesson in that. “If anyone tells you a negative opinion but you have a passion for it,” Oliver says, “Don’t listen to them. Do it. Because that’s why we’re standing here. And if there are any teachers here… yeah.”
The Phelps brothers' least favorite twins question
The next attendee, also a twin, asks: “What’s your least favorite twin question?”
“Probably the same one as you,” James says.
“Do you ever switch places?” she suggests, groaning a bit.
Oliver picks up on the imitation of annoying twin quizzers. “Do you ever date the same girl? Do you feel each other’s pain when one falls down?”
“Go ahead and kick him in the leg, and I’ll tell you,” James says.
The Phelps brothers' advice on acting
The next attendee takes the mic, and announces: “I’m a second grade drama teacher.” The crowd erupts into wild yelling. With their very recent address to teachers in mind, the Phelpses mime leaving the stage.
“Everybody watching you wants you to be good."
“Let me ask you this,” James says. “Would YOU ever tell a student not to pursue acting?”
She would never. Instead, she asks the twins what advice she can pass on to her students.
James passes on the best advice he’s gotten himself: “Everybody watching you wants you to be good. Nobody wants you to fail. They’d rather see something great. So the audience is already on your side.”
What the Phelps brothers are up to next
Rachel asks about what we can expect from James and Oliver in the future. James talks about the travel program they filmed together, Fantastic Friends – where they get into misadventures across the globe with some of their acting friends, many of which are also from the Wizarding World. The series is currently on HBO in Europe, Canada, and New Zealand, and may be coming soon to the US. The toughest part has been learning the business side of making television, as they’re producers on the series as well. Currently, they’re in pre-production for a second season. Explaining the appeal, James says: “We made a decision early on that if we look silly doing something, or failing at something, keep it in.”
The Phelps brothers' favorite Weasley prank
The next attendee, Jason, asks about their favorite Weasley prank. For James, it’s one that wasn’t even in the movies.
“For the complete naughtiness of it, blowing up the toilets. I mean I don’t condone it. But every so often I see people walking around with a toilet seat on.”
“A woman in Manhattan had a toilet seat with the Hogwarts emblem on it,” Oliver recalls. “And she wanted us to sign it. Not sure if it went back on the toilet or not. But it’s nice seeing people recognize these moments which didn’t even make it into the films.”
For Oliver, it’s “the scene in the fifth movie where they’re trying out the joke confectionaries, and a kid starts getting the mumps.”
What Harry Potter prop the Phelps brothers wished they would have kept
Katie asks if they could have kept any prop, what would it be?
“My wand,” James says. “Every wand is unique, and it’s part of your character. But at the end of every day, the prop guy would be there to take it. But I did break three of them in the fifth movie. In the fifth movie in the Room of Requirement, you know how a drummer spins their drumsticks, looks kind of cool.” And he thought, “‘I can do that.’ Turns out I can’t. So I had to go back to the prop master like ‘I’m really sorry.’ ‘Okay don’t do it again.’ Anyway, an hour later… ‘I can do this.’
At this point, the moderator hands James a wand to demonstrate. He starts twirling it like a drummer, and immediately drops it.
“The third one, I did it again, and it landed on the ground, but the floor was mesh and it actually landed upright… and someone stepped right on it.” The whole audience audibly cringes.
“So if you look you’ll see the wand is tiny in my hand, because half of it was in my pocket.”
“I actually took a bag from the joke shop."
“I actually took a bag from the joke shop,” Oliver confesses. “And I’ve also got George’s… George’s ear. Mounted on the wall. So it’s great when you get tradesmen coming in to see that there.”
As it happens, the original version of the scene where George becomes “holy” was pretty gory.
“But they had to clean it up to keep the movie from being rated 15. Or R, over here.”
What Harry Potter creature do the Phelps brothers thing they could beat
The next attendee asks, “What creature do you think you’d be able to defeat?”
“ANY,” Oliver says dramatically. “You stick to the fundamentals of Darwinism. You don’t have to be the quickest, just don’t be the slowest. Reckon I could take on a house elf.”
“I’d befriend a Niffler,” James says. "Not defeat, we’d team up.”
Have the Phelps brothers seen A Very Potter Musical?
The last attendee asks a question I’d never have the courage for: if they’ve seen A Very Potter Musical by Starkid Productions, featuring a young, pre-Glee Darren Criss.
“No,” Oliver admits. The attendee then, if you can even imagine the gall, goes on to explain this fan-made musical trilogy to Oliver and James Phelps.
“Is it on YouTube?” Oliver asks.
Everyone in the audience says yes at the same time. They, of course, have all seen it.
Oliver promises to check it out. I figure it’s unlikely he’ll take the time to follow up. But by Merlin’s beard, I couldn’t help but grin imagining it.