Servant’s Rupert Grint and Nell Tiger Free on Harry Potter, jump scares and joining Instagram
The British pair reunite for a second season of M. Night Shyamalan’s Apple TV+ chiller series. The scariest part? They can hardly make it through scenes without collapsing in laughter.
It’s hard to picture Rupert Grint as anything other than Ron Weasley, so imagine how it is for him: a 32-year-old dad, forever associated with an adolescent and teenage character who helped shape the formative years of an entire generation of Harry Potter stans.
“I mean, a lot of people talk about us coming back, [so] I have this fear that they’re gonna remake [the Harry Potter movies] at any minute,” he says. “I feel an ownership to that character, because we kind of became the same person throughout the time [I played him].”
But a decade on from the release of the final film, The Deathly Hallows Part Two, Grint is working hard to tweak that perception of himself as a goofy dimwit with something drastically different: playing sullen wine-fiend Julian on Servant, the psychological horror series from director-auteur M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Split).
The Apple TV+ series, which starts its second season this month, follows a bourgeois Philadelphia couple (played by Lauren Ambrose and Toby Kebbell) mourning the loss of their infant baby. To ostensibly help with their grieving process they’re given a creepy rubberised doll as a therapy object.
A horror peppered with absurdity, it marks a completely new genre for both Grint and fellow Brit Nell Tiger Free. She’s the 21-year-old Game of Thrones veteran (Myrcella Baratheon in seasons five and six) who plays Leanne, the Victoriana-hued spooky nanny at the centre of the show.
Leanne’s primary rival? Julian – as the dead infant’s uncle, he’s determined to reveal her true motivations. The duo’s own bond offset, however, is a far cry from their strained onscreen relationship.
“Neither one of us are particularly serious people and we’re playing this very serious relationship of Leanne and Julian,” says Tiger Free. “It’s probably the most intense relationship on the show and we find it hilarious.”
They clearly do, as is apparent in a joint interview with this Brits-playing-Americans comedy double-act…
How have you been keeping from going crazy during lockdown?
Rupert Grint: It’s a struggle, but luckily I had a baby.
Nell Tiger Free: Luckily, Rupert’s had a baby! (laughs)
Grint: It’s a great thing to have in quarantine. It’s really kept us busy. It’s hard because obviously in that time you want a lot of support and family and everything, but it’s actually been really nice to just be locked in the house and get to know each other. It’s weird also shooting a show like this when you’ve just had a kid. It’s probably the worst kind of story to be in. But it’s been interesting having a new perspective on the tragedy that’s at the centre of the show and learning what this new love is.
Tiger Free: Well, I have not had a baby, so I’ve just been locked away with my mum and my sister, and my dad’s been floating in and out. So it’s been really nice to be with my family.
Thriller as a genre is new for both of you. How did you end up working on Servant?
Grint: It’s a very new experience. I’ve done quite a bit of TV prior to this. I mean, there are similarities with something like Harry Potter, where I had the chance to develop a character over a long period of time. Although they’re very different worlds, I can see a few similarities there, which is helpful. It’s my comfort zone. And I love this format of having half-hour episodes that are quick and a lot happens. I loved the script [and] the dark humor that runs across the series.
We always try and look for humour in this tragic situation. That was something I’ve always been drawn to. Also, M. Night is a genius with this genre. It’s really thrilling to be a part of a show that was in one place, where you never really experience a world outside. It’s its own parallel world. It’s a really interesting space to play a scene.
Was it intimidating working with Shyamalan?
Tiger Free: Definitely, for sure. I was 19 when we first started shooting Servant. So I was scared, but I didn’t really know what to expect because I’ve had experiences with theatre directors who’ve not been so great. We were really lucky that Night is the crème de la crème of talent and kindness. He’s always making us laugh and coming up behind us and jump-scaring us. He’s just a great guy.
What about working with Rupert?
Tiger Free: Terrible! It’s a nightmare. He is such a diva!
Grint: Yeah, true.
Tiger Free: No, Rupert is the most relaxed, easygoing person to be around. Rupert would sit there quietly. I like to talk. He’s a great listener. So it would be four in the morning and it would be me and Rupert filming for the day. I’ll come bounding in, like: “Oh, this is what happened last night, rah rah rah.” He’ll just sit and happily listen to me, even though I know he’s probably thinking about a car or something.
Grint: A car? Really?
Tiger Free: OK, Rupert’s super-talented and it’s so much fun. I feel very privileged to be able to watch him play a character that is so far away from Ron Weasley. So it’s cool to be up close to seeing him do something so adult, and absolutely killing it while he’s doing it.
Anyway, Rupert, those were all your compliments for the year! You don’t get anymore.
You’re quite intimidating in the show, Nell…
Tiger Free: Me?
Grint: Yes, honestly.
Tiger Free: It’s creepy, you’re right. Yeah, I wish I had some of the force that Leanne holds. But sadly, I do not.
What’s the one thing that’s stayed with you from filming the show?
Grint: There’s a lot. It’s a very heavy subject. It’s very important for us since it’s a small cast that we all get on really well. We don’t take it so seriously on set. Me and Nell, particularly. We find it very difficult to maintain eye contact without laughing.
You do know you’re supposed to hate each other on the show, right?
Grint: I know! It’s very hard! I think that tension is what makes us lose it.
Tiger Free: Neither one of us are particularly serious people and we’re playing this very serious relationship that Leanne and Julian have – probably the most intense relationship I’d say Leanne has is with Julian. And we just seem to find it hilarious.
Is that the most challenging part?
