I first meet Harry Potter and the Cursed Child stars Nicholas Podany and Bubba Weiler in the patronus room at Broadway's Lyric Theatre, where it's made abundantly — and immediately — clear that they're big Potterheads. I'm pointing out my patronus, a cat, to Podany before the conversation quickly shifts to what our Hogwarts houses are. Weiler is a Hufflepuff like me, while Podany adds, without hesitation, that he's a Gryffindor. While their houses slightly differ from that of their characters', their real-life friendship is just as endearing as it is on stage.
For Podany and Weiler — who play Harry Potter's son Albus and Draco Malfoy's son Scorpius, respectively — joining the Broadway play's second-year cast is legitimately a dream come true. Not only is this their Broadway debut, but they both have such a strong attachment to the franchise, albeit from different times in their lives.
Podany, a 22-year-old Juilliard graduate, was first introduced to the books when he was a kid. "My mom read me the books when I was 6," he recalled. "[She] read me to sleep with them. She's from England originally, and she did all the dialects of all the characters." The Harry Potter books are actually a large reason he got into acting in the first place. "That's what made me want to be an actor, was her reading the stories," he added. "Then I was like, 'I want to tell stories myself.' And found out I could. I wasn't good at sports anyway, so I got to put that energy somewhere else."
As for Weiler, a 25-year-old graduate from the Playwrights Horizons Theater School at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts, he didn't read the books until he was an adult. In fact, he actually had a pretty "traumatic experience" with the Harry Potter series when he was a kid.
"When I came back from third grade, everybody had read the Harry Potter books over the Summer, and I hadn't," he explained. "So I just lied to everybody and told them I had, so I could hang out and talk about them. I just lied my way through all of it. Then I went to a Harry Potter birthday party, and in order to get into the birthday party, you had to answer trivia questions. It was like giving a password to the common room. And all these kids just watched me get a very obvious Harry Potter answer wrong, and everyone was like, 'He has not read that book.' So I was just ashamed and was just like, 'The whole thing is not for me.'"
Luckily the experience didn't put him off the franchise for life, because once Weiler got to college he become a true fan of J.K. Rowling's most well-known work. "My very best friend was a huge Harry Potter fan, and she was like, 'Look, we can't be best friends if you haven't read Harry Potter,'" he said. "All she asked for her 21st birthday was that I read the first Harry Potter book." From there, he "breezed through" the book series, and the rest is history.
"I became very obsessed," he said. "I remember when I was reading them, people would come up to me on the train, and they'd be like, 'Oh my god. You're rereading?' And I'd be like, 'Actually, this is my first time.' And that person would be like, 'Oh.' And then they'd be like, 'Oh!' And I'd watch them get so excited for me. Luckily, I never felt like I came to them too late because everyone's always down to talk about Harry Potter. Everyone's still excited about it."
Though the Harry Potter franchise has a very dedicated fanbase — first with the books and film adaptations, and now with the two-part play that originally premiered in London in 2016 — Podany and Weiler admit they were never nervous about taking on these roles. "There are so many people who this story means so much to," Weiler said. "So there is the pressure to get it right for them, but at the same time, because they love it so much, the audiences approach our story with so much openness and love that it makes it so much easier. It doesn't so much feel you're doing it for them as you're doing it with them."
"There are so many people who this story means so much to."
Podany echoed those same thoughts, adding, "It's stressful, but thankfully, you're feeling the pressure from all these people who just want to fall in love with the entire world again. And they do. Night and night and night again. You can just feel all of us, not just the audience, all of us on stage, fall back in love with a magical world."
The play itself is a whole new retelling of the Wizarding World, as it takes place 19 years after the events of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It follows Harry, who is now an employee of the Ministry of Magic, as he is about to see his son Albus off to Hogwarts. Though the story features a lot of the original characters from the books, such as a grown-up Ron and Hermione, Podany and Weiler's new characters are really at the center of it all. A large part of the story focuses on their unlikely friendship and how they grow together during their time at Hogwarts, which Podany admits was a little intimidating at first.
"It was very scary at the beginning of the rehearsal process to look at Bubba and be like, 'God, I hope we get along.' Because if we don't, that's going to make my job so much harder. Practically impossible." It was a big impulse of his to try to become best friends with Weiler right off the bat, and thankfully, they didn't have to try too hard at establishing a friendship. It just came naturally.
Even though Podany and Weiler have "officially" joined the Harry Potter franchise with their roles in the play, they say they don't actually feel that different from when they first read the books. "The books and the movies, they're so good at making everyone feel that you're being led into a secret," Podany said. "There are muggles, and then there are wizards. And if you know this story, you're a little bit of a wizard."
"Even though there's a lot more of a budget behind my current wand, my stick wand when I was a kid felt just the same."
"Making the transition to being a part of this world and giving magic to the audience and to the kids in the audience feels exactly the same as being in the audience and being a kid in that audience waiting for the books," Podany continued. "It all feels magical. Even though there's a lot more of a budget behind my current wand, my stick wand when I was a kid felt just the same, only because of the amount ownership J.K. Rowling has given us all into this little secret."
"The entire Wizarding World feels like one happy family that I got invited into once I read the books," Weiler said. "The difference is, now every day I get to spend six hours living in that world and playing with the wand. It's like getting to live out your childhood fantasies and also having it be your job. That the coolest thing I've ever gotten to do."
Be sure to check out Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at Broadway's Lyric Theatre. Tickets are available here.