If you ask the average American if they know the name Noma Dumezweni, the truth is, they may not. But ask any follower of live theater or, better yet, any fan of the Harry Potter wizarding world, and they are quick to answer, “Of course! She’s amazing!”
That is because Dumezweni is both an award-winning British television, film and stage actress, and is currently starring in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on Broadway as Hermione Granger, brilliant wizard, best friend of Harry Potter and wife of Ron Weasley. Dumezweni has garnered praise from critics, fans, and even J.K. Rowling herself for her portrayal, confounding those narrow-minded folks who were outraged at the casting of an Afro-Brit actress as Hermione. She earned a Tony Award nomination for her performance, about which Newsweek wrote, “The precision and nuance with which Dumezweni plays Hermione in Cursed Child speaks louder than any of her critics.”
Born in the nation of Swaziland, Dumezweni was a child when she came to England as a refugee with her mother. She eventually discovered acting and quickly started showing up regularly on British television, where she has appeared on shows such as Dr. Who and Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams. Filmwise, she has appeared in the critically praised Dirty Pretty Things, with Chiwetel Ejiofor, and will soon be seen in his feature film directorial debut, The Boy Who Could Harness the Wind.
But it is on stage that Dumezweni is most likely to turn up. Her credits include Macbeth, The Winter’s Tale and Romeo and Juliet with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore at Shakespeare’s Globe. Her portrayal of Ruth Younger in A Raisin in the Sun at the Young Vic earned her first Olivier in 2006. She earned her second Olivier in 2017 for originating the role of Hermione in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on London’s West End.
Dumezweni spoke to The Root recently, and though she was nursing a cold that took a toll on her voice and the phone connection was terrible, her delight at arriving at this moment in her life was crystal clear. (The following has been edited for clarity.)
The Root: It must be a very exciting time for you, with the success of the show and the Tony Award nomination. How are you feeling right now?
Noma Dumezweni: It’s been extraordinary. Finally, a life routine is now coming together. It’s been a lovely time including the Tony season. The way you guys do it over here with the Tonys is a slightly different experience to what we do in London with the Oliviers. With the Oliviers, you get a nomination and a few months later, you turn up for the do. Lovely. Here, you get a nomination, and the next day events happen, building up to the awards show. It can be quite intimidating to British actors who don’t know how it goes, but what is really quite beautiful is that you start to get to know people in other shows. The Broadway community is a really beautiful thing. I had a great time the night of the awards! Fan-girling and totally happy that I got to have that experience.
TR: Let’s talk about the show with the world-famous pedigree. Tell me a little bit about your relationship to Hermione and the Harry Potter franchise. Did you read the books before getting cast? Are you a “Potterhead”?
ND: I read the books, yet would never call myself a “Potterhead”—I’m in awe of them! I loved the experience of being immersed in a world I could absolutely see and feel. Hermione is a human doing the best she can whilst enjoying the full capacity of her talents alongside people she likes. And I get to do that personally, in this play.
TR: You and Emma Watson are the only people who’ve originated the role of Hermione outside of J.K.’s imagining in the book. In preparing for the show, did you think at all about Emma’s portrayals in the film or even Hermione in the books, or was your take totally different?
ND: It can only come from the books—that’s the research needed to create the character, that and also [playwright] Jack Thorne’s writing. Emma brought herself to Hermione as a girl and young woman, I get to play the mother and working woman. The story allows me to bring it back to myself, my version, in a totally different form of storytelling. So, creating her is about feeling honest when playing her, and as a mother, I do.
TR: How old is your daughter?
ND: She’s 11.
TR: Has she read the Harry Potter books or seen the films?
ND: She’s seen the films and listened to the audiobooks. She enjoys them!
TR: Obviously, she’s seen you portraying Hermione by now, I’m sure, so what did she think of your performance?
ND: The best review I got was from her! She made me float! But I’m keeping what she said to myself.
TR: You’ve done Shakespeare, Lorraine Hansberry and others, but doing this play certainly must be different because it comes with its own built-in worldwide fanbase. So, what has that been like, knowing some people just love you automatically because you’re Hermione?
ND: I am grateful for the kindness a lot of people have shown. My world expectations have been shifted by doing this amazing job! The horizons seem clear to make things happen. It’s been, and still is, an adventure. The production is a thing of beauty. The awards that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child received at the Tony Awards, in my opinion, were thoroughly deserved. Playing Hermione Jean Granger has shifted my life. I’m in “that play”... and I’m beyond grateful.
You can still catch Noma Dumezweni in the Broadway production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Lyric Theatre through May 12, 2019
DaVette See lives in Inglewood, Calif., and is a Browncoat-wearing, Vulcan-gang-sign-flashing, Gryffindor-house-dwelling girl geek with a degree in English Theatre and Law. She owns a production company, Running Lady Studios, writes about and reviews films and TV offerings. She’s wife to Rob, daughter to Martha, and mom to seven … kitties. Follow DaVette on Twitter/IG @mariavah