Jack Wolfe, the charismatic English actor who previously stunned on several stage productions in London, is now enchanting as Tim Walker and Prince Tamino in The Magic Flute based on the 1791 opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The story follows Tim who travels from London to the Austrian Alps to attend the prestigious Mozart boarding school where he discovers an ancient passageway that transports him into the world of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. A story filled with fantasy, love and extraordinary musical performances.
Schön! Magazine chats with Wolfe to discuss his role in The Magic Flute, upcoming projects, and more.
Let’s start our interview with an introduction to the story of The Magic Flute. Tell me more about it and your character Tim.
The story is about an average teenager who is dealing with a lot of grief. He’s been accepted into a very prestigious music training school in the Alps and he goes, but he struggles there. He struggles to find why he’s there and he feels guilty for leaving his mum at home. He has a really hard time making friends and impressing teachers, there is a lot of pressure there. Also, he is trying to deal with being in the school and all the normal problems that students face. It’s a big fantasy film, but also a film about finding escapism in the arts, in classical music and opera.
I started watching some of the movie yesterday and I watched the rest today and when I heard the name, it seemed familiar because I’m pretty sure that there was a children’s movie about it that I know from my childhood. Did you know about the story of The Magic Flute before you got cast for the movie?
Yeah, exactly. I think, like everybody else, I understand it’s iconic. It’s a piece of art that is recognizable. It’s in the public consciousness in a way. I didn’t know it that well and I hadn’t gone to see it live. My mum’s a piano teacher and I guess I heard her playing the piano in the other room and sort of figured out what that was. Then I started playing the piano myself and got into the music world, so I understood a little bit more. From my knowledge, there are adaptations of the opera which are both amazing films. What’s wonderful is that they’re both completely different. They are different imaginations and ideas of what The Magic Flute world looks like and they’re all adaptations of the opera itself and they are fantastic. Our film is a little different from that. It has this real-world framework narrative which I think invites in people who maybe feel like opera might not be something that’s for them. It might be quite scary for them because it was for me. I think it felt like a world that I didn’t know I was allowed into or that was for me. Hopefully our film is able to bring people in enough that it inspires them to go and see opera live.
I think especially for a younger audience, it’s a nice introduction to that world. How was it for you to shoot in Austria? Are there any favourite spots that you can share with us?
Oh my gosh, absolutely. I love all the locations we got to shoot at, they were completely magical. Austria was like jumping into a real-life fairy tale. We shot some of the scenery that was used for the Sound of Music which felt very special. The scenes with the exterior of the school in the mountains. We can see from one mountain, the space where Maria is spinning around and singing, which is wild. When we were shooting there nothing was open, it was still in lockdown. So, we did lots and lots of very long walks around lots of beautiful lakes. I loved that part of filming so much.
One scene that I found very captivating was the one where you were playing the piano and singing with Sophie. Singing is a huge element of the movie as it’s based on the opera by Mozart. How did you prepare for all the performances that you did in the movie?
I think singing is something that I have a lot of fun with. I have always really enjoyed it. I love storytelling in that way too. I’ve always loved songwriting, that is my favourite thing to do. I think with this film, it was hard not to approach it with a lot of fear because of putting everybody else’s expectations on myself. I went, “oh, it’s The Magic Flute adaptation and they’ve cast me as Prince Tamino. Am I allowed to put my voice on to this music?” I could never for a second say that I’m an opera singer or anything close to the years of training and dedication that it takes to sing on that level. Flo, our director, had a very clear image of what he wanted — Tim and Tamino to be a very average teenager who sings and plays the piano but not an opera singer. All I had to do was approach the lyrics of the music authentically like I would in theatre. I had to think, what is Tamino saying, what is the intention he is trying to get across and sing it as authentically as possible.
