Hero Fiennes Tiffin On New Movie First Love, Harry Potter Memories, And More - Exclusive Interview

We all have that one comfort movie or series that takes us back to the joys of childhood. For some, it's "Lord of the Rings," and for others, it's "Pirates of the Caribbean." If you're talking about early 2000s kids, one book series and subsequent film dynasty takes the cake: "Harry Potter." The beloved films starring Daniel Radcliffe and an incredible ensemble cast transported viewers into a world beyond their own, bringing an incredible (and terrifying) villain to the screen. Of course, we're referring to the man who shall not be named — Voldemort — brought to life in the films by storied actor Ralph Fiennes. 

What you may not know, however, is that Fiennes' in-real-life nephew, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, played young Tom Riddle during "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." A child at the time, Tiffin captivated audiences with his compelling, rooted darkness that only the dark lord could embody — and Tiffin was just getting started.

Having made himself known due to his ongoing role in the film "After" and its subsequent sequels as main character Hardin, Tiffin has brought conflicted souls, hopeless romantics, and impassioned lovers to the screen, all while gaining a chorus of fans and followers. His latest film, "First Love," follows the story of young-in-love Jim, who falls in love with Sydney Park's Ann all while facing the challenges of going to college, financial ruin, and more. Before the film's premiere today, we sat down with Tiffin for an exclusive interview, where we chatted about the film, the differences between characters Jim and Hardin, his role in "Harry Potter," and more.

Hero confesses that he was reluctant to sign on to another romantic film

You've definitely been known for romantic dramas — "After," that whole film series, [including] "After We Collided." I've watched all of them, but what about this project specifically sets itself apart from your previous work?

Thank you so much for saying that. If I'm being completely honest, I was definitely reluctant to do another romance movie so soon and almost in the middle of "After," because they haven't all come out yet. I felt like I've said to my team, "I want to diversify my acting portfolio and do a bunch of different genres and figure out what I'm most drawn to and what I'm best at." Then, another romance came, and then I read it and I was like, "This is annoying because it's a really good script."

I then spoke to [A.J. Edwards], the director, when I was very aware that I might want to pass. Within about a minute, I was totally convinced and wanted to say yes, because I felt like he was so intelligent and knew the story through and through.

He'd seen my work and he really expressed a strong belief in me and my ability to do it. I feel like that's what was the main turning point, but also, it's such a different version and type of romance, totally, than "After" is. Specifically, the character Jim is so different from Hardin. I figured, [I'm] not going to be doing coming-of-age films in [my] 40s. [I] have to take the roles while [I] can and make the most of it. I'm so glad I have. It's such a different film from "After" that saying they're both romances is cool, but it doesn't really mean too much anyway, in terms of — I don't feel like I'm typecasting myself or playing into one type of character. To answer your question, I was definitely reluctant at first, but I'm so glad I did.

The actor reflects on the biggest difference between his First Love and After characters

I was going to say, the tone of your character in "After" is so specific. You've got this darker, very emotionally fraught backstory. What was your initial reaction to your character in "First Love," and what differentiated those two roles for you?

They are on completely different ends of the spectrum as people. Jim's had a really good upbringing and that's allowed him to be a really mature person who is patient and has the time and listens. He's aware he's got a lot more to learn than he already knows, which is a really wise thing to think at a young age. He's patient and he's aware that life will go on and nothing lasts forever.

Hardin, on the other hand, has had such a difficult upbringing and therefore is nothing like I've described Jim to be. It was always really compelling for me to always play a role that's different from the last, but then specifically play a role within a romance that's so different. Like you say, Hardin is such a specific character. Jim is too, but on the other side.

In terms of style of film, I'm always drawn to do something different after the last job, but then similarly within the character. To do another romance, but with completely different characters, almost diversified my portfolio more than doing a completely different film with a completely different character, too.

What does Hero think fans will take away from seeing him in such a different role?

How do you think that fans and viewers will take seeing you in such a starkly different role?

We'll see. They have some strong opinions, some of the "After" fans, but they're always so supportive. They're going to love it. I'm really excited for them to see it. Hopefully, it might allow them to start seeing ... I always want them to see Hardin as Hardin and keep that storyline strong, and I don't want to take anything away from that, but there's an element of, naturally, when you do four films back to back, people may be seeing you as more of a character than an actor. I'm excited for people to see Jim and Ann, as well as Hardin and Tessa and Hero playing different characters.

Ultimately, I want to be known as Hero, the actor who plays different roles rather than one, as anyone would. [I'm] so grateful for those fans. I hope they love it, and [I'm] really excited for them to see it.

Hero reveals what the early days of production on First Love was life

You mentioned for "First Love," the director really sold you on the project, but I'd love to know what your initial reaction to the script was. Were you taken by the project instantaneously? What was that? What were those early days like?

I definitely read it with a typical boyish ... too much pride. I said, "I don't want to do this," and my eyebrows went from this [cast downward], to like this [cast upward], by the end of the script. It was a gradual thing where by the end, I was like, "Okay, actually, this has changed my mind. Now, I need to give it the time of day."

It was a gradual process that ended with A.J. essentially expressing the extent of his belief in me being able to do it. That's what made me realize [the potential], because there's a part of me that was aware that there might be a possibility that someone might want to hire me just because they know I might have a certain number of people who come and watch the film and it's not so much about my ability.

I was so aware, and always will be, that I don't want to work with people who want me for that. I want to work with people who want me for my ability. He instantly ... before I even had ... I thought in my head, I'm having one question and that's going to be like, "Do you actually want me to?" Before I even opened my mouth, he was saying how much he did believe in me, and that was so important for me.

[It's] an accumulation of working with Jeffrey Donovan, Diane Kruger, Sydney Park, [and] with A.J. as well, who obviously comes from such an incredible background, coming from editing, he's such a talented director and I loved working with him and we could talk about that too, but whatever question you want to ask next. I love talking about this whole film and everyone involved.

Hero dishes about his character's challenges and working with Diane Kruger and Jeffrey Donovan

Before we move on to the collaborations that you had with your fellow actors, briefly about Jim: There's so much in this film — there's the innocence of first love, going to college — these are all such relatable experiences that I think so many of us are nostalgic about once we get further away from that period of life. In what ways did Jim both remind you of yourself, but then also challenge you as an actor?

Because it's in America, it's so different. The whole vibe ... one of the main challenges for me was to not play into [the stereotype], but again, the writing was so good at not doing this. I didn't have to worry about it. Americanisms that English people digest from film and TV makes our perception of American teenage years and coming-of-age and school a bit warped and a bit like, "I'm going to give that guy a swirly," because he isn't giving him his lunch money.

The way it's written didn't feed into that at all. Beforehand, if anything, I was conscious of not trying to draw too much from my school experience, because I figured it would be so different, but the writing had everything there for me and it felt real and grounded.  I didn't feel like I had to draw too much on that because the writing gave it all to me.

Let's dive into your dynamic with Sydney [Park]. You joined storied actors in Diane Kruger, Jeffrey Donovan. Tell me a little bit about what it was like working with them, what those on-set days were like for you and how you learned more about your own creative experience while working closely with them.

I was so aware that I would learn so much. That was part of what drew me towards taking the role, knowing I'd learn so much from them. I've said before, and I'll say again, I honestly at times forgot that I was acting because I was so immersed in Diane's performance. Sometimes, you have some scenes opposite each other and I genuinely got lost in it. It was like, "Oh my God, it's my line, isn't it?"

Jeffrey, as well, was so in it and so caring for me. I don't know how he had the time to be so focused and deliver so well in his own performance, but still look out for me and help me, but then also have an extra eye on the project as a whole and be aware of the whole arc and everyone's arc. That comes with the experience that these guys have of knowing the whole process through and through, from start to finish — probably [seeing] things work out well, [and seeing] things not work out well. They have such a bigger, wider array of understanding of the whole process.

Then again, [there are] things as simple as ... these guys can be in a conversation or having to do something on their phone, because everyone has lives outside of work, and having to do certain things and then calling "Action" and delivering instantly and the ability to be so themselves and so personable and happy and fun to work with, but then being so in the character instantly as well ... [they have an] ability to turn it on and off and have such self-confidence, deservedly, because they're all so talented. I was, similarly to Jim, aware I have two ears and one mouth for a reason, and therefore, doing a lot more listening and looking than talking myself. I learned so much working with those guys. It was a real pleasure.

Hero discusses the intimate setting that the First Love set facilitated

I can't even imagine how many years of experience and insight [Diane Kruger and Jeffrey Donovan] bring to the table as well.

They've probably seen the whole game change as well. My version of acting experience is that I probably worked on one or two films where they'd say, "Check the gate," and then now that's gone. They've probably been through so many different changes of going from film to digital, to filming through COVID and the process changes.

Another interesting thing to note about this film is it was such a small crew because it didn't need to be bigger. I rarely even saw a light be put up because they utilized natural light so well. It allowed us as the actors to have such a free, liberating, open experience, with no continuity and we really could focus on the acting.

I'm waffling on now, but I could talk for days about those guys and what they bring to it. Essentially, [they're very comfortable in their position, because] they've done it so many times. They deliver so well, but they're not panicked beforehand, and you're not in the background feeling their nerves. They're so confident and self-assured and deliver so well that you start to follow those same footsteps.

Such pros. I can imagine being so taken by their confidence, but certainly it doesn't sound like there was an arrogance or a cockiness –

Not at all.

– at all. We look at Hollywood and it's ... the glitz and the glam and the lights, but to know that this was such an intimate project is such a unique experience as an actor, I would imagine.

I was aware [during] filming that, like, "Don't get used to this. It won't be like this. You'll be back on a project with multiple cameras where you have to make sure you sit the drink on the exact line and scratch your head on that exact line." You start to have all these rules because of continuity and these different, like you say, egos and people. This felt like such a small, intimate, creative environment, where it was all about getting the acting right. 

A.J. has the ability, because he's a mastermind genius who's worked from so many different angles of the film. He says, "If you do it, I'll make it work." We are not limited by continuity or rules and beats to hit. We play the scene in the most natural real way, and he'll make it work. I don't know how he did it in the edit because we literally had the ability to say one line like this and the next day, say it completely differently, which is unheard of if people know the process of making films nowadays . I love A.J.'s style and the execution of that. It was so freeing as an actor.

Hero dishes on his young career starring as Tom Riddle in Harry Potter

I'd like to dive into your career outside of "First Love" in those early days really quickly. "Harry Potter" was such a big break for you. Funnily enough, I watched "Order of the Phoenix" last night over dinner, because it's a comfort film. Getting to work alongside your uncle [Ralph Fiennes], that's such a unique experience. Take me back to that and how it propelled you into the entertainment industry. You were such a kid.

Know what? I had done one tiny job for my parents' friends that was like £100, cash in hand. All I had to do was ... The character stole some chocolate bars, and then his older brother found him. It's such a fun — it felt like a day off school, got a football kit out of it, loving this. Then, my mom said, "You want to audition for 'Harry Potter'?" I was like, in my head, I'm thinking, "Well, I'm never going to get that. I've done a bit of acting. I'm probably up against really ... " She said, "You get a day off school," so I was like, "Let's go." 

The next audition, call back another weekday, another day off school. My incentive for the "Harry Potter" films was genuinely days off school, to go do the auditions. When I got the role, I remember jumping onto the sofa and burying my head in it and screaming and then sitting up and being like, "Oh, now I'm really nervous. Now I actually have to do it.

You have to perform.

It was a bit of a big emotional roller coaster. The process of filming ... I didn't actually work with my uncle at all, but Michael Gambon [Albus Dumbledore] is a kid at heart and was so accommodating and would talk about sports cars with me in between takes and undermined the seriousness of it to make me feel so comfortable.

[Director] David Yates did the same thing. He was like a peer. He didn't feel like he was my boss or director; he was so level and worded everything so beautifully. He really has a good way with actors. I was young at the time, so being a young newcomer — now I look back and that experience allowed me to be so much more comfortable going up for other auditions and other roles, because I had such a rich experience at the highest end at the very start. Everything else was like, "Oh, it's all right if I don't get that. It's all right if that doesn't work out." [I'm] totally grateful for that experience.

Hero reveals that his brother didn't watch his performance in Harry Potter until much later in life

I think of that scene where young Tom is in this prison-like setting and we see this really intimate interaction. I'm such a "Harry Potter" geek.

My brother is not a "Harry Potter" fan, but he does love movies and he watched them all back to back recently and he used to ... like any brother would — he's a lovely guy, he's not [a jerk] like that, but he used to every now [and then] be like, "Oh, I can talk to snakes too," and annoy me. He knew it would get to me, so fair play to him. Now, he watched it back and he came to my room the other day. He was like, "Just wanted to say, you are so good in that, bro. It was really good." It was such a nice little moment.

But then he threw in an insult there. We're still brothers, so it's all fine. It wasn't too salty, but it was really nice. And thank you for asking that because yeah, it's always nice to touch on that.

Hero reveals what he's hoping his career will consist of in the future

We've revisited the early days. I want to spring forward. In what ways are you hoping to grow as an artist and an actor in this next season of your career?

I would love to keep doing different characters and different genres and keep switching it up. When you are young, it's quite easy to adapt and it's easier to expand your comfort zone and keep pushing yourself as opposed to doing the same genre, the same acting for a while. Then, I'd be so scared when I have to go and do something different. I'm so aware of how much I've learned from taking roles that are so different from the previous one.

I'll genuinely continue to keep bouncing around and changing everything, until I really ... I'm going to naturally find my feet in one genre more than others by exploring all of them. The immediate aim is to keep switching it up and keep making good movies.

"First Love" is now playing in select theaters and is available for rental and purchase on demand.