HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN
A Roundtable Interview with director Alfonso Cuarón
Azkaban press junket, May 24, 2004, New York City
Q: What were your thoughts when you were asked to come along to this film?
AC: First I was a little surprised at the beginning. A little suspicious about the whole thing, I didn’t know about Harry Potter. I mean, I knew there was a movie, was a huge success of Harry Potter, but I never read the books, I never had hands in the films. So when I read the script, immediately wanted to read the book and when I read the books I had to do this movie. It’s just the material the material is so great.
Q: A lot of people always say that when it comes to your films a lot is talked about the vision, the cinematography of it and do you feel that you’ve added a lot to this film that’s different from the last film?
AC: Well it’s just different because Chris and I were two different minds, with different virtues, different flaws and different approaches, so I just embark into these from the standpoint I know. I mean, it’s not trying to do things differently or the same, it’s just trying to do things the best way you know.
Q: How did you approach working with the kids, I actually heard somewhere that when you worked with Daniel Radcliffe you gave him instructions about Cameron Diaz?
AC: (Laughing) No, the thing is, I don’t believe in being very pressure when you’re dealing with kids. I remember some members of the crew on the set at the beginning, trying to coach you how to treat the kids, you know, how to deal with the kids. And I just listened to them, but I didn’t agree at all because the last thing, I think, I think if you pressure the way they were suggesting, it was “Don’t do this in front of the kids and don’t do that, if you’re going to have a fight with anybody go out, the kids shouldn’t be witnessing that” and I feel that it was patronizing them. I mean, kids hate to be patronized; they just want to be treated, like anyone else. They know if I have an argument with someone it’s just adults having stupid arguments, and that’s the relationship I have with them, it was just to be very straight. I had to restrain my language a little bit, because I have a very foul mouth and I had to restrain my language in English, but I would say things in Spanish and actually they learned quite a lot of curse words in Spanish. But that was the only thing and even if I curse they couldn’t hear before and they just kept on moving. Actually, that was the only point of disadvantage in our relationship, that they would curse and I couldn’t (laughing).
Mugglenet: What would you have done differently if you’d been able to film it with a PG-13 rating? Like if you were able to film it as a PG 13 film?
AC: Tell me, why would it be better if it would be like NC-17? If you want to see NC-17 we can start talking (laughing). PG-13, come on. I don’t want it to be a PG-13, I’m not interested in PG-13 because something that I love of this Harry Potter universe it can be spooky but it’s not violent. I guess I don’t know exactly what it means to be PG-13 vs. PG.
Mugglenet: It’s just a slightly more mature rating.
AC: Yes, but I don’t know, I’m not a censor, I don’t know how they think. I went through all the censorship thing, all this rating things with my previous film, it’s just so silly the way that films are rated. And so, I mean, it doesn’t make sense, I don’t understand why films are so violent are OK for kids and then some other silly stuff is not only good for kids that I don’t understand. So in terms of ratings, I’m very bad, I’m very bad. I have to say that I would not have done anything differently for this film. At some point, actually the studio was encouraging to go even darker and go more scary, but I wanted to keep a balance in which you have, you have the scary aspects but then you have the humor and that all the time not unlike Harry Potter books they can be spooky, but you’re engaged because you know that you’re in a safe place and definitely trying to avoid the violence.
TLC: You’ve done two other hugely acclaimed adaptations, The Little Princess and Great Expectations, how is this adaptation been different from those?
AC: Well first of all, it’s you’re dealing with a contemporary phenomenon that is Harry Potter. The Little Princess and Great Expectations was in the 19th Century now we’re talking not about 20th Century but 21st Century, so there is a lot of, there’s an aliveness about what you’re doing, you’re dealing with something that is very much alive, and it’s in the consciousness of millions and millions of people. So, I guess that, besides that the process is pretty much the same. I mean, I’m more proud of the other two, in case of The Little Princess in terms of an adaptation, a richer work in adaptation, pretty much is the same thing as taking the spirit of the book to tell the story, that book, that movie was not literal at all, it took a lot of freedoms in terms of adapting. But I guess that’s, but now I’ve also had the opportunity of working with Steve Kloves and he is such a master of doing this thing. So a lot of adapting is about discrimination – what are you going to keep and what are you not going to keep. And, then how stuff that you would love to keep but are not necessary, how to make it necessary.
