'Harry Potter' Villains: Jason Isaacs explains how Alan Rickman and Daniel Radcliffe helped create Lucius Malfoy

For those Potter fans who can still vividly recall Jason Isaacs’ diabolically regal performances as Lucius Malfoy in 2002’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, it is truly shocking to see the character so grubby and broken down in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 1. And Isaacs could not be happier about it. “One of the great privileges of being in the Harry Potter films for me is I’ve actually got to have a journey,” says the actor, 47. “Lucius has gone from being the most entitled, obnoxious, racist pig to a broken, emasculated shadow of a man — and that’s a fun thing for an actor to do.”

But how did Isaacs first decide to create Lucius’ rather unique bearing and haughty inflection? Blame Alan Rickman. “I got the part, and I thought, ‘I’d better watch what the first one was like,’” says Isaacs. “And then I realized to my horror that Alan Rickman was in the first film, and utterly brilliant. Nobody does sinister like Alan Rickman. I thought, ‘If I’m going to do something, it’d better be unbelievably extreme.’”

First up: Malfoy’s appearance. “I went to the set, and they had this idea of me wearing a pinstripe suit, short black-and-white hair,” Isaacs recalls. “I was slightly horrified. He was a racist, a eugenicist. There’s no way he would cut his hair like a Muggle, or dress like a Muggle.” So Isaacs suggested instead that he wear a long white wig, and a particularly ostentatious wizard-like ensemble. “In order to keep the hair straight, I had to tip my head back, so I was looking down my nose at everyone. There was 50 percent of the character. I asked for a walking stick, which [Chamber of Secrets director] Chris Columbus first thought was because I had something wrong with my leg. I explained I wanted it as an affectation so I can pull my wand out [of the cane]. After a second’s thought, he said, ‘You know what, I think the toy guys are going to love you.’ He was completely right.”

Next: Malfoy’s accent. “There’s a particular art critic in England who has a voice like fingernails on a blackboard,” says Isaacs, who in real life has a far more accessible, slightly working class London accent. “I combined him with a teacher I thought was patronizing and sadistic when I was in drama school. To me what [the accent] smacks of is a sense of entitlement. I just wanted to find a voice that made him drip with the millennia that his family had been in power — complete disdain and contempt for anybody and everything else.”

But Isaacs’ accent did not go over so well after his first rehearsal. “Chris [Columbus] panicked. He asked David Heyman, the producer, to come to my dressing room and talk to me. So David came, and said, ‘I understand you’re doing a, uh, funny voice. What is it?’ I told him who it was a combination of, and he was slightly horrified.” Thankfully, a particularly important member of the Potter cast came to Isaacs’ defense. “We came down to the set to shoot,” says Isaacs, “and Chris said, ‘I don’t know. I’m not sure anybody really speaks like that.’ And Daniel [Radcliffe], thank God, said, ‘I think it’s really cool.’ Chris turned to him, and being the generous and playful soul that he is, said, ‘Well, let’s try it.’ I tried it, and it stuck. What was funny was, every time we’d do a take, Chris would come up and go, [in an American accent], ‘That was great, it was wonderful. Let’s just shoot one more, for safety, and if you could pull it back just, like, 80 or 90 percent.’” Isaacs laughs. “Which takes they used, I don’t know.”

For more on the Harry Potter Villains, including Voldemort, Severus Snape, and Bellatrix Lestrange, pick up this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly.

Read more:
Harry Potter Central
Gallery: How We Got to ‘Deathly Hallows’

Comments (69 total) Add your comment
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  • Carrie #2

    Man, Jason Isaacs is so talented. Anybody who puts that much thought into a seemingly one-dimensional character has my respect.

    • Meg

      And he’s sexy too. Even without the wig.

      • Kate

        My friend JUST pointed out to me that he looks like Jon Hamm. Yup, kinda does. (although maybe not in this picture.)

    • Liz

      I agree. I never really thought of Lucius as much more than background noise. His wife is way more of a player in the series than he is.

      • erin

        If you mean Bellatrix Lestrange, that’s his sister in law, not his wife. His wife Narcissa is hardly in the books/movies.

      • AcaseofGeo

        Narcissa is EXTREMELY CRUCIAL despite her small amount of book and screen time. If it weren’t for her maternal love of Draco overpowering her desire to serve Voldemort, Harry would NEVER have survived after being Avada Cadabrad in the woods.

      • Anna

        You are right, AcaseofGeo. Even though Narcissa did not have a very big part, she was a very important character. If not for her, Harry would have died. Also what was up with half of her hair being black in the movie?

      • Neptuny

        Her hair was like that, too, in ‘HBP.’ I think it’s a little symbolic. Here’s Narcissa who probably bleaches her hair to match the Malfoys, yet keeps some her natural dark hair. Like she’s caught between her true loyalty: Malfoy of Black? Or both?

