DECONSTRUCTING HARRY

The fifth film saw the Pot­ter se­ries take on an­other new di­rec­tor and a more adult tone. Em­pire vis­ited the set and iden­ti­fied seven rea­sons to be very ex­cited in­deed

Empire (UK) - - HARRY POTTER: AN EMPIRE HISTORY - 31

Seven rea­sons we were ex­cited about Or­der Of The Phoenix af­ter vis­it­ing the set back in 2006.

FOR A FILM se­ries that rou­tinely kills it at the box of­fice, Harry Pot­ter is re­fresh­ingly keen to not only evolve, but also take risks. Darker with each in­stal­ment, it’s a fran­chise that’s not ex­actly grow­ing up with its au­di­ence (be­cause it’s au­di­ence is ba­si­cally ev­ery­one), but cer­tainly with its char­ac­ters.

Re­con­vened at Leaves­den Stu­dios where many of the sets have re­mained in­tact since the first movie, the vast ma­chine that is the Harry Pot­ter in­dus­try has been busily churn­ing out an­other sure­fire hit. “I think there is an edge here,” says David Hey­man, pro­ducer of the en­tire se­ries. “This time Harry is learn­ing to be­come a leader of men.”

There are many rea­sons, then, to be ex­cited for num­ber five — The Or­der Of The Phoenix — but, for sake of ar­gu­ment, let’s set­tle on seven.

THEY’VE GOT A SUB­TEXT

If you’ve not read the books (which surely won’t ap­ply to many peo­ple, but just in case), here’s what you need to know: The Or­der Of The Phoenix is the ‘po­lit­i­cal one’. Af­ter Volde­mort’s dra­matic re­sus­ci­ta­tion at the close of The Goblet Of Fire, the Min­istry Of Magic is now bury­ing its head in the ground and deny­ing ev­ery­thing. This mag­i­cal wing of the gov­ern­ment is ‘spin-doc­tor­ing’ the facts to quell panic. Hence the book, at least, has been de­ci­phered as Rowl­ing’s com­men­tary on New Labour’s habit of ‘adapt­ing’ the facts to suit pol­icy.

“I wouldn’t say it is specif­i­cally about Blair,” says Hey­man. “He may have a unique spin on cer­tain things, but he is like many other politi­cians — given to us­ing the press to get their point across. This is not a film with a spe­cific agenda. It is about op­pos­ing views. It is about pas­sion, about fam­ily and also about what you see not nec­es­sar­ily be­ing the truth. The themes are hu­mane and po­lit­i­cal.”

There is also Rowl­ing’s on­go­ing mis­sion to marry the ti­tanic bat­tle be­tween good and evil with the ti­tanic strug­gle of sim­ply grow­ing up.

“I know all the directors have said it, but this one is a bit more emo­tional,” says di­rec­tor David Yates. “This pe­riod, be­tween 14 and 17, is prob­a­bly the most dra­matic time in your life be­cause you’re dis­cov­er­ing the op­po­site sex and how com­pli­cated you are.”

The news is, yes, Harry gets his first proper kiss. “It was much less sexy than I imag­ined it would be,” says Rad­cliffe. “Hope­fully it will look ten­der and nat­u­ral, more, ‘Oh,’ than, ‘Oooh.’ More, ‘Thank you very much.’”

“I had my hanky out,” laughs Hey­man. “I re­mem­ber him when he was ten years old...”

THOSE KIDS ARE GROW­ING UP FAST

To­day, it’s Ru­pert Grint’s 18th birth­day. At lunch a ta­ble in the Pot­ter re­fec­tory has been piled high with brightly coloured parcels. Ten min­utes later the rab­ble pile in, var­i­ous fac­tions of Hog­warts jostling for supremacy in the din­ner queue as the spe­cial boy shuf­fles in and grins. A frenzy of un­wrap­ping un­veils an in­door shoot­ing range, a gift from the unit pub­li­cist. Emma Wat­son, mean­while, has bought him two Mango T-shirts: “I had to go for large,” she sighs. “He’s got so broad.” Rad­cliffe, of course, has for­got­ten.

With age has come a stretch­ing of wings, the young leads feel­ing a need to prove them­selves out­side of Hog­warts. Grint made a de­cent stab at “an adult film” in Driv­ing Lessons, al­though he couldn’t es­cape the clutches of mother Weasley (Julie Wal­ters was his co-star). But inevitably, it’s Rad­cliffe who has gar­nered most at­ten­tion. He spoofed Harry’s square per­sona in Ex­tras as a con­temp­tu­ous child star fid­dling with a fresh con­dom. And at the time of writ­ing he was ready­ing him­self to prance about with his ‘Nim­bus 2000’ on dis­play on stage in Peter Shaf­fer’s Equus.

