SET VISIT: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I
Last March, we had the rare opportunity to travel to London, England and visit the set while they were shooting the two films simultaneously. Not only did we have the opportunity to watch them filming, and take a tour of the massive and impressive Leavesden Studios, but we also had a chance to speak with several members of the cast and crew including director David Yates and actors Mark Williams, Evanna Lynch, James and Oliver Phelps, Warwick Davis, Rupert Grint and of course ... Harry himself, Daniel Radcliffe. While we talked to the actors and the director about both movies and watched them filming parts of the second film, we will only be discussing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I in this article. And we will have more from our visit pertaining to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II closer to its release next summer.
We began our visit by arriving at the massive Leavesden Studios in West Hertfordshire, England, which is approximately 18 miles northwest of central London. Not only was the studio home to such fan-favorite films as Martin Campbell's Goldeneye with Pierce Brosnan, George Lucas's Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow and Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, but it has been the home to every Harry Potter film since the series began production over a decade ago. In fact, many of the department heads on the final two movies began as production assistants or college interns on the first few films. Several crew people told us that since they began working on this series right after college, that working on a Harry Potter film is the only real job that they've ever had. Which is pretty amazing when you think about it. The crew affectionately refers to anyone who has worked on all eight films as "Lifers." Upon arrival you realize what a massive and "well-oiled-machine" the Harry Potter production team is, and as a result of how long they have been doing this for, it feels more like a long running television series then a film set.
Since The Dark Knight is the only film to have shot at Leavesden since the Potter films began, the production has been able to leave all of their props and many of their sets from the previous films in tact so that they can be accessed as needed for future productions. We had a chance to tour some of them including the Ministry of Magic and Dumbledore's office, as well as take a stroll through the impressive prop house. We were then escorted to a room where we were to meet some of the actors from the film, and it was decorated with dozens of photographs and other concept artwork from both movies. As fans of the book series know, the final films will take place after Dumbledore's death as Voldemort has assumed power over the Ministry of Magic, which forces Harry, Ron and Hermione to drop out of school and go on a journey together in order to stop him once and for all.
First up, we had the pleasure of speaking with 3 ft. 6 in. tall actor Warwick Davis, who will play both the roles of Professor Fitwick and Griphook in the final two films. Davis, who has portrayed Fitwick in all of the previous films, did not play Griphook in his first and only other screen appearance, which was in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. In that film the character, an employee of the Gringotts Wizarding Bank, is played by actor Verne Troyer (Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery). Before playing Professor Fitwick, Davis was probably best known as either Wicket the Ewok from Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi or as Willow from the classic Ron Howard movie of the same name. The fact is the actor has been working steadily for over twenty years and has appeared in such popular movies as Labyrinth, Leprechaun and Ray. Davis uses a Segway to get around the massive studio, which he was riding when he entered the room. "It's perfect for this sort of environment. As you realize, there's a lot of walking around here and I'm always having to go to different sets to film, so it's perfect," Davis said.
We began by asking Davis to discuss the two different characters that he portrays in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I. "Well, the first is Professor Flitwick whom I've played since the beginning and he's basically kind of the same character he's always been. Although you don't see so much of his kind of lighter side in this, the comic side that we're used to seeing in this character. There's some serious action in this one," Davis explained. "I do get to wave my wand in anger a little bit in this one. I'm not just conducting a choir with it. I actually get to dispatch some death eaters and stuff so it's all very exciting." The actor went on to discuss Griphook. "In complete contrast is Griphook. He's very deceitful. You just don't know whether to trust him. He's as close to a sort of villainous character that I've got to play in these films; definitely sort of the darker end of the scale for me," the actor said. "But it's really great because he is very different from Fitwick. He looks different, talks different and I had to hope he was the opposite end. So it's a complete physical change. Not only the look and the way I stand but the way I walk, everything about me had to be different." We followed up by asking Davis if it is difficult playing two roles in one movie. "I haven't found it difficult. It's quite weird when I'll be one day as this character and the following day I'll be the other character. But it's just so nice that director David (Yates) has the faith and trust in me to be able to pull it off and play some interesting scenes."
