Harry Potter POA Set Report: Great Things

Dec 02, 2007

Posted by: Doris | Comments


Set Report: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Part I: The Kids : | Part II: The Clocktower, the Hospital Wing, the Details |
Part III: Shrieking | Part IV: Flights and French Men |
Part V: Candy | Part VI: Great Things

Part VI: Great Things

By Melissa Anelli
The Leaky Cauldron Staff

Where can you possibly go after Hogsmeade and Honeydukes? Well, there’s really only one place.

“If you cry, I’m going to laugh,” joked one of our guides as we approached the Great Hall.

I made a sarcastic comment back but in truth I was all aglow. Another of our guides – the same one responsible for the true geek moment that happened when we first arrived on set – took my hand and we started skipping again. She asked me if I was excited and I couldn’t respond.

What I didn’t say (and am saying now, I realize, to a much larger audience – but hey, we’ve all had these feelings) was that when I first read these books – no, when I first realized how wonderful these books are – I wanted to go there. That was the prevailing sentiment: I wished Hogwarts existed. Even though the sane part of me knows the truth, that’s part of why we read fantasy; to absorb ourselves in it, to lose ourselves in it, to feel as though with enough wishing, these magical places can exist.

And the Great Hall…well that was the center of it all. So to say I was excited might be a fair bit of understatement.

Someone joked that I should go in blindfolded, and I didn’t think it was such a bad idea at all. I had one of our guides lead me in with my eyes closed, to everyone’s (including my own) goodhearted amusement.

I stood outside the real-gold gilded Great Hall doors, on the yorkstone floor, with my eyes closed, listening to our guide do such an, ah, excellent, McGonagall impression that made another of the guides ask, “Who’s that, Dumbledore?”

Finally the doors were pushed open and I felt myself pulled in.

When I opened my eyes…well, the hairs on my arms stand on end just thinking about that moment.

There was a great wave of “ohhh” from everyone else; not me. I just stared.

This was Hogwarts. All of it. Right here.

The first thing I said is still on my audio tape: “I’m just in…oh my god. Oh.”

Even partially dressed, it was breathtaking. Everything in the Hall, when filming eating scenes, is real except the butter (which would melt under the lights). The glass water jugs have gold tops in the shape of hogs’ heads. The silverware curls into swirls at the end and is dipped into real gold. The four tables are nicked and scratched and graffiti’d beyond belief, which we were told Cuarón encouraged; if the kids are apt to scratching the tables, he said, then let the kids be kids.

(I looked hard for a “Malfoy Wuz Hea” but I didn’t find it.)

When full the hall holds 450 kids. That’s 450 kids in hair, makeup and costume; 450 kids in tutoring; 450 kids who need a 15 minute break every 45 minutes; 450 kids who can use those 45 minutes just to file in and out. It’s a wonder they get any shooting done in there at all.
Helping things, though, are the side panels. They look like simple iron paneling, but give them a push and they’re doors: little short-person doors to file the kids in and out of, and to use if there are emergencies.

The set is as it was for the first film and as it will remain throughout. School crests decorate each fireplace; the yorkstone floors make the place echo; the stained glass windows look right onto what can only be Scotland, except that it’s a wallpapered photograph.

I half expected to look up and see the sky.

At this point, we should not have been surprised by the level of detail, but it was hard not to let out a gasp when we’re told that Stuart Craig made sure the house points calculator actually works.

Four large cylindrical glass tubes containing beads with the two house colors – about 80 percent of them red and 20 percent gold for Gryffindor, and so on – are lines against the far wall. A closer look reveals some sort of complex machinery, made of gears and what looks to be the inside of several clocks, attached to the side. There are even little measuring sticks (measuring down to millimeters) in front of each tube. The marker on each bronze measuring stick is a tiny cast of the house mascot, and if you look even closer at the measuring stick you can see runic symbols. A strange, astronomy-esque clock is fastened to the side, containing representations of moons and suns.

No one really knew how the thing works, but we’re told it does. We’ll have to ask Stuart Craig one day.

Sitting in the Great Hall and staring pretty much encompassed the activity there, and though it doesn’t lend itself well to a report, I know the fans can appreciate what it was like. We took turns sitting in Dumbledore’s chair, which soft and comfy for a throne-like seat, and all I could do was sit and day-dream about different Harry Potter moments. (At one point we actually did an impression of Quirrell’s “Troll in the dungeon!” moment.)

We were nudged out by a tight schedule, but I backed out of the room, smiling goofily.

“You hear him talk about the film and he just lights up. He’s so childlike. He’s a big kid at heart.”

