David Jonathan Heyman was born on July 26, 1961, in London, England to producer John Heyman and Oscar-nominated producer and actress Norma Heyman (née Parnell). His father’s parents were German Jews who fled to England during the Nazi Germany era. His mother’s family was English. He attended the English boarding school Westminster in London before going to college abroad to receive an Art History degree from Harvard University in 1983. During his time at Harvard he would work as a runner on films.
His official film career began as a production assistant on A Passage to India in 1984. Two years later, he became a creative executive at Warner Bros. and shortly thereafter vice president of United Artists. After working at United Artists for a while, Heyman felt he had become redundant. He was not convinced that the film industry was meant to be his career. He fell back on another passion: travelling. After leaving United Artists, he took six months to travel around Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Heyman considered other careers such as becoming an art dealer and even opening a Japanese restaurant. However, he found himself back living in New York in the early 1990s and producing films independently such as Juice (1992), The Stoned Age (1994), and Daytrippers (1996). Living in New York eventually took a toll on his finances and in 1997 Heyman decided to move back to London.
Everybody told me it was career suicide. But I saw an opportunity in that I’d lived in America for 17 years and yet I was British, so I spoke both languages. I felt that I could be a bridge between the two, because I understood both cultures.
Once back in Britain, Heyman founded his own production company, Heyday Films. This company is responsible for work on notable films such as I Am Legend (2007), The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008), Yes Man (2008), Gravity (2013), We’re The Millers (2013), Paddington (2014), and all eight Harry Potter films. Heyday Films and J.K. Rowling continued their collaboration with the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie series.
Heyman lives in a grand 19th-century house in Pimlico, London, with his wife, interior designer Rose Uniacke (née Batstone). He met her in 2002 at a dinner.
She was not only the most beautiful woman in the room, but she was the most communicative person I’ve ever met. We just connected.
Uniacke had three children and one step-son with her previous husband, Robie Uniacke. But that did not phase Heyman at all.
‘They all made it very easy for me. They’re very special people and it was – is – fantastic.
Heyman and Uniacke married in 2006 and two years later had a son of their own, Harper.
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David Heyman is the first man on the list to thank in getting Harry Potter from book form to the big screen. He is responsible for bringing in Warner Bros. and for all the initial hires that would bring the story to life through film.
In the winter of 1997, Heyman’s assistant, Nisha Parti, brought his attention to an unpublished manuscript called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone during a Monday morning staff meeting of Heyday Films. The company’s three person staff (Heyman, Parti, and development person Tanya Seghatchian) would take manuscripts home to read over the weekends and report back about them every Monday. Parti urged Heyman to read Potter because she had enjoyed it so much herself. Heyman took the manuscript home to look through before going to bed and ended up finishing the book at 3 a.m. the next morning. He fell in love with the style of the new-novelist’s writing and the fact the he related to it so well. He was determined to adapt the book to a film. A copy was sent to Heyman’s friend, Lionel Wigram, who worked at Warner Bros. Negotiations were started in early 1998 to acquire the rights to the book after Warner Bros. finally told Wigram “Just don’t spend too much money.” Other companies including Disney, were also working for the same thing.
I hadn’t a clue the Potter books would become an international phenomenon but I loved the author’s voice, that the book didn’t talk down to kids and it made me laugh.
Once the deal was official with Warner Bros., Heyman and J.K. Rowling finally met face-to-face at a lunch. Heyman was accompanied by Seghatchain and Rowling by her agent, Christopher Little. Heyman officially won Rowling over by assuring her that the films would remain as close to the books as possible and that they would stay close to home in Britain. Many years later, Rowling was quoted as saying:
I need to say publicly how right I was to trust him, how much I owe him, how grateful I am to him, and that being involved in these films has been one of the best experiences of my life.
