In addition to talking to the cast members of the latest “Harry Potter” installment, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, ComingSoon.net got to chat with Imelda Staunton (Dolores Umbridge), as well as director David Yates, writer Michael Goldenberg and producers David Heyman and David Barron.
Q: Did you hesitate to do this role and what did you like about playing Dolores Umbridge?
Imelda Staunton: Of course I didn’t hesitate. It was wonderful for an actor to be given a challenge and it was an enormous challenge. It was more than I anticipated actually. She wasn’t the nicest women in the world and to play this is just what I like.
Q: People were surprised when you were announced as the director of this movie and to your credit, you pulled it off. What were the challenges for you?
David Yates: Initially it’s pretty scary. When you go to Leavesden which is where these movies are shot, the scale of the enterprise is just enormous. I went to see Mike Newell shoot “Goblet of Fire” for half a day and it feels like you’re walking into this Roman arena. It’s massive. You’ve got butterflies in your tummy to begin with, but I really, really quickly found my feet really. I think what you do is you just learn to prioritize what’s the most important thing for you to focus on as a director and for me it was working with Michael on the screenplay, pushing the performances and putting a creative team together which is a kind of combination of people I’ve worked with before and people who had already done some “Potter.” Actually, it’s an incredibly safe environment. That’s what I’d say about “Potter.” David Heyman and David Barron are both incredibly supportive. The studio was very excited by the dailies so I felt actually quickly very, very confident about the whole thing and I had a great time doing it really.
Q: How do you think the “Potter” movies would be with an American production?
David Heyman: The voices would have sounded different. I have no idea. I don’t really think about that. It was never really a possibility. There was one mention when we were at the very beginning stages of developing the project before the books had any degree of success somebody suggested “well maybe we could move to America,” but that was literally one mention and was immediately discarded. Where I think we’ve been very fortunate with our kids is that the environment at Leavesden is very removed from everything. It’s a little bubble and I think that provides a form of protection. You saw the kids of here. They’re remarkably unaffected. They’re kids. They’re quite grown up kids. Quite composed. But, they’re having a good time. They’re not cynical, they’re not pretentious, they’re not arrogant. They’re humble and frankly very much the same kids that I loved when I began the process. You know I have no idea. There are some young wonderful American actors who are unscathed and I know ours have remained unscathed so far and we’re very lucky to have them on board.
Q: As filmmakers, what is your mindset towards viewers who haven’t seen previous movies and don’t know much about the world, do you feel the need to give certain background information?
Yates: I think to a certain extent I have to feel that the audience is going to bring a certain knowledge to the movies when they walk through the door. There’s inevitable connective tissue. Michael will probably tell you more about this, but the adaptive process is quite tricky. The worst thing you can do in a movie is take the audience out of the moment. Once you start referring back to things that are relevant to the story you’re telling or try to predict things that might be coming, it tends to fall into the expositional and that’s not great for theatrical experience. We try to put as much of that out as possible in this movie.
Michael Goldenberg: David was quite wonderfully ruthless of that. I don’t know if that comes from thrillers, you know that sort of keeping it very much in the moment and keeping everything on a need to know basis which is generally hard to do anyway. We pushed the limit on that I think and the question was, “do you absolutely need it? Does it make sense for the context? Can you use that information without spelling it out?” Just streamlining everything as much as possible and it’s amazing how much information you get in a frame. How much your mind fills in even if you’re not up to speed on the specifics. I think David was right about that and it gives the film a vitality that it wouldn’t have otherwise.
Q: So many actors would love to have Harry Potter on their resumes? Would you be waiting for that call and was this the right part at the right time for you?
Staunton: Yes and yes. It was great. I have a 13-year-old daughter. It was such a thrill. Working with actors who are going to be here when I’m not here, working with actors I’ve known since drama school.You know from the past to the future.
Q: Has anything eerie ever happened on set? Anything you couldn’t explain?
David Barron: Sometimes things have taken an inexplicitly long time.
Yates: There are no ghosts at Leavesden. Nothing weird has happened.
Heyman: It’s a place without that much mystery. It does have history. It’s an old Rolls-Royce factory. The roofs leak. There are buckets everywhere.
Barron: It’s very un-Californian. Actually, it keeps us all down to earth because you’re making this mega movie and you hear these plop, plop, plop.