That “him” is Alfonso Cuarón, who is hopping around the set, directing. After we were through touring we returned to the Hagrid’s hut set, where filming on the hug/no-hug, finding of Scabbers, executioner-arrives moment was still going on.

I think you owe someone an apology!” Hermione protests while Ron is exclaiming over his reunion with Scabbers.

It’s all right,” Ron responds. “Next time I see Crookshanks, I’ll let him know.

I meant me!”

“Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant!” you can hear Cuarón enthuse when the take is called a cut.

During a short break, the group of people standing around launch into action. Emma Watson stands stock still while four people fuss over her makeup, wardrobe and microphone.

Alfonso Cuarón, meanwhile, gets himself out of the cage to which he’s been relegated; the impish little man stops by to say hello, and gestures to his former enclosure, which keeps the bats from having free reign with the studio. “They keep us in the cage, because otherwise, we try to fly out,” he jokes, before heading off for another between-take task.

It’s almost easy to believe that the real reason the cast and crew went to Scotland, to film in forests and places like Virginia Water Royal Lake, was so Cuarón could have more room to stretch his legs and bounce around while directing.

Meanwhile Daniel Radcliffe has caught Robbie Coltrane’s ear. The two sit by the side of the hut, and Radcliffe is clearly in the middle of a joke; his hip swings out and his hands are making manic gestures; it’s almost as if he’s performing a one-man show. Coltrane chuckles. “You’re bad,” he tells him.

He does this often, Coltrane says: “I think he’s got a hankering to be a comedian, Dan. He keeps telling me jokes; he goes, ‘You’re really going to hate this one, okay,’ then he tests me. If I haven’t seen him for a while he gives me 40 jokes.”

As it turns out, Coltrane had a lot to say on the Prisoner of Azkaban experience. He sat with us under a lunch tent and chatted, and the only difficult part was getting him to stop talking about Macintosh computers and voice-recognition software so we could do the interview.

Q: Can you tell us what it’s like working with Alfonso Cuarón?

I know Alfonso. I remember having a wonderful night with him and, oh, the other mad and wonderful Mexican director, he did Message in a Bottle (Luis Mandoki), a Hungarian Jewish Mexican, there’s an accent! He’s a wonderful man…he said, “Listen, let’s go out and eat some real food and drink and misbehave.” And Alfonso was there as well.

I have to say there was a rather strange reaction when people heard that a Mexican guy was directing it, there was a lot of that you, can imagine. I said, ” No no no, go and see A Little Princess, those wonderful bits where you’re not sure if she’s imaging those bits in India or they’re really there. And at the end of the movie you still don’t know if it really happened, do you? But it doesn’t matter. And that’s one of the hardest things in the world because the bits that were real were very real and very moving and very awful. The bit where the father doesn’t recognize her, oh my God, I was there with my daughter just going [makes sobbing noises]. I haven’t seen it before, I’m thinkingn “I hope this f-ing resolves itself, or I’m going to have to go to bed and cry myself.”

I thought, no, that’s just the guy.

What does Cuarón bring to Harry Potter?

He’s got a different style of shooting. I mean you’ll have to ask him but I know he was very keen to get it out of the studio, because it was very studio-bound. That’s the trouble with anything which essentially has lots of bits which are physically impossible. You’re stuck in a studio. And that has to change, you’re making a movie, you want to film on a movie, you want to make a mood. And I think he’s been very keen to do that.

How does his directing style differ from Chris Columbus’s?

Chris was always very hands on. One of the many things I liked about Chris is that he wasn’t one of those directors who sits by those monitors and goes “Again, no, again.” Between takes he runs to the set, tells everybody what was wrong, so everyone knows what was wrong, so then you have a chance at doing it right next time – which you would have thought was an obvious thing, but it’s something a lot of directors miss. No names, no, “Bad girl!” So he’s, yeah, he’s very hands-on. He’s very good with the kids too because he’s got that kind of, they’re kind of strange, they’re at that very odd age. … And so he does that, he knows exactly how protective they need to be but he also knows that they’re up for a little bit of semi-adult, semi, you know

There’s quite an interesting bit [filming] today where Hagrid insists that Hermione and Ron have a hug because they’ve been fighting all year, so they hug and they have a sort of ehh [whimpery], childish hug and then you think ahhh [interested], and then they think ehhhh [grossed out]! And that’s really only possible at 11, 12 [years old]. So he brings little moments like that.

Q: Chris told us that he would have to work with [the kids] and work with them, get them all ready to go and then really shoot otherwise –

Definitely definitely.

Q: So they have a little more stamina now?

