“I could not have survived without my colleagues:” David Martin of Hufflepuff Gives the Inside Scoop on the Tournament of Houses.

Editor’s note: Headmaster John and I had the privilege of participating in a Zoom conversation with star Hufflepuff David Martin of the Harry Potter Hogwarts Tournament of Houses, the day after the first episode aired. There’s been a bit of a time delay in sharing the interview with our Hogpro readers, because this was, to my knowledge, the first piece published here that had to be approved by Warner Brothers first. But, the necessary edits have been made, and it’s time to enjoy the inside scoop from the nation’s favorite 70-something Hufflepuff. 

Louise:

Hello and welcome to a little Zoom program here that I am calling “Mirrenwatch” after Dame Helen Mirren, Host of Harry Potter Hogwarts Tournament of Houses. My name is Louise Freeman; I am a professor of psychology at Mary Baldwin University, and I’m also a longtime writer for hogwartsprofessor.com.

I’m here with two very special guests: John Granger, the Hogwarts Professor, otherwise known as the Dean of Harry Potter scholars, and Headmaster of Hogwartsprofessor.com, who is going to tell us a little bit about his role in the recruitment of some very special contestants for the Hogwarts Tournament of houses.

But our most special guest, I would have to say, is David Martin, who, right now, is probably the country’s most beloved Hufflepuff, judging from what I’ve seen on Twitter today. We’re recording this on Monday, November 29th, so the first episode of the series aired last night: Hufflepuff versus Gryffindor. And, be forewarned, there will be many spoilers for that first episode on the show today.

But we’re here with the person who I can say, for sure, was an audience favorite at the show, and seems to be a Twitter favorite today, after leading the Hufflepuff team to victory last night. David Martin, joining us from Wisconsin.

So how are you, David?

David:

Well, I’m well-rested; I’m feeling pretty good. It’s been an amazing 24 hours.

Louise:

I can only imagine. Well, just to let everybody know what we’re about here. I’m going to let both of you introduce yourselves, and tell us a little bit about your involvement with Harry Potter prior to the show. What turned you into a serious Harry Potter fan and a serious Harry Potter scholar? So, John, why don’t you start?

John:

Yes, my part in this conversation should be relatively brief. As the so-called “Dean of Harry Potter Scholars,” I became involved with Harry Potter in the year 2000, when I first started to read the books to my seven children. I quickly became entranced by them, and their depth of meaning, and I wrote a book that became The Hidden Key to Harry Potter in 2002. And, from there, I’ve written five or six books on the subject of J.K. Rowling’s work, and as you mentioned, I write on a regular basis at hogwartsprofessor.com.

Now, most of the posts are about Cormoran Strike, but, in that role, I’ve been among the cadre of Potter pundits for close to 20 years now. From that vantage, I know, pretty much, the academic crowd and I know the fandom experts. I’ve been in anthologies written all over the community, from the Big 5 publishing houses to self-published works. I’ve talked at universities from Saint Andrews and Pepperdine to Princeton, University of Chicago, etc. And that’s been my role, as largely at the nexus point of fandom and academia.

So, when Hollywood decided that they were going to make a game show about Harry Potter, I was one of the first people that they called, because they were looking for contestants. In my Gilderoy moment, I imagined they might be wanting me to be a contestant, but, they gave a quick little test and I demonstrated, once again, that my contributions to Harry Potter scholarship are not my mastery of detail inside the books, and certainly not in the movies. Which, frankly, I’ve always despised as maladaptations.

But, they still continued the conversation with me for several weeks, because they wanted to pick my brain about people that they should invite. I asked their permission to post about the show and about the possibility of contestants being taken from the gallery of Hogwartsprofessor.com. I put up a post, and that pretty much ends my part of this conversation, other than to say that I was thrilled to see David, who has been a guest poster, a longtime reader, listener and a friend from Harry Potter conferences all over the United States. Especially when he lived in Philadelphia, and I was living just north of Philadelphia.

It was thrilling to see David work his way through all those interviews to get to the contestant stage, and then to do so well last night. I know he’s a very serious reader, and that his movie acumen is kind of an add-on, but it was still wonderful to see one of our own up there on stage. Congratulations David, it was wonderful to watch last night with you.

David:

Thank you. Thank you.

More after the jump!

Louise:

Yes, well, it was exciting, Of course, John, as you know, I also applied and tried out. I made it through several rounds of interviews and sending in videos and things like that, but I I didn’t make the final cut like David did. So, David, tell us a little bit about your journey and what the contestant selection process was like.