"The most worrying time was on the third film when Flitwick wasn't in the script," he continued. "I was like, seems like this is the one I'm not going to be doing. Then David Heyman actually phoned me at home and said, you've seen you're not in the script and we're really sorry that you're not. I was like, yeah I know, but that's fine. No worries. Then he said that they'd really like me to be part of it and would I consider doing another character? I said, of course, no problem. So we came up with this sort of new look character for a conductor," he explained. "Then when it came to doing the fourth film, Mike Newell was presented with two pictures. They asked him which Fitwick he wanted me to be so that's how the change occurred, which is the question I'm always asked by fans, why did Fitwick's look change," the actor explained. "But this character, for me he's quite different to the older Flitwick. You know the old one reminded me a lot of my schoolteachers. He's quite old. I love old school teachers, teaching Latin and science and things. So I kind of based him on all of those."
Finally, the actor discussed his feelings on the franchise coming to an end. "The thought of not being asked to come back here, it's going to be really weird and sad. But what a great legacy that we can all leave, the fact that we've produced eight amazing films which hopefully do full justice to the pieces of literature that came before them. Always in the forefront of my mind whenever I'm doing anything on these films are the audience that are out there, the people that have read these books and are passionate about them. The fact that I'm entrusted with portraying that character that they've read about and they've imagined on screen. People have all got their thoughts and ideas about how he should sound, how he should talk, how he should look, how he should move and how he should act. So I try to kind of get as close to where I think he is, but at the same time trying to kind of go partway to where I just find that middle ground," he explained. " It's a very hard thing to do because people's imaginations are wonderful things and everybody's different. But it's lovely to read that people actually have read the books since the films have been out and actually then visualize your character in the book now, which is really...that's quite nice, that sort of feeling."
Next week spoke to actress Evanna Lynch who has played Hogwarts student Luna Lovegood since Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. In fact, Lynch wasn't even a professional actress when she auditioned for the role, just a hardcore fan of the books that's dream came true when she was cast in the series of films. The actress discussed being a fan that was cast in the films and what that experience has been like for her. "Someone asked me on set if I still get excited coming on and I haven't got used to it at all. I feel really sad because I don't feel like I was one of the actors, I feel like I was a really big fan. You know, sure I could act but I didn't know what would happen, whether I'd be back in the films again. It is like a dream. What's going to happen after? My whole life has been structured around it," Lynch said. She also told us a little bit about where she was when she first read the final book and her initial reaction to it. "I was invited to J.K. Rowling's big thing in the History Museum. You know in London. I went all dressed up and everything as usual and didn't get recognized. I read it in my hotel really quickly. My reaction? I was a bit overwhelmed. You know when you're a fan you want to take it all in but you feel guilty when you put the book down because there's stuff I don't know in there. I read it in a rush and sort of cried for ages after."
We continued by asking Lynch if Luna is different in this film than she has been portrayed in the previous movies or if she is about that same? "She's always going to be the same," the actress confirmed. "She doesn't change. That's the thing about her, she knows herself so well. Most of them, they go through all these stages, where they're like battling with themselves, but she's so happy with herself that I think the only thing that changes is her surroundings. She has her friends this time and it makes her happier but it doesn't really change her." We followed that up by asking Lynch how much of her own personality she feels has been injected into Luna and how much is from the novels or is it a marriage of both? "Yeah, a marriage of both. I still would read the books and think I'm not playing her exactly the same. We're not the same and you sort of have to find a balance," Lynch explained. "If I was too much like her I just wouldn't be able to be objective. I think in the films a lot of the lines are trying to bring out the funny side in Luna. I always notice that kids love Luna's character. A lot of kids say she's my favorite because she's really kooky. I just think she's really wise as well. It's not that her head's in the clouds, she sees that everyone talks about her. She knows she's a bit weird but she's so settled in herself and I think that's really mature and wise. I try to push that a bit but sometimes it's impossible with the lines."
