MuggleNet's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 Set Report
Thanks to Keith for transcribing the interviews!
It's March 17th, 2010 and I'm walking into Leavesden Studios for my third set visit since 2006. This time I'm very much aware and appreciative of the building and its inner workings. We enter the gigantic studio through very unassuming doors and a few steps later are entering one of the more larger, open spaces which houses a variety of tents and prop holding areas.
It's in the press tent where we spend most of our day. The initial walk into the press tent is something any Harry Potter fan would get excited about. Seeing as we're still very far off from even the release of Deathly Hallows - Part 1, everything that fills this tent is entirely new to our eyes. Beautiful photos, props, costumes, and concept art fill the walls and floors. It's almost surreal to think that all of this wonderful material exists without a single person outside of Leavesden having seen it.
As this is the last film, the feeling on set is slightly sad but very upbeat. That's because the cast and crew know there's still a long road in front of them when it comes to their Potter duties. There's still principal filming, reshoots (unbeknownst to them at the time we visited), press events, and much more to be done.
This is the first time we're visiting the set for a night shoot, which means filming will be taking place outside late at night. We're called to the set around 2 PM (for past visits we'd been called around 8 or 9 AM) so we can spend the late afternoon conducting interviews and getting tours of various sets. We're all anticipating the night shoot because we know that it's for Part 2 and we know it's for the battle.
The first actor to visit us in the press tent was Warwick Davis, who has double duty in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. He plays Griphook and Professor Flitwick. "I'll be in one day as Griphook and the next day as Flitwick," he says proudly.
Like the visiting press, he too is excited for this evening's shoot:
"It's interesting, we're out there rehearsing with Maggie [Smith]. It's kind of a pivotal moment because they have this last resort to use this security system and we get all of the statues to come out and guard the perimeter and everything. It's a lock down situation for Hogwarts. "
Much earlier in the film's plot is the break into Gringotts with Harry, Hermione (as Bellatrix), Ron, and Griphook. It was the first time we'd seen the inside of Gringotts since Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone, and Davis was asked to assemble a group of 60 short actors who could play the Goblin bank tellers:
"That was a really - first of all, an honor to be asked. To actually provide 60 short actors to play Goblins. But also a great challenge because finding enough people under the height that they wanted who have the abilities and the stamina and the performance ability to play the Goblins was -dare I say - a tall order. "
Always one to crack a joke at any given opportunity, Davis got serious after the press' laughter died down and talked about the shoot itself:
"We found the 60. It was a great day. A few days actually. And what was quite interesting, and funny, and ironic I suppose is: I'm under the invisibility cloak at that point with Harry in the bank. So on those days [when the short actors were present] I didn't have to do makeup."
He also told us that turning 60 people into Goblins was no easy task. They had to round up several make-up artists who could take care of the transformations:
"It was a very big makeup call for artists. They brought them from all over Europe to come together and had this huge room made up of just make up."
Speaking of large numbers, we got onto the subject of the moment where the trio and Griphook actually break into the Lestrange Vault. Davis revealed that many of the goblets you're going to see in the scene are not special effects:
"I walked past one of the special effects sheds the other day and saw they were actually making all the goblets that multiply. I said, "Wow! Look at all them!" [The designer] said to me, "This is nothing. There's a thousand here, we've got to make seven thousand of these."
The press was stunned. He continued:
"I bet he sees them in his sleep. As an actor in today's world with CGI and everything you'd think, 'Well, we're not going to see one goblet.' But there are actually going to be 7,000 goblets. And I think that's what sets these films apart slightly. We do use the tools of CGI to enhance everything, but quite a lot of what you see is actually here. Some people are surprised that there's actually a Great Hall."
In my opinion, set designer Stuart Craig is one of the most interesting people to speak to about the Harry Potter films. His work designing the interior and exterior sets is so crucial that one may not even stop to think about it while viewing any film. But the level of detail Craig and his team puts into each film is extraordinary and filmed with passionate care.
