Chris Columbus

Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban

Interviewed by Jonathan Trout

“The last thing that Richard Harris ever said to me was "Don't ever ****ing think about recasting me" ”

Although Chris Columbus is one of the most commercially successful family filmmakers ever, many were initially sceptical of such a sentimental director being hired for a series with such potential for darkness and such a famously demanding fanbase. Now, with the first two Harry Potter movies safely delivered, Chris Columbus has moved upstairs to produce The Prisoner Of Azkaban.

How did it feel being the ex-director? Relief? Or jealousy?

Yeah! No, I needed to get out for my own sanity, so I'd be alive for my children at some point. It was with great admiration - one of the great things about being a producer is that you get to step back and watch the work of other directors, and when you are working with someone as visually inspired and talented as Alfonso, it becomes a learning experience for all of us. I admire him as a filmmaker, and I think he's done a wonderful job with the performances in this film - it was just a joyful experience. It was only frustrating to be on the set in that, as a director, you don't want to be on someone else's set. My biggest concern in hiring a director was deciding who would bond with the kids. This was a very special relationship we had over the past four years and I wanted to make absolutely certain that they would be in good hands. When I met Alfonso and I saw how he was interacting with the kids, from the very first moment I knew that they were in great hands.

Were there times when you were producing that you wanted to get back into the other man's chair?

The only thing that may make me come back for a sixth or seventh film is these kids. They've grown so much as actors since the first film. You can stylistically see the difference, and part of that is based on the performances. Rupert had a tendency to laugh a lot during the first two films, so getting one line on the first film was a little difficult; second film, maybe two or three lines... The first film had a style where you could shoot the kid for one line and then you would have to cut away, and the second film they became better, and they became much more mature. The third film, these guys have a lot of confidence and they have a lot of belief in themselves as actors, so I watch it now kind of as a parent. I'm very impressed with what they've done, so the only time I'd want to leap into the director's chair would be to get a chance to work with them again.

Will it be possible to make a two hour film from a thousand page book?

I think we've developed a lot of goodwill with the audience with the first two films. We painstakingly, to the regret of some parents, set up Hogwarts in the first film - the bottom line was that the parents thought that the films were long, and the kids wanted more, so it was a delicate balancing act. On the third film, we felt that it was time for us to condense the film slightly, worry about the film, and streamline it. That was something Alfonso always intended, and we felt that it was time to do that. I'm leaving after this film, but David Heyman will be on for the fourth film and the subsequent films that are made, so I would assume that you would have to stick to that philosophy because the books continue to grow.

Will there be a different director for each of the next films?

We had a fantasy list. Who would you like to see direct a Harry Potter movie? Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppolla, Alfonso - you would love to see one of those films. I don't think Oliver Stone would fit into that world, but I do believe there are certain directors you would want to see, and I'm sure David will carry that along. Mike Newell [directing the fourth film, Goblet Of Fire] was someone... all of us would like to see Mike Newell's vision of a Harry Potter film.

You were forced into a crucial piece of recasting following Richard Harris' death.. How important was it for you to get Michael Gambon for the role of Dumbledore?

It was an amazing amount of pressure for me, because the last thing that Richard Harris ever said to me was "Don't ever ****ing think about recasting me!" That was in his hospital room as I was saying goodbye to him. Where do you go from there? The idea that someone like Michael Gambon would even consider to do the role was an honour in and of itself. The fact that he has made it his own, and enlivened it of the spirit of what Dumbledore really is in the books, and what Richard set out to do is just a wonderful thing for the series. I think his performance is absolutely wonderful and Richard would be proud.