Finally, Lynch discussed the experience of appearing in the films overall, how it has changed her life and what she will take away from the experience now that it is coming to an end. "I think more of a sense of belonging now. I'll take that away because before when I came onto the set I really idolized the others and I just kept feeling unworthy. I didn't know how to talk to them or anything. I used to be like, when people would say are you going to do more work, I'd be like no. I'm just a fan. I've seen more of the actors and you don't have to be perfect all the time, it's not like you're born knowing all this stuff. Acting is just like having life experience. I'll take that away and feeling like I've been a part of this film. When I watch the film I'm proud because I had something to do with it and, yeah, I'd love to do more acting. I don't know yet, I'm going to go to a performing arts college. I just feel like I cheated my way in a bit," Lynch said.Mark Williams, who has played Arthur Weasley father of Ron and the rest of the Weasley clan throughout the film series, joined us. The actor began by discussing his feelings on his long journey with this material, which is about to come to an end. "Anybody who has been in all eight is called a lifer. But I think I'm an honorary lifer because I've been in only seven of the eight. Yeah, it's going to be difficult for a lot of people. One of the things we're not sure about within this industry is if people will ever make films like this again. In a sense of studio and construction based in a way this film has been pursued. For example, the Great Hall is now a ten year-old set that's stood with things like stone floors, which give it a good kind of sound and a feeling of reality, rooted in physical reality, the physical world. Now the way things are going at the moment, that's not going to happen in this country anymore, so we don't know. We don't know what's going to happen," Williams concluded.
Since so much about these last two films is shrouded in secrecy, we wanted to know from Williams, if he was given both scripts to read when he began making these films. "No, we weren't given both scripts," he replied. We followed up by asking if he was at least given the script for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I to read before shooting? "Not necessarily. Honestly, this has been an enormous undertaking to split the book. Firstly, to split a book, any book, into two that's not naturally been done by the author is a major undertaking. To do that cinematically is also another major undertaking. So I think you probably have an image of control and overview that doesn't really exist," Williams explained. "It's also a lot more collaborative than you'd think. It doesn't go book, script. I mean, the director has a bearing on the script before and during, you know, and the producers as well. So these things tend to be much more organic than perhaps you would imagine, particularly in terms of shooting. I'm sorry to make it sort of sound vague, but it's not vague, but it's not exact. It's not chronologically systematic, which a lot of people would like it to be, particularly parts of design and stuff like that."
Williams also discussed having director David Yates helm the final half of the film series and the luxuries of that as apposed to having a new director come in for each new movie. "But then that's meant we can do this. That's been a factor of these last four films. Because before it was shoot, edit, and then at the end of the edit, pre-produce with the new director, apart from the first two because of Chris (Columbus). But with Alfonso (Cuarón), Mike (Newell), and then David's first one, they were kind of like that. But it's become much more of a rolling process. I have a feeling it would have been very difficult, we would probably not be this far down the line if David hadn't taken on the enormous task of finishing the project. But then also the continuity of David Heyman and David Barron has also been very important indeed. So that team has been pretty spectacularly effective. One thing that we all find quite amazing is their stamina, particularly David Yates. A lot of directors you work with towards the end of a big project start to look kind of eaten, but it doesn't eat David. David feeds on it. It's amazing really. He's got quite an extraordinary rhythm through this, and he even keeps his enthusiasm," Williams said.
We asked Williams how it feels to have worked with the child actors on the set who he has literally watched grow up over the course of the last decade? "Well, they all went through adolescence, which was a bit tricky here and there. They've been great. We've had great fun. When Dan and Rupert were little, after lunch was always useless. Do you remember being at school after lunch in the afternoon when you were really tired, and then you went really giggly, and then it was time to go home, you remember? There was nothing you could do about it," he joked. Finally, we asked the actor if paying the Weasley's father has rubbed off on him and if he now feels a parental connection to the children in the film? "Well, yes to all of them really. I have been kind of a ginger leader, Papa Weasley. It used to be quite funny especially when you're an adolescent or a pre-adolescent doing night shoots and stuff like that. But I can honestly say they've all been brilliant. Just recently I went out with the twins and Rupert. We went out for a curry and a pint and that was hilarious. There were a lot of teenagers with their phones, saying to the boys, can we take a picture of you? One girl then turned to me and said, and your dad too? So it's been an absolute pleasure."
