THE LONG GOODBYE
There was just one more book to go. But it was a finale so epic, it had to become two films. Empire visited the set several times over 16 months to see how it was going
The final book would be split into two films. This was our set report from both (they were filmed together).
BEING DANIEL RADCLIFFE must be bizarre. On the one hand, he’s a star known the world over. A young man who’s financially set for life even if he chooses never to work again. On the other, he seems absolutely without ego, an exuberant and endlessly enthusiastic figure constantly in danger of being outpaced by his own thoughts. Still slight and boyish in appearance, the now 21-year-old is a world away from the superheroes, spacemen and spies we expect to see heading up the biggest movie series of all time. He doesn’t act like a star, either. His dressing room is littered with books but empty of toadies.
Radcliffe’s energy and buoyancy is certainly present when Empire joins him during our third visit to the set of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, in March 2010 — almost a year to the day after our first trip to Watford’s Leavesden Studios for this two-part movie, and 13 months after the start of shooting. But even Radcliffe admits this two-part behemoth has been an endurance test.
“We’re sneaking up on Eyes Wide Shut as the record holder for the longest shoot — although I suppose this is two films, so how they stretched that into an 18-month shoot I’ll never quite know. It’s great, it’s still good, but it doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to end. There always seems to be so much still left to do. Every time you finish a big scene, suddenly somebody says, ‘Oh, we’re in the Great Hall next week,’ and those are always massive scenes...”
As the titular boy wizard, Radcliffe naturally worked most days on all six previous films (“about 150 days each”), but on this the first unit clocked up something like 280 by the time the film wrapped, and Radcliffe was there for almost all of them. “The first two or three months was all location stuff, but then after that, back at the studios, you get into a rhythm very, very quickly. And then you barely notice the time pass, to be honest.”
But aside from the sheer stamina required, Parts I and II of The Deathly Hallows present fresh challenges for the thoroughly tried-and-tested cast and crew. Part I takes place almost entirely outside of Hogwarts, with the trio of Harry, Hermione and Ron on the run from Voldemort and collaborators in a Fugitive-like thriller; Part II sees the school in rubble as the battle with Voldemort comes to a final, fatal head. With so much to cover, even short scenes can pose huge challenges.
During our August 2009 visit to Leavesden, Empire watched one particularly complex scene unfurl, a sequence from early in the book where Harry’s friends come to take him from his home and six of them take Polyjuice Potion to morph themselves into Harry doppelgängers. The plan is that they’ll all leave Privet Drive heading in different directions, the better to bamboozle the forces of darkness waiting outside. But the immediate result is that there should be seven identical Potters standing together in the room, which requires multiple takes of exactly the same action, with each cast member in turn being replaced by Radcliffe.
“I am so glad you saw that!” he cries. “Some people don’t realise the technical stuff that goes into it, and that was a perfect example. We did 95 takes on that one shot; it counts as the same shot because the camera is programmed to do exactly the same thing each time. We were betting on how many takes we’d end up doing. No-one won because no-one had guessed that high. But at the end of the day they showed us a primitive version of the scene and it’s brilliant. “Normally when you see split-screen stuff, you’re very aware that they’re not gonna suddenly touch each other, whereas in this scene it’s all overlapping and everybody’s crossing over. It’s a really good opener. Although here’s my question: why doesn’t Harry change into somebody else rather than everyone turning into him? We were all wondering; we couldn’t work it out on set.”
Plot holes aside, this film — Part II in particular — presents Radcliffe with a couple of near-impossible scenes: a walk towards certain death, and a strange encounter in an afterlife that looks like King’s Cross. “I had been building myself up for those two scenes for the whole film. These are the two I have to get right. I don’t think I probably did either of them brilliantly in the end, because I always do that thing of putting loads of pressure on myself, which is very stupid,” he says with characteristic self-deprecation. “We filmed it on a white stage, but they’re going to insert a ghostly King’s Cross afterwards. Health & Safety were there, telling people they had to wear sunglasses because it was so bright white.”