They have tons of stamina, that’s not the problem – its matter of directing it. It’s a matter of saying the boots have to go on and then we have to go into the car or we will miss the plane. But also, as an adult, actually, you’re very good at accessing parts of your emotional memory, that’s what you get paid for. But it’s quite different with children. You have to really sit down and say, “Do you remember what it was like when you thought you were going to get such and such for your birthday and then it turned out you got something really sensible like a watch? “Oh God, yeah.” “Well try to remember that, and hold it, stand by!” He was really brilliant to that. Now they’re much more kind of, they’ve lived a lot more and they have more access to feelings they have, so it’s a different process.

So Alfonso’s thinking relates better to teenagers?

Yeah, well I saw Y Tu Mamá También. Well really [Faux shocked]. When I was a boy I never had a fancy about a gorgeous 35 ­year-old woman like that! No siree, Bob! Move over Mrs. Robinson! It was terribly sad though because you’re just beginning to think she’s such a scuzbag and then you find out ­ oh god, he [Alfonso] knows how to do the old heartstrings, doesn’t he? He really does.

TLC: How has that presented itself in this movie, do you think?

So far?

In Harry Potter.

It seems a lot more emotional and more adult. The feelings are more accommodating, that’s just the nature of the books, isn’t it.

TLC: Have you read the fifth book?

I haven’t read the book, no, I haven’t had a month free. Have you read it?

TLC: Yeah. Before this book came out there was a bit of uproar because of a comment you had made that led people to believe that Hagrid dies. And I know that J.K. Rowling has told you some information about your character –

Yeah, no, that was a complete misinterpretation of what I was saying. I wouldn’t do that. A lot of people were convinced that Hagrid was going to die and I don’t know where they got that from. I think that was just something that people – I think people thought, “Well, who is there who’s kind of important enough to the plot that would be shocking enough to die but wouldn’t kill the dynamic of the big three as it were?”

Q: Can you talk about the animals you worked with?

Yeah. Some of those people I worked with in the mid 1980s, I tell you, when we were doing comedy, dear dear. [Laughter.] Well, I quite like animals but they’re unpredictable, look at ol’ whatshis name in Vegas. A tiger dragged him off the stage, this guy’s brought up tigers, they’re quite unpredictable. I think the shocking thing is to discover that owls are the most stupid birds around, very hard to train. Well it’s like sharks, they’re very efficient killing machines, so if you’re very very good at killing things you don’t need any other skills, do you know what I mean? They’re not like dogs, they don’t play, they’re not funny, they don’t need to. I can eat anything I want, nothing’s going to attack me. [Laughter]. Do I need to be charming? I don’t think so! So, owls are like that. The really smart ones are the crows. Crows are incredibly smart. They can be taught like to do fighting ­ what am I telling you this for? You should ask the animal guy. All that talk about the wise old owl, rubbish.

Q: What about Buckbeak? What’s it like trying to bond with something that isn’t there most of the time?

Well, my daughter is completely convinced he was real. Because the feathers, they took hours with the feathers. But you got to watch him, like most animals, no rapid eye movements, no rapid hand movements, as Malfoy finds out of course.

TLC: Hagrid has a larger role here because he teaches now.

Yes, he’s a professor, which is quite funny. We had a lot of fun with that because the kids are kind of enjoying the fact that Hagrid doesn’t quite know what he’s doing, because he hasn’t done it before, so there’s a lot of, “How am I doing?” and “You’d better do better.” He’s not really quite sure what to do.

Q: What did you learn about Hagrid?

He’s very much more volatile in this film. Buckbeak goes to be executed, it’s quite unbearable. It’s stereotypical of bureaucracy not understanding what the relationship was, and of course it’s Malfoy’s fault, he’s an ass, you know. The boy you love to hate.

Q: Are you prepared to do Hagrid for all the movies?

Well, there isn’t much room to do anything else. I mean I’ve been on it since February. It’s turned out a lot of work as a result, so I’ll certainly do four. I’m contracted through four. Beyond that, I don’t know. Never say never again, as they say.

TLC: You have a little bit of a love interest in five, actually.

Oh really?

TLC: Yeah, we get a little bit of story about what happens between Hagrid and Madame Maxime.

Oh, ding dong! Oh there you go.

TLC: How far in the future, I won’t ask details, but how far in the future of Hagrid’s trajectory do you know? How many ears into the seven do you know about?

I don’t know what happens at the end. I don’t want to know.

How much has J.K. Rowling told you?

I can’t tell you that.

Yeah, but you can tell how much.

It’s enough. I know all sorts of things about his past which haven’t been discussed so far which will be important. That’s all Jo told me. I said, “Well, tell me everything about his past which is important, even if it’s not expressed in the one we’re doing, even if it’s irrelevant to the one we’re doing, because I think it is relevant when you’re going to do a character.”

