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Show People with Paul Wontorek: Noma Dumezweni of HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD

Show People with Paul Wontorek: Noma Dumezweni of HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD


–After a hearty career in England, Noma Dumezweni is making a name for herself on Broadway as Hermione in the
theatrical juggernaut Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Hear the first time
Tony Award nominee talk about the panic and pleasure of keeping the
secrets, how her uprooted childhood led her to the stage and what advice she’d
give her 20 year old self on this week’s Show People. –Noma, I’m so happy you
are here!
–Paul, me too! –You are a big Broadway star now!
–Apparently since we last met my world has changed. See, I just love it that we were
able to do this again cause you were in London
–So I met you a year and a half ago at the Palace
Theatre. You were in a little play. –A little play that no oneknew
–Harry Potter and the Cursed Child parts 1 and 2 if you
want to be specific. Now you’re on Broadway, now you’re a Tony nominee, now
you’re nominated for like every award –No, not quite, but it’s lovely It’s all good.
–Two time Olivier winner. A lots happened. It’s all good and everybody is
in love with you.
–I will take that and I’ll reflect the love and say thank you
very much.
— Do you feel loved are you feeling the attention are you feeling
the love of the piece and people discovering you and how you feeling? –Yeah
I think all this is you’ve just said I’m just gonna say yeah. What I am feeling:
I’m loving this adventure that the British seven have come over to open the
show Broadway with this amazing American company, who all do an amazing English accent. Must stress that because it is a British pleasure and British story as we know and
that’s one of the joys of and their work is phenomenal. The reactions of
people to see the show has been London was great uh-huh London was great
this is a different level because you all applaud at everything and it’s a
joyous thing because it’s it does feel like I mean when the magic tricks happen
when the entrances happen when they’re in London’s like yeah okay brilliant
we’re gonna start and see a play and then you get taken over, but here you
go right come on you’re supposed to be good and then we start you go okay you are
good. –It would be terrible if they didn’t.
–Awful. –But I knew they would I mean this is a very powerful piece of theatre. I
mean I’m not a Harry Potter freak. –You don’t have to be.
I enjoy the mythology. I love seeing I love stories that continue forward like
this it’s very exciting to see so many years later –And to be part of that as
well I think that’s the joy of for me getting to do the 20 years later, 19
years later. You go okay that’s what I could do as a theatre actor that’s what
I can bring into this pool to work with this amazing creative people. And then as
you say is a theatrical experience and that’s what it’s joyous about it. –Yeah
yes so you’re still finding things in it –Yes, thank goodness.
— This is I’m assuming the longest run –I have ever ever done ever done. Before Harry Potter and
the Cursed Child parts 1 & 2 in London I was a snob about doing shows for over
four months right why would you do that? –Yes so as an actor who looking at your
resume I have not seen a lot of the things you’ve done unfortunately –No
worries. –but you know I live in New York
–But you will from now on Paul you will from now on. –From now on are you kidding me? I’m there. But but when you you seem like an actor
who probably really did feed off the adventure of all all these different
roles and characters and amazing classic plays, and new plays, and direct your
director yourself, so I wonder what it’s like to then creatively be in something
where you’re just kind of there and what does that adjustment have been like for
you?
–So we finished our company the first company finished 21st of May 2017 and by
that point we knew that the seven of us were going to be coming to Broadway. So there’s 7 months of life living family catch up other jobs, now I’m gonna pay my rent and
pay my bills to do that. And I’ve had a lovely adventure in that time and I’ve
only ever experienced it once when you have to come back to a play, and this is
seven months the other one was 9 months it was them The Winter’s Tale for the
Royal Shakespeare Company. And I got the privilege of playing Paulina in that
production. And we did it here in New York at the Armory, and to come
back 9 months later to that piece was the first time ever went oh life
happening is a really good thing to happen in between the same show. And
that’s what’s happened for us, so what you also have is that you meet a whole
new group of actors who are you going oh oh I can’t be complacent about this. I
have got to re-listen everything. And playing again for me as an actor that’s
my joy is that I do not feel bored. I do not feel bored. I may be
tied around the edges, might be a bit grumpy around the edges when we’ve
been in the theater all day doing previews, preview and tech
before we close the show. And the difference we don’t have windows in our
theater down here whereas we have in the palace in the dressing rooms. So it’s a
different energy. So it becomes like a bit of a hothouse and then my pride is
that as a company we’ve held it together in the sense that we’re telling the
story, but we’re playing, we keep playing and each night I can look at whoever’s
I’m looking, most likely Paul Thornley playing my husband Ron and you know
there’s a twinkle what’s gonna happen? There’s Jamie, there’s Poppy, there’s Alex…
and Byron Jennings, who I’ve discovered is a God of Broadway.
