Alfonso Cuaron in Premiere Magazine
May 14, 2004
In the June issue of Premiere magazine, there is an interview with Alfonso Cuaron. While some of it we’ve seen before, there are few good quotes, including this about Daniel Radcliffe’s performance as Harry:
” Q : Harry’s much angrier than we’ve seen him before. How did you work with Daniel Radcliffe to bring that out?
A: We’re talking about themes and subtexts and contexts, but also we’re talking about “Harry Potter”, you cannot take “Harry Potter” and turn it into “The 400 Blows”. Even so, I asked Daniel to watch “The 400 Blows” before we started shooting. There’s a certain aspect of the 13 year old kid who’s angry and in discomfort. (Initially) Steve and I got carried away with that; then, when we were shooting, I remember calling Steve, saying, ‘Maybe we are becoming too somber with this.” Dan was so willing to go (there) —actually he was too willing; sometimes we needed to bring him back a bit and remind him that Harry Potter’s also a cool 13 year old kid. The amount of pain that he put into (some) scenes was almost dangerous. He almost fainted (once), and it was like, ‘Hey, Dan, let’s slow down here a bit.’
He was very concerned early on about one scene in which he had to cry. So we worked very closely on that scene; I started questioning him about things that he had to respond out loud (to), and when he got a moment of intensity, we rolled the camera and the whole emotional thing came immediately. I thought, ‘Oh, man, each time we have to have an emotional thing, we have to do all this work.’ No – next time I see Dan in his little corner, talking to himself. He learned how to go through his own process. He’s a sponge.”
Click below to read more of the interview. Thanks to Cindy and Sara!
“Look at me, man,” says Alfonso Cuaron, in between bites of a quick lunch. “I can’t even breathe.” The 42-year-old Mexican director is feeling the burden of postproduction on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third installment of Warner Bros.’ Blockbuster franchise. Around the corner, in London’s Abbey Road Studios (where the Beatles changed music history), John Williams is recording Azkaban’s score, and there is further work to be done, in preparation for the movie’s June 4 release. It’s all a far cry from Cuaron’s last film, the erotically charged art-house hit Y Tu Mama Tambien, and though he has loved working on Azkaban, he wears the exhausted expression of “a meticulous director concerned with each and every frame,” as producer David Heyman puts it.
As he proved in Y Tu Mama and in his 1995 adaptation of the children’s classic A Little Princess (a favorite of Potter author J.K. Rowling), Cuaron can elicit richly nuanced performances from young actors, and he’s considered an inspired choice to succeed Chris Columbus on this series. “Alfonso is very much a child at heart, and has not lost his sense of wonder, enthusiasm, and curiosity,” says Heyman. “The kids love him, you know,” adds Michael Gambon, who takes over the role of Hogwarts’ headmaster, Professor Dumbledore, from the late Richard Harris. “I love him. I feel safe with him.”
Here, Cuaron-the father of a 21-year-old son and a one-and-a-half-year-old daughter-takes a bit of a breather to talk about the fresh perspective he brings to Harry Potter, the challenges his three young starts faced, and what J.K. Rowling vetoed outright.
Q: What made you want to direct this after Y Tu Mama Tambien?
A: Ever since I did A little Princess, I wanted to do a so-called family film. I knew the Harry Potter films existed, but I was so unfamiliar with the whole thing, because a film like Y Tu Mama Tambien, takes like, a year of your life to push into different territories, [and] that was the year [of] the Harry Potter explosion. I read the script and thought “Man, there’s something really interesting here.” It’s very layered. There are comments about social class, about the pain of growing up, betrayal, friendship, and ultimately spiritual uplifting.
Q: Were you nervous about jumping into a franchise of this scale, of entering a world that someone else has created?
A: I wanted to bring my own stuff without alienating viewers who had seen the first two films. What I liked was the challenge to make an evolution, as I hope four is going to be an evolution from three. To walk into a film in which the machinery is already running and perfectly well-oiled was a pleasure, creatively so liberating. To not have to make the big decisions, like finding Harry Potter-I already had a Harry and a Hermione and a Ron and a good number of the other actors. It’s just that eventually the pace of the machinery starts to speed up and is running like crazy, and then you’re running like crazy, not to keep pace but because your scarf got attached to the machinery and if you don’t run you’re going to be strangulated. That’s what happened from pretty much one-third into the film. It’s such a well-organized circus, there’s no space for breathing. A lot of that is about endurance, not filmmaking. But the funny thing is, this has been amazing in terms of the work with the studio. It’s as if I’ve been doing my huge indie movie in England.
Q: Azkaban is substantially longer than the previous books. How did you and screenwriter Steve Kloves approach adapting it?
A: Jo Rowling early on said, “Don’t be literal about adapting this; be faithful to the spirit,” so we decided that what we were interested in exploring was Harry’s rite of passage from child years to adult years, that moment when the bogeyman is not under the bed or in the closet, but inside yourself. Luckily the book is very well-structured, so pretty much the important things stuck.
Q: How does the collaboration with Rowling work? Does she have director approval?
A: I assume…I don’t really know if it’s contractual or a courtesy, but I met with her. She was great. She was very keen on following the spirit of the book, in other words trying to do a good adaptation. At the same time [she asked me] not to put elements that would contradict the stuff either in her universe or that was going to happen in books five, six. In one moment I had this graveyard, and she says, “No, that graveyard can’t be there,” and I say, “Why?” “Because the graveyard is in this other place,” and she gives you the whole explanation of why.
Q: Was there anything that you really wanted to put in that she vetoed?
