Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – Press Junket: Chris Columbus Interview
Dec 03, 2007
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Press Junket
October 22, 2002
New York City
Note: approximately 150 journalists from from various media outlets were present at this press conference. Questions asked or comments made by TLC are so marked, and some questions (but not answers) have been edited for clarity. We’ve tried to stress where the interviewees stressed. Be forewarned that not all reporters are as informed as are our readers, so some of these questions are, er…, interesting.
Round table interivew with Chris Columbus
What was your last day on the film like?
CC: It sort of trickled down. The more emotional, you know, nobody was sort of bawling and hugging; it wasn’t like some bizarre Mary Tyler Moore final episode, but it was the three kids and myself, we had just done the library scene where Hermione finds the Polyjuice Potion. And I just realized that that was the last time the four of us would be working together in that capacity. So we just sort of walked off and talked a little bit, it was a sort of dry moment, and I kept undercutting it by saying, ‘We’re going to see each other again, we’re going to be on the set together next year, it’s all going to be fine.’ It was extremely emotional. You have to hold back the tears, because there’s a part of your life, that’s been going on for three years, that now is no longer going to be there.
If you could cast yourself in a Harry Potter movie, who would you be? Is there a character who suits you?
CC: I don’t know. I never thought about it. I wish I had a better answer for you, I never think of it in those terms. Director, probably.
Can you explain, because it’s been written, your reasons for not wanting to do the third film. Jut in your own words can you tell us why you decided not to?
CC: Yeah, it’s really a boring answer, but it’s true. It’s been two and a half years I haven’t had dinner during my own children during the week. I just wanted to see them. I mean I get to work at six in the morning and then I come home at ten at night, and I really just wanted to take them to school in the morning and be there fore them because they need, ironically they’re the people who got me into the whole Harry Potter world, and now they’re the people who are getting me out of it. They’re nto asking me to, I just made a decision. My son Brendan asked me, when I was almost finished shooting Chamber of Secrets, ‘Dad, are you going to do the third?’ I said no, and he just gave me the strongest hug, like, ‘Thank you, thanks for coming home.’ So it’s good, I’ve given a lot of time to these kids who are like my other family and now I need to give some to my other kids back home.
What was the hardest part to direct?
CC: I think the hardest part to direct for Dan and myself was Dan’s interaction with Dobby because he didn’t have anyone in the room. He was basically acting with a little green ball at the end of a stick, and I wanted to avoid – I don’t want to use the name of any other CG characters, but we had a mantra on the film that we didn’t want to be like a certain other CG character, an extremely annoying character, but I’m not telling you who it is, so you can’t nail me. But this other character really affected us in a bad way.
We wanted to make sure that Dobby was lovable and existed within that frame. So when you see the frame, you believe that Dobby’s in the room with Dan. Part of what makes that work is that ILM did a really wonderful job with Dobby’s skin texture and the lighting and making it feel like he was in the room.
The other thing that makes it work is Dan. Because Dan really focused and even when we saw the early dailies and we saw a little green ball on the end of a stick, and we saw Dan talking to that ball, you believe that Dan is talking to someone. And the animators and I, honestly, they’ve seen actors twice his age, not being able to focus. They’d have to always try to fix it in the animation, change the look in the eyes, but Dan was so focused, he made you believe that Dobby was there. So once we got through that we shot those sequences early on. One of the things we wanted to change I this film was, I liked, obviously I like the first film a lot but one of the things I wanted to film was the special effects, the visual effects, because I felt we only had three months to do them on the first film. So we did all the visual effects shots first. We had eight to nine months to complete them all, which gave us almost three times as much time to fix the visual effects and make them really, really good for the Chamber of Secrets.
Does Richard Harris just happen to have a scar that looks just like Harry Potter’s, or is that just something you’ve added in the movie. Because in both movies, he has a scar over his right eyebrow just like Harry Potter.
CC: It had to be a rugby match. You know what’s weird? I’ve seen this movie, about a hundred and eighty times, and I’ve never seen the scar. I’ve been this close to him and I’ve never seen the scar. It’s strange.
Is he well enough to do the next film?
CC: We’ll find out. He didn’t look well when I saw him, but he said, and I can’t actually give you the actual quote because we have a child in the room, but he said, ‘If you ever blank think about blank recasting me, I’ll blank kill you.’ And I said, ‘I’m not going to recast you.’ He’s responding well to treatment and supposedly he’s going to come back for the third.