      • Neptuny

        *or

    • Anne

      Man, thank god for his input, or Chris Columbus’ version of Lucius would have been lame.

      • Mindy

        Amen! Sounds like he suggested some great changes.

    • Lucius

      Lucius isn’t one dimensional at all, but in terms of villains in the Potter books…he’s the one that always seemed that way up until Deathly Hallows. The same goes for Draco…both of those characters added so many layers as the series progressed. I love the way Jason has portrayed him in the films. It was so shocking to see him so downtrodden when he first appears on-screen in DH part one.

  • Kiki

    The casting for these movies is off-the-charts amazing. Isaacs IS Lucius Malfoy.

    • MB

      Exactly. I can’t think of another actor in this part or a better way of playing it.

  • Jim

    Jason is a marvelous actor and his character is a fabulous creation. To see the two side by side, check any of the TV shows now running about “The World of Harry Potter” and you can enjoy Jason speaking in his natural voice and then his character with that highfalutin’ haughty voice. It’s great fun to watch,. Well done, Jason!!

    • Bwana

      Check out “The Patriot” or espisodes of Showtimes “Brotherhood”, compare to “Potter”, and you see the range of his vocal talents…

      • erin

        His accent in The Patriot reminds me of Lucius. It has the same evil sneer to it.

      • JC

        Also, he had a passable backwoods southern accent in Black Hawk Down. I’ve heard his regular American, though, and its pretty good.

    • Mindy

      I know! I love his sneering, arrogant accent as Lucius. Think it is brilliant.

  • TimW (No, not that one)

    I saw in a featurette that part of what guided his overall performance is that, when he watched the first one, he HATED Draco. His goal was to give some clues how Draco turned out that way. Genius, wall to wall.

    • Mindy

      Yeah, I remember that. He said he considered it a goal to earn the nasty Draco some audience sympathy by making his father even worse. LOL. Spot on, Mr. Isaacs. Great job.

  • Rita

    His eyes, they say it all.

  • Kisha

    He was excellent (always has been really)in ‘Deathly Hallows’.I actually felt sorry for the Malfoy’s with as rugged and world beaten Lucius Malfoy was looking.

    • Liz Lemon

      I hate Lucius, but even I felt bad for him when Voldemort took his wand. It’s like castration for a wizard. And then Voldemort kills a woman and lets his snake eat it on the dining room table. I mean seriously…worst house guest EVER!

    • Anna

      Haha! You are so right Liz! But I can’t remember, why does he look so aweful in this movie?

  • Briana

    Jason Isaacs is hands-down brilliant!

  • Chris

    Isaacs stood out in Deathly Hallows, even though he wasn’t in the movie much. Lucius looked like he was scared to death, which was a total 180 from the previous movies. That was just great acting.

  • Katja

    There are definitely several actors playing major characters that I don’t especially like in their roles…but Jason Isaacs is wonderful as Lucius. Just perfect. And thank god they went with the image he had of Lucius, with the long hair and the wizard clothes. He was absolutely right to disagree with the Muggle haircut and suit.

  • SJ

    Wow, this just shows that every ensemble character makes the most of being in the HP films. He really did stand out in Deathly Hallows. I had kind of forgotten from the books how beat down the Malfoys had become.

  • steph

    Jason Isaacs plays the BEST villains.

  • Natalie

    Does anyone remember Jason Isaacs in Armageddon? Thats when I fell for him. He was awesome and Ive never seen anything bad that he’s done. Hes handsome and a great actor. He’s the only reason I actually like Lucious.

    • erin

      Yes, Quincy! He’s the one who came up with the plan to save the world.

    • Tiffany

      I know, right. I loved him in Armageddon! And there was a two or three parter of The West Wing where he played a photographer Donna got involved with in Gaza. Ridiculously sexy in that also!

    • Laura

      OMG. Seriously? I never noticed him in it! Now that gives me a reason to watch it again. LOL

      • Jax

        It’s in season 5, in case you want to look it up. ;)

        I remember, as a long time JI fan, our breathless anticipation of him being on the show.

  • Janizzle

    Lucius is BRILLIANT and definitely a scene-stealer! Love that Jason Isaacs had so much input in creating what we see in the movies. He seems like a great guy too!

  • beth

    Anyone remember him in Sweet November as a drag queen? The man’s got range.

    • chris

      Really? better check the movie out again…

    • Sarah

      LOL “This isn’t a dress. This is a sequined sensation.”

      Great actor, I adore him.

    • Jax

      Yes. He’s gorgeous as a man but hideously ugly as a drag queen. Hee! His shoulders are just too broad to pull off the sequined sensation.

  • sassyfras

    I love how over-the-top he always is; a real scenery-chewer. My hubby and I always turn to each other when he’s on screen and say: “Do try the scenery…it’s DEEELISHIOUS.”

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