David:

Well, just a little bit about myself first. I am a retired computer programmer, not having any particular education in the humanities or literature, other than what comes as part of a normal, well-rounded liberal arts education. I was intrigued by the Harry Potter novels. I got into them because my wife was a school librarian. She’s now retired, too. She was hearing through the grapevine of librarians, hey, there’s a set of books that really turns kids on, and gets them reading and so she handed them to me, and I got into them. There is some dispute between my wife and me about just when we began to read them. I think maybe only the first book was out; she thinks there were at least two out. I definitely know I had read everything that was then available by the time the first movie came out, which was in 2001.

I have been a frequent contributor at conferences. That’s where I’ve run into you two before. I have been on an occasional poster on Hogwartsprofessor.com.

So, just very briefly, I applied and I went through several steps of the selection process. I don’t know if you got as far as this, but they gave me a 12-page form to be filled out because they wanted to investigate my background.

Louise:

I did not get that far, so no.

David:

I don’t really know a lot about the selection process.  I only know my experience with it.  I have the impression that they were being very careful about whom the selected.

We arrived on Sunday the 19th. We left on Sunday the 26th. For the first three days, we basically did nothing except stay  locked down in the hotel. We took a COVID test on Monday; somebody came by and swabbed my throat. We took another on Wednesday.

Tuesday, they called us down to a conference room in the hotel where they went over the legal contract and we asked and answered any questions they had. Then they wanted to see all the clothes we brought with us, and they told us certain things we should bring with us to the studio. And they took pictures of us. They were obviously deciding ahead of time what clothes they would put us in.

On Tuesday they also gave us a practice session with the games, as we would play them. For instance, having seen the program, you know now there’s what they call an observation question where they show you a bit of film, and then ask you something about it. That can be tricky. I do remember the observation question they gave us. They showed the scene from Goblet of Fire, at the Yule Ball, when Hermione comes up and talks to Ron and Harry, and Ron is very angry at her and eventually Hermione storms off. When we see her going…Yeah, here’s the question: How many combs did Hermione have in her hair? It was either two and we guessed three, or three and we guessed two, but, you know, I learned something. I learned that in the observation questions, look for something that’s definite and goes by quickly.

When they invited us to Hollywood, they brought out in six people for each house. So, a total of 24 people. There were at least two minors in that set who came with a parent. There are strict rules in Hollywood that minors on a movie set have to continue their education.

Then finally, on a Thursday, they took us to the place where they were shooting it. They shot it in a rental stage. There’s an institution Hollywood called the Red Studio. You can Google it and read about it. The Red Studio. They tell you, we have these sound stages. We have these cameras. We have the sound laboratory, you know they laid it all up. And obviously the producers of the show had rented that.

They shot two programs on the Thursday. They shot Gryffindor versus Hufflepuff first. They brought in crew for the next two houses, which were Ravenclaw versus Slytherin. Helen Mirren is a consummate professional. She knows what she’s doing and just worked away at it. She knew when she had made a mistake. She just said, “I’m sorry, I’ll start again” and she’d just do it. I didn’t see anything she’d done wrong, but, you know, she’s a professional. And that was the first day.

As I mentioned, there were six coming for each house, but there are only three on the show. They had told us there would be a final cut of casting. So, all the time I was there I said, “OK, I’ve gotten this far, but I only have a 50% chance of making it.” I was fine with that.

So, that was a Thursday, when we did the filming. Friday, we went out to the theme park. On Friday, they took all the Hufflepuffs and all the Gryffindors out to the theme park early in the morning, so they could get shots of us in the theme park. One scene of us walking out of the part where it’s the castle, and another scene of us coming out of an alley, down on Diagon Alley.

Saturday, we came back to the studio and there were two more rounds. There was the wild card round, in which the losers from the first two rounds play against each other, and get a chance to participate in the final round. And then there’s a final round.

So, OK, that’s my brief overview. I’m sorry. I’ve kind of talked a lot here.

Louise:

Oh no, that’s wonderful. It’s fascinating to hear.  I think both of you know that, after I did not make the final cut to be a contestant, I actually applied to be in the studio audience and I was part of the audience for the Ravenclaw team. So, I got to see the production of the show from that perspective. And yes, I can only imagine how it was for you, given how exciting it was for us.

There was quite a lot of waiting. I believe it took at least three to four hours to shoot each show between the stopping, and the starting, and the bringing out of props, and giving people a break, and that type of stuff. You know, to see it all condensed last night, down into 45 minutes was pretty amazing.

