Twins James and Oliver Phelps tend to come as a package. They starred together as Fred and George Weasley for the entirety of the Harry Potter franchise; they run a podcast together (called Normal Not Normal) and they appear as a pair on almost every red carpet they attend.
So with their latest project, branching out into making travel documentaries, it should be no surprise that they’re doing that together, too – along with the help of a few of their friends.
Their new travel show, Fantastic Friends, will see the pair team up with fellow Harry Potter alumni Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley), Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood) and Luke Youngblood (Lee Jordan) among others to explore different exotic locations, including St Lucia, Dubai and Ireland.
Fortunately, they have a wide pantheon of travel documentaries to take inspiration from – including Michael Palin, who Oliver describes as “the GOAT [Greatest of All Time] of travel”, and who he performed alongside at the Hay Literary Festival some years ago and who invited him to dinner.
“I always remember him talking about the process of making travel shows, and just being able to adapt and go with it, which we were able to do,” he says. “It’s keeping things fluid and just keeping it natural to a point, because the last thing we wanted to do was make a show which is so choreographed and so staged that it loses that natural feel.”
He adds, “By doing so you’ve got to be open to making yourself look silly, if it benefits the show. Doing stuff totally out of your comfort zone.”
In this series (the second has already been greenlit), that includes exploring glaciers, climbing cliffs and even helping the German Olympic team perfect their bobsleigh routine in a last-minute change to their plans.
So what sparked their love of travel – which is enough of a passion that Oliver once ran a travel blog on the pair’s website? “When we were filming Potter, from the fifth film onwards, James and I were really up for going on the promotional tours… mainly, because, we’re in our early 20s, and someone else is picking up the bar bill.
“We went to Istanbul in 2007, which was amazing. Before that, it was never really on my radar of places to go to. But it just totally opened my eyes.”
The conversation often comes back to Harry Potter, and it’s impossible to deny the massive impact that the franchise has had on the pair’s lives – and continues to have.
Magic even features in their new show, in the form of magical challenges and contests that the pair have to undergo, acting as a lure for Potter fans to tune in.
With such well-known co-stars, did they attract undue attention during the filming process? “So when we were with Bonnie Wright in Iceland, we were on a whale watching boat. Half the people on the boat were actually real life holidaymakers, seeing whales. But then you ended up noticing that they were more looking at us in the boat, as opposed to the whales, thinking: ‘Why are the Weasleys watching whales?’”
Though the final installment of the Potter film franchise was released more than a decade years ago, the pair clearly remain close to fellow members of the cast.
Perhaps it’s no surprise: they, like Wright, Lynch and Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams, who also features in the show, all grew up on-set.
Despite only meeting a few years ago, both twins cite Williams as a stand-out guest, especially for her level of understanding of what it is like being a child actor.
“The conversations we’ve had about growing up on the film set,” Oliver says. “Or even just simple stuff like being in control of your haircut. Which we weren’t, growing up.” When prodded, he admits that the pair went through some dubious hairstyles in the years after the franchise ended, as they made the most of their newfound freedom.
James adds, “When Potter came to an end - the last one was 2011 - we knew it was going to end. It wasn’t like a series, which just gets cancelled. So we were able to prepare for that.
“But the thing that I was surprised about when we finished Potter was that I prepared myself so much for that to end, but I hadn’t prepared myself to check out at the hotel I’d been living in for 11 years.”
Despite the outsize impact that the franchise has had on their lives, they wear their fame lightly, and unlike their more famous counterparts, seem untroubled by the media attention, going so far on one occasion as to swap Potter stories and share a beer with a fan they met in St Lucia.
“I’m more than happy to chat with anybody about anything. I’m that annoying guy on the list,” James says. “We’ve found that - especially playing the good guys, and the comedy relief, as it were, for the films - that ice has already been broken. Whereas other guys, if their character is maybe slightly guarded, or whatever, people may automatically feel like that’s what they’re like to start with.”
Though the pair have dabbled in acting in recent years, making cameo appearances in the Edgar Wright horror film Last Night In Soho (“I didn’t actually know what the film was about until I saw it,” James says. “We were only given the script for our scene, so originally, we thought it was a comedy”) its clear that this project represents a welcome new chapter in their professional lives.
“It has been great to be able to just do something totally separate from [Harry Potter],” Oliver says. “But we’ve kind of ended up at the understanding that Potter will never leave us. We’re always involved in some way, which is not a bad thing to be remembered for: being in the biggest film franchise in history.
“It has been liberating, I’m not going to lie, being able to do our podcast, and the show. It’s just been something really nice, something totally separate.”
Fantastic Friends is now streaming on HBO Max