“I’m going to tear down a wall — a brick wall,” James Snyder tells me on the phone one morning before his show. Snyder is driving around, looking for better cell reception, as he takes me on a metaphorical journey. The brick wall, he explains, is just one item on a long list of household chores he is trying to complete before his wife and children return from their spring break vacation in Los Angeles.
Tearing down walls by day, starring on Broadway as Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by night — just your average Friday for Snyder. The actor, previously seen on Broadway in If/Then, In Transit, and Cry-Baby, took some time out of his busy (and physically taxing) morning to talk about why he decided to become an actor, his love for Hugh Jackman, and how he has truly embraced the magic of Harry Potter … in more ways than you’d think.
1. What inspired you to become an actor?
I got the chance actually to say this to Aaron Sorkin himself when I was auditioning for The Newsroom. Well, first off, it’s a lot of fun to be an actor. And I had so much fun in high school doing the musicals and it was something I was good at. And then I remember sitting on the edge of my parents’ bed [and watching] Sports Night, which is this Aaron Sorkin TV show from a little bit ago. And I remembered that the end of one of those episodes was just this beautiful twist where humanity was just so present and everything turned out good and people were better than they were because of what they had gone through. And I looked at my parents and I said, “I want to do that. I want to tell stories like that.” And I specifically remember sitting on the edge of my parents’ bed. And I was lucky enough to get to tell Aaron Sorkin that. Which was pretty awesome.
2. Who in your field inspires you?
I mean, everybody in my field. I’ve always looked up to Hugh Jackman, just because he’s a guy who can do it all, and he does do it all and loves what he does. Early on in my career I worked with Lauren Shuler Donner, who also produced the X-Men movie, and I was like, “What is Hugh Jackman like?” And she said he’s as kind as he is talented, and that really stuck with me. It’s something that I’ve always aspired to live by, in my work and my time on this planet.
3. What do audiences love about Harry Potter?
Harry Potter is such a familiar story. The Cursed Child starts where the books left off. So really, we get to treat it almost like the eighth book. I think for people who know the characters and love the characters, it’s a perfect glimpse — not even glimpse — it’s a perfect continuation of the story where we get to see the characters we love, grown-up, and their kids. And then also it’s almost more about the other characters from the books that sort of make their return in the show. This show is like the perfect dessert to that journey that we went through. It’s so satisfying because we get to revisit the characters we love and, even more than that, the characters that we hate from the books. And so I think it’s this sort of perfect balance of stuff that’s new and yet the stuff that’s so familiar and loved. And for the people who have never read the books, who basically are like “Yeah, I guess Harry Potter’s the kid,” it’s a really touching story about families just trying to understand, parents trying to understand their kids, and these kids trying to make their own way in the world. And so it’s a beautiful family story, and then it’s also just a great continuation of the novel.
I know one of the biggest things with Harry Potter is the Keep the Secret campaign. Now that the show is a year into its run, are you still finding that audiences are surprised by the magic they see on stage?
Oh, yeah. One of the most rewarding parts is when we do certain tricks, hearing people applaud. Especially with how hard we’ve worked on these magic tricks. But also gasps when characters show up that they recognize. And, well, certainly there’s a huge cliffhanger at the end of Part One and the screams that we can hear all the way down in the dressing room … It’s the greatest feeling. It makes me so thrilled to be a part of it.
4. If you didn’t need to sleep at night, what would you spend your time doing?
I would certainly spend a lot more time playing music. I would love to bone up on my piano and guitar playing. And actually, I just bought my first book on magic yesterday from Tannen’s Magic Store on 34th Street. It’s the oldest magic shop in New York City.
I know! I saw it and I was like, you know what, I’m gonna learn some magic tricks. And so I went over. I bought this basic book on magic and it’s got, like, 100 magic tricks in it that are all fairly simple but fun. So funnily enough, I really embraced the magic portion of Harry Potter.
5. What’s one thing that anyone visiting New York City must do other than, of course, seeing a Broadway show?
When people come and visit, I have my “trip.” You know, at the end of the day, though, Central Park is just such a wonderful experience. I would say, maybe No. 1 — ugh, it’s so tough. For me it’s like walking through Central Park, seeing the lake, cruising over to the Met, getting over to the Guggenheim.
Well now I want to hear your plan! What’s your go-to trip?
We do Chelsea Market, walk the High Line, then work our way up to Central Park. And then, you know, hit up the Met or the Boathouse in Central Park. But I would say … if I had to pick one of those, just walking through Central Park and looking and seeing the city and enjoying nature in the midst of the chaos, because it gets really chaotic in the city. To be able to step out of that and yet be in the middle of that is … there is a strange sort of dichotomy to it, in a weird way. To be in the middle of nature in the middle of the greatest city in the world, to quote Lin-Manuel Miranda, or a lot of people I would say, is just a treat. And now that spring is happening, like, just get there, take your shoes off and walk through the Sheep Meadow. Or go see Strawberry Field. There’s just an endless amount of fun, little places to go to and be a part of something that New Yorkers really, I think, appreciate. That, Central Park, is the heart of New York City.
You can see James Snyder star as Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Lyric Theatre on Broadway. Off stage, you can find him on social media at @thejamessnyder.