What would happen if he was not able to?
CC: I can’t even think about that. To me it’s like the whole, that’s just a whole family. I really don’t know. I can’t think about that because I have to believe – in these kind of situations, when you have someone you’re close to who’s not doing well, you have to believe they’re going to get through it. He’s 72 but he’s one of the toughest people I’ve ever met.
Can you talk about the tone of this film, because obviously it’s very different than the first one, just the color scheme is different from the first one. And I know there was some criticism last time that it was too faithful to the book and all that kind of stuff. Did you take any of that to heart?
CC:We didn’t have to really think about that because the first one opened on Friday and on Monday we were shooting Chamber of Secrets. That’s all based on the books. Chamber of Secrets is darker in tone. And it’s a little scarier, a little edgier. Jo Rowling, for instance, said that that’s the book she got the most heat from, from a lot of parents because it was scarier. So we were aware of all that when we were making the book. I didn’t want to pull back because again, to be faithful, I wanted the readers to have the same experience they had when they read the book. I wanted them to have a cinematic version of what they read. A s a result, when they screened the film I was concerned and I wanted to make sure it wasn’t too scary. So we took the film to Chicago, screened it in front of about 400 people, half of which were kids from the ages 7 to 13, and we asked the kids afterward, was anybody scared, and not one kid raised their hand. Was it exciting? They all raised their hand, they loved it.
But as a parent I knew that wasn’t the ultimate test. I knew that the nighttime comes and then there are nightmares, so we had to contend with that. So last week I took my five-year-old daughter to see it and she’s probably almost too young, but I wanted to see how she would react. She had only been to the set a couple of times. She sat there and watched the entire film. She was sitting next to a friend of mine who was 38 who had actually jumped much more than she did, and then I said, ‘Bella, did you like it?’ She goes, ‘I loved it.’ ‘So were you scared?’ ‘No.’ And that night she slept through the night, no problems. That was my test.
But as a parent, I would say if you have a seven and under, you have to know your kids. If they have a little fear of spiders or snakes, you may want to talk to them about it before they see the film. That would be the caution. In England the film is rated PG, there’s a little caution that says if you have a fear of spiders, certain sequences may be a little intense, which is kind of a funny, it’s gotta be the first time that’s been an announcement.
As a fan, because I am an intense fan of the books, last time it was so frustrating to read some criticism of the film to say that it was this corporate thing after I had killed myself, killed myself to get this thing done, and the second one as well I’m just a huge fan, and the reason I was faithful is because I love the books, I just love them. Okay, I’m wrong [for being so faithful], but I love the books. And then you would read this thing about this whole corporate reason for making the movie. Peter Travers in Rolling Stone said, ‘I can’t criticize this movie, because it’s so corporate.’ And I’m thinking, you have people, Oscar-winning production designers, cameramen, myself, just busting their chops to get this film done, and you’re saying it’s a corporate machine. It’s just not the case. It’s a corporate machines when it’s just a flat, Pokemon type experience. Even those guys probably tried hard. It’s hard to believe there’s going to be a Pokemon 2.
I would like the movie to be longer, because I would like to put the Deathday Party in, which is one of my favorite things from the book. But as a filmmaker you know that the film moves a certain way and the pace of the film works because of what it is, so now I have kids telling me it’s too short. It moves so quickly, but if it were longer it would feel too long, so it’s gotta work as a cinematic experience for the audience.
*TLC*: Quick thing about the end of the movie. There’s a very adorable scene where Hermione hugs Harry, but she doesn’t hug Ron – what was behind that non-hug for you?
CC: Did you read book four?
*TLC*: Yeah, I did. [You’ve no idea.]
CC: So, it’s a little bit of a taste of what’s to happen, what’s coming up.
TLC: So it is foreshadowing.
CC: It is foreshadowing, yeah. I just love the idea that the two of them, that there’s an impending crush. And it’s such a real thing for kids at that age. For instance, I asked Emma to hug Dan, and she said, ‘No way,’ and that was the day she was the most nervous being on the set. She was like, ‘I am not going to hug him, no I’m not.’ And I said, ‘You’ve been petrified, this is one of your best friends, if not your best friend, you have to hug him,’ I said, ‘but you won’t hug Ron, because that’s where the tension is.
So basically, she had all her friends, all the actors, actresses, she had to hug him in front of 350 actors, so as a kid she was terrified. So she hugged him, and I had to extend it through editing. She would hug him, and at the next frame, gone.