When he came to see us he was running in and practically out of breath. He told us he'd just gotten back from a trip. Though he couldn't say at the time, I'm absolutely sure he had just come from Orlando where he was helping Universal put the final touches on The Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park. "I can say it's good," he said in cheery and confident tone as a Potter crew member reminded him to not talk about where he had been.
Early in the interview with Craig I asked him about a recent interview in which he said that Snape's death scene brought him to tears. I asked why.
"He's just so good," Craig replied in a persuasive tone, "Even on dailies [which is raw, unedited footage], his death is extremely moving."
That led us to a discussion concerning the Boat House.
"With J.K. Rowling's permission, we did make a departure. Snape dies in the Shrieking Shack in the book, and the Shrieking Shack is an interesting interior but it didn't have, somehow, the breadth and the romanticism that I think Snape's death required. So we made something of the Boat House which has always been there beneath Hogwarts."
He continued, "Now his death has a real sense of place. He dies somewhere which is very atmospheric. Looking out over the lake, to the mountains across the lake, the school in flames above - it's exposed and influenced by the atmospherics of all those things. So, I think it's a suitable setting for a magnificent death really."
Dan Radcliffe (Harry) had a more humorous take on putting Snape's death in the Boat House:
"It's pretty violent. I was impressed. Nagini offs him. It's a great scene. There's a great thing we [while filming] which I love. Which is, we keep saying, "The boat house? We never mentioned the boathouse before in ANY of the other films! I didn't even know Hogwarts HAD a boathouse! But that's where it takes place and it's a GREAT set. Alan plays it wonderfully and beautifully. All the stuff about Harry's mother. He's plays it all as you'd expect him to - wonderfully. It was a pleasure to be there and see Alan give that performance."
After Craig, Matthew Lewis came in and spoke to us about how his character (Neville) has blossomed into a really important person:
"I think he's watched Harry all these years be this leader. Have all this courage. And as he's seen Harry all these years take on all these responsibilities from everyone else, and realize they're not too dissimilar - you know, they both lost parents when they were very young, He starts to think that maybe he can do this. And when Harry leaves the school, Neville realizes this is his time to step into and take responsibility. Because he's always had this good heart. He's always done the right thing and look after people. But he's never really had the courage to do it."
With this new confidence comes a confrontation with Voldemort:
"There's some great stuff with Ralph Fiennes and some of the Death Eaters where Neville just - he's wreckless and he's insane and he's probably going to get killed but he does it anyway. It's really cool, and David [Yates] is trying to fit as much in as possible. And I'm always sort of saying, 'Come on, maybe he should give [Voldemort] the finger or something.'
Besides Craig, another person who's always interesting to hear from is director David Yates. He's directed the most Potter films out of anyone and truly shows a care for J.K. Rowling's work.
One of the first questions asked of Yates was how Part 2 would kick off. It was a very important question considering this is the first time any book has been split into two.
"I love the notion of parachuting straight in. I love the notion that the audience has experienced six or seven of these movies and they don't need an intro. They don't need a big bang. So the notion is: parachute straight in from the first minute," he explains as he snaps his fingers at a quick pace.
Though he likes the idea now, he wasn't always a fan. "Steve [Kloves] wrote a first draft of the second part with that spirit. And when I first read it I said, 'Steve, this is great! But it doesn't have a beginning.' It just GOES. You're in it, and it's off."
Like splitting one book into two films, the other unique element that came with Part 2 was ensuring all the plot points were wrapped up:
"It's a real challenge. Obviously. It isn't just a popcorn film with big old action. There's lots of action in the film, but there are these wonderful moments that fans of the book and fans of the series will absolutely relish. Discovering the truth about Snape, discovering Harry is a Horcrux. Those things are really big moments in this Saga. So stopping the movie for them I think will work. It'll work much more for the fans than it will for those outside who've kind of been left behind by Potter. I think that's what will make the last film quite interesting. It flips from this roller coaster to this, "We're just going to stop and we're going to tell you actually what happened 20 years ago."
