Who would think of naming someone other than the belovedly scar-ridden H.P. the hero of J.K. Rowling’s famous tales of witchcraft and wizardry? This is precisely the claim coming from the mouth of Jason Isaacs, who plays Lucius Malfoy, father of privileged bad boy and Slytherin typecast, Draco, in the film adaptation of Harry Potter. Don’t curse us just yet, Gryffindor. Isaacs’ comment isn’t meant to derail the entire Potter fantasy, nor take away from the golden child that is Harry Potter, but to reinstate the luster lost within a character so commonly perceived as sinister. Isaacs sheds light [Lumos!] on his relationship with Draco, ridden with the weight of inescapable family histories and ties, the very ties that unknowingly lure him into the curious magic of grace—in the way only a father does, or in this case, does not. He hits the nail on the head. He notes the “filth” in us all, the delinquency birthed from relationships rooted in the wrongful expectation-fulfillment continuum. LA Times contributor Noelene Clark provides the interview that seeks to answer this question for us all–Just how does Draco become who he is? How do we become who we are?
Noelene Clark: What about his personality and his relationship with his son Draco?
Jason Isaacs: I saw my role originally as first of all, to try and make him real, because these are fantastical characters, I needed to find a way to “believe” in the separation of races and racial and genetic supremacy. You don’t need to look very far, unfortunately, in the modern world to hear people standing up on platforms spouting that kind of filth. And then secondarily — maybe more important in the story, and particularly now that I see where it ends by the time we get to the end of “Deathly Hallows” — is to explain how Draco turned out to be who he was. Because in many ways, to me, Draco is the hero of the whole saga. I think Harry has his destiny. There is only one choice Harry can make in every situation. Harry makes the right choice always, and he’s admirable for doing so. But Draco has a bunch of choices, and Draco has to break the bonds of the shackles of his past. He has to break the chain of this kind of abuse and hatred and selfishness and entitlement that his father has been part of, and probably his grandfather and stretching back for generations. And so I saw my job as trying to illustrate how you end up with a kid as messed up as Draco.
In “Chamber of Secrets,” I just tried to bully him as much as I could, and be as unloving as I could. And in every opportunity, I wanted to be the kind of father that was so selfish and so egotistical and narcissistic that I would happily sacrifice my son and/or my relationship with him for status. So that was the main point, was to try and explain Draco and make his decision that much more heroic, to try and do the right thing. And the other thing was to show what happens when you over-invest in your position in the world. Voldemort is definitely right to point out when he comes back that I’ve been enjoying my status far too much. And everything I do is directed to my place in this future world when Voldemort will rule it. All of my investment in the future is completely about standing at his side. So when Voldemort comes back and rejects me, I can’t work out where I fit in the world. And what you watch is essential nature, essential selfishness and soullessness played out as he realizes there is no place for him at Voldemort’s side. There’s no place for him by his wife and son’s side. And there’s certainly not going to be any place for him by Harry Potter’s side. And so he’s a wounded animal slipping down the well, no matter how much he scrabbles. And that was kind of fun to play, I have to say.”
NC: What a tragic outcome.
JI: I went to prison for all of “Half-Blood Prince,” and when I come back, I am a shadow of a man. I can’t stand up straight anymore. I always used to look down my nose at people. And I’m kind of an alcoholic and unshaven, and my once beautiful mane of hair is now mottled and has probably got a bunch of lice in it. I try as hard as I can to present the front, the facade of who I used to be and hope against hope that maybe Voldemort will find some drop of sympathy inside himself. But weakness is leprous in the Death Eater world. And by the time we get to the beginning of “Deathly Hallows” where Voldemort takes my wand and snaps it, and un-mans me, castrates me, basically, in front of the rest of the Death Eaters, I’m done for. You just watch the slow collapse of a human being. Every single actor who plays a part that is on screen even momentarily can talk like this about their own characters, because you’re always there. You may not be speaking or the camera may not be pointing at you, but you create an entire life for yourself so that when the camera does catch you, you’ve got something to bring to the party.”
The Malfoy character development is a dead ringer for real-life relational dynamics. Consider the devastating impact this kind of disoriented love has on its object. Draco is a mess and, frankly, so are we. As much as we crave a destiny as crystal clear as Harry’s, the ability to defeat every enemy, curse, or dragon in our way, it is just not so. Our dragons are bigger, our wands are not of the finest unicorn hair, and if we’re really honest, the nearly-translucent villain with no nose and a pet snake, along with his gaggle of death-eating faceless friends, scares us to death. In the face of fear, we crumble. We wonder who is on our side at all.
For Draco, his father doesn’t even have his back. It is fear of his father’s judgement that guides his choices. His every decision is an answer to Lucius’ pounding question of “Will you be the son you’re supposed to be?”, which is really just an evocation of his father’s own failure to fulfill the expectations of the Dark Lord. Like Draco, we find it difficult to choose apart from our histories, be it our parents’ wishes or defining experiences, past. There are moments when the audience catches a glimpse of Draco’s shackling internal conflict. Beneath his biting bigotry and sliminess, we see a constant trepidation of dismantling the castle wall of expectation placed upon who Draco Malfoy ought to be. “Who will save me from this body of death?” seems appropriate here. Draco, you see, is always on the brink of curse depending on his ability to choose rightly. He yearns to be set free from the demand of fulfilling the Law, in whatever dark form it may come. In Grace in Practice, Paul Zahl says about this problem that “Law curses everything it touches. It is an ironic curse because it intends to bless. It means well. But love, when processed wrongly or confused with self-love, is a curse.”
But, luckily, the same remedy is available for wizard and Muggle alike. The Law, “the deep magic from the dawn of time” is counteracted by a “deeper magic from before the dawn of time.” (The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe). This is the magic of Grace, which casts a disarming spell on the ruthless opponent Fear, allowing Malfoys alike to begin to live a life unconstrained. We see this unbinding take place in Harry’s defeat of Lord Voldemort, wherein the Malfoys are freed from their imprisonment as Death Eaters.
Though we cannot always will ourselves to choose rightly, separate ourselves from our histories, or walk in the direction of this so-called destiny, we still have one. A destiny, that is. It is by way of Grace that we are released from the binding cuffs of condemnation and into the destiny of freedom from fear of the curse. What Draco experiences dimly, Harry has known since the day Voldemort tried to kill him as a child. Someone has received the curse for him. Thus, he is pardoned from death, left with a scar, and since become The Boy Who Lived, the intent for us all.