But speaking of amazing, I know David is a modest soul here, and he doesn’t want to hear a lot of people bragging about him. But if you will indulge me just a bit, I did look up some tweets about what people were saying about the show last night, and about David in particular.

And some were quite interesting. You clearly were an audience favorite. I was there also, for two days, filming. I think it is safe to say, I heard exactly two people who got their own personal cheer. One was Dame Helen Mirren. The other one was David. When the Hufflepuffs marched into the finals, there were people cheering, “Hufflepuff! Hufflepuff!” But there was a group that was specifically cheering, “David! David! David!” including quite a number of Gryffindors, which I thought showed very good sportsmanship, on their part.

David:

Thank you. All right, I will not be falsely modest. I know I was good. But I want to make this absolutely clear. This was not single-handed. They edited it very nicely, but there were a couple of times when I went off charging totally in the wrong direction, and my teammates pulled up, held me back. The one point that was almost shown was the Obscuro task, in which we are given the soundtrack. It turned out to be the soundtrack of the battle of the phoenix against the big snake, the basilisk. I recognized it was a battle, but I thought maybe it was Harry versus the dragon in the Goblet of Fire. I thought maybe it was something from one of the very last films, the Battle of Hogwarts, or something.

But, it was Adriana who said, “I heard a bird.” and my first reaction was. “What?” She went on and she said, “It’s Fawkes,” but that they mercifully cut all of that, so you don’t see me acting like a total idiot.

They did have to cut a lot. I understand that.  They cut some of my nice funny joke lines, too. I’m a ham when I get in front of an audience and I always joke, but that’s all right.

I could not have survived without my colleagues, both on the stage and off. Also, one of the curses of age is my hearing. It is not as good. That does not mean I don’t hear soft sounds. There’s a little bit of that, but it’s mostly that I can’t sort out what’s being said, when there’s three or four people talking at a time. That just becomes total hash in my head and, every so often, when there would be a break, there would be three different people saying things at the same time. I just had to find somebody else with a bright orange sweater to follow. You know, they rescued me time and again like that.

So yes, I know I was good, but my colleagues were also very good. And, the audience was backing us. I haven’t tallied it up yet, but the audience backing us, the Hufflepuff audience, they were great. You may know, that in the very last, the Golden Snitch round, the lightning round? Our audience got all six and, therefore, their score got doubled. Therefore, instead of having 300 points added, we got 600 points added. And let’s put it this way, without the audience, we would have won. We would have won over Gryffindor by, I guess, about a couple hundred points, but, with the audience, we went over them by, like, five hundred points. So, yeah, the audience was very valuable.

Louise:

Well, I certainly felt valued as a member of the Ravenclaw audience, but we’ll hear more about that, maybe next week, after that show airs.

But, yeah, I can tell you, David, you may not be reading all of Twitter today, but there were a couple of things I just had to point out that you were called. You were called “the cutest Hufflepuff on the stage.”

David:

They did fuss with my appearance. They cut my hair just right. They gave me makeup so my face would just look right.

Louise:

Well, you were called the MVP. Someone called you, “Deep Lore David.” I liked that one. “Knower of all things Harry Potter.”

This is the one, from TBS, I believe. It says, “The hero no one saw coming, but the hero we needed.” I thought that was a very nice one. But my personal favorite was, “This 77-year-old was the Cedric Diggory of his time, bringing glory to Hufflepuff!”

So, you can think about yourself as Cedric Diggory, had he lived.

David:

(laughing) Does that mean I’m getting killed?

Louise:

(laughing) No, no, no, no.

David:

All right, it’s flattering, but I sense that I’m being treated as a novelty. It’s like, wow, he’s 77 years old, and his brain still works, and he still walks, you know? Now it’s true, I am a particularly healthy 77-year-old, but for Pete’s sake, there are people I know who are 10 years older than I am, that are more active than I am.

Helen Mirren is a wonderfully gracious and pleasant person. I’ve met about maybe five or six truly famous people in my life, and, so far, all of them have been very nice. I’ve met Arnold Toynbee. I’ve met Karl Popper. I helped Elton Trueblood put his coat on once when he visited our church. I had dinner once with Grace Hopper. I don’t know if you know all these names but, trust me, these are all genuine, certified famous people. And then, of course, I’ve met John Granger, so yeah, I’ve made all kinds of famous people.

Louise:

Well, yeah, actually, one of the things I was going to ask you is if Helen Mirren is as nice as she seemed. I think you’ve already answered that. Did you get to meet or talk to Luke Youngblood?