I had great training, Sam Kenyon was my vocal coach for the film and he worked hard with me. To find something that felt authentic and also classical. The scene I shoot with Niamh, where we are singing on the piano in the real world, was one of my favourite things to record because there was very little pressure applied to that. That was just us two together, and we recorded that live together. When we went into the studio to record the music that we are using in the film, we improvised that arrangement and then sort of finessed afterwards. We did it by sitting next to each other in the studio with a shared microphone. I played and we sang together and it felt like that’s what I used to do in school with my friends like singing and having a fun time so that scene feels authentic to me because it was. That’s exactly what we were doing at that time. It’s been a journey in terms of the singing with the film. A challenge but also something really exciting.
There’s a soft love and affection that grows between Tim and Sophie and it’s a major theme of the movie, how was it for you to play alongside Niamh?
She’s magic. Because of COVID restrictions when we first met, our chemistry read auditions were over zoom. I’ve done a couple of those actually since and it’s wild how you know when it works even when it’s over a camera or when you’re in completely different rooms – you know, it’s going to work pretty well. From that day we were instantly really close, really good friends and we got on so well and it is so easy to work with her. She brings so much joy and so much excitement and also really helps get me out of my head.
And is there any other scene that you would say is one of your favourite ones besides the one on the piano?
Absolutely. I mean, it sounds like such an easy answer but there were so many of them because every member of this cast, we’re all very close and all of the scenes that I shot with Elliot or Amir or Iwan and I have really special memories attached to them because we were shooting in lockdown at a time where I didn’t think that at that point maybe I’d ever act again. I thought this is it now, so to get that opportunity was amazing. One really special thing that sticks in my head was Sabine, who plays Queen of the Night and is one of the world’s greatest opera singers. We were only actually able to work with her really because of the timing because it was the lockdown. At that time, there was no live music, there was no opera which meant that people were free to come and work on our film. Sabine, knowing this, had missed performing so much to an audience that she invited us in while she was recording her Queen of the Night arias. It was almost like a theatre trip, we all went there together in our coats and sat and watched her sing to us. It was the first time I’d heard live music in a long time. It was so special, I’ll never forget that. Both Sabine and Morris who are pros from the opera world were always really, really kind to us and it was great to be able to work with them. It was weirdly almost like a silver lining to the challenges of working in a COVID situation.
You spoke about what a great time you had with all your co-stars. Tell me more about the dynamic between you and all of them. What was the most fun of being on set?
Yeah, in terms of age, it was quite a diverse cast. There were people with loads and loads of experience, and there were actors who were younger than me. I think in that way we all had to look out for each other. We became a little family like siblings together. Iwan was a great mentor for me, being able to work with him was great. I have always been a fan of his. I saw him first when I was 13 when he was doing Spring Awakening in London. That was a huge moment for me, seeing that show. To be able to work with him was like a real full-circle moment.
When we were shooting in Austria, Niamh, Elliot, Amir and I went on bike rides to the mountains. As I said, everything was closed and we had to find our way of entertaining days off so we’d go explore. We would go walking into the grounds of the hotel and just see how beautiful this place was. I think we were all just grateful to be together, meeting new people, making new friends, and working together. We all got close. Because we filmed during COVID, we were only really allowed to be in contact with certain people so now that the premiere has happened, we finally get to shake hands and speak to and hug everyone that worked on the film which is just lovely.
We spoke about music a little bit already, but is music something that is very present in your personal life?
Yeah, absolutely. It always has been because I came from music. My parents are both musicians so I was very lucky that was the world that I knew quite well. They both teach and my dad was a prominent soloist in conducting brass bands so I had lots of different types of music around the house. Then I went to study music myself when I was 16 — I studied piano and composition. Opera was a part of that that scared me. I didn’t feel allowed in in a way, I didn’t feel like it was for me. I think conceptually it lways really interested me but the world of it felt unobtainable, really far away. I think we talk about accessibility so much and there are so many things that we have to do and people are doing to make the world accessible practically, but in terms of actually getting people to want to go to watch opera who have never gone before. I think a really important thing has been to humanise it, make it personal. Mozart was writing this opera to entertain people. That’s all. If you take lessons from it, amazing, but you’re not under any pressure to feel any sort of way when you go to the opera. You’re there to be entertained, to be taken away, to escape for a couple of hours. That’s something that everybody can benefit from. I think hopefully that’s what our film can get across as well because I think metaphorically that’s what Tim is doing. He’s just escaping into the world, escaping into an opera for a bit. I think opera is more of a part of my life; I care about it and I feel like it’s very important actually, to support it because it’s facing some really hard times.
