LeakyCon Brings the Wizarding World to Dallas
LeakyCon is a well established con among Harry Potter fans, but this was only its second year in Dallas and Nerds and Beyond was there to bring you all the magical highlights from the panels! For those unfamiliar with the LeakyCon experience, it is a three day long convention, jam-packed with panels, discussions, meet-ups, and more. Fans dress in everything from jeans to full cosplay that span nearly every character (or creature) in the Wizarding World. Panels vary in topic and feature actors, authors, podcasters, professors, and more, discussing a variety of Harry Potter and other Harry Potter-adjacent topics, like the publishing world.
We grabbed a butterbeer and jumped right in on Friday with the live recording panel of the new(ish) podcast Potterless. The podcast (from Mike Schubert) focuses on his first ever read of the Harry Potter series. For this panel, Mike was joined by guest Tiana Benjamin (Angelina Johnson) to discuss the “textbook” Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Mike opened with a few questions for Tiana, who shared that before she was involved with the franchise she wasn’t a big reader, and hadn’t read the books. When she was called for her audition at age 19, she didn’t think she had a chance of landing the part due to her age. She also shared that she relates to Angelina’s bossiness, as she too is quite bossy. The panelists then turned their attentions to Fantastic Beasts. Adding an element of comedy to the panel, Mike assigned several of the creatures a ‘high school yearbook label’ such as “most likely to succeed.”
Con-goers laughed their way through the panel as Mike revealed them all. Here are just a few of numerous labels from the panel! Most Likely to Fail Biology Class: the Basilisk (because a chicken egg sat upon by a toad makes a basilisk?). “That is not how biology works!” exclaimed Mike. Most Likely to be the Star of Birdbox 2 went to the pogrebin, whose downright creepy M.O. includes following a human until they are overcome by despair and fall to their knees whereupon the pogrebin eats them. Tiana wholeheartedly agreed with Mike’s various assignments but commented that they don’t do the ‘high school labeling’ in England like we do in America.
Friday afternoon treated fans to a spotlight panel with James Payton who played Frank Longbottom in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Adolf Hitler in Captain America: The First Avenger as well as stand in work on the Fantastic Beasts films. James shed a light for fans on some of the behind the scenes aspects of creating these films and how he came to play Frank Longbottom.
James was working on another project when he got the call regarding the roll of Frank Longbottom, and he actually turned down the offer. What he didn’t know was that David Yates, the director, wanted to see him and only him for the role. “They phoned back the following day and were like ‘no I don’t think you understand. David wants to see you for this. Just you, so can you make that happen?’, and then it clicked,” recalled James. He agreed to do the screen test with Yates and Lisa Wood (Alice Longbottom), and soon after they shot the scene. He also shared that though there were no words, he thoroughly thought through how best to convey love for Neville. That is how he ended up putting his arm around ‘his wife,’ to show their solidarity and love. James added that he was sad the St. Mungo’s scene from the book wasn’t in the film, but felt that Matthew Lewis did a fantastic job conveying the same emotional weight in his speech.
He also discussed filming Captain America, explaining his approach to playing such a villainous role was outright mockery. “I made it more ridiculous and that made it a sort of caricature,” said James. The most awkward part for him was walking around in everyday life for a few weeks with a “Hitler mustache.” James added that he enjoys roles that include a little bit of both comedy and drama, because it’s representational of life’s complexities.
In addition to his solo panel, James shared a Saturday panel with choreographer Paul Harris who is responsible for the wand combat choreography in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Together they shared the details of working behind the scenes on the Potter films.
Paul kicked off the panel, explaining that he never expected to work on Potter, but David Yates asked him to work on the Ministry of Magic battle scenes. “He kept describing them as a dance, he wanted it to feel like a dance between the duelers,” said Paul. He worked with all the actors closely, helping them develop their fighting styles within the choreographed steps. “I wanted them to fight differently, I wanted them to fight like they move as their characters,” he elaborated.
While on stage, Paul gave an impromptu wand lesson to James and the audience. With everyone standing, he explained there must be emphasis in the wrist movement and the arms must move with purpose.
Paul also recalled David Yates saying kids all over the world would be doing these movements in ten years time. Paul felt no one, not even himself, had that kind of foresight when working on the choreography. “The magic is really you,” added James to the audience, “all the people here who keep it alive. I’m always staggered even after all these years that it still exists.”