–Broadway icon –Absolutely.
I get that now Kathryn Meisly, amazing group of people. And the young ones who are coming through, an extraordinary
young actress called Jessie Fisher. I can’t say what part she’s playing, but
you have to come on –Fantastic she’s fantastic
–Yeah but the company and that’s why you play was
because that’s what you for me as an actor that’s why I cherish. I don’t get
bored. I let’s see what’s going to happen tonight, and we’re not we have the frame
of the show, but I can look at you like looking in that right now anything
can happen and that’s the most exciting thing for me, but we know the words that
we’re gonna say. I mean we don’t but I was gonna say so playing I always go
back to playing I’d like to play with these people and I guess when you know
that you have a nice steady gig you can sort of maybe go through your life in a
different way, and sort of Well you can breathe. So I can
get to like choose nice clothes like this. –You look pretty.
–Thanks Had to fly that one in. My gorgeous friend Anatoli is helping
me sort this out. So that’s a whole new world of thing that’s opened up from
this particular job Harry Potter and the Cursed Child from London. The thing about
dressing and makeup and meeting people and talking because that jobbing actor
thing, which I’ve always done, and I still will do because it’s about choices.
What’s happened with this experience it’s open up the choices for me. And
that’s a magnificent place to be, but I’m also I’m I’m not in my salad days, as it
were. I am enjoying getting into my dotage, and I really love that but the
choices now, the sense of making choices is clearer. Whereas the babies I’m
watching in the company, chill, it’s okay, don’t stress, don’t waste your time stressing,
just enjoy the moment. –Right so Hermione, a name
you’ll be attached to follow you around for many a year
–I believe it will. And I’m blessed for that. –Because people love this character and they’re discovering this new Hermione, years later, totally
different you know she’s a different place in her life obviously –She’s a different person
— Yeah. People walk in with an expectation. You can’t
avoid that
–No –You can’t avoid it because people read books and they imagine
things when they see the movies and Emma Watson, who I know has been lovely to you
–She’s a dote absolute gorgeous
–So do you still feel that sort of like that when you when you step on stage and they go oh
there’s Hermione! Oh there’s Hermione and then sort of that –Yeah that never gets old. That’s always a new audience and London
was a scare. The first few previews in London in terms of my internal fear,
because I know that first five minutes is you’re going oh that’s Hermione, the one
who’s not the one I have in my head at all and and not the one I’ve seen in the
films, but then the play starts. I open my mouth, we speak and we tell a story. And
that was that was the scary bit then, and then coming to New York, I kind of
forgotten that until a couple of people said oh yeah it took me a minute to go
oh yes! And then we’re in. And I go oh yes I’ve forgotten that that’s what was
happening, becasuse we’re now a company and that… I hate to use that phrase, black
Hermione, but because I’m a black woman. That’s the deal. But I am a woman who
looks like this, who gets the chance to play Hermione. And I’m very very lucky.
Because she’s amazing. And my my big thing for me is that JK Rowling started this
story in the form of books. That’s where this form came, so all those people
reading those stories had their version. And then films are a different thing
because that representation of imagery gives you a solid base. So that’s
what you start working with because that’s okay that’s our Hermione now.
That’s been put out into the culture. The theatre form that I’m in, you go okay
let’s we are open to shifting and changing because we’re now older,
characters have families and this play’s about families let’s see
what that does. And there is a sense that you can open up a different way, and it
goes back, and there’s a kind of full circle thing because it goes back to the
books and the imagination you have there. I’m very very proud to be part of that –One of the big hashtags is keep the secrets because there are secrets
–Because you have to you –Are you good at keeping secrets
in general because I’m thinking back to when you first started doing workshops
of this play, way back. And you couldn’t tell anyone, correct?
