The growing pains of Harry Potter, cinema phenomenon

Review by Ethan Shaw

With the whole country already going wild about Pottermania and the bewitching about to get a whole lot worse with the imminent release of the film, it seemed fitting to take this opportunity to get back to basics with the key cast and crew members responsible for bringing JK Rowling’s smash hit book to the screen.

The world press junket took place at a secret location deep in the English countryside on Tuesday – and Indie London’s Ethan Shaw donned his cloak and dagger to play along. The result of the magical mystery tour: an audience with Harry, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, Hagrid et al.

‘‘I’m going to take it one film at a time and just see how it goes,’’ came the response from 11-year-old Daniel Radcliffe when asked if he felt daunted by the task of fleshing the role of Harry Potter, perhaps the most famous schoolboy hero on the planet today.

Even wild comparisons of the character’s potential to the superspy James Bond failed to faze the young actor who beat thousands of hopefuls to land the role he appears born to play.

He may not feel like 007, but the cream of the world’s press, crammed into a conference room after an enigmatic morning’s jaunt, certainly do.

Up at the crack, we were herded into coaches and driven to the secret location where we now sit faced by Daniel, Rupert Grint (who plays Ron Granger), Richard Harris (Dumbledore), Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid) and director and producer Chris Columbus and David Heyman.

Short of employing blindfolds and harsh overhead interrogation lighting, it couldn’t get much more spy thriller; and the location fits the bill too.

Knebworth House, buried in the countryside off the M1, provides the backdrop for our little encounter with the world of witchcraft and wizardry. It’s not Hogwarts, but not far off one of the film’s magnificent sets either.

And the principles we have come to grill also fit the bill perfectly. The yappy American director and cool producer bookend the grizzled old man, overweight heavy and three young starlets – all of whom look for the world like the cast of a dodgy old Disney flick.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, however, is far from this, and the expectations, as Coltrane points out, are large to say the least.

‘‘Pressure? Nah,’’ he jokes. ‘‘In actual fact it was my son who convinced me to take the part with a bit of sound advice. He just said if I didn’t play Hagrid then he’d kill me; so I thought I’d better give it a go.’’

Joking aside, the weight of expectation on HP1 (as it’s been dubbed in the trade) is bigger than any since a certain intergalactic episode one hit multiplex screens a couple of summers ago.

So it was with a completely straight face that Columbus addressed the serious concerns of Potter fans regarding his treatment of their beloved book.

‘‘It was vital, an absolute necessity, to be as faithful as possible,’’ he said. ‘‘I came to it as a fan and I’d like to think we’ve achieved something great. But the one thing I knew was not to mess with it.’’

Harris concurred: ‘‘I had fears about Dumbedore, although I think it’s the easiest part in the film. I was worried about my voice. I have the voice of a 71-year-old and the character is 2,000 – so how do you get that right?

‘‘I just wanted to embody the part. It’s all been so wonderfully written for all of us by Jo Rowling that it’s all set up for us.’’

Described as ‘‘the best collaborator ever’’ by Columbus, Rowling’s fruitful mind was well harvested to provide much of the film’s rich texture and depth.

‘‘The book is a tree and JK Rowling is the roots,’’ said Heyman. ‘‘She just knows everything about every character past and present, history and future, and we were lucky enough that she saw what we were doing and trusted us enough to share her brilliant mind with us.’’

As for the characters, it is true that Daniel must be about as close to how most readers imagined the eponymous hero as is humanely possible. So how does he cope with the prospect of becoming forever remembered as Harry?

‘‘To be honest it doesn’t bother me. There are so many characters in so many different films and Harry is just a normal boy,’’ he explained.

‘‘There are many elements to him but essentially he’s just a kid at school going through all the problems other kids go through. And besides, I don’t read any of the papers or articles, so it’s not that hard to cope with it. There are far worse things in life than just being recognised.’’

Although the search for Harry, along with the rest of the cast, took ages, there was one character who simply leapt from the pages of the book and transfigured instantly in one’s imagination into a single actor.

‘‘I was extremely flattered she thought that,’’ said Coltrane of the fact that Rowling wrote the part of the big friendly giant, Hagrid, with him expressly in mind. ‘‘I just had fun on set playing around with the kids and felt privileged to be involved.’’

It seems a sentiment shared by all the actors, who appeared thankful just of the chance to be involved with a phenomenon which has that rare ability to appeal to adults and children alike.

So as the Potter bandwagon gathers pace and sets to open at an unprecedented number of screens across the country as part of its global domination, what of the future for the cast?

A shrug of the shoulders from Rupert and Daniel at the prospect of episode three – and Heyman interjects: ‘‘Hey, let’s get part two out of the way first.’’

The Chamber of Secrets is rumoured to be in pre-production now, as it happens, and whether or not Daniel, Rupert and Emma are involved for the duration – seven books are planned (with films to follow?) – doesn’t for the moment seem to matter.

For Pottermania has firmly taken hold and even Knebworth House has failed to escape: its historic rooms and graceful halls have been taken over by an array of Potter props as Hollywood moves in.

The same will surely be the case in households the length and breadth of the country. Children will soon be busily composing their Christmas essentials with the mind-boggling range of wizarding merchandise littering their wish lists.

So what do you get the kids who have everything?

‘‘I’d just like a CD or something,’’ said Emma. ‘‘But if I could have a favourite spell to use in everyday life then it would be the Body Binder which paralyses people. Now that would be fun.’’

And Rupert? ‘‘My favourite thing about the film was getting to eat so many sweets, but if I had the chance to be a real-life wizard then I’d master the Transfiguration spell and turn Robbie into a chocolate frog,’’ he laughs.

But there’s only one present interesting Daniel. ‘‘The Invisibility Cloak. Now how cool would that be at school. No, actually what I’d really love is the three-headed dog as a pet. Then nobody would mess with me.’’

Surely one of the more interesting ideas for the marketing men to chew over?