We suddenly shifted from talking to one Weasley to speaking with two, as actors and real life brothers James and Oliver Phelps entered the room. Fans of the series know them best as Fred and George Weasley, older brothers to Ron. James began by discussing why fans have such a deep connection to the characters they play. "The best thing about playing these parts is that people feel comfortable coming over and talking to us, especially kids. Often when we are out with Tom (Felton) for example they will come over and talk to us rather than him because they think he's evil because he plays Malfoy, where as he is very nice. People see Oliver and I as more approachable," explained James. "We're quite funny people anyway so we are always having a laugh," added Oliver. "We've tried to shy away from making our characters into clowns all the time," James continued.
James went on to talk about what the series has meant to him now that it is coming to an end. "With the cast and crew who have been with the films from the start they call us lifers because we have been here for the entire life of the story. I haven't really thought about it ending too much. It is kind of like when you are in high school and the time comes for you to leave. You are now done with these people who have been in your life for so many years and you are going to go off and do other things. I really haven't given it much big thought but it did hit me when I was driving to the hotel that I have been kind of living at for the last ten years. It hit me that I will not be making this journey much longer. Maybe I should make more use of the room service," he joked. The actor has been making the best of his opportunities by working as an assistant director on this film as well. "I have been doing some assistant director work on this picture. I thoroughly enjoyed it for all the reasons I wanted to do it and I learnt a lot about the film industry, James explained. "I learnt that the five o'clock starts are very real and it made me a lot more professional. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend everyone try it. Acting is really where I want to go but seeing all the visions of the other people is very interesting and I don't think they get the recognition that they deserve."Potter," Oliver said. "There is no where that has these big real sets, everything is just CGI. The courtyard here is just incredible. We use to travel all over the north of England to the different castles in the beginning but if you look at the sets here you really can't tell any difference. We actually take for granted the size and details of these sets." Oliver continued to talk about his favorite moments from the overall series. "There is always something from each film that you remember better than anything else. The thing that sticks out in my mind about the first film is filming at King's Cross Station for the first time and all the people who were standing around watching. There are lots of things that you think about when you actually start." The actor also mentioned, hypothetically, what props or keepsakes he is hoping to leave with from the set. "Hypothetically speaking there are loads of things we would like to take home but you don't just stand on the set and start filling your pockets, you wait until everyone goes home," Oliver joked. "My wand would be the main thing I think I would like to keep. Each wand is individual to that character and Fred and George's wands are shaped like broomsticks." "Mine looks a bit more like a pine cone but I messed it up when I broke it during one of the photo shoots when it kind of cracked in half," added James. "I actually have three wands, two are wood and one is kind of rubbery."
Finally, James discussed the incredible learning experience that this project has turned out to be for him and his brother. "All the directors have been great in their own ways and I am not just saying that because we've worked with all of them. It has been the best college you could go to for acting because you have all the best actors and directors working on it. David (Yates) has made us think more about inside the character whereas before you were just playing a character but with David you have to become the character." Oliver had this to add in regards to what he has learned about acting from working on the series. "When you become the character you get a lot more emotionally attached to it especially if you can relate to a similar circumstance in your life. Like when we played the Quidditch games we use to think what would it be like to really hit that ball or have Harry grab the snitch at the last moment. I use to think about how I felt when we played ball at school and then relate it to the situation which really helps."
Since we had already spoken to three of the Weasleys that appear in the films, it only felt right to finish them off by speaking with actor Rupert Grint, who of course plays Ron Weasley, Harry's best friend. The actor began by talking about his feelings regarding the end of the series. "Yeah. It's weird because it doesn't feel like any of the others. You do feel like it's starting to come to an end. Yeah, I don't really know how it's going to feel on the last day when we never come back. I've never really imagined it ending." These last two films will have a lot of action in them and the actor talked about that. "This one is a lot tougher because we're out there fending for ourselves, and there's a lot of fighting. The training with the wands, in particular, before we used to have this ballet choreographer come in for training to teach us all these fancy flicks. Now the wand fighting is much more sword-like and aggressive. It's been really cool."