— Yes –And I
always wonder this when actors have to sign like –NDA
–Non disclosure agreements like you won’t tell anyone. But I’m like well you have to tell like someone. You must have told someone. –You’ve got to breathe. –Like did your daughter know? –Well I have to say, I left
it, held on very late. It was my sister who knew quite early on because I
trust implicitly. And I’m going okay. And then as I was getting closer, I was like
okay there’s gonna be some to my daughter, there’s gonna be some news
coming out. She was like. But we, you can’t tell, you can’t share the
information with your friends. And and she god bless her, because I think there’s the thing about keeping secrets for any child is a really hard thing. Good secrets are
brilliant, birthday presents stuff like that fabulous, but I’ve got this thing, if
you ever feel it’s a bad secret, don’t ever keep that as a secret. That’s not
your burden to bear, but this was a joyous secret. And then we start
rehearsing, you go, I shouldn’t have told anybody. We all we all had a slight panic because you go could be someone you trust to do that thing. But it is a
pleasure to keep secrets which are beautiful and you know there’s gonna be
a surprise in the most joyous way. And they’re kind of flabbergasted just
from some people about it. So, I take pride in keeping secrets, but sometimes,
because that was long. Holding that secret was long! It was lovely
knowing in the room that I got it, and then it was a few months before I was
like, okay, now I’ll tell you that this is coming because yeah we’re working
towards making that happen –Right okay we’re gonna take a quick break we’re gonna talk we’re gonna we’re gonna dig back into your childhood a bit. We’re
gonna we’re gonna take you on a journey amazing journey. We’ll be right back. [music] [music] –We are back with Noma Dumezweni –Well done. That was good. –Okay so the Tony presenters, that that’s it.
Dumezweni. –Thank you. Thank you.
–Dumezweni, exactly! Once you know it it’s easy. –I want to dig back into
your childhood. You you have a very interesting story.
Your parents were both South African, and you were born in the country of..
–Swaziland, which has now just changed its name –Oh really?
— My mom and my sister sent me –Has a new name!
–Yeah oh it has –We don’t even know it yet
–No, we don’t even know if that it’s got a new name!
–Noma-land –Noma-land it must be. It must
not be that, but I find that very exciting that’s really interesting thing. But I
was born in a place called Swaziland, which I don’t know cuz I was a baby.
My sister was born in Botswana and then we lived in Kenya and Uganda before me, my mum and my sister arrived in Britain. –Yeah and that was like 41 years ago
–Very long time ago
–Almost to the date like in May. —Oh my
— Like not yet not yet don’t worry –You are absolute you’ve done your work! –I did my research.
–Thank you –And obviously apartheid was
happening, and your your parents that’s why your mom left. –Had to leave yeah –There’s a documentary
–Have you seen that? –I did see it yeah called –My friend Sarah –Noma Forgiving Apartheid, which is which is a great title. And it’s really about
you meeting your dad after many many years
–A very long time –Because you went back to South
Africa to do that play. –A Human Being Died That Night, yes, which I never I never thought I’d ever go back to South Africa to do a play. My life is over in
Britain and then this opportunity arrives in this play written by Nicolas Wright directed
by John Mumm we did the Hampstead Theatre Eric Abraham’s produces it . And
he also runs The Fugard Theatre in Cape Town and says why don’t you come and
bring it over there? It’s a two-hander and with me an amazing actor called
Matthew Marshall. I am in awe of. And this moment happens in South Africa where I
get to meet my dad, and my lovely friend Sarah
–Sarah Townshend –Yes! Thank you because I’ve got yeah because she’s an interesting creature
because I’ve got two names for Sarah.
Sarah we’ll talk about that later. But she said I need to find this story and
make this story and and I was like why would you want to do that because it
ah! When one’s doing one’s own story that you don’t think see the importance
of it, I showed a friend after it being made because I was going it’s icky, it’s all about me I don’t quite Oh.. Bless Sarah for making happen I can see
it. And they’re like it’s not about you. It’s about your parents.
