Harry Potter POA Set Report: The Kids

Dec 02, 2007

Posted by: Doris


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 I: The Kids

By Melissa Anelli
The Leaky Cauldron Staff

Before visiting Leavesden, it’s easy to dismiss the notion that the Harry Potter kids lead normal lives. These are not “normal” kids in the “normal” sense of the word: they go to tutoring instead of school, makeup instead of detention, film premieres instead of school dances. In a bag of fan mail alone is enough adoration to cure any pubescent “no one loves me” ills.

But Leavesden is a far cry from Los Angeles, and the kids (and adults) that work there are not leading star-swept, celebrity lives (that is, most of the time). A 45-minute drive out from London, the studio is an old airplane hangar, and seems to have dropped out of the sky to inhabit the spot between “middle” and “nowhere.”

A drive through its gates is like a tour through a Harry Potter junkyard: on your left, Privet Drive; on your right, heaps of cast-metal Gryffins and rows of eyeless stone snakeheads. It was if the first two films had literally spilled out of the buildings, or as though we were on a stroll through J.K. Rowling’s brain, where her used or discarded plots jumble the sidelines in case she needs them again.

Needless to say, by the time the van pulled up at the studio’s entrance, I was fairly beside myself trying not to look like too big a geek in front of the impressive collection of online film journalists (and flat-out cool people) with whom I traveled. The effort was not helped when I got out of the bus and one of the lovely publicity people, who is familiar with TLC, grabbed my hand and started yelling and jumping up and down. “You’re here, you’re HERE!” she yelled. “You’re going in, you’re going IN!” Well, all pretense was gone for me – we skipped and laughed like maniacs for a moment or two before someone with a badge appeared and asked us to keep it down, because there were people rehearsing inside.

The skipping and giggling ceased but the girlish enthusiasm stuck. “Rehearsing inside” – really? Just a wall away? The broad grin that spread across my face stayed there for the rest of the day.

The place where Harry Potter is made, it turns out, is more like an impressive film day camp than the incubator for some of the costliest and highest-grossing films ever. Its location gives it a quiet quality that is all but associated with the film industry.

In one of the largest parts of the studio, what was once the Chamber of Secrets set, is Hagrid’s Hut. The day we visited, the crew was filming a third-act scene, in which Ron and Hermione make up from a fight at Hagrid’s insistence, and the downhill events of Prisoner of Azkaban’s final portion begin to pick up speed. The gigantic round hut is raised, and surrounded by a small crop of people – mostly crew and chaperones. Behind it is a small gaggle of high-school-aged kids who warrant a double-take – they’re the principals – stand-ins, hanging out just in case.

Sticking out of the hut is a small cage, in which there are two things of interest: a group of bats fluttering innocently between the cage and the hut, and a small Mexican man hunched over a small television screen. The scene is simple and short: Hagrid urges Ron and Hermione to hug, Scabbers is found, a group of Ministry officials are seen heading toward the hut, and the Trio is shooed out of the premises by a concerned Hagrid. After a morning rehearsing the takes finally start rolling, and after a few Alfonso Cuarón makes an executive decision.

The director leans on the fenced side of his little coop and talks calmly to an assistant director. “We’re going to try it without the hug,” he says. “We might not have enough of Ron and Hermione’s fight to make it work.” He pouts slightly. “No sex in this movie.”

Alfonso Cuarón can’t seem to make a comment about Prisoner of Azkaban without using the word “sex,” but to hear him say it is to understand what’s so innocuous abut the word from his mouth. He uses it as a quirky little joke, a synonym for puberty and teen drama and hormones and all the little escalations in maturity that make Prisoner of Azkaban the coming-of-age novel it is.

So when he utters the word on set, there’s not a single reaction other than a quiet shifting of papers, a tweak in lines, and a re-do of the scene without the aforementioned hug.

That quiet and steady attitude prevails around Leavesden. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint repeat that scene for as long as child labor laws allow, and are then turned into the hands of the many chaperones. One loudly orders that they take a break; another lets them pal around at the side of the set.

Watching the kids on set makes their normalcy crystal clear. This middle-of-nowhere location is a spot where hours of arduous and repetitive filmmaking happens each day. It’s not a glamorous Hollywood backlot, it’s a dressed-up garage where they do a lot of work, and the grounds are as familiar to the three main actors as a school hallway is to “normal” teens.

After a day of touring for us and a day of working for them, the three teen actors from Harry Potter took time to chat with us about Prisoner of Azkaban, Alfonso Cuarón, school, films, music, the books, and much, much more.

In costume, on their own turf, miles from media blitzes and months from premieres, it resulted in one of the most relaxed and laugh-ridden interviews I’ve ever participated in, or seen the kids give.

