Brit Mike Newell may seem like a surprise choice to direct the darkest Harry Potter film so far. His biggest hit is still slushy rom-com Four Weddings & A Funeral (1994) and he's also well-known for the similarly sentimental Mona Lisa Smile (2002). But let's not forget superlative gangster pic Donnie Brasco (1997) or Pushing Tin (1999), the John Cusack-Billy Bob Thornton potboiler, which helped the career of a certain Angelina Jolie to really take off. With a little help from his producer David Heyman, here he talks about the pressure of Potter and turning the book into a thriller...
As one of the newcomers, what was it like to join this very successful production? Was it at all daunting?
It's very daunting to start with. The book's as big as a house brick and I was very unsure quite how one would attack it. But of course you come after these wonderful guys. You come after Chris Columbus and Alfonso Cuarón and you are guided through this minefield by David Heyman [producer]. Little by little you lose your terror of it. After a bit I think the thing itself just overwhelms you and what you do is you try to get from day to day and looking back, I'm terribly proud of it.
How did you find the balance between what to keep from the book and what to leave out?
[Producer] David [Heyman] was very clear to me when we first started to talk about making the film that if I could see a way of making it in one film, then we could continue to talk. If not, then we should part friends. There was a time when people were thinking about making two films.
I read the book very carefully and I felt that there was a way of making one film, which was as a thriller. It was the fact that Voldemort played by Ralph Fiennes were really in charge of events from the very beginning and only little by little did Harry catch up with what was happening to him until it was too late. There he was, facing the devil in a graveyard. As soon as I could see that I felt that I could stay true to the book and keep the length down.
There has been a story in one paper that you were angered at the lack of cash to make the film. What's your take on that?
I'm terribly sorry but that was a vast piece of quoting out of context. What I said was that when I began, the sheer scale of the film was daunting. And then after a little bit, like every director, and in every film I've ever made, big or small, you feel that there isn't quite enough money to put the absolute top little bit of topspin on it. And, of course, you start to feel aggrieved that you have so little money. It was a monstrous nonsense.
David, what can you tell us about The Order of the Phoenix, about the cast and when is it going to shoot?
David Heyman: It starts filming in February. We asked Mike [Newell] if he would do it and he said no. These films are real endurance tests and I don't know how Chris Columbus managed to do two back to back. At the end of each film we ask the director if they want to do the next one. We asked Alfonso to do the fourth and he said no and Mike said no to the fifth. We've hired someone called David Yates who is a brilliant director. He directed State of Play, Girl in the Café and Sex Traffic. I think we've been really lucky. Each director has been just right for the film they've done and I think David Yates is the right director for the fifth film.
Harry Potter And The Goblet of Fire is released in UK cinemas on Friday, 18th November 2005