Potter’s finale, in other words, goes to places we haven’t been before. And if Part I is an episodic journey (“Jo Rowling
“THINGS BEGIN TO GET HEATED. YOU BEGIN TO SEE RON’S PARANOIA... BUT THE FACT THEY’RE ARGUING MAKES THEM FEEL MORE HUMAN.” RUPERT GRINT
wrote me a note as she was writing the seventh book, and said it’s a bizarre road movie, which is absolutely accurate”), Part II is going to be much bigger in scale; director David Yates calls it operatic. Radcliffe looks bemused. “Operatic? David said that? He’s not told me about that. I guess it’s operatic in that I take about 20 minutes to die and then ultimately refuse to, so I have an opera death. The second half is just this unrelenting chase that turns into a battle and doesn’t stop; you barely have a chance to catch your breath. The battle of Hogwarts basically is the second half of the last film, and it’s incredible! In the courtyard there’s this huge pile of rubble; you almost want Panzer tanks coming over it. It looked like the perfect Second World War film. What’s good about Potter is that we’ve always managed to keep the story and the characters as the focus even when the action is around them, so I’m hoping we’ll be able to stay true to that. I’m sure we will.”
So this is Harry all grown up? “Someone said to me the other day, ‘Is there one point where Harry becomes a man?’, and the thing is, I don’t think he does in this film, because the point is, he’s still 17. I mean, Voldemort does absolutely kick six bells out of me, and that’s what makes it effective, the fact that Harry’s a kid having the crap beaten out of him. If it’s Voldemort killing an adult — well, he does that loads in the films. To see him brutalising and desperately trying to kill a 17 year-old boy is hopefully going to shake some people up.”
RADCLIFFE’S NOT THE only one facing high drama. Rupert Grint’s Ron Weasley, for six films the comic relief of the series, has a very different role this time around. Director David Yates says, “When you see Part I, it’s really intriguing because Rupert, who always gets the funny stuff, is playing a really straight emotional line.”
Grint, speaking with Empire shortly after the end of filming, agrees: “It’s hard for Ron, I think, because if he wants to be a loyal friend, that means he has to sacrifice seeing his family, and that’s something he’s worried about. You begin to see his paranoia as he sees Hermione and Harry getting closer and he’s not quite fully trusting of Harry’s ability. Things begin to get a little bit heated. But then the fact that they’re arguing makes them feel a bit more human.” The steady triumvirate of six films, in other words, is wobbling.
Next to his verbose co-stars; the more muted Grint can seem taciturn to the point of gruffness. But get him going and it’s obvious he shares much of Ron’s good nature and cares deeply about Potter. So much that he greeted the publication of The Deathly Hallows with some dread.
“I think I was the last one to read it. I don’t know why I didn’t, because I’m a big fan of the books; I’ve read all of them. But I was nervous because I’d been hearing so much about characters dying and not making it to the end. And I wanted Ron to survive!”
Given the pre-publication speculation about Ron’s fate, Grint’s caution was probably warranted. After all, if Rowling were to kill off one of the trio, he always seemed the most vulnerable. But he’s not the only character who had cause for alarm as the series approached its bloody climax. “It turns into a bit of a war film. The castle is on fire with rubble and bodies littered everywhere — and they’re all kids as well! It’s quite moving. Really intense.”
And with shooting finally over, he is — like all the cast and crew — experiencing conflicting emotions. “Part of me doesn’t really want it to end, because I’ve loved it and it’s been a huge part of my life. But in the same way, it’s been ten years of solid filmmaking, so it’s nice to have a bit of freedom. Yeah, just be free.”
BUT FREEDOM ISN’T always easily won. Emma Watson’s Hermione escapes the family worries that plague her friend Ron in the film — but she does so at huge cost. “The film opens with Hermione wiping her parents’ memories [of her] and leaving their house. You don’t read that in the book; you just know she does it. That’s a scene that Steve [Kloves] and Dave [Yates] wrote for the film, which I was happy about because you
“HARRY’S STILL 17 AND VOLDEMORT DOES KICK SIX BELLS OUT OF ME — THAT’S WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE.” DANIEL RADCLIFFE
see the sacrifice that Hermione and Ron make to be Harry’s friend. You see Ron’s home and Harry’s. But you never really get a sense of Hermione’s life outside Hogwarts, outside that friendship, and it’s important. She’s not just going off to school for another year. You’re choosing between family and friends; it’s pretty brutal. They offer her a cup of tea, completely unaware that anything’s about to happen, and then I cast a spell that wipes their memory of me. There are photos all around the room, actual childhood pictures of me, and they just dissolve. It’s horrible. And then I have to shut the door and walk out alone.”