“The ear­lier you start to break the mould, the bet­ter. It makes it eas­ier for peo­ple to see me as some­one dif­fer­ent from Harry,” he says. “Equus seemed like a fool­ish thing not to do.”

For now, though, it’s the day job, where for a cool $14 mil­lion a film he’ll bat­tle it out with the forces of evil to the bit­ter end. Rad­cliffe and Grint have signed on for the du­ra­tion; it was Wat­son who was play­ing a lit­tle hard to get.

As she ap­peared to be wa­ver­ing on com­mit­ting to the fi­nal two films, the tabloids started run­ning sto­ries she was set to quit act­ing en­tirely. An­other ru­mour put it down to salary ne­go­ti­a­tions — she had been get­ting only $4 mil­lion a movie. Warner Bros. has dis­missed such talk as no more than Volde­mort’s trick­ery, put­ting the de­lay down to sort­ing out her school sched­ule. She has now signed, and film six, The Half-blood Prince, will com­mence this Septem­ber. Al­though, back on set a year ear­lier she talks of aim­ing for univer­sity, “to study English or phi­los­o­phy”. But now she’s get­ting older, she does at least un­der­stand the mag­ni­tude of the films she’s mak­ing, and the sta­tus of who she’s work­ing with.

“When I was younger I was com­pletely obliv­i­ous to it,” she con­fesses. “I re­mem­ber to this day Dan say­ing, ‘You know Gary Old­man is go­ing to be play­ing Sir­ius?’ And I went, ‘Who’s Gary Old­man?’ I’ve had the piss taken out of me so much since.”

THERE’S A NEW MAS­TER OF THE DARK ARTS

She goes by the name of Dolores Um­bridge. She’s a plant from the Min­istry, and with Dum­ble­dore dis­cred­ited over his Volde­mort claims, trans­forms the school into a to­tal­i­tar­ian state of Or­wellian pro­por­tions, striking up edicts to sti­fle the free­dom of the pupils. Chiefly, one Harry Pot­ter, trapped in de­ten­tions more like tor­ture ses­sions. Lit­tle won­der he and his friends form a se­cret re­bel­lion — Dum­ble­dore’s Army — to bring down their lat­est foe, dressed head to toe in pink. “It is like the French un­der­ground,” says Hey­man. “She is this force pre­vent­ing the kids liv­ing the life they want to live.” Never has pink been so threat­en­ing. As Um­bridge’s power grows, so her cos­tumes be­come ever more sick­en­ingly pink. Her of­fice, unc­tu­ously twee, is dec­o­rated with en­chanted plates painted with fluffy cats that stir and twitch with her moods. She is played with spec­tac­u­lar vim by Imelda Staunton, who might just have been the model for Rowl­ing’s char­ac­ter. “Oh, she’s fan­tas­tic. She brings such wit,” says Yates. “Um­bridge is one of those teach­ers we all know. On the sur­face they have the smile, but be­neath it they are deadly.”

THERE’S ALSO A NEW DI­REC­TOR

By luck or judge­ment, each post-chris Colum­bus Pot­ter movie is ben­e­fit­ing from a fresh di­rec­tor. En­ter David Yates, whose ‘cast­ing’ was a sur­prise to many. Goblet di­rec­tor Mike Newell turned down the op­por­tu­nity to re­turn, while Mira Nair’s name pinged about the ru­mour sites like a pin­ball (“She was on the list,” is all pro­ducer David Bar­ron will say) be­fore Yates emerged as the win­ner. While he has po­lit­i­cal drama State Of Play (shortly to be re­made as a Brad Pitt movie by Kevin Mac­don­ald) to his name, eye­brows were raised. What gives?

“It was sim­ple. I love his work,” af­firms Hey­man. “Sex Traf­fic, State Of

Play and The Way We Live Now, they are the best of Bri­tish TV. One of the things I love is that we re­ally took a shift with the third film, ground­ing it more. I think David is re­ally bring­ing that to it — an edge.”

To be fair, Yates was as shocked as any­one.

