Alfonso Cuarón in Rolling Stone
May 08, 2004
The Mexican edition of Rolling Stone has an excellent article on HP3 director Alfonso Cuarón, in which he discusses why he decided to direct Azkaban, the world of Harry Potter, and his relationship with the film’s young actors:
When I met Daniel, he was into all this punk stuff. You know, Sid Vicious and The Sex Pistols. I teased him telling him he was older than me, and that he was stuck in this 60’s vibe, and didn’t know all this new music. It’s impressive to see how much he’s evolved, I’m scared of talking to him now. And now it’s me that doesn’t know anything about music, while he’s the expert. The typical teenager that when he’s interested in something, he breathes it. He lives for the music, all day with his iPod, and he has every new album of his favorite band, and knows all the songs. Plus, he’s a little trivia machine. He’s at that age when you start having more opinions, and your own political view on things. We were filming during the war in Iraq, and they had their own point of view about it. That’s a cool age, and the coolest thing was that they left everything to me, which I greatly appreciate.
Much thanks to Vale from HarryPotterLa.com for the excellent translation, and visit their site for scans from the magazine.
(Translated) Interview with Alfonso Cuarón for Rolling Stone magazine By Lynn Faichtein
It all seemed like Alfonso Cuarón, director of “Y tu
mamá tambien” and ” Solo con tu pareja”, had managed
his career in a way that suddenly he had become an
author, a director like Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino
or a new (and better) Arturo Ripstein. That´s why it
was a surprise when it was announced that he was going
to direct the third part of Harry Potter. How and why a
director of personal movies agreed to direct a sort of
cinematographic McDonalds? For this we called him in
London, where he has lived for two years now while he
finishes Harry Potter and The Prisoner Of Azkaban. From
his cell phone, and while he arrived home, Cuarón
explain to us the reason of this decision. There is no
doubt of the versatility of Alfonso, that goes from
Great Expectations, an elegant and intimate movie, to
Harry Potter. And he’s preparing his next movie, a
version of the student revolt in 1968 called Mexico 68.
Did you feel intimidated doing the third part of
Harry Potter because of the unavoidably comparison?
No. When they sent me the script, I was very ignorant
about Harry Potter. I hadn’t read any of the books or
seen any of the movies, until producer David Heyman
asked me to please read it, so I did, and I saw great
possibilities. I had a conversation with Guillermo del
Toro, since I was having doubts about doing it, so he
told me that I should do it if I could serve the
material completely. In a way it was an interesting
exercise for my ego. This time I tried to understand
the story and the material. The cool thing was that the
universe that it was all ready created made me feel
very happy and very calm. The same thing with the cast,
that it was already established. Better yet, the cool
thing was to make the evolution of the series.
What would be the touch of Cuarón in the saga? What did
you do different?
There’s things. Each movie has its new things. But I
think that the extra things are the most difficult to
explain. I hope that the Harry Potter fans and those
that don’t know the Harry Potter mania won’t notice the
difference. It has to be different, because Chris
Columbus and I have very different minds.
What does a chef do when he’s invited to McDonalds?
(Laughter). At some time they invited me to an other
franchise, but I said no, because they wanted a Twinky
Wonder but I wanted to do a Red Bull. The thing with
Harry Potter is that I felt good with the material. The
truth is that I had the opportunity to do a movie that
I really liked. Generally, you direct a movie and think
” I hope they see it”. With Harry Potter you know that
millions of people are going to see it. So the
challenge is ” Now what am I going to say or what am I
going to show?”.
How did it feel to spend months in the world created by
The special thing of this project was that world.
Everything about Harry Potter is very curious and has a
divine energy. To work with all that energy, plus
having all the necessary resources and budget, it’s a
very fortunate thing. It’s wonderful. You have no
stress. I had similar experiences, like with “Y tu mamá
tambien”. They give you the money, they’re happy with
my work and they let me work with absolute freedom.
As a Harry Potter fan, the two first movies left me
unsatisfied. I never felt scared or fear, does this
change in this movie?
There are bad guys. But what I like from the third book
is, and I think that I am very lucky because I think
it’s the best one, is that I felt that I could do more
as a director. In the end this was the book that I
related the most to. And it’s not necessarily just
about good and evil. It’s about a little boy that is
trying to find his identity. How ever, there are
conceptions that there is evil, that it’s being judged
in a way that it’s not what it seems. This movie is
different: the evil character, Voldemort, it’s much
Is this the darkest book of them all?
In a way it is. Especially because of the boy’s age, 13
years. It’s the time of the ritual of initiation an
it’s an atypical age. I think it’s the most
Did you dream about having Harry Potter’s powers?
