By Steve Daly for Entertainment Weekly, 07th April 2007
They’ve seen him in all the movies. They’ve watched lots of interviews with him on TV. But when fans finally get to meet Harry Potter in person — or at least 17-year-old star Daniel Radcliffe — he doesn’t always meet their expectations.
”The other day, there were all these guests at the studio,” says Radcliffe. It’s a mid-September day in 2006, and he’s in the thick of shooting movie No. 5, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. ”They walked past me, and a friend of mine overheard one of them saying, ‘He’s much shorter in real life, isn’t he?’ Then I walked past them again, and another one said, ‘God, yeah, you’re right. He is shorter.”’ Radcliffe grins. ”Oh, shut up!… You have to laugh, really,” he says. He seems to mention it mainly out of a polite concern that he’d hate to disappoint anyone. ”If you could start your article with the words ‘He’s much taller in person than I expected’ that would be fantastic.”
Sorry, Dan. At 5 foot 6, you are indeed one of the shortest among the main Potter kids — although yes, as you note so brightly, you’re still bigger than Devon Murray, the 18-year-old who plays Harry’s schoolmate Seamus Finnigan.
Here at Leavesden Studios, about an hour’s drive outside London, careful choreography and camera angles make Radcliffe look genuinely imposing. Slightly bloodied by makeup artists, he’s at work on a climactic good-versus-evil sequence set in the Ministry of Magic. The scene involves a huge ensemble, including Jason Isaacs as long-haired villain Lucius Malfoy (dad to that little brat Draco), a passel of goon-squad ”Death Eaters,” and Gary Oldman as Harry’s heroic but reckless godfather, Sirius Black.
Harry is the center of the action here, abetted by a core group of fellow Hogwarts students desperate to steal a crucial vial containing a prophecy about Harry before Lord Voldemort’s hench-stooges can steal it first. But the grown-ups are all angling to make the most of their limited screen time. Today is Helena Bonham Carter’s first day playing the evil witch Bellatrix Lestrange, Sirius’ warped cousin as well as his mortal enemy. Her costume may be entirely black, but she’s counting on her pushed-up bustline to help her stand out. ”It’s not a huge part,” she says, her elocution remarkably clear despite a mouth full of fake teeth. ”So I thought I could have lots of breast, if not lots of lines.”
Meantime, a blond-wigged Isaacs, who jokes that he got his flowing tresses ”on a time-share with Paris Hilton,” keeps drawing out his shots with extra bits of dialogue and dastardly eyebrow flexing. He wonders how much of it will survive the editing room. ”All of us adult actors come in for two or three weeks,” he says of the huge Potter guest-star roster. ”We all want to make the most of all our moments. But then you’d have a Harry Potter film that lasts 15 hours.”
For the most rabid Potterphiles, that might sound tempting. But Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix lands in theaters on July 13, only eight days before the arrival of the seventh and final novel in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Previous films were released at least four months away from any of the books. Will the pileup stoke readers and moviegoers alike, or leave them feeling overstuffed and Pottered out come August? And will the bloom fade on the rest of the film series once readers know how Harry’s career at Hogwarts finally ends — especially if, as has been endlessly conjectured, Harry winds up dead instead of his nemesis, Lord Voldemort?
Let’s not get ahead of our spell books, class. Today’s lesson is strictly about movie No. 5, Order of the Phoenix. We’ve distilled everything into seven key talking points. And…action!
1. Daniel Radcliffe does not appear naked in this film
He also doesn’t smoke, swear, simulate sex with any young actresses, or blind any make-believe horses. Radcliffe has been engaging in all these un-Harry behaviors eight times a week this winter and spring, playing a troubled lad in a stage production of Equus in London’s West End. It’s a showcase that seems deliberately designed to shake up his chaste onscreen image. ”Hopefully, people will be able to see me as other things,” he says. Theater critics certainly have, handing him excellent notices and declaring the mantle of Potter officially cast off. Warner Bros. execs have professed to be delighted by the career move, although British tabloid reporters fell over themselves to suggest otherwise before Equus opened. (Studio reps also took exception to claims that they freaked over Radcliffe’s guest stint on Ricky Gervais’ sitcom Extras last fall — not aired till this year in the U.S. — spoofing himself as an oversexed child star who brags about his seduction plans while brandishing an unfurled condom.) So in Phoenix, does the now-15-year-old Harry get any sort of adolescent-rebel nooky action? Yes: one kiss with sweetheart Cho Chang (Katie Leung).