Grint: Definitely! The proximity as well. Like, all our scenes seem to be right in each other’s faces. That makes it 10 times worse. Keeping it together is hard because something I’ve always suffered with is corpsing. Once something gets in your head, it’s almost impossible to shake it. It’s almost a mania. You lose control like Tourette’s. You can’t really control it. It becomes very frustrating for everyone around us.
Tiger Free: Also, Rupert’s laugh is infectious. If you hear Rupert giggle, on the side of the set, everybody [on set] goes: “Wow, OK.”
Grint: I try and suppress it.
Is it true, Rupert, that you haven’t watched any of the Harry Potter movies?
Grint: No, I haven’t. Well, I saw the first Harry Potter film fairly recently. I saw it last year probably the second time in its entirety. I haven’t actually seen any of the others fully at all. Then I’ve seen the first two episodes of the first season of Servant. I can’t really go back. I love being in the moment and doing it and making it, that’s what I enjoy. To watch it is a different experience. I can’t really enjoy it the same way. I find it too distracting.
Have your friends and family watched it?
Tiger Free: My family has certainly watched it. I’ve got a couple of friends who have seen it. My friends are terrible. They just don’t care! I mean, all my friends are uni students, so they refuse to pay for a subscription for anything. They’re like: “I’ll watch it. Can you illegally download it for me?” I’m like: “Absolutely not! It’s the platform that I’m on! Just pay like everybody else to watch it.”
But friends that have seen it do really like it and they’ll always be honest with me.
Are they scared of you now that they’ve seen you as Leanne?
Tiger Free: They were scared of me anyway! My dad calls me Noodles – a lot of people call me Noodles – and he called me up and was like: “Noodles! That was so freaky.” I was like: “Umm, thanks, Dad?”
Grint: My friends and family have watched it. A common question among them is: “What the hell is happening?” But in the first season, there was a lot of mystery. It played heavily on creating all these questions. You’re always forced while watching it to ask: “Who’s good. Who can you trust?” The second season has a very different tone. If the first season was this slow-burn mystery, this is more of a thriller. You get a lot more information. It feels like a very different show.
Do you have any favourite thriller films, perhaps something you wish you’d worked on?
Grint: I love the genre, and Night’s the best at this. I love A Clockwork Orange – this creepy, surreal story. So anything that transports you into an uncomfortable world is something I always love.
Tiger Free: Oh, I have one! I’d love to be in a vampire movie. I don’t know if that counts, but I would have loved to have done that or still do that. And I could play a vampire, since I’ve already played a creepy nanny.
A sparkling vampire or a terrifying one?
Tiger Free: What do you think? Of course a sparkling one! I just want it to be in Twilight, OK? I just want a wolfman vampire to fly over me.
Have you read the Harry Potter books?
Tiger Free: I’ve not read the books. I have seen the movies. I grew up with [the series]. I loved it as a kid and I still love it now. It’s brilliant. You should watch it, Rupert, really!
Grint: Yeah, maybe!
Rupert, are you still in touch with any of the cast?
Rupert: Just Dobby, we’re really tight. No, it was such a strange and all-consuming time. We were in such a bubble. I’ve seen everyone outside since we finished filming a few times. I’m still close with Tom [Felton] and the twins – James and Oliver [Phelps]. Dan [Radcliffe] I just see wherever I’m around. But it’s hard to hang out with them, really. It’s not an easy friendship to maintain.
Everyone’s kind of gone in a different way and we’re all geographically quite far apart. We always had such a close bond because it was such an intense time. Only we really know what that felt like. I’m very fond of them all, but we don’t see each other. We’re not best mates.
What sort of roles are both of you looking for after Servant?
Tiger Free: A vampire! No, I don’t know, I’d like to play something totally different from Leanne. I’m quite lucky that all of the characters and roles that I’ve played have all been quite separate from each other. I would like to keep that streak going and I’d like to make a movie. I’ve never done a romcom or a romance movie. I would love to do that!
Grint: I could see that, actually. But for me, I don’t know. There’s nothing specific that I can think of. I love doing the show. To play a character that has a lot of troubles is fun. I’m enjoying being in a world that’s completely different to anything else I’ve been in. I like the darker side of humanity. That’s something that I’m really enjoying.
Tiger Free: Did you just say that you enjoy the darker side of humanity?
Grint: I do. I’m quite a dark person.
Tiger Free: No, you’re not. You’re a bubblegum.
Grint: No, but inside!
Rupert, in November you posted on Instagram for the first time [with a picture of baby Wednesday] and broke David Attenborough’s record for reaching a million followers in the fastest ever time: four hours and one minute. Why did “Grint on the Gram” join after all this time?
Grint: That’s a good question. It was something I’d never thought I would ever be a part of. I’m quite a private person. So on paper, it’s not a great fit. I’ve never really had anything morally against social media. I just didn’t think it was right for me. But I thought, this year has been kind of insane and things are changing. So might as well try it out!
Tiger Free: We’ll have you on TikTok next. You’ll be doing the Renegade.
How about a TikTok together?
Grint: Haven’t we done that?
Tiger Free: No, we haven’t done that. I wanted to do the one of all of us where we guess the sound of our walks.
Rupert: Oh yeah!
Tiger Free: But it didn’t work.
Grint: Yeah, Nell swore that she could tell who the person was just by listening to how they walked.
Tiger Free: Because we walked down the same corridor every time! I can always tell who’s walking behind me by the sound of their footsteps. So I was like: “Let’s put this to the test. You guys will walk behind me and I’ll be able to tell who it is.” But it wasn’t a fair test. There are a lot of control variables I wasn’t happy with, but we’re going to do it again! Season three, I’m going to get it right.
Servant premieres 15th January on Apple TV+.