Director Chris Columbus reflects on first film for 20th anniversary

Nov 13, 2021

Posted by: Amanda Kirk

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Adding to the reflections on the 20th anniversary of the release of the first Harry Potter film, director Christopher Columbus gave an interview to Variety about his experience working on it and his hopes for future Potter-related features.

You can read the interview in its entirety at the Variety site linked above, but here are a few highlights:

Given the enormous popularity of the Harry Potter books, Columbus felt the weight of expectations of millions of fans around the world. He was, “…aware of the fact that if I screw this up, I probably will never work again. And I would have millions of fans at my door just infuriated.” Columbus counted himself among the fans with high expectations for the film: “I knew I had to deliver a film that would not only please fans, but also myself because I was a fan.”

Columbus also noted his determination to use an entirely British cast for the film, a very wise and necessary move that kept the film from being Americanised with big Hollywood names. He also resisted adding things not in the books that would have ruined the films by Americanising them, such as cheerleaders at Quidditch matches. The story is, after all, set in Great Britain, at a British boarding school, with primarily British faculty, staff, and students. Another good reason to choose a British cast, according to Columbus: “When you’re working with British actors, there’s the sense of high professionalism. You get a lot of American stars who are complaining that their trailer isn’t as big as someone else’s.”

When asked what it was like working with the child actors playing the lead roles of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, Columbus said that for the first few months, they were so excited to be part of the films that “they were basically just smiling into the cameras.” But their acting professionalism grew quickly: “by the time they got to “Chamber of Secrets,” and then by the time we did “Prisoner of Azkaban,” you could basically shoot the entire film in 15 single takes if you wanted.”

The scenes using CGI, such as Quidditch and some magical creatures, were difficult for the actors because they had to react emotionally to things that were not there. Columbus helped them by “pretending to be whatever character, whether it was Voldemort on the back of Quirrell’s head or the Basilisk…which is quite insane if you think about it, but the only way I could actually get some of those performances out of the kids when they didn’t have anything to react to.”

Columbus would love to work with the cast again, reprising their roles for a film version of “Cursed Child”.

Overall, Columbus is glad that people are still enjoying the first film 20 years after its release: “Being able to smile and realize people are watching this 20 years down the road, it’s a nice feeling.”

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.