If Harry Melling, who plays Kentucky chess master Harry Beltik The Queen’s Gambit, sounds familiar, there is a good reason. The actor had a busy year, performing as a vicious scientist in action film The old guard and in the thriller The devil all the time– but he’s also recognizable to many viewers thanks to a much older role that of Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter Movie.
Im GambitMellings Beltik is a regional chess master who is defeated by Anya Taylor-Joy’s newcomer Beth Harmon and becomes a friend and teacher to her. “He realizes that he will never be better than her and decides to help her,” says Melling T &C. “His greater calling will work with her.”
Here Melling explains what attracted him to the clever, enchanting world that the series creates and how his own chess skills develop.
What first drew you to the series? Were you a chess fan
I met Scott Frank, the screenwriter and director, for the first time and he told me about his script. He sent it to me and I just fell in love with every facet – the characters, the story, this surreal and cerebral world that I knew absolutely nothing about. I didn’t even know how to play chess at the time, but I still found it absolutely fascinating.
Her character is a chess master who realizes that he can’t be better than Beth Harmon, but can help her reach her potential.
To speak of Harry Beltik specifically, I found his trip really fascinating. If we meet him he’ll be the Kentucky Chess Master and he’s in his area hoping to win his trophy back. Beth bursts on walks, and she really bursts his bladder – not just in terms of chess, but also in terms of how he perceives himself and the journey he’s about to have. Then the narrative unfolds and he finds Beth at her lowest point and he really wants to help her. There is so much to do. You meet all of these characters and their heads are elsewhere. You keep thinking of sequences and chess games that could have happened years ago. There is this quality that makes for eccentric characters.
Did you research on chess or the time period the series takes place?
In London, where I live, there is a chess shop that I went to. They have all these books on chess and I started talking to these people there who really knew their stuff. I asked if they had anything about female chess players and they gave me a book. I started reading about female chess players who beat men and how the men were not happy about it. This was a small catalyst for what Walter Tevis would continue to write. So there are these little nuggets, however [the series] is fiction. Tevis obviously used characters like Bobby Fischer and other well-known chess pieces to advance the story, but it’s a fiction. Still, it was fascinating to learn something about the chess world during this time. Walter’s novel and Scott’s adaptation take this story up and make you think it has to be a true story because it feels so real.
It’s a reminder that there was a time when chess players could be superstars.
It was great! The Fischer-Spassky match was such a big deal. Today we have this player named Magnus Carlsen, who I saw on a billboard – but the world of chess is not what it was then. Maybe we will trigger a renaissance?
Did you learn how to play
I really wanted to know how to play properly. The most important thing for me was knowing how to move the parts as best as possible as this is the story we are telling. Whether they slide across the board or get knocked down, whether they are used to hit the clock. These are all things that help tell the story of who these people are.
Will you keep playing
I am! I am really trying. My girlfriend and I played a bit during the lockdown and we’re trying to stick with it. But I’m not the best player – not yet.
Senior Editor, Arts and Culture
Adam Rathe is the Senior Editor at Town & Country and covers art and culture as well as a variety of other topics.
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