The sad passing of Michael Gambon has been felt keenly all over the world, with Harry Potter fans in particular mourning the man who gave a fascinating portrayal of Albus Dumbledore. He took over the role from an acting icon in Richard Harris, but subsequently made Dumbledore his own with a mercurial and much darker spin on the Hogwarts headmaster.
Naturally, his status as one of the many seasoned actors on the Harry Potter set gave him plenty of influence on the younger members of the Harry Potter cast. That certainly helped Tom Felton out during one of the most pivotal scenes in the sixth movie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Scenes don’t come much more pivotal than the death of Dumbledore.
It might be nobody’s favorite part of rewatching the Harry Potter movies in order, but Half-Blood Prince builds to a huge and dramatic farewell to one of the best Harry Potter characters. After a year of plotting and scheming, Draco Malfoy has Dumbledore cornered and wandless at the top of the Astronomy Tower. Malfoy is unable to strike the killing blow, so Severus Snape steps up and casts the deadly curse.
The scene gave Felton the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with an acting titan and, in a clip shared on his Instagram page as a tribute to Gambon, he explained that he was very nervous indeed when it came to shooting the scene. So much so, in fact, that he couldn’t remember his lines and messed up countless takes.
“[Gambon] said ‘can we just stop for a second?’ after a few takes where, for the life of me, I could not remember my lines. He made it seem as if he needed a break,” said Felton. “He gave me a friendly yet firm double side-nod. I presumed he wanted to have a stern word with me outside the studio.”
Felton, now even more nervous, admitted his struggles with the scene and told Gambon he doubted he was “the right man for the job” in the new movies, until the older star “hushed me with his cigarette-held hand”. Gambon then said: “Tom, do you have any idea how much they pay me to be here each day to play this Dumbledore? … Well, if you keep this up, I’ll be able to buy a new Ferrari by tomorrow.”
We can only imagine how terrifying this must have been for Felton as a young actor, struggling to perform by far the most important scene of his career to date. But Gambon took this opportunity to settle the nerves of his co-star and create the brilliant performance we can now see on screen.
Felton continued: “He did smirk slightly but, from where I was standing, I didn’t know if he was joking or not. At the peak of my wondering, he’d have a wink and a cheeky smile that only Dumbledore could do. We finished our cigarette. The next take recorded was the one used in the film.”
Concluding his story, Felton said: “Over the years, I’ve received many lovely comments about that scene and how Draco’s journey was flipped on its head just based on the few words I exchanged with Dumbledore. That was thank you to Michael.”
So while Half-Blood Prince is far from being among the best movies in the Potter franchise, it’s a fondly remembered experience for Tom Felton. Thanks to one brief encounter with Michael Gambon at the side of the set, he was able to bring real depth to one of the best Harry Potter villains and convincingly sell a pivotal scene for the franchise.
For more from the Wizarding World, look ahead to the Fantastic Beasts 4 release date and find out the five things we need to see in the new Harry Potter TV series. We’ve also explained how one small change makes the Harry Potter ending much better and you can change franchise entirely to find out more about House of the Dragon season 2.