“Excuse me Miss Rowling. May I please have your signature?” I asked timidly, in what I now believe was a terrible British accent.
The scene is reminiscent of the moment Oliver Twist says “Please sir, I want some more” in the Charles Dickens classic, except instead of an empty bowl, I had the first edition of Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them in my hands.
Only a rectangular table separated me from my literary idol J.K. Rowling, and I was so nervous that I could barely look at the woman I admire so.
I held out the book and a pen with my trembling hands. As we finally made eye contact, I almost died.
Ahh, let me start at the beginning.
It was Nov 10, 2016 (the date is important – I’ll explain later), and I was in New York for the Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them movie junket starring Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Colin Farrell … oh, who cares about them! Rowling was there and it was all that mattered to me.
She made her screenwriting debut with the movie and joined the cast and director David Heyman for the international press conference, as well as the United States movie premiere.
The press conference was scheduled at Waterfront, and the event space was fully transformed to look like the Fantastic movie set. It looked absolutely magical and more photos than necessary were snapped that day.
Unlike the other international press conferences that I had been to – where close to a hundred journalists from around the world usually fought for the best seats in the house – this was more personal and inviting.
Not more than 30 people were in the room, but still I did not take any chances. I mustered my kiasu-ness and plonked myself in the front row where I could view Rowling without any obstruction.
When the emcee announced her name and invited her to take her seat at the panel, my heart stopped.
I could not believe that it was happening. The moment I would see in flesh the writer who kept me up reading so many nights, the writer who broke the boundaries I set for my imagination, and the writer who I aspire to be like one day.
Rowling was right in front of me, and suddenly I loved my job more than anything else.
Rowling was perfect, and more than I imagined. Funny, articulate and extremely inspiring, Rowling spoke of her fondness for Newt Scamander, the character she created in the Potterverse. Newt is the author of the Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them textbook used by first year students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
I was slightly jealous, on behalf of Harry, that Rowling had another favourite other than him. If I had known this earlier, I would have asked Daniel Radcliffe, the actor who played Harry Potter in the movie franchise, what the Boy Who Lived had to say about this.
You see, six years prior to meeting Rowling, I met the cast of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part I in London. The date was Nov 10, 2010. We were at the upscale Claridge’s hotel in Mayfair, and I remember that I felt miserable from the cold weather. I also remember forgoing the English way and had coffee instead of tea. I had to stay awake after an 18-hour flight and I figured that coffee would fuel my zombified brain long enough to get through the interviews.
The stars came into the room separately. For the first interview, it was Radcliffe, who was surprisingly tiny and looked a lot like the Lord Of The Rings actor Elijah Wood. Radcliffe was jovial and answered the questions enthusiastically, and I couldn’t help but think the entire time that I was in the same room as Harry “frigging” Potter. Yes, I know that he really isn’t Harry, but you know what I mean.
Next up was Rupert Grint, who played Harry’s best friend Ron Weasley. Grint was tall, gangly and in bad need of a shave and three full nights’ sleep. He looked unkempt, no thanks to his floppy hair, but all that is superficial. Like Radcliffe, he too was a dear to every journalist in the room, answering questions earnestly, producing more than a few laughs.
Lastly, we got to interview Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), who was sporting a pixie cut which caused an uproar among her fans back then. Watson told us that it was her way to signify the end of playing a bushy-haired witch for most of her life. Unlike Radcliffe and Grint, Watson was careful with her answers, choosing the right words and she thought before she spoke. She was intelligent and spoke enthusiastically about continuing her tertiary education after completing the franchise.
The trio was just like what Rowling described in the books, so much so that I couldn’t tell if I was speaking to the actors or the characters.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think that in this lifetime, I would get to meet Rowling who wrote the Harry Potter books, as well as Radcliffe, Grint and Watson who brought the lovable characters to life.
But I did, and that was exactly what I was thinking when I was standing in front of Rowling, with my arms stretched out holding the Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them and pen, asking if she would give me her autograph.
Rowling looked at me straight in the eyes and said, “Of course, my dear.”
From The Vault is a fortnightly series that takes readers behind the scenes of memorable interviews and assignments our journalists have experienced.