In 2004, 3,000 hopeful actresses from all over the world auditioned to play Harry Potter’s first girlfriend, Cho Chang. Eight years and four films later, the girl that got it, Katie Leung, is making her stage debut in Wild Swans at the Young Vic. She talks to Matt Trueman about life after Hogwarts…
How did doing the Harry Potter films prepare you for a long-term acting career?
More than anything, it’s taught me what I actually want to do in life. Before I started, I didn’t really have any idea at all. I was sixteen, still at school and jealous of my friends who knew what they wanted to do. Harry Potter solved that, but it came out of nowhere.
You learn so much just by watching. I didn’t really ask questions, because it’s very intense and there’s a lot of money involved, but I kind of regret that a bit. That’s just me I guess. David Yates, the director on Order of the Phoenix, was very inspirational. He’s a timid person too and he’s working on such a massive project with so many people involved. I found that really reassuring.
How do open auditions compare to the auditions you go in for now?
The difference is huge. When I went for the Harry Potter audition, I had no intention of getting the part. I didn’t have a vision of being a Hollywood actress or anything. It was just a nice day trip to London with my Dad. Compared to the girls from drama school, I had it really easy. Now when I go to auditions from my agent, it’s a completely different story. People judge you on a different level, because of your credentials. There’s a lot more pressure now.
Both Cho Chang and Jung Chang, your role in Wild Swans, exist beyond the script. How do you approach that as an actor?
It’s difficult, because it’s a novel and, at the end of the day, people have their own opinions of the character. The thing is, if you try to please everyone at the same time, you’ll find it absolutely impossible. So it’s best to come to a decision for yourself: how do you want to play this character.
To be honest, Wild Swans was a lot more challenging, because Jung Chang [Leung plays the author of the original memoir] is a real person, so there’s a lot less leeway. She was the first woman to come out of China and get a PhD in English, out of millions, and you have to respect that. Plus she was around during rehearsals, so that’s pretty daunting in itself.
Was it a conscious decision to follow Potter with theatre? Do you think actors need to get on stage?
Actually, after Potter finished, I considered stopping acting. I started having doubts, because I wasn’t sure whether I got the role based on acting ability or simply because I fitted it so specifically. So I went to drama school and did a summer course. The feedback I got and the fun I had confirmed that I should do it. To be honest, now I’m on stage, I feel like I can prove that to other people as well. People can take me seriously as an actress because I’m on stage playing an amazing character from real life.
Image by Chris Nash.
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