TLC: I have a question for Dan, right away. Third book – obviously the first time Harry is very angry, he has a lot of murderous, truly murderous, thoughts. How did you deal with that?

Daniel Radcliffe: I can’t say I’ve ever actually properly wanted to kill somebody. But everybody has moments when they get very angry, I think you sort of tackle that. I listen to a lot of music, which helped in that respect.

Rupert Grint: Scary music.

DR: Yeah, scary music.

TLC: Who?

DR: I like loads of different guitar music. But it’s not like it’s horrible people actually physically trying to kill other people. Also the thing about this one is that not only is he so angry, but he also has to deal with some truly horrific, horrific things. He actually hears his mother screaming as she is murdered, and it doesn’t really get much worse than that, so there was a lot of kind of preparing for that to be done. That’s the only really proper preparation story I can think of. My dad grew up in Northern Ireland and he grew up when all the troubles in Northern Ireland were really going on. And there was a man across the street from him who was murdered by the UDA. And my dad actually as an 8-year-old boy heard the wife of that man screaming from across the street. So I just had a really, really long discussion with my dad about it. He helped me so much with all the stuff with the dementors particularly. Other than that I just listen to a lot of different music for different scenes.

Q: Can you tell us about the dementors and what they’re like in this movie and how it is acting against what will later be an effect?

DR: We don’t know what they’re really going to look like.

Emma Watson: We’ve seen some images, basic.

DR: I’ve seen some very sort of rough storyboard things but we haven’t seen any. Alfonso described them to us very very vividly and they ain’t gonna look pretty. They’re going to be really horrific. I think they’re the scariest things in all the Harry Potter books.

Q: How has it been to work with Alfonso Cuarón?

EW: Especially for me, as someone who hasn’t acted in anything else before, it was great working with a new director and doing something different, seeing different techniques, different ideas. It’s also been really good fun, it’s been great.

Q: What kind of different ideas, can you give an example or two?

EW: I think there’s definitely a difference in style just like looking at the two, I mean I’ve only seen a few clips of this third one that’s coming out but Alfonso’s done some amazing things with camera angles and camera shots and this one’s much more flowy and it’s got – you can just tell the difference. Especially with the director, a lot of himself goes into what he’s doing and you can definitely tell the difference.

Q: We heard that he’s bringing out the teenagers in you.

RG: Yeah.

EW: Yeah.

DR: Oh yes.

RG: He’s a bit different, but it was really sad to see Chris go. But yeah, he’s really good, he’s really fun and we get on really well.

DR: The only clips I’ve actually seen –

EW: Dan’s being very professional and not watching it.

DR: It’s not anything to do with professionalism, I just hate watching myself. [Laughter.] I haven’t seen any kind of difference in styles because I haven’t seen any footage yet so officially I can’t comment but Chris always had this fantastically energetic approach to doing the scenes, which suited the first two films absolutely perfectly and he made two absolutely fantastic films. With the third one, Alfonso has a much more kind of laid back, emotional, intense way of directing.

EW: He wants a lot of our input in the characters. A lot more he kind of said, “Well how would you do it, what would you do it like? No, I’m not going to tell you how to do it, it has to come from what you think and from your own experiences.”

Q: That was a big change from Chris?

DR: Not really. Chris was very much so, both of them. But I really believe that it’s an adaptation of a book so it can’t be the director who says what kind of film it’s going to be, it’s the book that says how the film should be made.

Q: Have you seen any of Alfonso’s previous films?

DR: Yeah.

EW: Yeah. A Little Princess. I loved that, I cried in that. Well, I cry in everything, but, it was great. It was really, oh, I loved that film.

DR: I’ve seen A Little Princess, I’ve seen Y Tu Mamá También [loud rounds of nervous laughter]. Basically if you’re going to work with any director, I think it’s kind of important to know what kind of stuff they’ve done before. I’m working my way through all Mike Newell’s films at the moment. I just watched Donnie Brasco a couple of days ago.

Q: What would you say was the most interesting sequence for you to shoot or the most challenging?

RG: There’s been a lot of good scenes. The one I like is where I did my dragging thing, that was really good, a dog dragging me into the tree. It’s when the dog drags me into the tree and I had to have this harness on my leg and was dragged across the ground, it was really fun. That was quite difficult I suppose, because I swallowed a lot of grass.

DR: And you had to watch out for the camera as well.

RG: Oh, yeah.

EW: He crashed into the camera quite a lot of times.

RG: I kicked the lens of the camera off.

DR: The important thing to point out, didn’t injure the cameraman!

