The actor also reveals his surprising inspiration behind his villainous role
Credit: Maarten de Boer

With his distinctive sneer, “pure blood” ideology and burning hatred of Harry Potter, Lucius Malfoy — played by British actor Jason Isaacs in the Potter films — is one of the series’ great villains. And on Friday, Isaacs revealed his careful construction of the notorious Death Eater and Voldemort sycophant.

“I was terrified of being bland around all these incredible actors,” Isaacs, 53, said during a panel at Universal Orlando’s Celebration of Harry Potter. “I was around the royal family of British actors! I asked for the wig, the robes. They wanted me in a suit with ordinary hair. I tried to come up with the voice, because Alan Rickman [who played Professor Severus Snape], the greatest screen villain certainly of our age — I knew he was in it so I had to come up with a voice I thought that sounded like finger nails on a blackboard. I wanted a voice that irritated you in one syllable.”

His inspiration? “It was a combination of a teacher from drama school who would constantly whisper in this very high voice, ‘You’ll amount to nothing, Isaacs. You will never work,’ and this British art critic, Brian Sewell,” said Isaacs, who also disclosed that he had initially auditioned for the role of vainglorious Defense Against the Dark Arts professor Gilderoy Lockhart. “The director [of the first two Potter films], Chris Columbus, would come up to me and say, ‘So we had that take, it’s great, but could we do one more where you pull back on the voice like 80-90 percent?'”

During the panel, which also featured Potter stars Warwick Davis (Griphook the goblin and Professor Flitwick), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) and Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom), Isaacs —currently starring in the Netflix smash The OA and who just returned from promoting his film Red Dog: True Blue at the Sundance Film Festival — also addressed the Potter themes of inclusiveness and tolerance as they relate to today’s world, as well as Malfoy’s hateful views.

“There is a very recognizable racist and supremacist [in Lucius Malfoy], acting out of fear and thinking that the past was a better time,” he said. “And scared of Muggles and scared of the future because it feels like his place was some time ago, when he was part of the super-elite who could look down on the rest of the world. You don’t need to look too far to find many politicians standing on those platforms. Those issues are never more relevant than today, [but] they are dealt with in this kind of magical world.”

Felton, who played Isaacs’s onscreen son Draco in the films, noted that the heart of J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World “is a very powerful and strong message, and going back to the community of it, it has that aspect where it can bring millions of people who might feel disengaged with what’s happening in the rest the world, it gives them something that feels real. It feels like something worth fighting for and worth getting together and campaigning for. Off the back of that, just so much positivity can happen.”

A Celebration of Harry Potter is being held at Universal Orlando January 27 -29, where fans can attend celebrity panels, meet original U.S. Potter illustrator Mary GrandPré and attend a special expo of Potter props from the films.