We caught up with Harry Potter alum Katie Leung when she was in town to meet fans at the annual Armageddon Expo in Auckland last October. You might remember her as Cho Chang, and we chatted about her Harry Potter experience and post-Potter ventures.

Welcome to New Zealand! A lot of the fans here would likely recognise you from your role in the Harry Potter movies. What is your favourite memory of filming those?

The fact that I was on a film set, but also at school… So in a way it felt really natural, I didn’t feel out of place, everyone was so welcoming and supportive. I obviously didn’t come in until the fourth film so part of me was nervous and scared – it’s like being the new pupil at school and worrying about if you’re going to make any friends, but the acceptance of everybody made it really easy. It is crazy to think you’re in Hogwarts with gowns and wands and we’re doing out-of-the-ordinary classes and that kind of stuff. To me, it very quickly felt like I was going to school and it was really wonderful, just to fit in really and have that safe space to be yourself.

Photo from Instagram @_katieleung_.

It was a cooler version of normal school though, right?

Absolutely – actually I remember more the feeling of going back to school after I finished filming and just realising how good it was and how much I disliked actual school. I realised actually that I had almost been living in a bubble when I went back to real school and there was so much more out there, I couldn’t wait to leave school.

You’ve been involved in multiple TV series and projects since Harry Potter finished, what has been your favourite to film and your favourite character/role?

I was filming a TV series called Strangers which is on ITV at the moment and is going to be on Amazon soon, I played a rebellious teenager, Lau Chen – she’s a student activist and she protests against the Hong Kong government corruption. It was a really empowering role, as a girl, as an East-Asian girl, you’re kind of stereotyped into these roles that you’re either submissive or demure or all these things I’m not. So for once, I was able to play someone who wasn’t all those things, or defined by her gender, and it was a really lovely complex, dynamic role to play. I also filmed in Hong Kong so that was another bonus to playing that, for six months so I really enjoyed that.

How did you discover your passion for acting?

Post-Potter, I wasn’t actually sure if I wanted to continue. I thought that I’d just gotten lucky and was in the right place at the right time. Then I decided to go study photography which I really enjoyed and my heart was set on doing that and then I came to my last year at university. It was the last semester and I was doing the final degree show and I was asked to audition for a stage show, Wild Swans, which is an adaption of a novel. Then being on stage, I realised how much I missed acting and how much I enjoyed being on stage alongside other actors, having some kind of impact on the audience. I love that feeling so I went to drama school.

Harry Potter already had a massive following when you joined as Cho Chang, what was the experience like?

Because it was my first ever role, I’d never acted before, I had no concept of what the industry was like, or being well-known or having people recognise you – it didn’t really occur to me at the time. I was 16 and I was just really excited that I had been given that opportunity. I was so worried about the pressure of getting it right, playing this role and making sure the fans were going to be pleased with the result, and how I was going to bring my own thing into the role. The other side of it wasn’t such a big thing until the movie was released and at the premiere, that was the moment I realised when I stepped out of the car and onto the red carpet with all the fans there – just how big it was. It’s crazy just looking back, I downed a couple of champagnes with nerves. It’s incredible how many people it’s touched, this story, it’s incredible.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received that you can share?

My cousin who’s with me – she’s incredible and so open and generous. She always reminds me how much I should appreciate myself. I think that us human beings, we’re quite insecure people and I think just living with my cousin, she makes me realise that self-love is really important. It sounds really profound, but it’s such a simple thing that we should all learn to do and to value yourself more. The more you do, the easier everything becomes in terms of like career-path, what you want to do, how you treat people – it’s a real domino effect when you love yourself a bit more.

What’s coming up next for you?

After I did Strangers, I went on do a four-part drama called Chimerica and it’s going to be on British TV. It’s fiction, but it’s based around the really famous photograph Tank Man and it’s an American journalist’s journey trying to discover who that man was or whether he’s still alive. It was a great part – it’s out next year. I also voiced a character in an animation called Moominvalley, I play Too-Ticky who is a wise, ageless lovely lady who has great advice to give to the people around her so that was cool. I do some audio books every now and again, there’s so much freedom involved – it’s so enjoyable as you’re not restricted by your image, it’s quite liberating, I really enjoy it.