— It really is. –It’s about my parents and it was just that take the ego out of the way for
goodness sake Noma and look at where your parents have been, what they’ve come
through and where you are now. And I’m I’m so grateful that Sarah has managed
to capture that. I still find it very hard knowing that there is documentary
that is about me in my life. So I know I’d kind of separate those two things,
until they meet in these moments, but I never quite bring it up. –And your father
sees the play. And my favorite moment is he talks so emotionally about
seeing your talent as an actor and and that moment of he actually got to see
what you can do and that you were telling this powerful story, and you’re
and that was just really amazing. –For him, he’s always he’s got a beautiful family my half siblings now younger, me and my sister together here, and we’ve got four
siblings in South Africa. And what he’s I remember this growing up with him it’s
education education education and you will go to university. And there’s a
point when my parents split up and that’s why we end up in Britain, me, my
mom, my sister. And I’m not an academic girl. I’ve never been an academic girl. I’m bright. I know things. I could talk to people. I think my emotional intelligence
is higher than –Street-smart?
–Street smart, I’ve learnt street smarts. You learn it very quickly.
It’s a different world because I grew up in a very closed off space when it came to
Britain. Arriving in London, I had to learn the street smarts very quickly. But I
value I pride myself in emotional intelligence, and try to communicate with
people. So when I found acting, I went yeah, this I get. Let’s play again. That
had never been in his ether as a thing because let’s get the education. So for
him to see that there is a way of living that you can be creative and make
statements and be part of the world happening, I think, for me was… He’d never
seen a play. And that was the first play, as far as I understand, let me get that clear, that’s what I understand. Obviously the first time he saw me, but he’d never
sat in a play. And that for me was huge –Not only able to see you, and not
only see you in a story about apartheid, but also this get to experience theater with your talent –I know amazing that I was able to bring that to him there are other ways. Oh it’s it’s
yeah it’s it’s a huge memory and we’re still in touch and are still talking
about what I’m doing and how the family getting on. And it’s a beautiful.
— So how did that happen to you? So you moved at a very young age to England, grew up in a
small town –Yes Ipswich
–It’s not the most multicultural place
–Not the most multicultural place in the world and I always go and I still say if I ever ever write the autobiography it’s
called from Africa to Ipswich. I don’t know what the equivalent is I fear but it’s a
very small space
–You and your sister were two of four –Four kids of color in our
schools –Out of like 1500
–1500 you did your work you made notes! –That’s
–That’s huge yeah yes and so that’s a secondary school so arrived just before eight years old finishing primary school, getting into
big school, so that’s Ipswitch and Felixstowe and big dock town sea town place
seaside place. So growing up I was told a certain story about how the world should
be, and I didn’t fit into that world. I really didn’t fit into that world, but
do you know what? I’ve got my drama thing and who knows what will happen. I’ve got
my friends here, and it’s it’s that I’ve said it there’s a limitation of what you
know, but when you don’t know the alternative. That’s all you know.,
And that you got not like a school theatre like a program on weekends
or it was it –It’s Ipswich Walsley Theatre –Give them a shout out –Oh yeah absolutely because they’re now called the New Walsey and I haven’t
been this has been the New Worsley but and my oldest friends in life are all
from the you theatre not from school. I see people from school occasionally via
Instagram, on the internet, and that’s nice, but the close friends I have now
from the Youth Theatre and that kind of I don’t want to say save me
but I found my tribe. I found people who were like-minded. I’m
still though I think maybe one or two of us of color of the whole four or five
years that were doing it, but there’s a different way of thinking. It’s like
let’s explore we’re all very strange but what can be all very strange together.
–What were you doing? –We’re doing improvization classes and we’ll do a keep thinking that one of my worst auditions was a singing audition, so I remember thinking I’ll
never do that again. Yeah one day I’m good you know what I’m
gonna treat myself to this year? I’ve decided I’m gonna give myself singing
lessons just to find out if I can do that
beeping thing. –Meaning maybe we will get to see you do a musical someday?
