45 pages 1 hour read

Tom Felton

Beyond the Wand: The Magic and Mayhem of Growing Up a Wizard

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 2022

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Tom Felton’s autobiography, Beyond the Wand, is a work of nonfiction aimed at an audience of adult readers. In his autobiography, Felton explores the events of his life, discussing his childhood living in Surrey, England, with his parents and four brothers while beginning his acting career. Felton primarily explores his experiences on the set of the Harry Potter film franchise, in which he plays the villainous character, Draco Malfoy. Felton also examines the aftermath of the films and the impact that they had on his life, including an examination of The Challenges of Navigating Fame and Fortune, as well as The Central Role of Family and Friends, and The Importance of Playfulness and Humility.

This guide refers to the 2022 Grand Central Publishing edition of the work.

Content Warning: This guide and the source text discuss alcohol addiction.

Summary

The autobiography opens with an anecdote in which a teenage Felton unsuccessfully attempts to steal a DVD from a store in a local mall. Felton, who is trying to impress his friends, is relieved that the security guards who apprehend him do not call his mother. The incident highlights The Challenges of Navigating Fame and Fortune, as Felton is self-conscious of his life as an actor and is trying to be a typical, rebellious teenager.

Felton describes his family, which consists of a frugal and emotionally distant yet loving father, a very supportive mother, and three older brothers (Jonathan, Christopher, and Ashley) who like to remind Felton that he is the “runt of the pack” (8). Felton learns important things from his brothers; Jonathan, or Jink, shows him the world of acting and performance, Chris shows him a love of the outdoors and fishing, and Ash shares a sense of humor with Felton. Ash’s recurring battles with mental illness also give Felton an early preview of the mental health struggles that he himself will one day have to face.

Felton acts at the local drama club and performs poorly in tiny cameo roles. Nevertheless, the woman in charge of the group tells Felton’s mother that he has potential. (Felton, in classic self-deprecatory style, believes that the woman probably says this to all the mothers). Felton begs to have an agent, and the next time they travel to London, his mother lists him with an agent. He is soon recruited for a few commercials, including one in America, where he gets to travel with his mum as a six-year-old. Felton is then cast in a few movies, including The Borrowers (1997) and Anna and the King (1999), which requires him and his mother to live in Malaysia for four months.

Felton’s agent urges him to go to the Harry Potter audition, a huge casting call involving thousands of children. Felton exhibits a haughty demeanor among the children, most of whom have never been on a set. His bad attitude is a key factor that leads to his casting as Draco Malfoy. Felton attends a reading with the cast of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, many of whom are well-established and famous actors.

He is a little nervous, but he also gets the distinct impression that the set will be a fun place. They begin recording the first scenes. Felton’s grandfather is his chaperone for the first film; Chris Columbus insists that his grandfather should have a cameo as a Hogwarts teacher. Felton’s grandfather helps Felton with diction and articulation, as well as helping him to develop Draco Malfoy’s textbook sneer.

Felton describes various pranks and jokes on set for which the children often were good-naturedly reprimanded, such as unstoppably giggling and accidentally exploding a hot chocolate over everyone. Felton also gets in trouble for not learning his lines. He then describes his close friendship with Emma Watson, who plays Hermione Granger. Although Felton is initially haughty to young Watson, he ends up growing to respect her immensely. They consider each other to be kindred spirits and help each other through many of life’s challenges.

During the final films, Draco Malfoy’s character develops in depth and complexity. This presents an exciting challenge for Felton. At one point though, he finds himself stumbling over lines in an important scene with Michael Gambon, who plays Dumbledore. As they stop for a cigarette break, Gambon happily urges Felton to keep “fucking it up” (189) to extend his time on set and thereby increase his salary. This interaction typifies the friendly bantering approach of many of the illustrious actors on the Harry Potter set, who are good-natured, jovial, and humble. Similarly, Felton describes Alan Rickman’s dry wit, Jason Isaacs’s incredible ability to switch immediately into character, Ralph Fiennes’s imposing presence, and Helen McCrory’s subtle but powerful presence. He conveys his immense appreciation for having worked with such a prestigious cast.

After the Harry Potter films, Felton and his girlfriend, Jade, move to Los Angeles so that Felton can pursue his acting career. He is unused to auditioning and finds the process demoralizing, but he is picked up by an agency that promises him big things. Increasingly, Felton starts being treated like a celebrity. He acts in Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and is loaned fancy cars, let past queues into trendy restaurants and clubs, given free designer clothing, and surrounded by fans who claim to love his work. Felton revels in this attention for a time, but it begins to feel inauthentic. Unable to find the source of his unhappiness, he begins drinking heavily.

Felton’s management team, as well as Jade, stage an intervention, and Felton is reluctantly taken to a rehabilitation clinic. Feeling that he doesn’t belong there, Felton walks out of the clinic, eventually walking for miles to the beach and then along the highway back towards Hollywood. On his journey, he encounters three men whom he later refers to as his “three kings.” A gas station attendant gives him 20 dollars and a bottle of water and tells him that true wealth comes from human connection, not money. A kind Uber driver takes him all the way back to West Hollywood even though Felton only has the 20-dollar bill from the gas station attendant. Finally, the bouncer at the bar that Felton frequents, Nick, takes Felton to his home for a shower and food.

Felton breaks up with Jade and checks himself into a different rehabilitation clinic, where he lives for a few weeks before he is kicked out for breaking some of their rules, such as visiting a female client in her dormitory. Then, Felton lives for a while with his eccentric friend, Greg, who teaches him to swim every day and to show gratitude for nature and life. Felton buys a condo near the beach, gets new thrift shop clothing, and adopts a dog named Willow. He auditions for roles that feel meaningful to him and spends time with genuine friends, and he also reconnects with his family. Felton and Willow eventually move to North London, where he currently lives.

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