In the movies, people now what’s going on, you’ve got a wonderful creature here with Dobby created by CGI. Lord of the Rings, the CGI creature Gollum who looks very similar in some ways to Dobby. These are the two big holiday movies, are people going to come out and say, what’s with this, that we both have these strange, funny, weird little CGI creatures. Were you concerned at all about that? Did you think about doing it with an actor rather than CGI?
CC: That would have been a mistake because the proportions of Dobby are different than any human being that exists. You can’t physically do it because you got, not only is he small but his neck is tiny, you just can’t do it. So I was determined not do Dobby as a CGI character but I actually didn’t think about Lord of the Rings at all. I know there are these similarities because we do talk about it. In the last movie there were trolls, two trolls. I think there were supposed to be spiders in this new Lord of the Rings movie but now they’re being moved to the third Lord of the Rings movie. I don’t know, I can’t live my life worrying about what’s going to be in Lord of the Rings.
There’s so much more of Snape, I think, in the books than in the movies, and he is a great character. Why isn’t there more of him?
CC: There’s not a lot of him in the second book. There’s a lot of him in the third, but there’s not a lot of him in the second book. We have so many great characters that we have to make room for Mr. Lockhart this time.
The Quidditch match is very evocative of the sequence at the end of Star wars; was that an inspiration for you, when the characters are chasing the golden snitch through the trench, was that an actual conscious evoking of the end of Star Wars?
CC: That’s actually a coincidence because we needed to take the action out of the air and put it into the trenches surrounding the Quidditch pitch. So it wasn’t really, that was not an homage. There’s an homage later in the film to North by Northwest, but Star Wars, no.
What was the homage to North by Northwest?
CC: Just when we designed the Chamber of Secrets, the entire fight with the basilisk was supposed to take place just on that little walkway, and then we added a side tunnel because I wanted to do the moment with Harry trapped in the tunnel and the basilisk coming toward him and when I saw the huge face of Salazar Slytherin I thought, oh, I want to end the battle on top of the head. The homage to North by Northwest is just a shot as he’s climbing up. The finale of North by Northwest takes place on Mount Rushmore, and we did one similar shot.
How long do you think it might be before you think about doing another film, directing?
CC: I’ll be thinking about it soon. As a producer on the next Harry potter film, I’ll sort of be overseeing that, during that time I hope to be coming up with something else.
So you still want to be in the market.
CC: I want to write actually, I want to go back and write, because I haven’t, I said to Steve Kloves the other day, I said this is interesting, the both of us – when was the last time you wrote an original script? He said it’s been about ten or eleven years. I said, same for me, I haven’t written an original.
What was the last one you wrote?
CC: I can’t remember. That’s been made into a film? I worked on Fantastic Four and Daredevil and those sorts of things, but it’s been a long time. So probably Only the Lonely.
Is there something you want to do?
CC: Well we have Fantastic Four but I’m only interested in that as a producer. I don’t know. I want to write something. Everything I’m starting to write is really tiny [i.e., small cast, low budget].
What changes have you seen, we’ve seen some physical changes in Daniel, what have you seen as he’s grown as a person?
CC: He’s grown as a person, but he’s still a kid. The great thing about Daniel is the way he hasn’t changed. We’re on day 298 of shooting, if you put both films together and he still thanks me after I give hi a direction. That’s very strange. You don’t usually get, you know, Julia Robersts thanking me after I give her a direction. It just doesn’t happen. I’ll say, ‘Dan, can you do this? ‘Yeah. Thank you Chris.’ I can’t believe it. So he’s a sweet kid, sweetheart, he has new interests. He’s very much into film now. I can see him sort of doing the Ron Howard thing, going off and becoming a director, he’s just fascinated by film, sees anything he can get his hands on and is really for some reason in to punk rock. He loves, which is now, like, if you listen to the old Sex Pistols, it’s like poppy at this point. But he loves it, he loves all of that.
*TLC*: Are there things in this movie you either wanted to condense or change but Jo Rowling said not to for book reasons?