Depending on how it goes?? –Depending on how it goes, in my heart, in my little space,
I’m going as long as I can sing outside of the shower and think
–What do you sing in the shower –Oh please, it’s anything that’s going and just making notes and just because
the sound acoustics are great Oh today I’m gonna say Nina Simone, but now I’m gonna do the Donna Summer! As I told you, I need practice. I need practice. So yeah so
you learn about yourself and different ways but you know this it doesn’t stop.
It doesn’t stop but thank God I found a youth theatre at that point in time –Right okay we have to take another break. I don’t want to but we have to
— Thank you –We’ll be right back. [music] [music] –We are back with Noma Dumezweni. Now,
Dumezweni means something. –It does. I love it that you know it means something. It means to be known in the
world.
–Right –And then Noma means mother? –Noma
–Your full name –Look at you on track! –But it means like the mother of that tribe
–Yes, the clan, the clan name their, which I still don’t
quite… My full name is Nomawushe Tandue Dumezweni So Tandue as in I would say we’ve both got the same name is Tanduwe means to be loved and Noma Dumezweni means to be known in the world. So the parents
were throwing it all there. I was the firstborn
–My name means nothing it’s just me. Mother of the clan are you a mother figure at Harry
Potter? Are you naturally sort of a mother?
–My archetype is nurturer is cheerleader, is come on you can do this, come on you’re safe. This is your
safe place. That is my archetype. I would absolutely say that’s true.
–And you are a mother –I am a mother. –Tell me about your daughter.
–My beautiful Keva baby girl Keva Luazi Grant. We’ve
–What does that name mean? –That’s Irish Keva is Irish grace gentle beauty.
Luazi intelligence knowledge education, and Grant is her Dad’s name I
can’t …. it can be whatever you want. He can explain that.
–What does she think of the Hermione thing? –She’s… Mama, you don’t look like the one in the film. I went, I know. Isn’t that exciting? –She went, yes! She gets it. She’s a mixed-race child..
You don’t say that in this country I realize. There all these demarcations of
language. We speak the same language but the meanings are very different between
English and American is what I’ve found. So my African-American friends, but I’m
not African-American because although I’m Black, I’m from Britain, but I’m
British do you mean it’s those kind of… –It’s confusing. –It’s very confusing. So I
say mixed race, and the my friend said oh no no she’s black. Oh, yea, okay. Right. Fine. But over there, there’s another phrase which I maybe I should
embrace even more is dual heritage. And that’s another phrase. So, it’s all these
demarcations and you’ve got to find out what works for you and what is
acceptable as well –Right. Now, I I read something interesting. So you won
you won two Olivier Awards now. Your one for Harry Potter and the
first one was for Raisin in the Sun. You played Ruth Younger
–Yes I did –Is a great role.
–Amazing role and I didn’t know that play until I got offered it.
–But I read that at the time when you did that role that was actually unique for you because you
weren’t crazy about doing plays about the African-American experience that
were sort of like like downtrodden or like negative –Did I said that? Have I said that? –I I remember I
read something old with you where you kind of said like that you preferred things
that were uplifting and that we were like positive. –And then I hadn’t met that play, and then I met that play, and I got what that play was doing –A fantastic play. –Oh my goodness. So I
think there was a part of me, it’s like that thing when I was young, going on I’m
doing art. I won’t do it for money. I have learnt now there is a balance,
there is a balance. We must have a balance because you need to pay your bills. But there choices, about making choices, and I think at that point that does ring a
bell because I was kind of going no I am here as an actor. Yes, I’m black, but why
do I always have to be the downtrodden one? Or the maid? All of this or that but
what I perceive is not very positive for the culture. That play, Lorraine
Hansberry, she was like for me, she’s the equivalent of Arthur Miller of that life had sustained itself.
