The Best Days of Your Life

Harry Potter is already a literary superstar, but will his leap to the big screen confirm him as an idol for our age, or tarnish that well-earned success? The production team for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone take us back to school for a lesson in motion picture magic…

Harry, Hermione and Ron: the young trio at the heart of Hogwarts in Chris Columbus' Harry Potter film

Text by Gary Gillatt

Selected from Starburst #279

You’ve heard of Harry Potter, of course. The publishing phenomenon. The carefully-mapped seven-book series. The multi-millionaire author. The mega-budget motion picture. The boy loved by accountants, marketing directors and bookshop owners the world over.

Phooey to that. There’s much more to Harry Potter than the hoopla and hyperbole. If you’ve read his adventures you’ll know he’s a bone fide, top-of-the-range hero. More than that, he’s positively iconic, up there in the firmament with Luke Skywalker and Frodo Baggins. And that’s no hype: the Harry Potter novels are still outselling the rest of the Fantasy book chart put together, by a factor of 100, and it’s well over a year since the most recent was published.

Millions out there could recite an outline of the first novel The Philosopher’s Stone (Sorceror’s Stone in the US) by heart, so many times have they re-read Harry’s adventures. Soon, millions more will join the fun. Harry comes to the big screen in November in an adaptation of The Philosopher’s Stone, and pre-production has already begun on film versions of the next two novels. Fans everywhere are waiting – with a mixture of anticipation and concern – to see how well, or poorly, Harry has been looked after during this difficult transfer.

Looking for clues, Starburst met up with three key players in this drama, producer David Heyman, director Chris Columbus, and screenwriter Steve Kloves.

First up, tell us how you come to be involved with Harry Potter?

David Heyman It started for me back in 1997. Harry-mania hadn’t set in yet. I was working in London looking for a film idea and a woman in my office read an article about the first Harry Potter book, which had just won the Smarties Prize – the big British children’s fiction award – but hadn’t yet become a public success. I think it might have only been published a week or two before I heard about it. We got a copy of the book into the office and my secretary read it. She told me about it and I thought, “Wow, what a good idea!” That night I read it and fell in love.

How did the project begin to come together after you purchased the rights?

David Heyman Steve Kloves wrote a script, and the first person who read it was Steven Spielberg. He liked it but was considering three other projects as well as Harry Potter. Whichever of those came together first he would direct. The first that came together in his mind was A.I., so he did that.

Then we met with many directors, some of whom had expressed interest prior to seeing the script, and some whom had not, but who we were interested in... At the end of this it was very clear that Chris Columbus was the best man for the job. He’s great with kids and when you see the film you’ll agree that the strongest aspect is the kids. They are fantastic. They’re honest, unsentimental, true, understated, real, funny, moving – very moving.

So Steve, its a big story to tell. Was it a difficult adaptation?

Steve Kloves This book has such an enthusiastic following, and it’s painful to have to cut it down to fit a suitable feature length... In the case of Harry Potter all the decisions were very carefully considered and I was able to live with cuts comfortably. All three of us – myself, David and Chris – are enthusiasts, and ultimately we come at the text the same way the audience does. We just hope we made the same decisions they would have if put in our position.

Chris, what were your first feelings on reading the book?

Chris Columbus Well, my daughter, Eleanor, convinced me to read it. At first I just read it for pleasure and had no desire to make it into a film. But when I’d finished I just felt, my God, I have to make this into a film. An immediate reaction. So, I called my agent and asked about the rights and she said that they were owned by Steven Spielberg at that point, so I just thought that was the end of it. Obviously he wasn’t going to let anyone else direct it.

I forgot about the idea till my agent called a few months later and said Spielberg was no longer involved. That was when I became incredibly convinced this was the movie I should do. Then I got into the position where I was actually having to audition for the directing job. I can’t remember, but there were eight to fifteen other directors who were meeting about the project. I just had to tell them how strongly I felt about the material.

How faithful would you say the film is to the book?

Chris Columbus You can’t give a percentage of what was cut, but obviously certain scenes are not in the film because the film would be six hours long! However, in terms of being faithful it follows the structure of the book fairly closely, and for the most part every major sequence remains intact. I always felt the film should be a companion to the book, that it should never surpass the book. The best thing I can hope is that people will see the film and say, “This is exactly how I imagined it.”

Meet HarryDaniel Radcliffe having wand trouble as Harry Potter

Daniel Radcliffe is about to become the most famous boy in the world…

Twelve-year-old actor Daniel Radcliffe is the ultra cool, ultra laid-back star of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. He knows he’s taken on quite a burden of responsibility with the role of Harry, a hero to adventure-lovers everywhere, but is he scared? Is he worried? Not at all. Young Daniel’s having the time of his life…

Starburst: Why do you think the books have been so popular?
Daniel The whole concept of magic has been written about before, but not on this level. Stories about magic are often vampires and evil sorcerers, and there is an element of that in this. But it’s much more about a boy who’s making a journey of discovery about himself.

What would you say you’ve learned about the character of Harry since taking the part?
That he’s very loyal to his friends. That he’s very brave and he isn’t afraid to stand up for himself. I really admire those three things in him.

Have you had a chance to talk to JK Rowling herself?
Yes. I have spoken to her and she is so nice. She’s fantastic! Her daughter’s great as well. Joanne looked at me the first time and said she felt like she’d been reunited with her long-lost son. Isn’t that lovely?

Have you found people have treated you differently recently?
Since I started playing Harry you mean? No, not at all! I’ve kept in touch with all my friends and they’ve been exactly the same to me now as they were before. We’ve been keeping in touch by e-mail and I see them very regularly and they’ve all come out to the set. They were all as excited as me, especially one friend who’s read the fourth book eight times...

When you read the later books, are you thinking all the time about how you might play different scenes?
Well, I’ve read them all and I love them. I re-read the second one in preparation for the next film, and yes I do, but it’s instinctive now just to do that. I don’t just read the books now, I visuali ze all the sets and all the characters. Yes, I imagine myself and how I’d do them.

Just part of the interview in this issue

Back to Starburst #279

There's much more from David Heyman, Chris Columbus, Steve Kloves and Daniel Radcliffe in the full 8-page photo-feature in Starburst #279.

Images © Warner Brothers
Feature © Visual Imagination 2001. Not for reproduction