Daniel Radcliffe has spent the years most young men reserve for rebellion being not only a superior role model for the millions of children who, like him, have grown up with Harry Potter, but also being unerringly patient and polite with reporters of every conceivable disposition and motivation. Yet there are, he admits, one or two things that perplex him.
“Almost every journo”—Brit-speak for journalist—“I speak to always asks me some variation on the question of how I feel about growing up with Harry,” said Radcliffe, who was cast as J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard eight years ago, at age 10; he will turn 18 later this month.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Gary Oldman, Imelda Staunton, Katie Leung
US theatrical: 11 Jul 2007 (General release)
UK theatrical: 12 Jul 2007 (General release)
“And many times, it’s the same writer who asked me that question when the last film came out. I want to ask them: How does it feel to grow into middle age with Harry Potter?”
Regardless, Radcliffe said, moving from childhood to adulthood with Harry has worked out just fine, thanks.
“It could have been a nightmare, had I not been surrounded all this time by people who care about these films so much,” he said. “I know I’m biased, but I truly believe every film has been better than the last, and I like this one best of all.
“I know that’s what I’m expected to say, but it’s what I think. I won’t lie about either.”
“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” will be released worldwide on Wednesday—with late showings Tuesday night in many places.
Many of those who rush to see it will, having read the novel on which it’s based, know how it ends.
And yet, an argument can be made that the “Potter” films have not only been more consistent but also more consistently surprising than any long-running series in the history of film, with the possible exception of “The Lord of the Rings” adaptations.
“Phoenix” doesn’t just maintain the high standards, but exceeds them.
This success, Radcliffe said, can be attributed to the skill of Rowling, “whose books just get richer and deeper”; to the producers, “who have worked terribly hard to keep things fresh,” and to director David Yates, who had never made a feature film.
“David was brilliant,” Radcliffe said, “and he had a daunting job because `Phoenix’ is the longest of the books. So he had to pare away a lot to get at what the story was really about.”
“The further education of a wizard,” Radcliffe said, laughing. “But the lessons he has to learn this time have very little to do with magic.”
Which is not to say “Phoenix” isn’t full of hocus-pocus and hair-raising feats of the supernatural, climaxing in an extended and complex display of the black arts, which may be the most truly exciting sequence in any of the films. But Yates said that if producer David Heyman were only interested in spectacle and special effects, “I would have never been considered for the job.”
“When I was approached, I made it very clear that I had little to no experience with that sort of thing,” said Yates, who has worked exclusively in British television since graduating from Britain’s National Film and Television School in the `80s.
“My work has been almost exclusively dramatic, though I had done a couple of long-form things that got some attention.”
Here, Yates is being humble.
Those “long-form things,” including the mini series “State of Play,” a taut political thriller and “Sex Traffic”—inspired by the increasing practice of importing women from poor and conflict-ridden countries in Eastern Europe to Western Europe and the United States to work as prostitutes—are among the most critically acclaimed British productions in years.
Both focus deeply on their characters while ratcheting up the suspense, and both have multiple characters and story lines to track, skills much required for the Potter films.
Yates had begun working on a film version of “Sex Traffic” when he was asked to do “Phoenix,” “so we’ve had to put that aside for a bit, ” he said.
That’s because when production ended on “Phoenix,” Yates was offered the job of directing the next film, and next-to-last “Potter” movie, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” scheduled for release in November 2008.
Yates is only the second director to do more than one “Potter.” Chris Columbus did the first two and was scheduled to do the third, but, as he said, “was simply worn out.”
Alphonse Cuaron and Mike Newell, who directed the third and forth chapters respectively, were asked to return for follow-ups, but demurred, citing the intense effort involved.
“It is very hard work,” said Yates, “simply because there is so much going on in the stories and so many characters to be attended to. But once you do get involved, you are made more confident by the fact that everyone else has been doing this for a long, long time and has gotten very good at it.
“I was able to sort of crudely explain to the designers and special effects people what I had in mind, and they would not only be able to realize it, but give me choices and offer suggestions that inevitably improved on what I had in mind.
“And then you have a cast like this one, your only problem is feeling guilty that you can’t give them more scenes, more to do. I mean, here I am working with Maggie Smith, for God’s sake, and she only has a couple of scenes.
“And Helena Bonham-Carter, she shows up very late in the film for one scene, and she’s astonishing, you know.”
Radcliffe’s experience was a relief for Yates.
“I didn’t have to tell him what the scene required from him; he knew. I would say, ` You know, Harry’s going through a bit of change here, he’s becoming very angry about his situation, about how this adventure is beginning to go badly.’ And he would look at me, like `Yes, you poor old fellow, I think I know that.’”
“That’s very complimentary of him to say, but it’s simply not true,” said Radcliffe. “David was able to help me explore and explain Harry’s conflicts in ways I wouldn’t have been able to without him. He pushed us all, hugely. I’d do any more movies he wants to make, anytime. “It’s funny, people are always asking me if I get bored or feel pigeonholed playing the same character for so long, and I don’t get it. This is one of the rarest opportunities any actor has ever had, to play one person not only coming of age, but dealing with so many different issues.
“So many sides of his character are exposed, I learn so much more about him, and myself, every time I come on to the set. I’m not looking forward to it ending at all. I suspect I will be very depressed when it does.”
When Radcliffe was chosen to play Harry Potter, he said he was inundated with warnings about how his life would change, how he would never have a normal life, how he would be hounded by the tabloids.
But, he said, except for a few “extremely rare incidents, none of it has been true.”
“First of all, I don’t live a tabloid life,” said Radcliffe, who failed to stir up much controversy even when he briefly appeared nude when he played the troubled subject of “Equus” in a London revival of the award-winning play last year.
“Plus, I have great support from my parents and friends. ... I make plenty of mistakes, but there aren’t cameras around to record my every move. I don’t have a posse.
“The only time I really do attract the public eye is when one of the films is about to be released. People don’t recognize me when I go out. And on the rare occasion they do, that’s OK. They’re almost always quite nice. It’s all turned out remarkably well.”
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