2. Hermione isn’t quitting
In a Newsweek interview last year, Emma Watson, who plays Harry’s brainy female buddy, said she was ambivalent about whether she wants to remain an actress. At 16, she’s the youngest of the three main Potter kids (Rupert Grint, as Ron Weasley, is the eldest at 18), and she dragged her feet before agreeing to films 3 and 4. In mid-March, British tabs circulated stories that she was more than wavering about the last two movies — that she flat out wasn’t going to do them, despite Warner supposedly offering her nearly $4 million for each. (Warner won’t comment on salary negotiations, but as a point of comparison, Radcliffe got a reported $13 million just for Phoenix.) All the breathless assertions turned out to be about as reliable as a news flash from Harry’s tabloid-journo nemesis Rita Skeeter. ”Of course she was always going to come back,” says a rep on the Potter films, blaming some of the delay on ironing out Watson’s complicated school schedule. It’s all academic now anyway, with Watson safely signed.
3. They couldn’t film everything in the book
Come on, give them a break — Phoenix runs to 870 pages! Longtime series screenwriter Steve Kloves sat Phoenix out — he’ll be back next time — and left new scribe Michael Goldenberg (Contact, Peter Pan) a major compression job. The main plot is intact, as Harry becomes a resistance fighter against the repressive Ministry of Magic. But all that stuff about Ron Weasley becoming a Quidditch king? Cut. Mrs. Weasley’s pestilent boggart? Nixed. Dobby the house elf? Poof — gone. Young wizard Neville Longbottom’s poor, mad parents in St. Mungo’s hospital? Snipped. If you ask Radcliffe, these details aren’t crucial. ”This is one where the fans will be especially pleased,” the actor says. ”It’s chock-full of stuff.” (Despite that density, the producers say Phoenix will run under two and a half hours and be the shortest film so far.) And for those who hate abridged scenarios? ”The book is there if you want to read the book,” Radcliffe says. ”People should be able to let that go.” But Rupert Grint sounds a little bummed that Ron is more than ever a peripheral figure. ”I was quite looking forward to the Quidditch stuff,” he says. ”Maybe next year.”
4. We’d never heard of the director either
The mantle on this $200 million production fell to British TV director David Yates after passes from Mike Newell, who directed the last Potter film, and Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding), who decided to shoot The Namesake instead. Yates won acclaim for the political-thriller miniseries State of Play and for his two-part 2004 telefilm Sex Traffic, about young Eastern European women sold into enforced prostitution — an odd segue to the magical world of Potter. ”I thought it was a curious fit at first,” Yates agrees. ”[But] they want directors who come from not an obvious background…instead of the same old usual suspects who’ve made a ton of big films before.” Yates seems to have clicked with his cast. ”He’s very quiet, very docile,” says Radcliffe. ”But he’s got this incredibly filmic imagination.” He must be doing something right: While nothing’s finalized, Yates is expected to return for film 6, which is slated to begin shooting this September.
5. Harry gets tortured
Hogwarts’ unctuous new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Dolores Umbridge — a mole from the Ministry of Magic — has a creepy scene in which she makes a defiant Harry write out lines of contrition that appear scratched in blood on his hand. ”She’s a terrible woman,” says Imelda Staunton, who plays Umbridge in a succession of outfits that turn more violently pink the more power-crazed she becomes. ”She shouldn’t be allowed.” Director Yates recently watched the bloody-hand scene with a test audience in Chicago. ”The theater went very, very still,” he says. ”Dolores does it with a smile and a cup of tea. That’s what makes her really horrifying.”
6 Something even worse happens to somebody else
If you’ve read the book, you know what we’re talking about. If you haven’t, good luck avoiding any and all chitchat involving spoilers before you see the film.
7. No, the kids are not too old for their parts, thank you
We have to say that, or Dan Radcliffe might yell at us. As with the wow-you’re-so-short remarks, the actor has had it up to here (d’oh!) with people carping that he, Watson, and Grint are growing up faster than Warner Bros. can crank out movies. Radcliffe will likely be 20 by the time he finishes promoting the final film, in which he’ll play Harry at age 17. And Grint will be more like 21. Big deal. ”What was the thing Luke Perry was in?” asks Radcliffe, his voice rising in a good-humored way. Beverly Hills, 90210. ”Wasn’t he in his late 20s playing a 19-year-old? And people come up to me and say, ‘Do you not think you’re getting too old for the part?’ It’s lunacy.” But even Radcliffe admits that he and his castmates certainly look dramatically different. ”I saw a bunch of continuity photos from the first film the other day,” he says. ”It was quite incredible. We’ve changed so much, it’s unreal.” For audiences who’ve grown attached to the young stars, that evolution may be the coolest magic trick of all.