TLC: Is there stuff that you wished that you were not able to cut, that you would have been able to keep?
AC: You know what, I’m very happy with the movie the way it is. Actually, if, for me the movie, I cannot watch my movies because want to keep on cutting them down. For me it’s about cutting down probably than to add.
Q: Were there any challenges to this film?
AC: Challenges are the length of the process, that’s the biggest challenge and to keep your pace and your stamina and the enthusiasm and the love for what you’re doing. It’s such a long process, and the process is very long and the progress is very slow. So it’s a lot about patience and something I learned in this film, because I really believe that for filmmakers the only reason you make a movie is not to set out to make a good or bad movie, it’s just to see what you learned for the next one. And if anything I learned it’s to trust the process.
Q: Was it weird to have Chris Columbus as a producer knowing that he was the previous director?
AC: It was fantastic, that’s another great thing. First of all, Chris put together the whole circus, you know he put together the whole, he had to build the kitchen and go and buy the different ingredients and he cooked a couple of meals and then left me to cook a third meal. So I had the kitchen and the elements in place and it was so much fun. And also with his experience of his, not to put too much salt in the carrots because they aren’t going to taste well. It was great, it was amazing.
Q: So are you at all sad that you’re not doing the fourth film?
AC: Mike Newell is doing it as we speak. We had a conversation, it was not even an offer, just a conversation about how would feel and I immediately said ‘impossible.’ I couldn’t, I don’t know how Chris did it, or Peter Jackson in Lord of the Rings. I don’t understand that one, too lazy for that (laughing).
Q: So what are you doing next?
AC: I guess, I gonna sleep.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about your theory of close-ups vs. wide shots, because I thought that that was really interesting?
AC: Well, I’m becoming very disappointed and very disenchanted about close-ups. I’m more about the way generic Hollywood movies use the close-up. Close-up just becomes just a generic thing. Unfortunately the close-ups in contemporary Hollywood cinema they lost their strengths as close-ups. Now the cinema, most of cinema is a cinema of close-ups. And it becomes such a generic grammar, I’m talking in terms of grammar, you know film grammar. I’ve been more into trying to observe from a more of a distance a character with their surroundings and allow, pretty much, allow that openness to convey as much as possible. But it has not to do with close-ups but the rhythm of cuts, most of contemporary cinema is one cut after each half-a-second. Here, I’m very curious to see how much can you hold visual information. In my previous film I did it more, I mean, it was very wide and the shots were very long, like 7 minutes long shots and stuff. Here because of the subject matter and the kind of movie it is you have to adapt and serve the material but still I think that the close-ups are so over used. In Harry Potter we don’t have that many close-ups, you go and point to a close-up when it’s relevant to go there or in most of the cases you are going to have a close-up it’s because the camera is going very wide eventually finds that close-up. But it’s not only about close-ups, it’s about what we call coverage. Most of cinema nowadays, it’s about shooting a lot and then figuring it out in the cutting room rather than seeing your film in the head and just seeing what is in your head and not shoot but what you have already envisioned in your head.
Q: So, you mentioned that you didn’t read the Harry Potter books before, but are you a Harry Potter fan for life now?
AC: The moment I read the third one, immediately went through the first, I read 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 (laughing).
Q: If they maybe asked you to direct a future Harry Potter, would you?
AC: I would love to and if they still have the same cast, than more than anything else. I just so much enjoyed working with these guys.
TLC: Are you looking to work with them in other things?
AC: That would be great; we talk about that all the time.
TLC: You and the kids?
AC: It would be crazy to do a love story with Emma.
TLC: In a couple of years?
AC: Not ‘in love’ story, like a teen love story, she would be so amazing.
TLC: Do you liken her to any other actresses you’ve known, in terms of style?
AC: Her style, you know, she’s such a natural. She’s amazing and you can see in this film the way how she listens to what’s going on. You know Harry can be talking and the way she just listens to what’s going on. I love that of Emma.
TLC: Is that a very important thing for an actor/actress?
AC: To listen, to listen is more important than talking.