Q: Did you maintain a distance when the cameras were off so that you could keep that strained relationship with the kids?
Staunton: No. The character works in the moment when you’re doing the scene. I think it’s important when you’re not doing it, to have an ordinary relationship because I don’t want to carry it around. I don’t need to do that and I probably don’t know how to. I think it’s healthy to channel the work in the moment, in the scene, to leave it there and revisit it and leave it alone.
Heyman: We’ve been very lucky with new actors of great experience who come to “Harry Potter” with incredible experience that they share with the kids. They also come with great enthusiasm. Imelda kept everyone laughing all day and help make what is a great experience already even greater. Not only do they push everybody to be better actors just as David Yates does, they also make it more fun.
Q: Were you a fan of “Potter” before taking this on yourself and what’s up next for you?
Staunton: Well I was a fan. I have a daughter and a pulse of course. I’d seen the films. So, yes I was and was happy to be part of it. At the moment, I’m in the middle of a five part BBC costume drama called “Cranford Chronicles.”
Q: What period is that?
Staunton: It’s 1842. It’s with Judi Dench.
Q: So it’s a tad different than this?
Staunton: A tad.
Q: Have any of you been fortunate enough to read the seventh book and if not, when and where will you be reading it?
Heyman: We’re the eleventh.
Barron: We would have loved to have read it, but unfortunately we’ll read it at the same time as everyone else.
Q: When you have such a hardcore fan base the way “Potter” does who seem to know every word in the books, do you tamper with that in the screenplay? Also, what was it like to have a die hard fan like Evanna Lynch looking over your shoulder?
Goldenberg: Certainly you can’t not be aware of all of those fans out there, but we’re all fans ourselves. From the very beginning it was very liberating because from the first time, we met with Jo she gave us permission to do whatever was necessary to make a great film. She told us she wants to see a great movie and understands that now more than anybody what you need to do to translate from one medium to another. It felt like we were on pretty solid terrority there. When we started we wanted to keep up with the spirit of the books and to make the best possible movie and version of that story.
Yates: I think ultimately the ambition is to kind of reflect that spirit because you inevitably have to loose things along the way to service a theatrical experience for an audience. Evanna was just utterly delightful to be around. I’m sure she knows more than J.K. Rowling. She’s just a formidable mind of information. She’s very sweet and very lovely and she really knew Luna inside and out. I was able to lean on that and we were able to have very frank conservations about what Luna would and wouldn’t do. She’s just so delightful and she’s a natural actor. That’s what was really delightful about her is that you can’t see the acting. That’s my favorite kind of acting actually.
Q: You’ve adapted both “Contact” and very recently “Peter Pan.” How did those projects help you adapt “Potter”?
Goldenberg: Well, you always learn as you go on every time. For me they’re not that different in that all those films deal with a very heightened realities that are based in real characters and rooted in a real reality. It’s that wonderful tension between the incredible believability and realism that David brought to “Order of the Phoenix” verses that incredible heightened world and there’s something about that science fiction or fantasy working as a metaphor for those inner dramas.
Q: What characteristics did you like in Umbridge?
Staunton: Oh God! First of all, I’m not an actress who needs to really like their character in order to play them. You’ve got to admire her tenacity. Her ability to believe in herself and to do her job so well and to not let nothing stand in the way to do her job. Never doubting what she’s doing.
Q: Are there a lot of deleted scenes in this film and what we can look forward to on the DVD?
Yates: We actually didn’t lose that much. It’s really interesting because we had such a tight script going in. There are about a half of dozen scenes that are going to be on the DVD extras. There’s a really sweet scene with Emma Thompson who plays Trelawney. I just did this improvised scene with her while she’s eating dinner while Imelda is doing the big speech in the great hall. Emma does this whole comedic routine where you know she’s very short sided so she ends up spilling her dinner all over and it goes on for about three minutes. It’s really Chaplinesque actually. Obviously there was no room in the film for that so we’ve stuck it on the DVD extras. There’s a terrific scene with Imelda and Emma when Imelda is kind of assessing Trelawney and we montage that whole scene in the cut. It’s actually a self-contained scene in its own right. It’s actually very funny. And then three or four other things that are quite fun.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix opens in conventional theaters and IMAX theaters starting 12:01 AM Wednesday, July 11.