If awards were handed out for acceptance speeches, Noma Dumezweni would probably have another trophy on her shelf. When she won Britain’s Olivier Award last year for her performance as Hermione Granger in the West End production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, her powerful speech eloquently linked the shelter of theater with the sanctuary that she, her sister and her mother found in in England when they arrived from Swaziland in 1977. “I am a refugee child,” Dumezweni said through tears.
The actress, who has won over even the few critics not especially dazzled by Potter, will have another chance to move an awards ceremony audience this Sunday: Dumezweni has been Tony-nominated for Best Featured Actress in a Play alongside Susan Brown (Angels in America), Deborah Findlay (The Children), Denise Gough (Angels in America) and Laurie Metcalf (Three Tall Women).
Deadline spoke to Dumezweni about her Tony nomination, Potter‘s blend of young actors (Sam Clemmett, Tony nominee Anthony Boyle) and less young actors (herself, Jamie Parker, Paul Thornley, to name a few) and the experience of being a black actress portraying a character many assumed to be white (“Canon: brown eyes, frizzy hair and very clever,” J.K. Rowling has tweeted. “White skin was never specified.”)
ON HERMIONE, PUBLIC REACTION & JAMES BOND
It was a lightening rod. It’s like, Sean Connery for me was the iconic James Bond. And then, okay, Roger Moore, not bad. But then, Oh, Daniel Craig? I remember thinking he’s’ blond, it’s not going to work. But oh my God, it so worked. It’s just about being able to change people’s view.
My responsibility is ultimately to the character and to the play. I happen to have the joyful luck of being asked to play this part, Hermione, so with how I look, there’s already going to be a statement there. And that statement means very many different things to different people.
For those first 5 minutes, the audience can go, Oh, okay, yeah. But then the play takes us on the journey, and this is why I am here, and what I love. So when young kids say, Thank you for being my Hermione, I am very, very proud of that. It’s beautiful, that’s what it is.
NEW WAYS OF SEEING, ON STAGE & OFF
I saw Hamilton in previews, before its opening day. And I went, Oh my God, I have never seen this form in front of me. I have never seen this storytelling in front of me. You go, I’ll suspend my disbelief because I am falling in love with the form. That’s what is joyous.
I think it’s all to do with this day and age, the timing of the world at the moment. Students fighting against guns. That’s extraordinary. And theater, I will agree, can move faster and ahead quicker in terms of telling stories that we haven’t seen or that we need to be aware of. Especially in British stage acting, there’s much more room for experimentation with ideas. I can’t speak for Broadway or New York, because this is my first show here, but it’s a London production. I get the sense that maybe Chicago’s similar to London in that there are more experimental things going on there, but it’s still here. It’s Broadway.
CURSED CHILD, YOUNG ACTORS, GOOD PEOPLE
When I see these young actors, I’m going, F*cking oh you’re brilliant! And then I see the older actors and I am going, F*cking oh you’re brilliant! I’m in a room of great actors.
I love working with actors. Six or seven years ago, I said to myself, Well, I’m not earning much money, I’m doing mainly theater, I’ve got a child. But I can’t imagine doing anything else, to make more money and to pay those bills. So the choice I will make is that [what I do] has to be interesting. It’s going to be sh*t pay so it has to be interesting. And along with that, I just want to work with good people.
And I remember then consciously saying to myself, Well, what does that mean? And then the world was just showing me. This is what I mean about good people. We’ve all got our own ways of doing things, and I was all anxious until we got on location, but ultimately that need and enjoyment of searching the character and worrying about how well you’re doing. Not in a devilish way, but in just a really artful, considered and mindful way. And that’s what we’re still doing. And I’m still watching these young ones grow and grow. I still feel as if I am growing.
I hope that the young ones will help the other young ones. This is an anomaly in terms of creativity and having a great job where you got 15 hundred people standing up each night applauding and whistling and stomping their feet. Just enjoy this, be present with it. I am as well – I’ve never experienced this – but this is happening at the beginning of their lives. And that’s what is going to be interesting, to see how they carry this experience through…It’s a rare thing that has happened, a rare thing.
In London, you get an Olivier nomination and you turn up for the day. But this thing with the Tonys, doing these interviews and lunches, you start to get to know a Broadway community. It’s an extraordinary thing. You start getting to know the different people and the productions because you get to have lunch with them, you get to have a light supper with them, and it’s a beautiful thing.
There was a luncheon honoring Mr. Denzel Washington, and I was like, Yes! I have to be there! I may not meet him, but I have to be in that room for goodness’ sake. This amazing actor who loves coming back to the theater is being deservedly honored for his work. And I get the opportunity to be part of that.
BIG BANG THEORY
What I am going to wear to the Tony Awards is my life’s work right now! What the f*ck am I going to wear? What the f*ck am I going to wear? I have no idea. I have no idea yet. It’s on a Sunday, and I may actually get it sorted out by the Friday. I’m like, Oh, God, I don’t know, I don’t know!
But I know I will have fun and I know I will look banging! I will look amazing! So I’m very, very happy right now, thank you.