Edmonton’s Benjamin Wheelwright lands ‘dream’ role in ‘Harry Potter’ on Broadway

TORONTO — Edmonton-born actor Benjamin Wheelwright remembers sitting in his first eye exam at age seven and lying about how good his sight was.

A huge Harry Potter fan, he wanted to look like the bespectacled boy-wizard so badly, he created an illusion so he could get the same wire-rimmed frames.

“I knew it was a ‘D’ but I said ‘O’ or something like that, just so I would be more eligible to get glasses to look like Harry Potter,” the 24-year-old recalled in a recent phone interview.

The fib got him the glasses but with a prescription that was too strong. Several years later, his optometrist chided him for causing eye damage.

These days, Wheelwright doesn’t have to fake his way into author J.K. Rowling’s world of spells — he’s already in it, thanks to a role in the new 10-time Tony Award-nominated play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” on Broadway.

The story is set 19 years after the events of 2007’s “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the seventh and final instalment of Rowling’s series. Harry is now “an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.”

Wheelwright plays Harry’s charismatic oldest son, James, who is a star at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

“He’s a natural wizard and he’s at the top of his class and he’s a big jock and he’s great at Quidditch,” Wheelwright said.

“Everything that you imagine Harry Potter’s son to be, he is.”

The actor also plays a couple of other surprise characters he isn’t allowed to talk about, for fear of spoiling the plot.

“It’s a dream come true, really,” he said.

“I grew up with the books. My grandmother, who actually was here for opening night, she lives in a small town in Wales. She used to buy me the books every summer and I would go and visit her in the U.K. and read one book a summer. So having her here for the opening was amazing. It’s like a full-circle thing to do for her.”

Olivier and BAFTA winner Jack Thorne wrote the two-part play, based on an original new story by himself as well as Rowling and director John Tiffany. It first started running in London in June 2016 and hit New York in March.

Critics have given rave reviews to the Broadway production, which cost a reported $68 million to stage, including $33 million to renovate the Lyric Theatre to look like the world of Hogwarts.

“It’s very tastefully done,” Wheelwright said. ”It doesn’t feel like a theme park at all. I’ve been to Harry Potter in Florida, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and it’s a complete departure from that and pays homage to the books more than the films.”

Muggles travel from around the world, dressed in all things Potter, to see the show.

“Tons of cloaks, tons of young boys dressed up with scars on their foreheads and glasses,” Wheelwright said.

“The energy and the screams off the top of the show — we haven’t even done anything, it’s just the music starts and everyone is just buzzing that they’re finally getting a chance to see it.”

Wheelwright, who studied at the National Theatre School of Canada in Montreal, auditioned for the play while acting in a tour of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.”

He had to take a magic class and got his own handcrafted wand.

“Christine Jones, the designer of both the theatre and set, had this wonderful wand presentation ceremony where each person in the cast got individual wands, which were carved by a person somewhere in the woods of England and each one was so different,” Wheelwright said.

“It was like going to Ollivanders (wand shop).”

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