“I was just walk­ing in Corn­wall,” says Yates of the morn­ing his mo­bile rang with the news. “It was my agency: ‘Do you want to do Harry Pot­ter?’ And I said, ‘I’m sorry, are you kid­ding?”’ Un­til this point, on a windy path in his cagoule, he hadn’t read a word of Rowl­ing’s fic­tion. But he caught on fast.

“What’s great about the Pot­ter world is that it al­lows you to ex­plore real dilem­mas in a mag­i­cal way. In this film, Harry is get­ting this sense Volde­mort is in­vad­ing his head. It ab­so­lutely taps into that teenage state of anger and frus­tra­tion with the world.”

The softly spo­ken 44-year-old Brit has been a hit with the kids. “Mike Newell was very Bri­tish, very loud and great fun,” says Wat­son. “Ev­ery­thing about this film feels more in­tense. I’ve re­ally liked David’s at­ti­tude. He uses the word ‘truth’ a lot.”

“This film has been the best for me so far,” says Rad­cliffe. “I mean that in no way as dis­parag­ing to the other directors, but David has caught me at a fan­tas­tic mo­ment when I am re­ally will­ing to be pushed.”

“He’s a lot dif­fer­ent from Mike,” says Grint. “Mike was not afraid of swear­ing at you if he didn’t like some­thing.”

THE STU­DIO HAS BEEN NICE TO THEM

What’s this, a $250 mil­lion movie left to its own de­vices? Is Warner Bros., far away in sunny Bur­bank, happy to just pick up the tab and sam­ple the rushes as they come in?

“Well, it’s not quite that sim­ple,” says Hey­man. “But it is a good re­la­tion­ship.” To date Warn­ers has paid out $510 mil­lion

“I WENT UP TO ED­IN­BURGH. J.K. ROWL­ING MADE ME LUNCH. IT WAS LOVELY. SHE’S BEEN RE­ALLY, RE­ALLY HELP­FUL WITH THE SCRIPT.” DAVID YATES

(not in­clud­ing mar­ket­ing costs) and reaped $3,499,677,256 (not in­clud­ing an­cil­lar­ies like DVD and DIY wands). In Hey­man’s steady hands, Rowl­ing’s uni­verse rings the tills like Tesco’s on Christ­mas Eve. You’re not go­ing to in­ter­fere with a cash cow that big.

“Hol­ly­wood trusts David [Hey­man] im­plic­itly,” says Yates. “That’s a big fac­tor. The stu­dio isn’t in­vis­i­ble, they’re present and in their own way equally as sup­port­ive. One has all these im­pres­sions of what big stu­dios are like from Down And Dirty Pic­tures and those lovely, slightly sleazy Hol­ly­wood books. But the truth is, there are some re­ally com­mit­ted, in­tel­li­gent, sen­si­tive peo­ple out there do­ing a very tough job.”

Be­ing a smart man, Yates is well aware he is on to a very good thing with Harry Pot­ter: “I know this isn’t al­ways go­ing to be the case.”

6 ROWL­ING’S NEVER LET THEM DOWN

Forget bil­lion-dol­lar me­dia con­glom­er­ate Warner Bros.

— it is still Rowl­ing, far away in her yel­low-brick Ed­in­burgh man­sion, who re­mains grand dame of all things Pot­ter. She gets to vet those souls brazen enough to try to turn her magic into the movie kind. “Yes, I went up to Ed­in­burgh,” says Yates. “She made me lunch. It was lovely. She’s been re­ally, re­ally help­ful with the script.”

The Or­der Of The Phoenix has pre­sented the tough­est chal­lenge yet. A hefty 870 pages, it is the long­est novel in the se­ries. Yet, from Yates’ point of view, this proved an eas­ier propo­si­tion than the mass of ma­te­rial might sug­gest.

“In­ter­est­ingly enough it dis­tils quite eas­ily,” he says. “As ever these books are quite episodic, so we’ve tried to take that out and con­cen­trate on a three-act emo­tional arc for Harry.” Devo­tees may prickle, but sub­plots had to be jet­ti­soned. Ron’s turn as a Quid­ditch hero is out; Dobby the house-elf still out; Neville’s par­ents in the mag­i­cal men­tal hospi­tal, cut. All sev­ered with Rowl­ing’s ap­proval.