Despite showing no more inclination for the limelight than her male co-stars, Watson is most often hounded by the tabloids. So famous that her haircuts are front-page news, she seems almost relieved to be in the odd bubble of Leavesden Studios, and has chosen to go to university in the US, at the relatively quiet Brown (“Brown is a small campus so everyone is used to seeing me around. No-one takes a second glance anymore, which is wonderful”). For Watson, it wasn’t the length of the shoot or the prospect of finishing that was most draining, but the sheer scale and content of this film.
“The emotional stuff is much harder. These last two films have been on a completely different level in terms of what they’ve demanded from me physically and emotionally. I did a scene where Ron’s had half of his body splinched [the result of an unsuccessful disapparation], and he’s drenched in blood and my hands are covered in blood and my friend’s in a huge amount of pain in my arms. I’m trying to save him. And then physically... There were huge amounts of physical exertion for, like, days on end, you know, working with explosives because there are so many fighting scenes. When the spells go off, they have tons of pyrotechnics and it’s scary. No acting required; it’s absolutely terrifying. So yeah, it was a very, very demanding shoot.”
Not that anyone wants to ask her about that. Watson has found on this film that journalists are only interested in one thing: what it was like kissing Ron. “I suppose I understand. This kiss between Hermione and Ron is highly anticipated, it’s been building up for eight films now. And Harry Potter, it’s not Twilight, you know; we’re not selling sex. So, whenever there is any hint of that, everybody gets terribly excited. In fact, it was horribly awkward; we couldn’t stop laughing. The nicest thing about it was, before we did it, we turned to each other and were like, ‘God, this is going to be awful, isn’t it?’ But hopefully it will look good.”
Despite the dashes full-tilt through forests and glens (“It was quite competitive; the camera was on a zip wire and we were sort of racing each other”) and the stuntwork (“When they set up these pyrotechnics there’s a huge pressure to get it right”), Watson’s biggest disaster on set occurred when she tried to document this last instalment of the franchise.
“I wandered into a second-hand camera shop, and this very nice gentleman persuaded me I needed an old black-and-white film camera. I realised I hadn’t taken any photos of the last ten years, so this time I’ve been bugging everyone. Takes me about ten minutes to take one because I have to work out the aperture, the shutter speed, the focus and everything. But the girl who was helping me develop the film accidentally turned on the lights in the dark room and wiped everything. I couldn’t talk for about three days. I was devastated. Forget the arty cool effect of using old film cameras. It’s absolute bollocks. Digital cameras and Photoshop is the way to go.”
AFTER TEN YEARS and eight films, there are just fragments of Potter work left for Radcliffe, Grint and Watson — some dubbing, then the whirlwind world promotional tour for the two parts of Deathly Hallows. Then they’ll go their separate ways: Radcliffe to Broadway for How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, and a starring role in Hammer’s The Woman In Black; Grint to a biopic of Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards; and Watson to college. At the moment, though, it’s hard to imagine an end to Potter, however welcome the completion of the marathon shoot may have been. As Radcliffe says, “I will be sad to finish the series, but I will feel a great sense of achievement when I finish this film ’cause it will be the longest shoot I will probably ever do in my career. And hopefully we’ll all stay in touch. We’ll probably all play teachers in the remakes in 30 years.”
THE HARRY POTTER 8-FILM COLLECTION IS AVAILABLE NOW ON 4K, BLU-RAY AND DVD
Clockwise from right: Harry rides shotgun with Hagrid; Voldemort is on the rise; Harry and Hermione grapple with Rita Skeeter’s Dumbledore tome.
Clockwise from left: Members of the Order Of The Phoenix morph into Harry for the Battle Of The Seven Potters; Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs), Narcissa Malfoy (Helen Mccrory) and Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter); Panic on the streets of London.