CC: No, she was really open, because it always really stems from the script. We just, we all collectively were a little reluctant to lose the Deathday Party. Because the Deathday Party from a cinematic point of view didn’t really move the story forward. It was just a detour, so we knew we had to lose that one, so it was a little ouch for all of us, but no, there was nothing, I mean one of the things I wanted to do in Chamber of Secrets because it, if you ask kids about the books, obviously I see kid all the time during these movies. So I’ll always ask them when we’re talking, ‘What’s your favorite Harry Potter book?’, it’s always Azkaban first, then Sorceror’s Stone, then Goblet of Fire, then Chamber of Secrets. And I never really could figure out why but then when I was reading it I thought, well, it’s almost more of a, it has a potential – the reason I got excited about it was for a cinematic experience, because it’s got this spider sequence and the basilisk sequence, which in the book work on a literary level, but I really wanted to open them up into full blown action sequences. She was supportive of that. I said I’m going to change this a little bit, I want this to be bigger, these will now be the real third act of the film, and she was cool about that.
Has she seen it?
CC: She just saw it last week, loved it. Her daughter liked it better than the first.
In your role as producer, are you involved in the merchandising at all. A lot’s been said that here’s not as much merchandising.
CC: No, we’re involved, but we’re always too late. It’s a great thing, because they show us the stuff, and we’re like, ‘That’s horrible!’, and they’re like, ‘It’s already on the shelf!’ It’s like, there’s this thing called the Chamber of Slime, which I cannot, I don’t know where the hell that came from, I don’t know if it’s slime or what it’s supposed to be. It’s not in the book.
That’s supposed to be a hot toy this year.
CC: I’m sure, but I don’t know where it comes from! There’s no slime coming out of any of those things.
What is the most horrible thing you’ve seen?
CC: Harry Potter paper towels. We immediately, Dave and I, made the call, saying ‘Please, no Harry Potter toilet paper.’ Slime had to test well. I like the Legos, the Legos are fantastic. I really think the Legos are great, my kids love them. The new Aragog Lego stuff is fantastic, so there’s some really great stuff on the market.
Do they line up these things through you?
CC: I think they have a general marketing license, I don’t know the legalities of all of it. I don’t know.
*TLC*: There’s been some wavering in Dan’s eye color; there have been some shots in trailers of it as green, then some as blue – why even waver at this point?
CC: We never changed it. It’s only lighting. What happens in the first movie is we talked about digitally changing every shot to green. But if you look at a human being, I mean, nobody really studies it until you make a film, you can’t, people with blue eyes, particularly, in a room like this they’ll go dark and almost look brown. If you take them outside they’re bright blue. Put them on a set like the Chamber of Secrets, they’ll go greener, because the sequence itself is green. So we didn’t touch it, I swear to you. There’s nothing that’s been altered. The first movie, our effects people said, we barely have time to finish the movie, turning his eyes green in every shot is not going to work.
*TLC*: It’s strange – I have a picture. Take a look at the international trailer.
*TLC*: Yeah, it’s actually strange, they change.
CC: The international trailer? Okay.
Which do you like better, the movie or the book.
CC: The movie’s like a companion piece. I’ll always like the book. I’ll probably be more, if I’m sitting in a room alone and I had a DVD of the movie and the book I’ll probably read the book again. There are things in there, I know the movie so well that once I’m finished with it I’m not that interested in seeing it anymore at least for a few years. But the book has all those things I couldn’t put in the movie, so I can always go back and revisit that.
Anything with IPix for the DVD?
CC: Yeah, they’ve got the tours of Hagrid’s hut and some or other classroom, maybe Lockhart’s classroom. So it’s chock full, this DVD.
Is there anything you miss about England?
CC: I’ll be there until June. I’ll miss going to, I mean it’s pretty amazing that you can get on a train and be in Paris in three hours. I love Europe, the culture’s just fantastic, so it’s a great place to be.
Has there been movement on Fantastic Four, given the success of Spider Man and X Men?
CC: It’s difficult to get a studio backing. We’re working on it, we’re actually doing a rewrite.
The mandrakes were just fantastic, they’re one of the best creatures. Who came up with that idea that they look like?
CC: Well, in the book, it’s written about what they’re like and then we have conceptual artists working which someday we hope to put a book together about all the conceptual artists because what’s fascinating is you see the growth, so there were thirty versions of mandrakes and you just sort of gravitate, narrow it down to ten, to five, you go to the one that really appeals to us all which is the one that ended up in the movie.
Is there a mandrake toy?
CC: There should be a mandrake cookbook where you can chop them up and make sauce –
*TLC*: [grossed] Oh, god.
CC: [apologetically] Well, that’s what they do with them.