David:

Ah, no, no, I could have. There was a time when he was kind of talking to us as a group, and I was standing there. I must admit I didn’t realize who he was. I was a bit dense there, you know? And it was finally, again, one of my teammates. It was Luke, the Luke on my team. He was the one who said, “Oh, that’s Luke Youngblood, he played Lee Jordan.”

It was, of course, very cute. Lee Jordan announces the scores in the in the games, and we had Luke Youngblood announcing the scores in our contest.

Louise:

Yes, well, it’s funny. In one of the shows that I was in the audience, I was seated right under his window, and during some of the breaks, he opened up his window and spoke with us. He was very, very nice. Some of the audience members were trying to get him to go out and have a drink with them after the filming. I don’t think he accepted, but he was very nice and very, very personable.

And, yes, I thought that was wonderful. I was a little intimidated; I wanted to tell him that I was always sorry that Potterwatch did not make the 7th movie, because I always thought that was one of the funniest bits. I would have loved to have heard him being the DJ for Potterwatch. But he was very funny and very, very nice. He was telling us which were his favorite books, and his favorite movies, and that type of stuff.

John:

I want to ask you, David, what happened to the three Hufflepuffs who didn’t make it to this show?

David:

Well, they remained in the audience that night, and they were really good sports. Nobody was griping and complaining. Nobody was saying, “Oh, I should have had it.” There was none of that. They stayed there. They cheered us on. They were the ones who knew who I was, David, and could start that chanting.

One of them was a young woman, even younger than Sophia, called Lisa. I think she was only 14, but she knew her stuff. When I was being interviewed, my very first interview over the phone after I sent in the application, they said, “We have one more question which, on the basis of what you wrote on your application, we think you’ll know. But we call it the impossible question, because nobody ever gets it. And that is, how many Knuts are there to a Sickle and how many Sickles are there to a Galleon?”

And I knew that, and I knew it cold, because I’ve used that in the computer programming problem.

Lisa, she knew that, but she also knew the next thing, that is, how many Knuts are there in a Galleon? And to get that, you have to know what 17 times 29 is. It’s 493, and she knew that. And so, I was a little bit sorry she didn’t get selected, but, I really think, they had very good people all around. The others that I met, the “Almost,” let’s call them. The “Almost” were wonderfully kind and good people.

John:

I hope there’s another series and they get a chance at that.

This niche celebrity that you’re enjoying now, your I-hope-much-more-than-five minutes of fame. You’ve already gotten more than five minutes here, David, you’re working on 36 hours, and this is a big deal.

Louise:

Well, I wanted to ask about two of the most notable points in the show and get David’s response. I think that, when people are talking about David’s contribution, what comes to everybody’s mind is the great Roman-numeral-on-the-spinal-column-candle moment. Someone on Twitter said it was like they asked Gryffindor to spell “cat,” when they were asked about Madame Maxime walking into the lantern, and then asked Hufflepuff to spell “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” And, David was the one who spelled “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

Tell us a little bit about how about that one went.

David:

Well, first of all, because of the training exercise we’d been through first, where they showed it to us, and I told you that they wanted us to know how many combs Hermione had in her hair. I said, OK, it’s going to be something that flashes on the screen very quickly. And it’s going to be something that you can ask a definite question about. And I saw that candle go by, and that V-I-I-I go by, and I said, “That’ll be it.” I remembered that and so, when they asked that, then I said, “OK, I know we’ve got an eight.” But then the question is, is the one below it one up or one down? I didn’t articulate it at the time, because both my colleagues were looking kind of stunned, and didn’t really have any ideas about that. I decided it must be nine because in Roman numerals, eight and seven would look very similar. I had the impression that whatever was underneath the eight was different-looking, so I said, OK, nine is different-looking and, so I said to Helen Mirren, “It’s Roman numeral 9, which is I-X.”

And my daughter tells me that what amazed people was not that I caught the candle, but that I knew Roman numerals without batting an eye.

John:

I mean, I told my wife that people were surprised you knew Roman numerals. She grew up in Rome; she was sort of like, oh OK…

David:

Right, well, listen, before I was a computer programmer, I was a math major, OK? Yeah, I can write Egyptian and Babylonian numerals too.

Louise:

Well done.

David:

And don’t ask about Greek numbers. You don’t want to know.

Louise:

The other question was that people were talking about, and quite amazed that was asked, was about the Granger family couch. I know that was one that neither team was able to recognize, but were you expecting something that obscure, being asked to recognize Mr. and Mrs. Granger’s couch?