The last interview of the day was with Dan Radcliffe. A question was asked of Radcliffe about Harry and Ginny having their special romantic moment in Part 2:
"There's a kiss in the heat of battle which was - I have to say - was my suggestion. It's done in a much less dramatic way where it's more kind of -"
Dan stops and makes rushing sounds as if two people are running into one another.
"Okay!" He stops again to make a quick kiss sound.
"Bye"! We all laugh.
He continues, "It's like you're going out of a door in a rush. It was more like that. And that was my suggestion because it was one of those moments when it's potentially the last time they see each other and they don't have long. If I was in that situation, I would kiss almost anyone! You know, if I thought the end was coming."
One of the more brutal moments for Radcliffe didn't even concern a part of the battle at all. It actually concerned jumping off the Gringotts dragon and into the lake:
"There was one day on the film when me, Rupert, and Emma and - not how you want to spend a Friday - we were outside, and it was the only time that I've seen myself and Rupert actually have to stop filming for 15 minutes. We just dropped off the dragons back into the lake, and we're coming out of the lake explaining a lot of story. And as we're explaining it me and Rupert are stripping off our clothes and changing into dry clothes. And Emma wasn't changing in the shot so she had a dry suit on. We actually got pulled out of the water because Rupert had turned purple. It was one of those really - it was cold man."
After talking quite a bit about Potter, Radcliffe looked to his future. He jokingly told us that future roles were to involve magic. He then made up a conversation between him and his agent:
"No I have to play a wizard! And with glasses! Every character I do needs to have glasses."
Then he got more serious:
"I'd love to direct something at some point. Definitely. I'd really enjoy it, I do think that."
After the interviews had concluded, finally it was time for us to head outside and see what they were filming. After conducting three set visits, I have to say that this one was the coolest set yet.
Immediately upon walking outside into the chilly European air, in the distance we saw what looked like a lit-up stadium. It had giant lights hanging over it. To me, it looked as if we were about to walk onto the set of a nighttime Quidditch match. Rather, this was the set of Hogwarts' grand entrance - and it had been seriously damaged by the battle.
Upon walking into the courtyard, at the furthest point we see the main steps leading into Hogwarts and the Great Hall. That's where Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, Devon Murray, Matthew Lewis, Warwick Davis, and many others are rehearsing the scene that Davis had described earlier in this report.
In the scene Neville and McGonagall have an exchange where McGonagall encourages Neville, Seamus and others to make as much trouble as possible to fend off the Death Eaters. After they leave, McGonagall and Mrs. Weasley stand side by side as McGonagall summons the statues of Hogwarts to life.
"Hogwarts is threatened! Man the boundaries! Protect us! Due your duty to the school!" she cries. We don't see the statues in person as they're added in later using special effects. It was an epic shot, and one you can see now in the trailer.
It's worth noting: At a Deathly Hallows - Part 2 test screening I went to this past April in Chicago, immediately after McGonagall brings the statues to life she says, "Oh, I always wanted to do that spell!" to Mrs. Weasley.
I did not see Maggie perform that line on set. If I did, I would have walked up to David Yates and asked him to remove it from the script and never think about it again.
My problem with it? This is a battle. She would not be making jokes at this time, and she certainly would not be trying new spells at her old and experienced age.
The cast and crew were expecting to shoot into the very early hours of the morning. We did not stay as long as them and instead headed back to the hotel after a very long and informative day.
I had a fantastic time on the set with the cast, crew, and fellow members of the press. Visiting Leavesden Studios makes you truly appreciate how much work goes into these films that a typical moviegoer who never reads a single interview would never appreciate. It's similar to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park in that the level of detail at both are extraordinary.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2
opens in theaters July 15th.