Alfonso Cuarón was born on November 28, 1961, in Mexico City, Mexico, and is known for his work as a director, producer, screenwriter, and editor. His father, Alfredo Cuarón, was a nuclear physicist for the UN. His brother Carlos is also a filmmaker while his other brother Alfredo followed in their father’s scientific footsteps to become a conservation biologist. As a child, Cuarón wanted to be an astronaut. However, he was not interested in joining the Army to do that. Instead, Cuarón studied philosophy (because his mother didn’t support the idea of a cinema career) at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and filmmaking (his true ambition) at Centro Universitario de Estudios Cinematográficos (CUEC). He co-directed his first short film, Vengeance is Mine, in 1983 with Carlos Marcovich who he met at CUEC. This film was done in English and caused so much distress and disagreement among the teachers at CUEC that Cuarón was eventually expelled. He went on to work at a museum in order to support his family. He did this until he was offered a job in television beginning with La Vispera in 1982.
International success came in 1995 with A Little Princess and intensified with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in 2003. Other notable works he is attached to include Y Tu Mamá También (2001), Children of Men (2006), and Gravity (2013). He is known for his continuous uninterrupted shots technique.
From 1980 to 1993 Cuarón was married to Mexican actress and writer, Mariana Elizondo, and they have one son, Jonas, who followed in his father’s footsteps to become a film director, screenwriter, producer, editor, and cinematographer. From 2001 to 2008 he was married to Annalisa Bugliani, an Italian actress and journalist. Together they have their daughter, Tess Bu, and son, Olmo Teodoro, born in 2003 and 2005, respectively.
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Before getting involved with the Harry Potter film franchise, Alfonso Cuarón called himself “Harry Potter ignorant” – meaning he knew of the series’s existence, but nothing more. He had never read any of the books and was skeptical about working on a film that would be so huge and involved with special effects.
… I had a telephone conversation with my good friend director Guillermo del Toro, and I told him they had sent me these books, but I didn’t know… And he said, ‘Are you crazy; have you read them?’ I told him I hadn’t, and he said, ‘Don’t be stupid; read them immediately.’
Alfonso read the books and then became the director of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which may be the most controversial film of the eight among Potter fans. However, J.K. Rowling (who loved his work on Y Tu Mamá También) claims it is one of her favorite of the series. At the time, critics remarked that it was the first Potter film to truly capture the essence of the novels. Most of his visual changes to the series (including Hogwarts grounds and Professor Flitwick’s appearance) were kept by Mike Newell and David Yates for the following films.
When he signed on as director, Cuarón asked the three main actors, Dan, Emma, and Rupert, to write an essay on their respective characters. Famously and humorously, each of them responded to the assignment as their character in the series might have: Emma’s was lengthy and detailed, Dan’s was about a page long, and Rupert simply didn’t turn one in.
Cuarón came on board at the time that Richard Harris died, putting him in the position of filling the Dumbledore role. Cuarón describes Harris as “a hero” and was excited to meet and work with him. Finding a new Dumbledore was going to be difficult.
I remember Heyman saying, ‘We’re not going to talk about this for a long time.’ He didn’t want to even start mentioning who would be next. But life goes on and the film went on. Michael Gambon was my choice and I’m proud that he continued as Dumbledore throughout the series.
From the get-go we made changes to give the continuity, but at the same time it was not about imitating Richard Harris. That would be so bad for both: for Richard and for Michael. Richard was very regal – as Dumbledore is described in the books – and very beautiful, and we wanted to do it more hippyish, cheekier and a little more shabby. And sometimes more distracted.
Cuarón is also responsible for the casting of Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), Remus Lupin (David Thewlis), and Peter Pettigrew (Timothy Spall). On their casting he says:
I wish I could say that those were brilliant pieces of casting but more than anything they are brilliant actors.
Finally, Cuarón is responsible for creating the appearance of the Dementors. His original plan was underwater puppets and running the camera footage backward to get the eerie, floating feel. Although this technique gave the Dementors the look he wanted, Cuarón realized he would not be able to shoot in the areas he needed using it. The footage was used, instead, as a reference to the final product. And as far as the spell used in defense against Dementors, the Patronus Charm was also introduced in the third film. Cuarón said:
[David Yates] nailed the Patronus spell, but I couldn’t put my mind over it, I couldn’t visualize it. It’s okay in the film but I was never satisfied.
Cuarón made a cameo in Prisoner of Azkaban as a wizard holding candles in the Three Broomsticks. He declined the offer to direct the fourth installment of the series because he would not be finished with his work on the third one in time to start the next one. He felt his time with the Potter series was done and was ready to take what he had learned and apply it to future projects. Cuarón gives Potter credit for teaching him what he needed to know about visual effects. He would heavily use techniques he learned from Potter later on films such as Gravity (2013), which was produced by fellow Potter friend David Heyman.
When asked what he loves the most about the Potter franchise, Cuarón responded:
The thing I admire tremendously is how Warner Bros. and David [Heyman] didn’t drop the towel and Warners didn’t become cynical about its success. They just [kept] doing the best thing and kept taking care of the franchise. It would have been so easy to become cynical.
For a more in-depth story on how Cuarón feels about his time in the Potter franchise check out Empire‘s interview with him.
- He turned down the chance to direct Addicted to Love to work instead on A Little Princess.
- He was the mentor of actor/director Dean Paraskevopoulos.
- He was set to write/direct the film Hart’s War but when production was about to begin he decided to do Y Tu Mamá También instead.
- He is friends with singer Ian Brown and offered to direct one of his future videos.
- After divorcing from his ex-wife, Annalisa Bugliani, he moved from New York where they lived with their children and now lives in London.
- He was the original director of the film The Perez Family, but pulled out before production started.
- He was attached to direct Life of Pi (2007), but due to the production of Children of Men he had to step aside the director’s chair. Jean-Pierre Jeunet replaced him.
Awards & Nominations
Awards & Nominations
Alfonso Cuarón has been nominated for over 30 different awards during his career. A few of the more notable awards and nominations are listed below.
Venice Film Festival
- 2001 Awarded the Best Screenplay for Y Tu Mamá También
- 2006 Awarded the Laterna Magica Prize for Children of Men
- 2013 Awarded the Future Film Digital Award for Gravity
- 2003 Nominated for Best Original Screenplay for Y Tu Mamá También
- 2007 Nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Editing for Children of Men
- 2013 Nominted for Best Picture and Awarded Best Director and Best Film Editing for Gravity
British Academy Film Awards
- 2004 Awarded BAFTA Children’s Award Best Feature Film and Nominated for Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
- 2007 Awarded Best Film Not in the English Language for Pan’s Labyrinth
- 2011 Awarded BAFTA CHildren’s Award – First Light Awards – Kid’s Vote for Film of the Decade for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
- 2011 Awarded the Michael Balcon Award for Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema which is shared with the entire cast and crew of the Harry Potter series
- 2014 Awarded Best Director and Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film for Gravity
Golden Globe Awards
- 2014 Awarded Best Director for Gravity
Connect with Alfonso Cuarón
Connect with Alfonso Cuarón
Fan Mail Address:
United Talent Agency
9336 Civic Center Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210-3604