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Nice guy Felton bids farewell to bad boy Draco

The bad boy of Hogwarts clearly is good at his job.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The bad boy of Hogwarts clearly is good at his job.

In person, Tom Felton is as amiable as they come, yet he spent his youth believably playing a creep and bully as Draco Malfoy in the "Harry Potter" films.

Just weeks after the franchise finale, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," Felton will be back as another meanie, playing a cruel primate tender in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes."

As Harry's spiteful, scheming classmate at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Felton grew up as the kid "Potter" fans love to hate. Now that his run as Draco is nearly over, Felton, 23, wants people to know he's really a nice guy.

"I get a lot of journalists saying how similar are you to your character or how alike are you? God, I hope I'm not anything even remotely close other than in the way we look," Felton said in an interview in London last fall. "I think we're polar opposites. I like to think of myself as a fairly un-Draco-esque character."

Felton, who has been acting professionally since age 9, started off with different aspirations in the "Harry Potter" world. More than a decade ago, he auditioned for the title role of author J.K. Rowling's fantasy series, a part that went to Daniel Radcliffe.

Chris Columbus, who directed the first two "Potter" movies, had Felton's hair dyed dark brown for his Harry audition. After Radcliffe won the role, Felton said his hair was dyed ginger for an audition to play Harry's school chum, Ron Weasley, a part that went to Rupert Grint. Felton jokes that he even tried out as Harry's brainy friend Hermione Granger, played by Emma Watson.

"Finally, Chris Columbus said, 'Dye his hair blond and slick it back,' and that was the birth of Draco," Felton said. "I'm not quite sure how I felt about that one. Obviously, he saw something very malicious and horrible in me as an 11-year-old."

While disappointed back then that he did not land one of the leads, Felton said that after a decade in Draco's skin, he would not swap his character for anyone else in the "Potter" realm.

"I certainly was one of the luckiest, in my opinion, because I get to play someone who's so different, hopefully, from myself in real life," Felton said. "I love this role so much now, I wouldn't want to play anything else. And more to the point, the main three play it better than anyone. As good a Hermione as I could have done, I'm pretty sure the three of them take the biscuit. They all do the job fantastically."

Raised in London, Felton began his career with a key role in the 1997 film fantasy "The Borrowers," then played Jodie Foster's son in 1999's "Anna and the King" before landing the part as Draco.

The "Harry Potter" filmmakers say that along with Radcliffe, Watson and Grint, Felton grew up on set from a relatively inexperienced child performer to an assured young actor ready for adult roles.

David Yates, who directed the final four of the eight "Potter" films, said Felton really came into his own with No. 6, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Price," as Draco begins to regret the malice bred into him by his treacherous parents.

"Seeing Malfoy get some depth in 'Half-Blood Price,' that was Tom's film in a way," Yates said. "He got to play a really compelling character throughout, because he's got really awful parents, and they're so determined to make him into this little fascist. ... Tom just benefited from the opportunity to move out from those narrow confines of, he's sort of a nasty kid, to where you say, 'OK, he's a nasty kid, but inside him, he's got something else going on.'"

Among future roles, Felton co-stars with Taraji P. Henson in the golf drama "From the Rough" and with "Twilight" actress Ashley Greene in the horror tale "The Apparition."

In the prequel "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," due out in early August, Felton plays a malicious worker at a primate facility whose abuse of an unusually intelligent chimpanzee is one of the catalysts for a simian rebellion against humans.

"It goes without saying that I don't care for our residents very well. I have a whole arsenal of weapons that I use at my pleasure," Felton said. "An unpleasant guy again, I'm afraid."

Amid acting, Felton also is indulging his passion for music. He and some friends have been recording songs and recently started their own independent record label.

No matter how his career goes, Felton knows the "Harry Potter" franchise probably will remain the biggest thing on his list of credits. And passionate "Potter" fans likely will not let him forget the nasty ways that Draco taunted Harry.

"There's been many, many a threatening letter, and I mean this in a nice way, where it's sort of like, 'Leave Harry alone or we'll come and get you,' that sort of thing. I always feel bad. I don't want to burst their bubble and say, 'You're aware that we're friends in real life' and so forth," Felton said.

"People are literally living in that world. It's great that we managed to create something so believable, or certainly, Jo (J.K. Rowling) has, but it is a little worrying at times. ... I just get a lot of distasteful looks from under 7-year-olds, and I've been booed and hissed at a few times, that I take as nothing but a compliment. I must be doing something right."