Harry Melling from 'The Queen's Gambit' Is Breaking Out From Dudley Dursley's Shadow
Melling is most-recognized as Harry Potter's mean cousin Dudley Dursley, but after a string of Netflix projects, he's becoming known for a whole lot more than that.
There's a good chance you'll recognize Harry Melling, the actor who plays Harry Beltik, the brooding guy Beth Harmon beats on the way to her very first chess championship in Netflix's popular new series The Queen's Gambit. It's possibly because this is the third Netflix project, including The Old Guard and The Devil All the Time, Melling has appeared in since the summer. There's also a chance that he stirs up some childhood memories: Melling got his start playing Harry Potter's jerk of a cousin Dudley Dursley in the Potter films. Even though Melling's been amassing some seriously impressive credits, working with the likes of the Coen brothers and Gina Prince Bythewood, he's still often identified as that bratty kid who bullied the boy who lived.
Melling's presence in the Netflix chess hit has inspired the likes of BuzzFeed headlines like "Harry Melling From 'Harry Potter' Had A Major Glow-Up, And Now I Have A Crush On Dudley." Melling "gets" why people gravitate towards defining him by his boyhood accomplishments and the staying power of that franchise, but it is weird for him. "It's kind of like the whole world has access to your childhood home videos and they've watched you grow up," Melling says. "It's a very strange thing to articulate."
From a young age, Melling always knew he wanted to be a storyteller in some capacity and didn't act much outside of Potter until he attended drama school. He appeared on stage in both London and New York, which was where he caught the attention of Joel and Ethan Coen, who gave him his breakout role as a limbless orator in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.
When he was cast in The Queen's Gambit, Melling says he didn't know anything about chess. "I didn't know how to play it," he adds. "I didn't know what the pieces did." Like his co-star, Anya Taylor-Joy, he trained with chess master Bruce Pandolfini. His aim wasn't to completely understand everything that was going on: "It was more about the feel and the touch of the pieces," he says. It was a fitting strategy, given how writer-director Scott Frank treats the game as metaphor throughout the series. "He really told a story through the chess," Melling says of Frank. "It's always about people dancing with each other."
Harry (Beltik, not Melling) keeps popping up throughout Beth's life, a sort of meek guardian angel who moves in with her to help her train after her mother dies. Their friendship evolves into a brief and unsuccessful romance. "He does really love her—and I mean love not in a necessary sexualized way, but in a way that is just about care," Melling says. "He wants to care for her and he wants to see her good and he wants to make sure that she comes out of it."
Harry is part of the crew of chess nerds who gather together to help Beth out in the finale during her pivotal match against her Russian nemesis Borgov. According to Melling, there really was a celebratory mood in the room. "I remember when [Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who plays Benny Watts] gets the phone call from Moscow to say that she's won, there was a real genuine join within the room from all her fanboys," Melling recalls. "It was a lovely lovely moment to have." He and Brodie-Sangster—another actor who is often associated with a childhood role, the little boy in Love Actually—did not, however, commiserate about their shared fate.
If you're in the mood for more Melling once you've binged The Queen's Gambit, he's all over Netflix. "It's been a weird year," he says, stating what we both know to be obvious. "To think that all of this work has come out during a pandemic where so many people have relied on streaming platforms to escape the reality of what we're all going through. Just as it happens, all of these [projects] have been Netflix is strange, really."
Click over to The Devil All the Time and you can watch him pour real spiders on his face as a doomed preacher. ("Honestly, it was one of the easiest bits of acting I've ever done. Because you've got spiders on your face. You don't really need to do much.") In The Old Guard he's a scheming Pharma executive who wants to find the secret to immortal life. It's one of the few roles he's done recently where you can see a hint of his past. "I could see how people would jump onto that," he says. "Well, of course Dudley Dursley turns into the CEO of a pharmaceutical company who wants to do horrible things to people."
This is all just the start of things for Melling, who will next be seen playing Malcolm opposite Denzel Washington's Macbeth in Joel Coen's adaptation of the Shakespearean classic. He's well on the path to losing the Potter asterisk next to his name, though he acknowledges the potency of that association. "It doesn't surprise me that people maybe still think of me as a 10-year-old boy shouting about how many presents he has," he says. "I understand I'm probably very much that for a lot of people."
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