David:

Well, no, but we should have been. Again, in the training session, they brought in artifacts from the movies. In the training session, they brought in a wand, and they gave it to us to look at and handle. And their question was, “Whose wand?” And boy, I had no idea which actual wand we had. The other practice team looked at it, and somebody on that side knew that it was Hermione’s wand. Really, I would have had no idea. So, I should have been expecting something that obscure.

I will tell you, we’ve seen the previews and so I know at one point you see…  They’re looking at some tiaras; I’m sure they’re trying to decide which was the tiara. As that’s in the previews, I don’t feel like I’m giving anything away there. In our final contest, again, we had artifacts from the movies, small artifacts, and we’re asked to pick one out. You know, “Here’s seven of them; which was the one we actually saw?”

So yes, the couches surprised me, and I really didn’t have a clear enough memory of that scene to make a good guess.

Louise:

My goodness, well, you know how “Flint” has become Harry Potter slang for a mistake in the book? Thanks to Marcus Flint being kept in Hogwarts for an extra 8th year? I have a funny feeling that “Granger Couch” is going to become Potter slang for a ridiculously obscure trivia question.

John:

David, you had a suspicion about what happens next, with Dudley jumping into his mother’s lap.

Louise:

And that one very, very much impressed me, too.

John:

I just thought, whoa, David, you’ve been watching these films, brother. You know there’s no way… that’s nowhere in the books. What happens in the movie?

David:

Well, as I told you, on about Tuesday or Wednesday, it became clear to me: Oh, this is really about the movies. I had the movies with me on DVD, and I had my trusty laptop computer, and I spent the next couple of days just watching the movies.

John:

Good, good.

David:

I’m kind of paying attention and, what happened is, when I saw Dudley do that, I thought, well, that’s a very immature thing for him to do, but I remembered it. There is a similar “what happens next?” question that comes up in the fourth, in the finals, round, and again, it was because I had watched the movie recently. Now, as it’s been three months, don’t ask me if I can do that now. I probably can’t.

Louise:

Short-term memory, OK?

David:

Yeah, something like that.

Louise:

Well, this has been great. It’s been so wonderful to hear a little bit more of the inside scoop. You know, I felt like I got a little bit of the inside picture as an audience member, but to hear it from here, from a contestant, what the whole process was really like, is really wonderful.

So, David, what is next for you in the world of Harry Potter scholarship? I understand you’re working on a book?

David:

Well, yeah.  Everybody is writing a book, not working. I have had various presentations over the years and some postings on Hogwartsprofessor.com, and a few things I’ve just written for my own satisfaction, and John has now generously agreed to help me put it together into a book, so I’m working on that. This little interview in some form, I suppose, will be in that book.

I’m also trusting there’s going to be an academic Harry Potter conference at Chestnut Hill College again next year. I’m already working on something. You know, I just did one on the symbolism of trees, which was a pure wild guess. I said, I’ll bet there’s something there. Let’s take a look. And by golly, I found some rather surprising things.

So, what’s coming next? For me, it’s the book and hopefully more Harry Potter conferences.

I have my one funny work about Twelve Fail-safe ways to Charm Witches, which has been a big hit, but I’ve got another one that’s kind of follow-up. It’s going to be: How to Win Friends and Influence Wizards: Learning Social Skills from the Harry Potter books.

Louise:

Oh, wow.

David:

I think I can do something there, similar to what I did in Twelve Fail-safe Ways to Charm Witches, which can be funny, can be based on the books, and yet can actually give good advice, all at the same time.

We’ll see. I know John commented that his wife was vastly amused when she had to set up and read through Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches.

Louise:

All right, well, I’m looking forward to reading that. I’ll let you know how many of them work.

John:

So, I just want to say congratulations again, and I want to say what a delight this is for us, who have known you for quite some time. But what delights me is that the rest of the world has discovered David Martin, who’s always been a great friend, and a true Potter pundit.

David:

All right, well, thank you.

Louise:

Hear, hear.

Stay tuned for more information on David’s upcoming book!  In the meantime, you can also follow him on Twitter @DavidTheHufflep and in Instagram at DavidTheHufflepuff. 

Comments

  1. I was so excited to see David on the show. I saw him in Orlando when he did the presentation “Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches”. I even took notes!

    Two other things: I’m almost as old as David and I use Harry Potter themes when teaching Scratch programming to elementary school students.

  2. Louise Freeman says

    As many times as I’ve heard David speak, I’ve never caught his 12 Failsafe Ways to Charm Witches talk. That’s why I’m looking forward to the book.

  3. I wasn’t able to watch the show, but it’s lots of fun to hear about it.

    Looking forward to the book!

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