Jenny Cooney Carrillo
international entertainment and lifestyle journalist
We’ve all heard the stories of bratty behavior on movie sets from some of the biggest stars in Hollywood. A visit to the set of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is no different but here we have the world’s most recognizable teenagers acting – well, just like teenagers.
“We’re in a slightly hysterical mood today,” Daniel Radcliffe admits a little sheepishly, after take twelve of a scene in which Harry, Hermione, Ron, Neville and Luna must decide whether they will all go to the Ministry of Magic where the pivotal third act of the movie takes place. “I’ve been back for a month and a half of filming but this is Emma’s first day back after exams and Rupert’s had a month off as well. We’re all having a little trouble keeping the intensity going,” he adds.
It’s another long day at Leavesden Studios, which since 2000 has served as the primary home for the Harry Potter movies. Yet something feels different on this set. For seven years and four films, we’ve watched Daniel Radcliffe, now 17 (18 in July), Rupert Grint (19 in August) and Emma Watson, 17, grow up in front of us, and the hormone-raging pimple-popping adolescence evident in the last film has now given way to a more mature look and tone: Harry has his first kiss; the young wizards form ‘Dumbledore’s Army’ to fight Voldemort and, well let’s face it, Daniel Radcliffe exposed his penis on stage in the well-received stage production of Equus right after he finished this film. We’re not in Hogwarts anymore, Toto.
“It’s really going to shake all the Harry Potter fans up and I know that but I’m growing up, I’m not Peter Pan, I’m not going to stay young forever,” Radcliffe acknowledged unapologetically on the eve of his stage debut on a cold August day on set. “I’ve grown up in the way that most ten year olds grow into seventeen year olds, although playing Harry probably made me grow up a little faster than other people my age.”
Not only has Daniel Radcliffe grown up, so too has Harry and more importantly for Warner Brothers, the audience for this film who are not only the children and parents who devoured the books but now the rest of us can go proudly into the movie theatre to watch Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in much the same way we’d flock to see Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, without having to drag a niece or nephew along as a cover! But since when did Harry Potter become adult entertainment?
After Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuaron and Mike Newell all took very successful approaches to the famous movie franchise, David Yates, best known for the TV thriller State of Play, was brought in to lend an edgier vision to the fifth film. “One of the most interesting things for me as a director is the fact that the kids are getting a little bit older and they’re getting a little bit more complicated as human beings anyway,” Yates explains. “So it’s a natural process that as the book gets darker and more complex, the actors are more complex and the movies get richer and darker too. I am basically growing up Harry and the movies.”
The ‘g’ word gets a good workout as Total Film spends a day on the bustling set. “It’s another year and we’ve all grown up again,” Rupert Grint is the next to utter it in between takes. “In the last movie we were all falling out with each other and it was a very teenage adolescent time but now we’re more of a group, more of a team, and we can be there for each other.” Daniel Radcliffe is a bit more circumspect. “It’s an interesting cinematic experience, isn’t it?” he muses. “The Harry Potter universe is no longer childish anymore. Watching a group of kids grow up on-screen isn’t something that has really been seen before to this extent.” Producer David Heyman proudly describes Emma Watson as “a formidable young lady who has really grown as an individual” and even Matthew Lewis, who plays the initially nerdy Neville Longbottom talks about his character “evolving into a stronger, more mature person who wants to fight for a good cause.”
In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry has trouble getting the magical world to believe that evil Lord Voldemort has come back. Only Harry’s closest friends and a few supporters including Professor Dumbledore take the news seriously. But when the Ministry of Magic and new Defense of the Dark Arts teacher Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) officially disavow his claim, it’s up to Dumbledore’s newly re-formed anti-evil-wizard league, the Order of the Phoenix, to take matters into its own hands. In that same spirit, Harry and his classmates form Dumbledore’s Army, an underground Defense Against the Dark Arts class which leads them to a climactic fight that results in the death of someone Harry loves.
“I think this is quite an emotional story,” Yates elaborates. “The core part of this fifth book by J.K. Rowling is very emotional because we see Harry tormented by a death at the beginning of the film and then another death at the end. Because the work that I’ve done before has a very big emotional content, that was something I was asked to bring to this story so it would feel emotionally rich.”
From the outside, Leavesden Studios - a former Rolls Royce factory - looks like any other nondescript industrial building in that neighborhood, until you drive around the back and spot Privet Drive, home of the Dursley family and complete with ten houses and a huge blue screen at the end of the street. Two purple double-decker buses sit in the parking lot and across the path sits Hagrid’s hut. Today’s shooting takes place in an empty field adjacent to the soundstages, where a covered bridge pass has been constructed to serve as a walkway between the courtyard to Hogwart’s and the arrival dock. Take after take, David gently coaxes the group into toeing the line. “This afternoon’s about performance,” he insists. “I will go ten, twelve, sixteen takes to find that moment that has a truth about it because ultimately this is the beginning of our third act, going into the Ministry of Magic, so this scene has to be as exciting and vital as possible.”