Music, love, and fantasy are recurrent themes in the movie. What would you say is the most important message that the audience should take away from the story?
I think it depends on who you ask. Our film, in a way that I love, it’s almost genre-defying. If you would like to go for an almost classic fantasy adventure of the 80s and 90s, like the Never-ending Story feeling, you get that. If you want to go for a coming-of-age story, you also get that. You also get musical. I think everyone’s got different things they want to take from it. For me, I think the most important thing is it’s about escapism. It’s about having the time to go and enjoy the story being told to you and from that if one or two young people, for example, go to this film and think “oh, this story is quite exciting. I’ve just seen that the opera is playing in a city near me with this company. Can we go and see it?” And they will go to the opera and through that define opera for themselves, take it or leave it, but decide if opera something that they can now enjoy or classical music in general. That’s what I’d like to happen from the film if that makes sense. That’s what I care about, are people just going “oh, I think this could be for me, I think this has excited me and I didn’t know it could do that.”
I hope that a lot of young music lovers who watched the movie are even more interested in opera now because as you said before, I think it’s this immense, intimidating kind of music, but the movie brings it closer to an audience and makes it more accessible.
I think it’s been a really interesting thing because with Mozart and with opera there’s always going to be people who assume it has to be a certain way and there is like a very specific way that it should be. That’s so valid and it’s been really exciting to understand that because what I love is the fact that then you can also have people going, “oh actually no, I think it’s supposed to be like this or maybe like this. You should try it this way or that doesn’t work.” I think that’s what it’s all about — it’s about being able to talk and discuss and figure out what works for some people and what works for other people. Everyone’s allowed an opinion. What they do and don’t like about opera? How wonderful if everybody could have an opinion of what they liked about an opera or what they didn’t like about it or what entertained them or what didn’t. Mozart was for everyone, especially, The Magic Flute. It’s fun. It’s all about fun.
What you do when you’re not on set. So how do you spend your days?
Oh, gosh, lots of ways. I have a great friendship base at home. I have amazing friends that are way cooler than me. I think I spend as much time as possible with friends and going to see them and support them in projects they’re doing if they’re artists, or if they’re not then just spending time with them. I still write music sometimes, I play, but I don’t practice the piano nearly enough. But music’s still a part of my life.
What’s next for you. What are you most excited about with your upcoming project?
Yes, I recently finished shooting the second series on a show on Netflix called Shadow and Bone which is based on these incredible books by Leigh Bardugo. I’m joining as a character called Wylan who joins a group of characters called the Crows. We had an amazing time, we shot that in Budapest and it comes out next year at some point, and I’m excited for that adventure to begin. It was a very special character for me in very, very many ways. So, I can’t wait to be able to talk about that.
Yeah, that’s exciting. I think I heard about it. When the first season came on, I started watching it a little bit, but I do need to keep on watching it now because if you’re in the second season, then I need to watch the second season as well.
I think it’s safe to say it’s a lot of fun. And there are lots of surprises. So, it should be exciting. Yeah.
What is something that you want to be remembered for? So, what do you want people to think of when they hear your name?
Oh, wow, that’s such a good question. I think off the top of my head right now, it might be silly, but I’d like to be remembered as being kind. I think it’s a really difficult time and people feel very far away from each other. In the acting world, I honestly think the most important thing is to make sure that everybody’s job goes as easy as possible for them and that you’re a part of that. It’s a theatre thing. You are only as strong as the body of people within it. So, it’s our responsibility to look out for each other as actors. There’s no room for ego, I hope that anyone I’ve worked with remembers me as kind or friendly or someone to go to the pub with after or something. That’s important, I think nowadays especially, you know.
The Magic Flute will be coming to cinemas in Germany and Austria on November 17th. Season 2 of Shadow and Bone will return to Netflix next year.