As fans of the final book know, Ron and Harry's relationship will be tested in this first film and Grint talked about shooting the more emotional scenes with Daniel Radcliffe. "Yeah, it's an odd relationship in the beginning because I think for Ron, he doesn't completely trust that Harry knows what he's doing. There's a lot of paranoia and he's worried about his family, and there's doubts. It erupts in this big argument," the actor hinted. It's also no secret that the characters of Ron and Hermione finally get together romantically in this film and we asked Grint about that. "It sounds stupid, but I never really saw it coming. It has always been hinted, but I never thought to the extent where at the end, we're quite a couple. But the kiss has been done. It's one of the first scenes we filmed." We followed up by asking the actor if it was weird to have to kiss Emma Watson who he has practically grown up with? "Yeah, it was! I kind of built up to this thing in my head. We were both kind of dreading it really, just because we've known each other since we were really small. It's like kissing your sister," he explained.
Grint also commented on the importance of director David Yates to the final films of the series. "David is so great, he knows so many little details. He's brilliant at communicating with us. For me, he's kind of vital, really." We followed up by asking Grint if he is pleased with the evolution of his character throughout the series of films? "Yeah, particularly in this one and the last two. He's kind of come into his own a bit. I've enjoyed having more to do. He's got a lot more depth now and he's a lot more complicated than in previous films. It's kind of nice." Finally, the actor discussed his excitement for the final films of the series to be released in 3D. "I'm a big fan of 3D. I supposed it depends what kind of film you're watching, but I think it's going to add a lot. 3D really works with the big action stuff and things coming at you, and there will be a lot of that in this. It will be cool."
Next up, we spoke to the man in charge of bringing the last half of the film series to the big screen, director David Yates. Yates began directing the franchise with the forth film Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and continued by following that up with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, he will complete the series by directing both chapters of the final installment. The director began by discussing his choice to finish off the series. "When I got about half way through working on Half-Blood Prince I sort of raised the notion of finishing the series. David Barron came into my office one afternoon when we were shooting Half-Blood Prince and he said to me, why don't you just finish it all off? He said, I know it's a lot of work but why don't you just finish the whole thing? I said well that is a lot of work actually but it would be fun. Honestly, by the time I got to post on Half-Blood Prince I suddenly realized that I didn't want to just be the guy who did the middle films and some other guy gets to comes in and finish it," Yates explained. "I thought, I'm having so much fun. Then I read the book and it was full of exciting stuff. When I read it, it always felt like Jo was writing it like a movie rather than a book. It felt very movie friendly in its spirit and it's probably turned out to be the easiest adaptation of all the ones I've done."Dan's actually gotten older as you watch the movie. So the Dan I'm shooting with on the floor is not the same age as the Dan I'm seeing in the cutting room, which is very odd. But it's great and I wouldn't have missed it for the world." Since the final book is so dense we asked Yates to describe some of the challenges of adapting this novel and why he felt he had to tell the story over the course of two different films. "The process is always fraught with challenges. You want to try and keep the best of what Jo came up with but you have to refine it and shape it. So we've lost things, I'm sure, that some of the fans will be frustrated by but fortunately we've kept more than we've ever been able to keep in some of the other adaptations I've worked on," Yates explained. "Simply because we can spread the whole story over the two movies and there are some loose ends we can tie up as well as we go."