The Hogwarts Students Spotlight panel kept the magic of Saturday going. Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Georgina Leonidas (Katie Bell), Afshan Azad (Padma Patil), Scarlett Byrne (Pansy Parkinson), and Tiana Benjamin (Angelina Johnson) were welcomed to the main stage where they reflected on their Harry Potter experiences as well as what they are doing now.
Kicking off the panel in true Harry Potter fashion, each actor named their official house. Tom claimed Slytherin immediately though he said the online test actually placed him in Gryffindor. Georgina hasn’t taken the test yet but suspects she would be a Gryffindor. Afshan was sorted into Gryffindor, Scarlett into Slytherin, and Tiana is also a Gryffindor.
Turning next to memories from their Harry Potter experiences, Tom reminisced about a few auditions (he did 12 in total) when he read first for Harry and then Ron, even dying his hair first brown and then red for each part. However, once it was colored blonde and he read for Malfoy they knew he had found his role.
Scarlett originally auditioned for Luna Lovegood before she was cast as Pansy, while Tiana read for only Angelina. Georgina first auditioned for Lavender Brown, but was later called back for Katie and landed the part. Afshan recalled that she knew she was going to be one of the Patil twins, and the decision came down to her height, “The reason I was Padma and not Parvati is because I was taller than Dan. They didn’t want Harry’s Yule Ball date to be tower over him,” laughed Afshan.
Scarlett also shared that she remembers the schooling on set felt as if they were really in school because so many of the actors were taking lessons together. However, Tiana was already 19 when she joined the films, and had a different experience. She joked that the younger actors would ask what she did the night before and she didn’t want to say that she had gone out because of their age difference. Georgina added that she loved seeing the behind the scenes aspects of making a film at such a young age.
The Hogwarts alumni then moved to their favorite Potter quotes, and they varied widely. Tom, of course, answered with “Scared, Potter?” from his own Draco Malfoy in Chamber of Secrets. Scarlett loved the Dumbledore quote, “It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends.” Georgina’s answer was simply, “Always,” which tugs at the heartstrings of many Potter fans. Tiana’s favorite was the Hermione line, “I hope to do some good in the world,” because of it’s hopeful message. Afshan’s gave the hilarious backstory to her favorite “what’s got your wand in a knot?” from Hermione. She, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson had to film the line many times because the boys kept laughing every time Emma repeated it. “We had to film it over and over and they just couldn’t keep a straight face,” Afshan recalled, “and neither could I.”
Delving into their lives after Potter, the group then briefly shared their current projects. Tom joked that his new one year old dog, Willow, is his latest endeavor but also added he recently released new music, which fans got a live listen to later in the day. Georgina has been focused on more acting projects as has Scarlett, though she wasn’t able to share any details about her current project. Tiana is also focused on her acting work and is currently auditioning for roles. Recently married, Afshan shared that is focused on her home life but is also working on her YouTube channel where she plans to cover “a little of everything.”
To wrap up the spotlight panel, each shared what moral lesson they hope fans take away from their characters. “Don’t be nasty,” laughed Scarlett, “She’s horrid, so don’t be horrid, be nice to people!” Georgina elbowed Tom as she answered, “If Draco Malfoy gives you a package do not open it.” Tom went deep with his answer, “Be nice to your kids because Draco had crap parents didn’t he? So just be good to your kids.” Afshan joked, “don’t have sisters” while Tiana said she hopes fans take away a message of “good always wins” from Angelina and the films in general.
Later that afternoon, con-goers were treated to a thirty-minute music session from Tom Felton where he played several original and cover songs. Many of his original tunes were those recently released on ReverbNation. Tom spoke briefly to the audience, sharing that this was his first LeakyCon and also the first time playing a set rather than just adding a song or two at the end of a panel.
At the end of the session he thanked everyone for coming out and said he hopes to be back for more LeakyCon’s in the future.
Sunday kicked off with Tom Felton’s spotlight panel which can only be described as magical. The actor dove right in, discussing lesser-known memories from his time on the Harry Potter sets and his life since the movies wrapped.