A: Yeah-little people. Just as extras. It was a scene in the Great Hall; I wanted to have an organ played by little people jumping on the keyboard. I [storyboarded it], and she said, “No, those little people, they don’t exist in this universe. So no.” The thing is, she is so eloquent about her universe that you really feel stupid.
Q: Harry, Ron, and Hermione are all 13 in Azkaban, and one of the themes of the film is kids on the cusp of puberty. How have you reflected that?
A: The first few rehearsals were pretty much about sitting with the kids and just talking-what it means to be a kid, what it means to turn 13-and they had a lot of things to say. Particularly for men, 13 is a very archetypal age; different cultures have different things about boys turning 13, rites of passage and stuff, and so we talked a lot about that, not related to Harry Potter.
Q: Didn’t you have each of the three leads write an essay about their characters beforehand?
A: I asked them to write an essay from the standpoint of their characters, but to write it in the first person and from the moment each of their characters was born to the moment the movie begins. As much as possible I wanted to see the points and connections they have with the characters. And it was priceless, man, it was one of those things that saved one year of rehearsals. They were so courageous; they bared their souls. Afterward, when we were dealing with any issue in directing, it was a s simple as saying “Emma, it’s more the mummy side of Hermione here,” and she knew exactly what we were talking about because she wrote about it.
Q: At one point you joked about putting sex in the film.
A: We have a lot of sex in the movie. Think about it. You have to freeze-frame the DVD and you’ll find a lot of it. [laughs] Well, they’re 13. In the film we hinted [at] the whole sensual thing of the attraction between kids. Actually, we had way more in the script and then I read number four and said, “This would be like stealing elements of the next book, that’s not cool.”
We have two boys and a girl, like Y Tu Mama. But I have to say at the same time you can see these kids looking really sexy, the three of them. You could see the atmosphere there, the pollen in the set or the location, and rather than repress it [or] even encourage it, [we] just allowed it to flow, and I think it really comes through. It’s not Y Tu Mama Tambien, don’t get me wrong.
Q: Harry’s much angrier than we’ve seen before. How did you work with Daniel Radcliffe to bring that out?
A: We’re talking about themes and subtexts and context, but we’re also talking about Harry Potter; you cannot take Harry Potter and turn it into The 400 Blows. Even so, I asked Daniel to watch The 400 Blows before we started shooting. There’s a certain aspect of the 13-year-old kid who’s angry and in discomfort. [Initially] Steve and I got carried away with that; then when we were shooting, I remember calling Steve, saying, “Maybe we are becoming too somber with this.” Dan was so willing to go [there]-actually he was too willing; sometimes we needed to bring him back a bit and remind him that Harry Potter’s also a cool 13-year-old kid. The amount of pain that he put into [some] scenes was almost dangerous. He almost fainted [once], and it was like, “Hey, Dan, let’s slow down here a bit.”
“He was concerned early on about one scene in which he had to cry. So we worked very closely on that scene; I started questioning him about things that he had to respond out loud [to], and when he got a moment of intensity, we rolled the camera and the whole emotional thing came immediately. I thought, “Oh, man, each time we have an emotional thing, we have to do all this work.” No-next time I see Dan in his little corner, talking to himself. He learned how to go through his own process. He’s a sponge.”
Q: The cast have talked about how stylistically this film is very different from the first two, that you shot it with mostly wide-angle lenses, long takes, more camera movement, and less coverage. You’ve also brought a more contemporary feel to the children’s clothing. What else have you changed?
A: When I was trying to decide to do Harry Potter or not, Guillermo del Toro was encouraging me to do it. He had finished Blade II, and his point was, you should surrender yourself to serve the franchise, and who knows, by doing that you may do your best movie yet. It’s like stripping your ego. And that’s a very interesting creative process. We were not going to change the architecture of Hogwarts or the Great Hall; we respect the icons. But then we adapted certain things, like the uniforms. But it’s not only me who did it-from one to two they changed; I just gave an extra edge to the new uniforms, so the kids’ normal clothes are more contemporary. I don’t like the costume department to iron, to press the costumes.
Q: Azkaban is a much darker book. Is this film going to be scarier, too?
A: It’s less violent, if anything. Maybe there’s a scariness, but there’s no physical violence. The Dementors [the frightening Azkaban guards] are just such an abstract concept, these entities that feed into your most hidden fears and pretty much suck any good emotions that you have, so it’s a more abstract kind of fear. We’ve been trying to make a movie that kids can enjoy but teens can have a ride with.
Q: How did you realize The Dementors?
A: I had an idea that I wanted to do the Dementors with puppets underwater. There’s a amazing puppeteer in San Francisco called Basil Twist; he has this [underwater show] that is a dance of fabrics, very abstract, very beautiful. So Basil came to London, and we gave it several tries doing them slow motion underwater and shooting backwards. The effect was really interesting but not practical. When we decided to take the computer-generated route, we already had these tests, so pretty much what we said is “We want this, but with the control you can offer with the CG.”
Q: Mike Newell is directing the fourth installment, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Weren’t you interested in continuing?
A: They offered me four, but it was going to be impossible. It would have been very irresponsible for number three and number four, because of the time that three needed in postproduction and four in preproduction. Right now I don’t have one second to spare. Also I’m ready to move on into completely different things.
Q: Has the door been left open for you to do another later on?
A: Probably. Would I like? Yeah, probably. Not now, not in two years, not in three years, maybe later. Right now I want to do My Dinner With Andre without Andre and without the dinner.”