DR: For me the most interesting scene is probably the Shrieking Shack you know, I’m in the scene with Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall and David Thewlis all at the same time, it’s like, “Oh my god, fantastic!” You know you’re surrounded by absolutely some of the most amazing actors, so that’s probably the most interesting. Most challenging — it could have been the same one, it could have been actually the same scene because it is, you do, obviously you’re putting in effort all the time, but particularly when you’re with Gary Oldman and David Thewlis and Alan Rickman and Timothy Spall, you’re going to really, really go for it. So also all the stuff that went on with having my soul sucked out, that’s also slightly harder.

EW: For me like Dan I found the Shrieking Shack was very challenging. It took quite a long time. We were in there for –

DR: What, a month?

EW: More than that maybe. It’s such a complex scene, and a lot is happening in it, and so a lot of it kept changing and that was hard and it’s all quite emotional really. Well not emotional, but –

DR: You feel drained after –

EW: Yeah you do feel drained.

DR: Another thing was that the walls actually leaned and creaked, so we couldn’t actually hear what each other was saying.

EW: So we had to do it like doubly loud.

TLC: Last year I asked you guys to predict what would happen to your characters. Now that you read the fifth book, can you update me?

DR: Oh – I’m sticking with mine. Mmhm.

EW: What was the prediction?

DR: Oh you two are definitely, you’re madly in love. Over to you two!

[Laughter. A blushing Emma and Rupert seem to be slightly flustered, so someone asks a new question.]

Q: Have you guys done the scene with the boggart yet, and what was that like?

EW: We didn’t actually get to do it? Did we?

DR: You did, you had the spider.

RG: Oh yeah.

DR: But nothing was there.

RG: There was a picture of a spider.

Q: You get to wear a lot of your clothes in the last half of this movie. Does that help you feel more like yourself?

DR: Obviously in the first two films the story dictated that we were just in uniform a lot of the time, because a lot of the story takes place during the school year, where as in this one a lot of it takes place during the holidays. So I think it makes it slightly more relaxed I supposed.

EW: I definitely felt that.

RG: [Shaking head in disagreement] Ron’s clothes are very itchy jumpers.

EW: In uniform everyone looks the same and I think it’s good because it got all sort of different people’s personalities out.

Q: There are lots of new sets in this one. Do you get as excited as fans do about what’s going to go on the air?

DR: Absolutely.

EW: Yeah! Completely.

DR: It was actually, it got to the point – there were a lot of visitors to the set and they’d come on and I’d say, “What did you see?” and they’d say, “Oh, the Shrieking Shack, we saw that,” they’re just listing off things that I haven’t even seen!

Q: What are your favorite new sets in this one?

RG: This one [the courtyard] is really cool.

DR: And they’ve got a huge, did you see the pendulum? It’s fantastic. But it’s like, I think in one shot in the outtakes we’re just all swinging. But this one’s really cool, especially when it’s covered in snow in one of the scenes, amazing.

EW: I still walk around with my mouth open. The stuff that they do is just amazing. And there’s some great stuff. We did a bit of location for about a month in Scotland and the scenery was just breathtaking, it was amazing. Massive mountains and proper fresh air and it was really good.

Q: How did it feel to shoot in Scotland, away from the studio?

DR: It was rainy.

EW: Understatement of the century.

DR: And it’s not normal rain, it’s horizontal rain. Umbrellas are rendered useless. It’s, it is really good to get out of the studios for a while.

Q: You guys are obviously great friends. Do you have time when you’re not shooting between movies to hang out together?

DR: If you hung around with me for a year you wouldn’t want to spend that much more time with me. [Laughter from Emma Waston.] Don’t laugh!

EW: Sorry, sorry.

DR: We are with each other so much of the time, that we kind of need a break from each other by the end.

Q: A lot of the same crew has returned – do you guys have friendships among them?

DR: Oh yeah. It’s just like a huge family.

EW: Yeah like a huge harry potter family.

TLC: Emma are you wearing a time turner?

[Emma Watson laughs and blushes.]

DR: It’s a bit of fake one.

TLC: It’s a fake one?

EW: All right, are you ready for it? [Reveals the rest of the necklace.] It’s a fish weight. [Laughter.]

DR: There is a very good one.

EW: There is actually a very, very good one.

DR: Yeah it’s brilliantly detailed.

EW: I’ve broken about three of them so they gave me a fish weight instead.

Q: Rupert we saw a bit of you two filming [the scene where Ron and Hermione make up]. Can you tell us a bit about the dynamic between you two in this film, and does that scene resolve what’s been going on throughout the rest of the movie?

RG: We get to argue a lot in this one.

EW: Yeah, it’s good.

RG: Emma’s character’s got a cat.

EW: It’s all about the rat and the cat. It’s like Tom and Jerry all over again.

