HBO’s The Plot Against America is a grim look at what would have happened if America was led by anti-semite Charles Lindbergh in World War II through the lens of one Jewish family in Newark, New Jersey. The Levins, led by father Herman (Morgan Spector) and mother Bess (Zoe Levin), are a kind, tight-knit group that wants to still believe in the American dream, even as it crumbles around them. However, there is one member of the Levin family who springs to action with Lindbergh is elected. At the end of Episode 2, Herman’s orphaned nephew Alvin (Anthony Boyle) crosses the Canadian border and signs up to fight Nazis in Europe.
Tonight’s all-new episode of The Plot Against America will follow Alvin to war-torn England, where he seems to be fitting right in. Alvin’s sheer fire and deep-rooted rage have helped him stand out to his superiors — and helped him woo at least one pretty British volunteer.
So much of what makes Alvin electric to watch on screen, however, is thanks to actor Anthony Boyle. The 25-year-old Northern Irish actor is a relative newcomer to television, but he has already garnered an international fanbase thanks to his Olivier-winning performance as Scorpius Malfoy in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. In many ways, Alvin Levin seems like a total departure from that role, but as Boyle told Decider in a one-on-one interview during Winter TCA, he only nabbed the part on the HBO show thanks to his work playing a bleach-blonde wizard boy on stage.
DECIDER: I was really just profoundly moved by the subject matter because something about the way it’s depicted reminded me a lot of my family, even though we are Irish Catholic from Long Island. I believe you’re also Irish. How exactly did you just inhabit the physicality, the accent, just the whole vibe of someone from New Jersey who happens to be Jewish in that time period? It’s very specific.
Anthony Boyle: We had a great dialect coach called Jerome Butler. He was awesome, he put me onto Ed Koch, you know Ed Koch, the old mayor? So like I would just be listening to him on my way to set every day. I think ’cause he was from the same place in the work as Philip Roth was, as Alvin Levin would have been. So I would just be walking about sort of reading the Alvin lines but then occasionally slipping into Ed Koch, you know talking about fiscal stability or you know the problems with these communities, and all that stuff.
As for the physicality of him there’s really interesting things that Roth says about him in the book. He talks about him being like a monkey that comes down from the trees and has found himself in Newark. So I just felt the anger and the heart and the weight on the shoulders, and all that just sort of led into it.
At the end of Episode 2, your character has kind of like the one badass line in the whole series when he says, “I’m here to kill Nazis.” How much fun was that to like act out and say, because I feel like that’s almost like an action hero line in the middle of this serious drama.
It’s a t-shirt line isn’t it? That was actually our first day of shooting, so I wasn’t really worried about—I was just worried about not getting fired as opposed to trying to nail that line. I was glad that they started me off on the first day with one line, so I couldn’t mess it up too much. No, that obviously is a fun line to say and the more he goes on in the piece the more he gets to do and say some pretty extraordinary things ’cause he’s a very extreme character. So he gets to play in that world and really say some dope shit.
Obviously this is a David Simon project and he is known for exquisite writing and just almost a symphonic way of approaching TV. As an actor, what was it like working with him on one of your first major US TV projects?
Yeah, my first one, yeah. Um, incredible. I’ve been really lucky thus far that I’ve worked with these really good people and he’s the pinnacle, you know? A poet is someone who tells the story of the time with the means of the time. And I think David is a great chronicler of our recent history and I think he uses TV to do it, which is the medium now. More often people aren’t going to the cinema, people aren’t going to the theater, but we’re watching Netflix, HBO. This is how we’re consuming art now. And David just smashes it out of the park every time. He really just shows us what it means to be human, and what I always like in all of his things, like Show Me a Hero and The Wire and particularly this. It’s so grey. There’s no heroes. Actually, that quote — “Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy” — that is like Alvin’s tale, do you know what I mean? Like in a way like that is so, so, so grim.
You mention people don’t go to the theater very often but you were in the Harry Potter play, which I know a lot of people went to see. Do you still kind of get called out for that or like recognized for that?
Well, it was my first job out of drama school. I had to leave school like a year early to do it. My life is pre- and post-Potter really, like it just changed my life completely. Yeah, I owe everything to that job. You know it was just such an incredible, formative experience We’d done it for 15 months in the West End and then 15 months over here and it was where the casting director Alexa Fogel, who cast this, saw me in that on Broadway and then, um, sort of how I got this.
So did she something kind of similar between Scorpius and Alvin?
I have no idea. (laughing) Did you see the play?
I have not seen it, but I’ve read it.
Yeah well, I have no idea cause he’s a sort of bumbling, awkward, very posh, blonde, um, 14-year-old wizard whose pathetic with women. He tells them they all smell like bread. Whereas Alvin, um, I don’t think has that problem. Yeah, it’s very different.
You mentioned before that you had like a dialect coach helping you, but also to play Jewish on screen has also its own specific challenge. What was the hardest part of acclaiming to that cultural identity on screen?
I never thought it was the hardest part. I always just thought it was so fascinating and interesting, like it was a culture that I didn’t know much about before I came to America. And then a lot of the people that I met on Broadway were Jewish and when I was sick they’d give me matzo ball soup. You know, I really found it to be such a warm culture, very similar to Irish, very family-based. So when it came to play someone who was Jewish, I don’t know, I sort of looked at the accent and sort of looked at people of that time, but it wasn’t really the focus really wasn’t on them being Jewish.
What’s your favorite thing about this project and the character? What are you hoping that people take away from it and what do you hope they see in Alvin?
Oh, it’s a weird one cause I’m of the opinion how people perceive it is how they perceive it, but I think for the project I would just love for as many people as possible to see it and maybe fall in love with it the way I did when I read it. I read it and just though this is a project that needs to be made. It’s so current, it’s so of the time. People are really going to access this and really, really find it thrilling. I think when you slap politics on the tagline for a show it makes people go, “Oh fuck this, it’s gonna be boring,” but it’s really about the emotions and the family situation.
The Plot Against America Episode 3 premieres tonight on HBO.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Where to watch The Plot Against America