Next, we asked the director if he knew where he might end up breaking the story into the two films? "We started with the notion that wouldn't it be cool to have a cliffhanger because certainly the films that I've made always have someone dying at the end of them," he laughed. "There is always a bereavement and I felt like we were getting into a cycle ever since Cedric Diggory, which Mike Newell directed in the forth film, but someone died and there was grief at the end. So I thought, lets try to break that cycle. But when I watched the movie it didn't feel as complete as I hoped it would so I'm looking again and I can't tell you yet because I'm still playing but there is another moment that I think we'll end on, which is actually quite moving and fun. "
Finally, we asked the director to discuss Warner Bros. choice to convert the final two films into 3D. "I'm just literally getting into all of that now," he explained. "We're going to release Half-Blood Prince in 3D on DVD towards the end of the year so I'm still learning. My own idea about 3D is that it is there to enhance the viewing experience but I don't think that you have to use it in a tricky way. I think that the minute you sacrifice story and character for something coming out of the screen, I think you've lost it. So if it enhances, for a certain number of the audience, the viewing experience than that's great. For this magical world I think there are a number of sequences that would be much more fun just experiencing in a wider environment. But I'm not crazy about using it in a tricky way," Yates said. "I'm really intrigued by it. I'm really intrigued by what it offers esthetically as well, not just for the event moments in the movie where stuff flies around or when you're in an action sequence. But I'm intrigued by what it might offer when you are trying to find an emotional moment or when you're trying to set a particular tone in a scene. What can it do to the environment in a way to elevate that moment? So there are opportunities I think for the medium but it will be the first time that I experience the process. I'm really looking forward to it but in the opportunity to not just use it for spectacle or for tricks but to see if that process can relate in story and arc."
After Mr. Yates left to go back to set and prepare to shoot another scene, we were honored to have a few minutes alone with "the man-of-the-hour," Harry himself ... Daniel Radcliffe. The actor, who will forever be associated with the character of Harry Potter, discussed his coming to terms with that simple fact. "I think it's very important that no matter where I go, every opportunity I will get for the rest of my life, I would not have got if it wasn't for Harry Potter. It would be the height of ingratitude if I was ever anything but proud to be associated with these films." The actor continued to talk about his sadness at realizing that the end of the film series is fast approaching. "That's very odd and it will be very upsetting when it does come to an end because I've spent so much time here and made some fantastic friends who I hope will stay with me for the rest of my life. It'll be very sad but equally it is an exciting time. I suppose whenever you go through periods of transition those times are always going to be both very upsetting and also very exciting by the very nature because things are changing and you don't know what's going to happen next," Radcliffe explained.
Emotionally, the character of Harry will go through a lot in these two final films and Radcliffe discussed preparing for that arc as an actor. "I mean the one that I think probably is the most important and the one that is most featured particularly in the first film is Harry's relationship with Dumbledore, despite the fact that Dumbledore is dead. You would think it would make it a lot harder for a relationship to change but because Harry's constantly finding out new information about Dumbledore in the first film, information which pertains to both the very specific situation that Harry is in and what Harry's mission is, it does. It's also information that pertains to Dumbledore, the man, which suddenly casts a lot of doubt on his integrity as a human being, an idealist and all those things that Harry's always looked up to him for. They all suddenly come under scrutiny and under questioning by Harry. I mean that's one arc: can Harry keep faith with Dumbledore? That's what it's about," said Radcliffe. "It's about how far can he be pushed before his faith gives out. I mean the whole series for me is about loss of innocence and about Harry going from this kind of wide-eyed child and turning into this slightly grizzled young man by the end of it," the actor continued.
Finally, since Radcliffe, Grint and Watson have basically grown up together on screen and will forever be linked to each other through this film series we asked Radcliffe if he could reflect on that relationship and explain how it has evolved over the years. "I mean it's great. It's been very odd on this film in a way because Emma's not been here for the past bit because she's been studying. It's been slightly disrupted on this film so it's been peculiar. But yeah, we have gotten on very, very well. We've got other friends as well. I think it's important to say. We don't just hang around with each other all the time. But no, we get on very, very well and we also have the knowledge that no matter what happens in the rest of our lives, no one will have had this particular experience other than the three of us and I think that is something that will never, never leave us." We closed by commenting to Radcliffe that it must feel kind of like being one of The Beatles, which is a reference to a comment that Paul McCartney once made about nobody else being able to understand what it was like to be in that band other than his three fellow members. To which the actor said, "Ah yes ... well that is not for me to say."