I don’t grasp very much with fantasy. More than the
fantastic world, what connects me with the story is the
urban world of Harry Potter. For the fun it’s not all
the magic, it’s the human dynamic. Even though they are
wizards there is a human dynamic in the difference in
classes, the power and the abuse of it. In the movie
there are certain things metaphorical and racist. But
what Harry Potter really has, is that it teaches
different traditions. I’m talking about in the
spiritual plane. Matters of the approximation of the
characters that make a lot of sense, and that it has
its roots in philosophical schools, spiritual and even
What does JK Rowling say about us (Mexicans)?
People here in London asked me how I felt with the
whole “englishment”, since Harry Potter is based upon
this. All this stuff is very English, but at the end of
the day, I think it’s very universal as well. The
important thing about Harry Potter is the universal
part, the one that has connected everywhere, every
language, every country.
Is it just for children?
I don’t know if it’s only for children. I believe that
the success of the novels was a matter of the adult
fans that connect with this atypical universe.
Also, the children grow up at the same time that the
characters do and, in a way, they step on grounds much
more mature, almost adult, as they move along with the
Actually, the actors are the same age where the hormones
are running wild…
That was divine. Firstly, because living with these
children is just amazing and really cool.. They had
done the previous movies, so they knew all the
procedure. They were 13 also, so I had them when they
had more experience and training, and when you really
start taking them more serious as actors. They were
totally open to make it more emotional. It was really
great since I didn’t have to worry about the mechanical
part of the set, and they mastered it completely, so I
could focus more on the emotional part. These are guys
that are starting to take more serious their job, but
with an energy out of control. Is a delight to work
with that energy, whether it is with all their
excitement or anger, and let something that not
necessarily has to be clean all the time.
Those hormones must have had a different “soundtrack”,
a whole new music this time. Did you have fun with that?
That’s the thing. When I met Daniel, he was into all
this punk stuff. You know, Sid Vicious and The Sex
Pistols. I teased him telling him he was older than me,
and that he was stuck in this 60’s vibe, and didn’t
know all this new music. Is impressive to see how much
he’s evolved, I’m scared of talking to him now. And now
it’s me the one that doesn’t know anything about music,
while he’s the expert. The typical teenager that when
he’s interested in something, he breathes it. He lives
for the music, all day with his iPod, and he has every
new album of his favorite band, and knows all the
songs. Plus, he’s a little trivia machine. He’s at that
age when you start having more opinions, and your own
political view on things. We were filming during the
war in Iraq, and they had their own point of view about
it. That’s a cool age, and the coolest thing was that
they left everything to me, which I greatly appreciate.
What kind of music did you listen to?
In each project, I put some sort of music that goes
with what I’m filming. It’s music that you don’t have
to put on the movie necessarily, but in a way it makes
sense, and connects with it. This time, music from the
XX century had a lot to do with the movie.
Was there any sex?
It’s Harry Potter, Lynn! But read between the lines.
Was there anything Mexican?
Just iconography. Sugar skulls like the ones we have on
the Day of the Dead (our Halloween). There’s this park
where I put our eagle devouring a snake, the one in our
flag, on a fountain. That sort of stuff. And I think
that’s just it. There was this painting with Mexican
skulls, though. But it didn’t make it in the final cut.
And a couple of things more.
How can you explain that thanks to this saga, the
author is now on the Forbes millionaire list?
I’m glad that someone that writes is a millionaire. But
I think we should mix literature with commerce.
Saramago doesn’t sell that many books, but people love
Saramago actually said that people are now more into
reading about wizards and magic.
It’s very likely. But it’s also likely that people not
only didn’t read Saramago before, but actually didn’t
read at all. This can be a very good approach to other
kinds of literature. I actually learned about Saramago
through Ray Bradbury. So it’s not a bad thing.
Many times what happens is that the capacity of reading
is related simply with exercising the muscle. And you
know you can do that. A lot of people don’t read
because they don’t think it’s fun. Making that approach
between people and books is a great accomplishment.
People’s not stupid. Now you have the publishers and
the commercial part that sell wizards just like that.
Thus, you start to see more cheap products all around.
If they have on the cover a little wizard and a dragon,
it’s going to sell very well, probably. But I insist, I
don’t think it’s wrong that this particular story
approached more people to reading.
Did you learn anything with this experience?
Without a doubt. With a project like this you practice
almost very technical aspect of a movie.
What about on the human side?
You learn to work with a huge team of people. The
machinery is just superb, but you need a lot of
collaboration, communication, faith and confidence. You
learn to give more confidence to people. You realize
that they can give what you expect, and that you don’t
have to be all the time there to make things happen.
For a director, the only reason why you make a movie is
because of what you learn for your own life.
And now what’s next?
I would love to do the opposite. It was incredibly cool
making Harry Potter, but I think that now I would love
to do something more like Dinner with Andres’s style.
Like, two actors and just one set?
Maybe just one actor, or none. I need to cleanse myself
from all this Harry Potter vibe, that was sweet, but
too long. And after doing something small, let’s see
what happens on the way.