Teenage distraction aside, you won’t hear any complaints from Yates about working with this teen trio. “It’s probably the most enriching film experience I’ve ever had,” he nods, taking a short break from the cold inside a shuttle bus parked nearby. “Dan, Rupert and Emma are full of enthusiasm and ambition for their acting skills because they want to be better and better actors every time they come to the floor. And particularly Dan,” he adds proudly, “is doing some exceptional work and has done some beautiful stuff in showing this complicated, complex journey for Harry.”
In this film, Harry struggles with survivor’s guilt after classmate Cedric Diggory is killed in the wizardry competition at the end of the last film. This is further complicated when he gets involved with his former crush, Cho Chang (Katie Leung), who was also Cedric’s former girlfriend. Their bond seems based on mutual loss, but of course it comes with lots of snogging. “Daniel is a very good kisser,” Leung says a bit awkwardly when pressed, checking over her shoulder to make sure Radcliffe is not in hearing distance. “We’re great friends now and it’s a bit strange to have to kiss him for hours at a time but he makes you feel very relaxed and tells you not to be nervous!”
It would seem the rest of the crew also had to be reassured too. “You have to understand some of these people have been working with Dan since he was so high,” Yates says with his hand up to his waist. “and the day we shot the kiss, they were gathered around the monitor because they needed to see this moment. They needed to experience it because for them Dan was really as much a son to them, because they’d seen him go through all these changes as he’s grown up and they got quite emotional watching this first kiss, which was an interesting experience to observe.”
Yate’s own take on how the spit-swapping fest turned out? “I wanted to make it feel as real and as truthful as possible so we did many, many takes and I think it’s a very tender, gentle, lovely scenes as first kisses should be.”
“Who told you that?” a mortified Radcliffe later blurted out when told that he rated well as a kisser. “My god, it was fun,” he immediately adds with more of a chuckle. “Katie and I were a bit awkward and nervous at first but once we got into it, it was fine – even if we had to do it about thirty times!”
With darker themes to explore after the death of Cedric and a surprise death of someone close to him at the end of this film, Radcliffe faced some new acting challenges. “I’ve never been bereaved so that’s difficult,” he says, “and in previous films Harry felt sort of blameless but with this film comes the added thing that he feels he should have died, not Cedric, and so that leads to a lot of isolation and anger which has been a real challenge to act.”
A challenge that Yates says the maturing actor pulled off beautifully. “When we were shooting a scene where he’s possessed by Voldemort and he falls to the floor and writhes and starts to lose any sense of himself, we would talk about what that would involve but he would always do something very specifically in each take that I didn’t expect and it would always be shocking and surprising and interesting,” Yates marvels. “My favorite moment was when we’d do a take, maybe three months into the shoot, and I would say, ‘OK, Dan, that’s fine’ and he would say, ‘no, I need to go again; that wasn’t right for me’. I knew once we crossed that line that we’d got to a really good place and that was a really exciting day.”
Watson also admits it was exciting to watch her character Hermione transform from good little girl to feisty rule-breaker. “She’s starting to battle with herself this time,” she explains, “because she’s not sure whether she should question people and break rules and go against authority, and I think a lot of teenagers can relate to that! We’re at an age where you’re not really sure whether you’re still a kid or not, or whether you’re actually old enough to do what you want and make your own decisions.”
Faced with contractual talks about continuing the roles in the final two films, Watson coyly admits she gave it a lot of thought before signing on again. David Heyman adds; “I think for all the kids earlier on it was the parents whispering for them to do it but Emma’s always been the one who’s questioned it each time since the third, then the fourth, the fifth and now the sixth. This time Emma made the decision on her own and in her own time,” he continues proudly, “and I was impressed at the astuteness of her observations when we talked through the pros and cons.”
Although Daniel Radcliffe has already broken out of the Harry mould thanks to his nude stage role in Equus, a role as an Australian orphan in the upcoming film December Boys and a self-deprecating stint as a lecherous version of himself on the sitcom Extras, he sounds nostalgic when asked about growing up Harry. “I think Harry’s happiest moments are happier than anyone else could ever think of and his saddest moments are again probably more profoundly sad than most people could consider,” he reflects. “The average human being doesn’t have magic, so while Harry may be a normal teenager in many ways, he still lives in an accentuated world of heightened reality.”
One that grown-ups everywhere will be proudly flocking to watch on July 13.
Jenny Cooney Carrillo
Total Film
Jenny Cooney interviews Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint on the set of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix