Florida or Leeds?
It sounds like it could have been the shortest conversation in history when Leeds lad Matthew Lewis and his wife Angela Jones, based in Orlando, were picking where to spend lockdown.
“We didn’t really have much choice to be honest. I’m going through my green card application and if you leave for a certain amount of time, they just take it off you,” Lewis says.
“Yes, the weather’s nice and stuff but Florida is a bit of a wild west. When the weather’s nice people go out and they do silly things and we are in a pandemic. So, you know, pros and cons.”
The world watched Matthew Lewis grow up as the character he played in the seven Harry Potter films, loveable loser Neville Longbottom, also grew into the unsung hero of Hogwarts.
After the franchise finished, Lewis graduated into other roles including Kay Mellor’s The Syndicate, Bluestone 42, and more recently Hugh Hulton, James Herriot’s romantic rival, in farmyard smash All Creatures Great and Small. His new New Zealand-set romantic comedy Baby Done, in which with Lewis and Rose Matafeo play a couple of plucky arborists, Tim and Zoe, who unexpectedly find themselves preparing for parenthood.
“Tim’s determined not to be a bad dad, like he had,” Lewis explains. “So he goes all in, whereas his girlfriend is not so keen, she’s not sure if this is what she wants at this time in her life. It’s about how those two try and meet in the middle.
“It’s a nice role reversal. You see so many movies with an unexpected pregnancy and it’s always the woman who has to deal with being a mother and the father tends to be the one having a quarter-life crisis.”
Baby Done is produced by Taiki Waititi, at the forefront of a renaissance in New Zealand film. Lewis continues: “They’re fiercely proud of their film industry and I’m a foreigner coming in to play the lead in one of their movies. You feel the weight of the nation almost.
“I mean, we did a press thing and Jacinda Ardern’s partner, the First Man, was interviewing us.”
Finding out the prime minister – not just any prime minister, basically the only good one – was a fan, was intimidating. Did Lewis get any insight on what New Zealand is doing right?
“From what I gathered, she wasn’t exceptionally popular. I don’t think that New Zealand is a heavily left-leaning country – it looks that way because it’s in contrast to the UK and the US right now – but the way that she’s just performed through this has just been extraordinary.
“And it’s been common sense, honesty, transparency, making tough decisions knowing full well that they may be unpopular, which is leadership. They just knuckle down and get it done.”
It’s the way we in Britain sometimes imagine ourselves, but the reality is different, Lewis believes.
“I think we have this opinion of ourselves that is probably about 100 years out of date. Maybe that would have been us once upon a time, the greatest generation back in the ’40s, they might have been. That just doesn’t apply now, no matter how much we think it does.
“You see it with Brexit, and regardless of what side of the fence you’re on, this military wartime rhetoric is pathetic. You wouldn’t have a fucking clue what you were doing on a landing ship at Normandy, and neither would I because I’m soft as shit. Stop with all this nonsense, it’s rubbish.”
I want to have a big house party and play beer pong and not have to disinfect everything
Even if you’re not an expectant parent, Baby Done is extremely relatable in 2021. It’s all about the fear of maybe missing out on certain aspects of life – something that after a year of lockdown we’re all too familiar with.
“I just said to my wife yesterday, ‘We should go to Miami’,” Lewis says. “I’ve never wanted to go to Miami – it seems like a cool place but it’s never been a place I’m like, we have to go to. But now that I can’t go I’m like, I must go to Miami!
“I have that with so many things. Get this vaccine to me immediately. When we can go out, I’m going to do all kinds of stuff. I want to get back to work, I want to travel. I want to go out to a bar without a mask on. And I want to have a big house party and play beer pong, and not have to disinfect everything.”
While Zoe and Tim in Baby Done wrestle with the impending responsibility of parenthood, Lewis admits that he too doesn’t quite feel like a grown up.
“I keep expecting it’s going to happen one day,” he says, “I’ve been telling myself that for about 10 years now. One day you’re going to be a grown up, you’re going to know how to bleed a radiator, you’re going to understand stocks and shares and you’re going to be ready to settle down and have a kid.
