Czech Harry Potter happy to leave Hogwarts behind

Vojta Kotek

Mr. Vojtěch Kotek can be proud to say that he is a perfectly normal, young Czech actor, thank you very much. But on one particular day, almost every year for the last ten of his twenty-three years, he becomes an eminently well-known boy wizard by the name of Harry Potter (read: ‘Hari Potr’). Since the age of 12, Vojta has lent his voice to the ever-maturing wunderkind in the dubbed version of each of the eight Harry Potter films. And now – his voice an octave under Daniel Radcliffe’s – as the most famous fantasy series comes to an end, so ends Vojta Kotek’s career…

Vojta Kotek
Just kidding. As an actor rather than dubber he has actually become one of the best-known faces of his generation, having starred in about a dozen films, and when he completes his degree in film direction he plans to take to the other side of the camera. For this edition of Arts, he told me, among other things, how he came to be involved in theatre and film in the first place.

“It was because I was growing up around people in theatre, but I think it was destiny and luck.”

You couldn’t see yourself doing anything else?

“No, I can’t.”

You started doing Harry Potter when you were twelve years old, so you’ve basically grown up with it, you’ve spend almost half your life dubbing Harry Potter…

“Yeah, it’s on record, all the changes of my voice…”

… What are your feelings now that it’s over?

“Well, Harry Potter and I don’t have a very close relationship. I was pretty young, 12 years old, and it was kind of shameful for children of that age to like Harry Potter…”

It wasn’t such a phenomenon here at that point?

“It was, but we Czech people have kind of a specific way of thinking that everything that is really famous and phenomenal, we don’t like in the end. So, I started not to like Harry Potter. For me it was just one day in the studio each year, and it was just work. I really do not like the books or the movies either…”

Really? You don’t like the books or the movies? What do you not like about them?

“I think it’s always the same: Harry Potter comes to Hogwarts or somewhere and saves everybody, but by doing nothing, basically. He also doesn’t talk in the movies! He’s just breathing and screaming spells and such things. All the nice dialogue and lines are Dumbledore’s and Snape’s!”

It’s interesting that you mention that, because I was looking for a longer clip of your dialogue from the first movie, when you were 12, and it’s very difficult to find actually. Everyone else is speaking, instructing Harry and telling him what’s going on and what to watch out for, and Harry himself says very little.

“Yeah, he only says ‘I don’t understand’, and ‘What will we do?’ and such things. Maybe at the end of each movie there are four lines or so, but not much.”

Well do you want to hear the piece that I did come up with?

“Yeah… [clip from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone]. Oh Jesus!”

Is it hard for you to listen to now?

“Yeah it’s very difficult to hear. That was from the first episode I think? But it’ strange to think that one time they will rerun Harry Potter when I have children or grandchildren, and I can show them how I talked when I was a kid. But it’s strange to hear it.”

You dubbed your first film when you were eight, and you acted in your first film when you were twelve… What was that experience like from your point of view?

“It’s much easier for a child to start at that age than as an adult, because you don’t have boundaries, you’re not embarrassed, so you can act much more easily than when you’re grown up.”

'Harry Potter and the deathly hallows 2',  photo: Warner Bros
Do they have to kind of bully you to a certain extent to get what they want, or does it just have to come naturally?

“If you are a very small kid, then yeah, they have to bully you a bit; they have to make you think that everything is some kind of game and that you’re playing something. So that’s difficult. But if the kid is 10 years old or so then you can tell him exactly what you’re doing and some children will understand it and can act.”

What is life like for Czech child actors as opposed to what you know from Hollywood, is it a normal life?

“Yeah, well I was trying to live a normal life. There was just the one difference that I had all of these projects so I didn’t have a lot of time to be in school, so I had a lot of individual plans of study. But it was the same as it would be for any other working kid in another profession.”

The Czech translation of Harry Potter is often praised for the translation of the names, can you guide our non-Czech speaking listeners through some of them?

“Well Dumbledore is ‘Brumbál’, which gives the image of a mixture of potatoes, drinking and dance. And another funny name is Hogwarts - Bradavice, warts, that’s the same… But as I’m not a fan I haven’t really seen the movies; only in the studio when I was working on them, so I don’t really know all the names.”

So what kind of cinema do you like?

“A lot of different things, but what I like most is directors like Woody Allen… movies like this. For me they are more interesting than big movies like Harry Potter or something like that.”

Well you’re studying direction at FAMU, so what kinds of films do you plan to make?

“Right now I’m writing a script – with friends who are helping me with it. We are a group of people who do things like fictional, parody and sketches, so it’s very close to – I dunno – Monty Python or something like that. We don’t want to do a drama when we’re young, or something about hard life when we are still too young to know it.”

When can we expect to see the first fruits of your labour as a director?

“I hope by the time I’m 30… I don’t have to rush.”

- Vojta Kotek is currently playing in The Taming of the Shrew in the National Theatre. His next screen performance will be in Perfect Days by director Alice Nellis, which is set for release in November.