Within minutes of meeting Noma Dumezweni she's outed me as a Potter-head and is grilling me on my experiences with the story. How did it make me feel? How old was I when the books were being published? What did I think about Hermione?
Noma first read the books in her 20s, intrigued by how many adults were reading children's book, 'As soon as I started I just thought, 'I get it'. We're all outsiders and that's what those books understand. However popular you are, you still feel like an outsider. Even if everyone else is looking at you thinking you're amazing, you're hurting underneath, and Jo just tapped into that. Ron feels odd and forgotten, Harry is on his own, and Hermione is just fucking bright, and no one gets it.'
'I am so passionate about representation, because growing up I didn't see myself and now people can say, 'I see myself, there.'
Hermione was a big part to play; one that comes with what Noma calls a 'collective history'. When she was announced as the part, she faced a torrent of abuse online; 'I was not naive about the reaction, being a black woman, but I don't think we realised how big it would be in people's consciousnesses, and shifting that away from people's image of Hermione as Emma Watson. So yeah, there was some dark stuff, but actually, I'm an actor and I'm playing Hermione Granger, and that is so cool.' She continues, 'I am so passionate about representation, because growing up I didn't see myself and now people can say, 'I see myself, there.' We're all trying to find where we are.'
Having seen the play the only *spoiler* I'm going to mention (and one that's been in all the reviews) is that adult Hermione is the Minister for Magic (for those that haven't read the books that's a HUGE deal). At the performance I was at a delighted gasp rippled through the theatre when it was revealed. 'At the very first preview, to hear the gasps, that's when I realised it was brilliant. I just thought, 'Got it, this is powerful' and I realised how much people need it. And I mean, of course Hermione is Minister for Magic with her history.'
'Emma is everything you want her to be. She's so open, and has the most generous spirit, she does everything with such grace.'
Hermione's history will be forever tied up with Emma Watson, who came to see a preview and met with Noma afterwards. 'Emma is everything you want her to be', she tells me with a huge smile. 'I'm old enough to be her mother and we're just different creatures; different actors, different people. And then I went into the room and this girl stands up and just bursts into tears, and then I burst into tears and it was just absolutely gorgeous. She's so open, and has the most generous spirit, she does everything with such grace.'
The feeling is clearly mutual as Emma posted a rapturous review of the play on her Facebook page, commenting that she felt like she had met her grown up self and that everything would be okay. Noma felt similarly; 'The play tells us that we can do it, that you as an individual have so much more worth than you realise. Emma embraces the privilege of what she can achieve in the world and she does it with such grace. And now I'm part of this debate and conversation, and my life will now be about what I do about it, how do I live my life in it.'
''The play tells us that we can do it, that you as an individual have so much more worth than you realise.'
The conversation moves to JK Rowling, who has been an inspiration to Noma long before she was cast as Hermione: 'Jo doesn't know this, but I watched her on Oprah years ago and it was beautiful seeing these two billionairesses looking fabulous in their high heels talking about knowing their history' She says. 'And it was so inspiring and it was something that kept me going when I wasn't working or acting, and was dealing with being a single mum and just thinking what the hell am I, and what's it all about? And then years later I was asked to do these workshops and Jo was there, and we had a lovely chat about the possibility of what Hermione could be. Jo created these stories out of a moment of grief, and sadness and pain and they reverberated around the world; and god, I know this sounds a bit weird but she's in the same place as people like Mandela or Oprah in that she does life, she lives her life and out of that comes the most beautiful, inspiring things.'
'Jo doesn't know this, but I watched her on Oprah years ago and it was beautiful seeing these two billionairesses looking fabulous in their high heels talking about knowing their history'
Noma was born in South Africa. Her parents were heavily involved in the fight against apartheid, and she only recently learned that her mother was arrested and beaten while the police were trying to find her father. When she was eight, her mother brought her and her sister to the UK because life there was so dangerous. She didn't see her father for thirty years, until she was cast in a play about apartheid, and her return to South Africa and reunion with her father has all been captured on film for an upcoming documentary made by Noma's good friend Sarah Townsend.
As tough as it was, ultimately, the visit was a healing one: 'It's three years ago it all happened now, and it was a huge change emotionally. Seeing my parents talk about it all without arguing, just trying to figure it all out, in that moment I thought, 'I'm alright, it's okay, there is a place for me in the world but I have to carve it out'. Whoever we are, we have to carve something out of our lives. I would like to be on my deathbed going, 'I've enjoyed that, I went through the rollercoaster of it, but I've appreciated it'.
I wonder if she has even begun to think about life after Harry Potter? 'If I think even a week ahead I get terrified' she laughs. 'My big thing is trying to enjoy the moment as much as I can. This week is good. Being here with you now, this is where I am.'