“I’m still a child. I play PlayStation all day. I play football twice a week. When’s it going to happen? One of the points of the film is that I don’t think anyone’s ever really ready. But I certainly don’t even feel in a position to even take the plunge to see if I’m ready yet.
“There’s too many things that I want to do. I still want to go out for a drink to watch the football and then go, ‘You know what, fuck it, let’s just stay out for the rest of the day.’
“I mean my hangovers are telling me that maybe I shouldn’t but I still want to have that freedom. And if I’m going to be a dad one day, you’ve got to be all in. So I just want to make sure I get all that on my system.”
I learned a lot more about my profession and about myself after Harry Potter
Is another reason Lewis finds it hard to grow up because plenty of people ask about what he was doing when he was 11 years old? Unbelievably it will be 20 years this year since the first Harry Potter film was released.
“It’s weird,” Lewis begins, “I think that a lot of people think you’re more attached to it than I actually am. It’s been 20 years, I didn’t even know until you just said it.
“I don’t really think about it very often at all. I’d acted before Harry Potter and thankfully I’ve been able to act afterwards.
“Obviously, it’s very profound in my life, and it has changed my life. And I wouldn’t be here where I am now, I wouldn’t be doing the jobs and doing the films I’m doing. It has shaped and moulded me and I owe it almost everything. But it was just a job. And I’ve not had that job for 10 years.
“It was a great time but I learned a lot more about my profession and about myself after Harry Potter. It wasn’t defining for me. It was defining for my career for sure. The doors that are open to me now wouldn’t be open had it not been for that, the followers I’ve got on social media and the opportunities – I’m the host of the official Leeds United podcast for crying out loud. Do I think that I’d be doing that because I was in The Syndicate on BBC One?
“It’s been massive in terms of my life. But me as a human being, internally, all my defining moments occurred after that.
“That was a rollercoaster that I was on that I didn’t get to say stop. And it wasn’t until I got off the rollercoaster that I had to figure out, where do I go next? That track was laid for me. After that I had to find out where to go. I don’t want that to sound ungrateful because I’m acutely aware of what it’s done for me. It’s just very much in my past.”
It’s not a bury-your-head-in-the-sand time, it’s the opposite – it’s a get motivated, get active moment
Set in the past – but very much talking about the present – is All Creatures Great and Small, which has just started to air on Lewis’ side of the Atlantic.
Is its celebration of all things bucolic just the tonic for a rabid nation?
“I think it is,” he says. “I originally said I’m not really interested. It’s about a vet in the 1930s, no one’s going to watch this. My agent said, trust me just read it, and no word of a lie, within a handful of pages, I was like, shit – how wrong was I?
“It’s so well written, the characters are so well rounded. It just said something about humanity and it will resonate with a lot of people in a time where everyone’s locked at home.
“The news is so depressing. Rightly so, I mean the news has to report the awful stuff that’s happening. I feel like at the minute it’s a bit like A Clockwork Orange, when they hold his eyes open, and if you do that 24/7 you’re going to become a bitter, miserable, angry person.
“Certainly it’s not a bury-your-head-in-the-sand time, it’s the opposite – it’s a get motivated, get active moment – but allow yourself an hour off. And this has been nice escapism for a lot of people.”
Lewis says he has always been engaged in the big issues, and he serves up a heady cocktail of US politics and Leeds United banter on Twitter. His Potter-boosted following is enormous. Does having that platform bring responsibility?
“I would love to just talk about football and PS5, and occasionally plug a job that I’ve done,” Lewis says. “But I have a platform, undeserving or otherwise – I don’t know – and I feel a certain degree of responsibility.
“In 30 years, if X, Y, Z happens, will I be able to look back and say I tried my hardest to stop that? Maybe I’m pissing in the wind but it makes me sleep a little better at night knowing that at least I’ve tried.”
Baby Done is available to stream now. Visit vertigoreleasing.com for more information