Tom recalled his early auditions, explaining that kids were brought in groups and lined up along one wall. Chris Columbus (director of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) went down the line, asking each child which part of the book they were most excited to see in the film. Tom said they got all the way to the boy next to him, when he realized he had no idea what was happening. He had never read the books, but the boy next to him mentioned he wanted to see Gringotts. Young Tom decided that was a great answer and so he said ‘yeah I just really love Gringotts. I can’t wait to see them all flying around.’ However, Tom said Chris gave him an odd look, no doubt realizing Tom was lying, and Tom joked that he was pegged for Draco from that moment.
Fan interactions have varied widely for Tom, and he shared that he never really felt like there was a solid ending to Potter due to the constant new content like theme parks, the Fantastic Beasts films, the play, and conventions. A few interactions have stood out though, “I’ll never forget. Someone came up to me, I was only about 11, and said ‘why are you such a dick to Harry?’” He remembers asking his mom what he’d done wrong, and she explained that it meant he was doing a good job. Tom did say that fan interactions improved as more of Draco’s backstory was revealed in the later films.
As a youngster, Tom didn’t know many of the big name actors that played the adults of the Harry Potter world, but he did know Alan Rickman who he recognized from Robin Hood. “It took me about six years to say anything more than ‘Hi Alan!’ to him,” joked Tom. He also recalled a scene in Half Blood Prince that called for him to walk close beside Alan who looked at him sternly and said ‘don’t step on my effing cloak.’ Immediately after that, Tom accidentally stepped on it, and because the robes were fastened around Alan’s neck, he was snapped backwards and slightly choked by it.
During the second film, the script called for Hermione to slap Draco. Wanting to impress, Tom asked Emma about rehearsing the scene. “She looked at me, said ‘alright’, and slapped me right on the face!” Tom shared to roars of laughter from the audience. Also from Chamber of Secrets, Tom shared that there was a particular line he remembers he just couldn’t say. “I knew the line, but for the life of me it wouldn’t come out of my mouth correctly. Eventually by the seventh take I just started crying.” Chris ran over telling him it was all right and not to worry, they already got it so they could move on. “It not in the film. They cut the whole thing,” laughed Tom, “I’d like to see one of those takes and see how badly I got it wrong.”
Among his favorite memories is the dueling scene in Chamber of Secrets. His twelve-year-old self loved using the wire harnesses to fly through the air. Tom’s other favorite comes from Half Blood Prince. While most wand battle explosion effects were added as special effects, the set for the bathroom duel between Harry and Draco was actually rigged to explode during the filming. “That one day they rigged everything up and we had great fun absolutely wrecking the set,” shared Tom.
Tom also discussed Tom Felton Meets the Superfans documentary, remembering that his first experience with cons was overwhelming, but he later felt cons were a great experience for fans celebrating what they love. The positivity, love, and energy is what inspired the documentary, and he enjoyed meeting fans as he traveled. “I think that the greatest thing that’s come from the franchise is the amount of people it got into reading,” said Tom, “J.K. Rowling single handedly got a whole generation into reading.”
During questions, one fan thanked Tom for being part of her childhood, but he was quick to point out the opposite is also true. “You all say I’m part of your childhoods, but you were all a part of mine as well. We are very grateful for that. We really thought we’d be making one [film] but because of all you lovely people we got to make eight, so thank you.”
He also delved into his musical side, sharing that The Beatles were his first big influence thanks to him mother. Tom’s panel concluded with him singing a few original tunes, an acoustic version of The Spice Girls’ “Say You’ll Be There”, and a short rendition of “Hedwig’s Theme” which he learned specifically for LeakyCon.
The entire weekend was filled with magical panels, but many of the best moments happened in the marketplace and hallways. Harry Potter fans turned out in full force to celebrate the Wizarding World and we saw some truly excellent cosplay. Some dressed in their house robes while others dawned full character costumes, which made it feel like we took a portkey straight to Diagon Alley!
Whether you are a veteran con-goer or contemplating your first trip, Harry Potter fans should add LeakyCon to their must-see list. The atmosphere is one of love and acceptance with veteran attendees welcoming newbies with open arms. Vendor areas provide anything and everything you might possibly want including a tattoo station! The love for the Wizarding World is alive and well at LeakyCon and everyone should get to experience that at least once.