If you’re going t play the same guy for three or four years you really need to know what you’re doing, so that’s all I know. I know stuff about his past that isn’t revealed but I don’t know anything about the plot. I don’t want to either. I mean, I want the fun of finding out as much as anyone.

Q: Are you the sort of actor that looks at what’s written in the script and says, “This is okay, but I think it would come of much better this way”?

Do I do that? Oh yeah, yeah. We cut a few lines out of this scene we’re doing because it slows it up. They repeat themselves. But the writer’s around a lot and he’s not possessive about his lines at all. The important thing is to tell the story as it was because children will soon let you know if you missed out.

TLC: How well do you know the books?

How well? Well I read them all to my kids. I haven’t read the new one yet, I’m dying to. Somebody revealed on TV that Hagrid didn’t get killed, who was it? I just thought, I could kill him for that! It’s not even adolescent, it’s prepubescent.

Q: Jo Rowling said that she thought you were the actor she had in mind for Hagrid. Having seen your performance in these films –

-she changed her mind, didn’t she? Taxi!


Q: Would you say your performance is influencing the direction Hagrid’s taking in the books at all?

Oh I wouldn’t say that, no, not at all. Jo says she’s go the plots for all the books in a vault in the Bank of Scotland, in Edinburgh. Which is where I keep my money by the way so I hope it’s secure. And I think she has known for ages, it’s just a matter of getting around to making that convincing, I guess. That must be absolutely, I can’t – that must be like being Dickens, you know, that whole world expands when a new book comes out. It’s absolutely terrifying to sit down and actually start it. Even if you know what’s going to happen, do you know what I mean?

Q: In the first film I remember you telling us that Daniel changed your cell phone to Turkish.

That’s right.

Have the cranks gotten a little more sophisticated?

No, no, the jokes are a bit worse now. He’s, uh, I think he’s got a hankering to be a comedian, Dan. He keeps telling me jokes that, he goes, “You’re really going to hate this one, okay,” then he tests me. If I haven’t seen him for a while he gives me 40 jokes.

Q: What kind of scripts are you getting these days? Fantasy driven scripts?

No, I get the same stuff as I did before but the price tag’s much higher. Because you know Hollywood, you know, “What did your last picture make?” and I just turn around to a billboard and go “Be very afraid.”

Q: Is there anything you’re looking for?

Well I’ve written a script which … I’m trying to direct it myself which is always difficult.

Q: What is it?

It’s a thriller, set in the west of Scotland. It involves all sorts of weird and wonderful things. Corrupt oil companies, genetically modified food, love, romance and death.

TLC: Will you be in it?

I might be in it. Someone much younger and prettier I think will be in it.

Q: How long did it take you to write it?

The one I’m working on? I’ve been working on it for about five years.

TLC: Title?

I haven’t got a title yet.

TLC: What is it like for you, playing a character who is still a mystery to so many people? He hasn’t been fully discovered yet – it’s not like we’re reading Lord of the Rings where we can go back and find out what’s happened to these characters.

Yeah, I know what you mean because the backgrounds in Lord of the Rings are all explained.

TLC: It’s all there.

Yeah. I mean, how old is Hagrid, 400 years old, something like that?

TLC: He’s about 60, 60 or 70.


TLC: Hagrid?


TLC: He’s 60 or 70. [Giving him a “trust me on this” look while the others are giving him a “trust her on this” look.]

Is he? Oh that’s right just checking. Uhoh, worrying [as in, “You’re scary, Potter girl.” (Laughter)]. Is he 70? Oh that’s right, because he was at school with the uh –

TLC: McGonagall.

Yeah and whatshisname, who turned back, the one who really did let the, let the beastie out, what’s his name?

TLC: Tom Riddle.

Tom Riddle. Just checking. And the catering on the first film was?


TLC: No, that you have to tell us.

Q: How as the shooting in Scotland?

Heaven really, because I could drive to work. They were very unlucky, because if anyone said to me, “When would you film in Scotland?” I’d always say May, May’s always the best month. In April it usually rains. But April was absolutely beautiful and May it rained, so there it goes.

Q: Are you going to do other James Bond movies?

If I’m asked, of course. Well, I mean, I would have to play TK again, really, I don’t think they, unless I could change my appearance but it’s a bit late for that yet. Yeah I’d love to, it’s great fun doing both movies.

Finding Hogwarts

The Leaky Cauldron is not associated with J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros., or any of the individuals or companies associated with producing and publishing Harry Potter books and films.