If You're Feeling Sinister

Elizabeth Thompson
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the epic two-part finale of J.K. Rowling's boy wizard saga, is considered to be the most frightening and violent installment of the series. And so, to prepare for his role in David Yates new adaptation as a Death Eater, the coven of evil wizards and witches behind Potter nemesis Voldemort, British actor and artist Benn Northover got a little dark.

"I actually studied Hitler youth and tried to channel that a bit," says Northover over the phone recently from London. "It may seem like a bizarre reference, but when you think about it, Voldemort is this crazed character leading an uprising to cleanse the world of Muggle-borns. He's a bit Hitler-esque in that sense. The Death Eaters kind reminded me of that in how unwavering they are in questioning what they're really following."

A juggernaut like The Deathly Hallows, which Northover describes as "the biggest machine I have ever encountered," is a considerable change for the Suffolk-raised actor, whose credits until now have mostly included small independent films as well as work with avant-garde filmmaking legend Jonas Mekas. The two met while Northover was an intern at East Village independent film sanctuary Anthology Film Archives, which Mekas co-founded, and the two have been close since.

"It's just a commonness of character --  we're both involved with film and art and creating because we genuinely love the involvement they require," Northover says of their friendship, which has led to collaborations like 2007's "365 Day Project," in which the two made films posted to Mekas's website every day for a year. Northover is also curating a show highlighting Mekas's career that opens at London's Serpentine Gallery in early 2011. "The other shows about Jonas' work up until now have always centered on what he did in the '60s," Northover says. "And, sure, you need to include the famous stuff, but Jonas has never stopped. He's still creative, he's still making work and is so active. He's basically 27 years old, as he says so himself all of the time."

In addition to his acting roles, Northover's other projects include Turiner Strasse, 3, a book of photography he shot while filming the forthcoming drama House of Boys. The film, co-starring  Stephen Fry and Udo Kier, features Northover as Jake, a young hustler in a 1980s Amsterdam gay club who contracts AIDS. The film was shot in an actual night club, and, during downtime, Northover began capturing with his camera the drag performers who worked there. "I had never worked in a club, and I kind of watched and observed with my camera to better understand the characters who were a part of that world," Northover says.  He also picked up some dance lessons along the way. "There were a nice couple of days where the club was closed and the drag artists gave me dance boot camp. I was standing on a stage for like five hours while they sat there off to the side, chain smoking and shouting, 'Faster! Faster, darling!' I had to learn how to dance like no one was watching, even though, in my character's case, everyone was."

House of Boys, which writer and director Jean-Claude Schlim based on the true story of a sex worker friend who died of AIDS, has had difficulty with UK and US releases due to its explicit content. "It's amazing that in 2010, distributors are still hesitant about taking on a film that is so honest about the AIDS virus," Northover says. "This film serves as a time capsule. This actually happened, and it's so disappointing to see it delayed over these disputes."

In the meantime, however,  Northover is busy working with Leaving Las Vegas director Mike Figgis on an adaptation of the opera Lucrezia Borgia for the English National Opera and worrying whether Deathly Hallows will be too much for his eight-year-old niece to handle. "You see the blood and gore and it's pretty frightening," Northover says. "But, then again, I think I'm in the mood to turn out a sinister character."

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is in theaters now.

Subscribe to Get More