It’s the most perfect piece of domestic
storytelling, which becomes absolutely universal. I don’t care… yes it is a an
African-American black family having this experience, but those emotions about
family and connection, where the world is and how we see ourselves in the world
are the most powerful thing which keep coming back and back and back. And I had
Lennie James, yes, he played my husband. Lenny James played my husband. And what the amazing amazing Novella Nelson, who became a friend and passed away last year, they just want to rediscover it from the
ground up. I went what? Those two are coming back? Okay okay I just I want to
have the experience of working in their in their space And it was the best thing
I could have ever done because I didn’t know the play, but I absolutely
understood the emotions. Understood working with the power has a
Novella Nelson and was is was and she scared the
bejeezus out of me the first week I met her. I was making too many excuses about
being a very British actor Do you mind if I don’t
JUST do what you need to do! Yeah yeah I’m going to do what I need to do because that’s you and you need some people like that to kind of go, you
good enough to be here, you’re in the room Stop making excuses. You’re in the
room. Now do it. –You have a great confidence about you
–Thanks Paul –Is that’s something
that if I met twenty-year-old –No.
–Noma what would I have experienced?
And I know you’ve been a working actor for many years. And you’ve worked everywhere in London theatre –I have. And I’m really lucky cuz I having not gone to Drama
School. That’s one of the things I’m proudest of. It’s been a slog,
it’s been a this. And 20 year old Noma didn’t know what she was doing. If I
could talk to her now, breathe, be still, watch. I remember
someone saying to me recently, the rooms is where you feel you have to prove
yourself, walk out, walk out because you don’t have to do that. You don’t have to
do that anymore. And that was a huge thing to go. [exhales] Now I’m very aware if I feel that that young kid go no no! I go, actually no I don’t have to. It’s good. It’s good to be here.
–I like when you walk in a room. I’ve seem you walk in many rooms and there’s a great energy. –Thank you Paul. I do like to make people feel comfortable. It’s not
that I want to be liked, but I know that feeling of not, of not feeling
comfortable, of people not making you feel comfortable. And it’s bollocks. It’s
shit. I’m sorry. It’s it’s horrible. I don’t ,I don’t understand why would you
make people feel uncomfortable? So from the person who gives you a cup of coffee,
from the person at stage door, from the person who’s ushering, cleaning. I can
tell you the names of the people in the theater, in all the different departments.
So far, I’ve still got time because I do take pride in that. And so I’m so happy
that you’ve done that homework cuz you kind of reminded me in going. Yeah I’ve
got to give thanks for that journey that my parents took. Absolutely, absolutely,
because that’s what I’m seeing here when I’m talking to you. –What are you gonna wear to the Tonys? –Shut. up! It’s all. That is all that is on my mind. Can I tell you what I’m very excited about I have to, joking aside, I have I’ve been
saying this, going, It’s about… I want a banging outfit. But it’s not that
I’m gonna enjoy doing that. But to being in the presence of Susan Brown,
Deborah Finley, oh my god Laurie Metcalf, and Denise Gough,
I’ve already I’m already having a party that I’m knowing I’m in that company. I’m
already having a party. Any one of them gets it, I am [bleep] standing up and cheering and hollering because they are phenomenal actors. I can’t
–You should do a show together That’d be amazing.
–What’s the show? What’s the show? –I don’t know!
–Put it out there! Put it into the universe! Yes, please! In different calibrations, I’ve
worked in a reading with Deborah, I’ve worked in a show with Susan, and I’ve worked with Denise, and so to kind of go Oh my goodness.
–What’s that play about a bunch of young actresses that just hit New York? Like twenty-year-old
actresses? That one. That’d be fabulous. –What’s that one?
–That one –We’re all old and going yes, been there, done that, sit down … I love getting older. Do you love getting
older?
–Oh it’s amazing. You’re right. You just shed skin, shed skin. Guys breathe, just breathe, just breathe. –Noma. I don’t ever want you to leave,
–Oh! –Unfortunately we’re out of time.
–AH! –We can talk well this can close up we can carry on. –We’ll continue it again some other day. –Thank you very much, Paul
–Everyone go see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One and
Two –And you can, everyone who is thinking that you can’t, you can! –You can get in
–Yeah you can get in, it just may not be in the time scale that you want, but you can
get in –Okay work it out and go see Noma, she’s fantastic. –Thank you so much
–Thank you for being here. Thank you for watching. We’ll see you next time. [music]

10 thoughts on “Show People with Paul Wontorek: Noma Dumezweni of HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD”

  1. I’m such a new fan of hers. I absolutely fell in love with her with Paul’s interview with her when they were opening in London. A beautiful soul!

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