“Jo keeps the films and books very sep­a­rate,” says Hey­man. “I’m the one call­ing her up, mak­ing sure we don’t do any­thing that will mess with her fic­tion. She re­ally wants the films to be as good as they could be. We needed to vi­su­alise Sir­ius Black’s fam­ily tree, so we told Jo. And she said, ‘I un­der­stand.’ Fif­teen min­utes later a fax came though with the en­tire Black fam­ily tree which had the fam­ily crest, their motto, with eight gen­er­a­tions of Blacks with all their names. Her world is em­bed­ded in her.”

In­deed, while they’ve been dal­ly­ing with wall mounts, she’s been busy con­clud­ing the saga with Harry Pot­ter And The Deathly Hal­lows, due on 21 July. Around its ar­rival hangs the very ques­tion of Harry’s sur­vival... Will Rowl­ing ac­tu­ally kill off her in­trepid su­per­star? She hasn’t ex­actly been queasy about knock­ing off piv­otal char­ac­ters — look out for the first ma­jor sac­ri­fice for Harry’s cause in this film. It is worth con­sid­er­ing that read­ing the fi­nal book (out a mere eight days af­ter the new movie) may cast a strange shadow over your view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of num­ber five.

“I’ve no idea what hap­pens,” says Rad­cliffe. “A lot of peo­ple as­sume I do. I love play­ing games with peo­ple. One day, when J.K. Rowl­ing came to visit the set, I made out she had told me the end­ing. All these ex­tras be­lieved me. The only per­son who knows some­thing about what will hap­pen to their char­ac­ter in book seven is Alan Rick­man.”

7 THERE IS SOME MAGIC IN THE AIR

There’s been a new ad­di­tion to the roll-call — Luna ‘Loony’ Love­g­ood. De­scribed by Rowl­ing as “the an­ti­hermione”, she’s a pure ec­cen­tric, with some use­ful in­sight be­neath her dreamy state-of-mind. The prob­lem was, they couldn’t find their Luna.

“We had in­ter­viewed thou­sands,” says Hey­man. “We had ac­tu­ally nar­rowed it down to three kids, but they just didn’t feel right. Then I said, ‘Let’s just give it one more shot.’ So we did an open cast­ing in London for around 2,000 peo­ple.” Fif­teen thou­sand turned up. From 55-year-old men to eight-year-old girls, ev­ery one of them dressed up as ‘Luna’. “It was com­pletely mad,” says Hey­man. “Cast­ing di­rec­tor Fiona Weir looked at ev­ery sin­gle one. And there was just this one, an Ir­ish girl named Evanna Lynch.” This kid was a Pot­ter ma­niac. She knew it all. She’d even sparked up a cor­re­spon­dence with Rowl­ing. “When Jo found out she called me,” con­tin­ues Hey­man, “she couldn’t be­lieve it. Jo said, ‘She is Luna.’ It was a dream for her and a dream for us. It was meant to be.”

“Ev­ery­one says Luna’s so odd, so weird,” says Lynch. “She’s dif­fer­ent to ev­ery­one else, but only be­cause she’s so hon­est, so open-minded and so com­fort­able be­ing her­self. I’ve never met any­one like her, so I thought that was such a pos­i­tive thing. I’d like to be more like that...”

For to­day’s scene, David Yates sur­veys his ta­ble. It’s quite a gather­ing: Gary Old­man, Julie Wal­ters, Mark Wil­liams, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, Michael Gam­bon, Ru­pert Grint, Emma Wat­son, Daniel Rad­cliffe and a pair of Weasley twins await his in­struc­tion. Yates has so en­joyed his ex­pe­ri­ence at the helm of Phoenix that he’s ac­cepted the stu­dio’s re­quest for him to do Half-blood Prince, too. Which im­plies Yates has done some­thing pretty spe­cial with Phoenix.

“Look,” Yates says point­ing. “I have a room full of some of the finest ac­tors in the world. And we’re hav­ing such a nice time to­gether.”

It must be magic. With an edge.

THE HARRY POT­TER 8-FILM COL­LEC­TION IS AVAIL­ABLE NOW ON 4K, BLU-RAY AND DVD

Far left: Things turn even gnarlier for Harry David Yates’ darker take. Be­low: Imelda Staunton’s Dolores Um­bridge (front) is the new Mas­ter Of The Dark Arts.

Clock­wise from main: Sir­ius Black and Harry find them­selves un­der at­tack; Nym­phadora Tonks (Natalia Tena) with ‘Mad-eye’ Moody (Brendan Gleeson); Dum­ble­dore, founder of se­cret so­ci­ety The Or­der Of The Phoenix; Volde­mort is up to more tricks; Phoenix mem­ber Snape.

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