Q: Can you talk about working with those animals?

DR: A bat landed on my head. [Laughter.] It was actually very funny. I actually really love the animals, especially the lizards. The lizards are so cool. And the mice are fighting – the mice are fantastic. We’re taking bets on them. It’s between who’s going to win or who’s going to escape first.

RG: Spiders I hate, but when we were in there with the bat I didn’t know I was scared of bats as well. [Laughter. Rupert makes a disgusted face.] Horrible!

Q: What about rats?

RG: There is a massive rat, absolutely huge.

Q: What other stuff is there?

Trio: Mice, lizards, bats, a six-legged tortoise.

Q: And do you two [Emma and Rupert] get to hug in this scene, are we going to see this? We saw a bit at the end of Chamber of Secrets – what’s going to happen, do we see anymore?

EW: No, [the hug] might be cut!

DR: We’re not sure, it was originally.

EW: It was. But we’re not sure.

Q: Is it because you two just refused to do it?


Warning: Possible Spoiler:

TLC: We saw on the storyboard, something about a rock…?

EW: The thing is, that when she – it’s sort of complicated – she turns back in time, so she’s watching herself in Hagrid’s Hut, and she throws the stone – to warn Hermione in Hagrid’s Hut, who recognizes the stone, that – Dumbledore – [getting flustered]

DR: [Putting out his hand as if to stop her from hurting herself] Emma, don’t –

EW: It’s complicated.

TLC: No, I got you.

DR: We were hoping at the beginning was, rather than the time turner, we were hoping – you know, new director, maybe a new spin on things, so instead of a time turner we were hoping for the car from Back to the Future. That’s what we were all really gunning for. The thing inside, the flux capacitator or something, I wanted one of those really badly.

Q: Did you guys bond with David Thewlis like [your characters] are supposed to bond?

[Enthusiastic assent from all three.]

DR: I spent a lot of time with him because basically the core emotional scenes in the film are with Lupin and Harry. Those are the main emotional scenes in the film so I spent a lot of time with him, and it was very interesting, actually, working with him.

Q: And they actually built a hippogriff, what was that like?

EW: It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

DR: It was fantastic. It’s, I’m not even going to try and explain. Here, it’s – [stands up and moves back a few feet (away from the recorders)] I’ll shout – um – about here [points to spot where beak would be, which is a few inches above his head.] So it’s pretty big.

Q: How did you get on with the cat playing Crookshanks?

[Instant groans from the boys.]

EW: Oh, I love my cat! They are so rude to my cat!

RG: It’s the ugliest cat.

DR: It looks like it’s been thrown against the wall at birth.

EW: Okay, so it’s got a flat nose.

DR: It doesn’t have a nose! It’s just 2D! It’s like the cartoon cat!

EW: It’s beautiful in its own ugly way.

DR: Notice the word UGLY.

[Laughter throughout.]

TLC: Dan, if you stay on for the fifth book, how are you going to handle Harry’s moods?

DR: What we’ve done in this one, which I think is quite daring really, the Harry you read about in the fifth book is the Harry we kind of portray in the third film. He is incredibly angry in this one. Just full of teenage…

TLC: Angst?

DR: Thank you, I couldn’t say that word for a second, angst. So he is an incredibly angry character in the third film. I don’t know, I think a lot of people could be shocked, I don’t know. I think the fifth book has prepared them for it slightly. It’s just different.

Q: Rupert what have you learned now that it’s the third time around?

RG: Um – um – not much. [A lot of laughter.] Basically it’s just a new way of doing it really. It’s much different than when I used to go to school.

Q: Are you more comfortable with it now?

RG: Oh definitely.

Q: What did Alfonso have you do to prepare for this film?

DR: We all wrote essays actually.

EW: Yes, we all wrote essays.

DR: And both me and Rupert were put to shame by Emma’s sixteen page essay! [Laughter.] No, no, it was fantastic! It really was fantastic…

RG: I don’t think I ever actually handed mine in…

[More laughter.]

DR: I wrote one on four sheets of paper, which I was so proud of, and then we see Emma’s written a three-volume novel! We were all slightly put to shame by that.

Q: What were the essays about?

DR: It was basically the state of our characters at the beginning, when we first meet them at the beginning of the third film.

TLC: Do you remember anything of what you said?

DR: I don’t remember, I have got a copy…

Q: Do you think that helped you, writing those things?

DR: Definitely. And every time there’s a huge scene I have it in the front of my script so every time there’s a big scene I try to read over it a couple of times.

EW: Just for the record, I have big handwriting.


DR: And mine is incredibly small! Mine would have been a huge book, but, it just wasn’t.

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.