It was then time to set the rest of the scene for the first movie. Heyman found Steve Kloves to adapt the script, Chris Columbus to direct, and Leavesden Studios as the British film studio to shoot their British movie. It was then a team effort with Columbus and casting director Susie Figgis to hire the initial cast which included Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Tom Felton, Matthew Lewis, Alan Rickman, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, and (Rowling’s first choice of actor for Hagrid’s character) Robbie Coltrane. Other key crew members brought in included production designer Stuart Craig, set decorator Stephenie McMillan, composer John Williams, and creature effects artist Nick Dudman.
Heyman went on to also produce all seven of the following Harry Potter films and was key in many crucial decisions in casting, crew, and filming. A couple of major decisions included the casting of Dumbledore and where to split the Deathly Hallows movies. When Richard Harris became ill after filming Chamber of Secrets and was placed in the hospital, Heyman and Columbus went to visit him. Harris told Columbus, “Don’t you…replace me!” However, when he lost his battle with Hodgkins there was no other choice. At the London premiere of Chamber of Secrets, Heyman commented on losing Harris and recasting Dumbledore:
He is Dumbledore in many people’s eyes. In truth he is irreplaceable…We will find a new Dumbledore but there will only be one Richard Harris.
When the decision to cast Michael Gambon was made official, Heyman had this to say:
We all loved Richard’s portrayal and for many he will always be Dumbledore. But, Michael Gambon stepped into the role and made the part very much his own.
As for the splitting of the last book, when it came time to start work on Deathly Hallows Heyman had no intention of splitting the movie. In fact, he was initially completely against the idea. However, when Steve Kloves began work on the script and the team saw how many cuts and changes they would have to make the two-movie idea became more and more preferable and realistic.
It was the only way to do justice to the book and to the series.
After working on all the Potter films, Heyman looks back with humble pride on his work and on the franchise over all. In the book Harry Potter Film Wizardry, Heyman sums up his thoughts on the franchise:
The Harry Potter books have touched so many people from so many different cultures and walks of life. They are timeless. I hope something of the spirit with which the books are infused has come across in the films. It all began with Jo Rowling. I feel blessed and proud to have been able to play, for more than ten years, in the world that she has created.
He continued to work in the Wizarding World with J.K. Rowling and many other Potter people on the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them film series.
Awards & Nominations
Awards & Nominations
David Heyman has won or been nominated for over 20 awards during his career. Below are some of the more prestigious ones.
- 2010 Awarded Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema Award for Harry Potter with entire cast and crew. This was accepted by Heyman, J.K. Rowling, David Barron, Alfonso Cuarón, Mike Newell, David Yates, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson.
- 2013 Awarded Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film for Gravity with Alfonso Cuarón and Jonas Cuarón
BAFTA Children’s Award
- 2002 Nominated for Best Feature Film for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone with Chris Columbus and Steve Kloves
- 2003 Nominated for Best Feature Film for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets with Chris Columbus and Steve Kloves
- 2006 Nominated for Best Feature Film for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire with Mike Newell and Steve Kloves
- 2007 Nominated for Best Feature Film for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix with David Yates, David Barron, and Michael Goldenberg
- 2011 Nominated for Best Feature Film for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 with David Yates, David Barron, J.K. Rowling, and Steve Kloves
- 2011 Awarded Best Feature Film for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 with David Yates, David Barron, J.K. Rowling, and Steve Kloves
Producers Guild of America Award
- 2001 Nominated for Best Theatrical Motion Picture for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
- 2013 Awarded Best Theatrical Motion Picture for Gravity with Alfonso Cuarón
Art Directors Guild Award
- 2011 Awarded Outstanding Contribution to Cinematic Imagery Award for Harry Potter with J.K. Rowling, David Barron, Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuarón, Mike Newell, David Yates, Steve Kloves, Michael Goldenberg, Stuart Craig, Stephenie McMillan, and Neil Lamont
- On June 9, 2010, MuggleCast released its 200th episode with an interview from David Heyman. You can listen to the show here. You can also read the transcript of the entire show here or just the interview portion here.
- In 2007, Heyman was ranked number 7 on Entertainment Weekly‘s 50 Smartest People in Hollywood list.
- Heyman is the son of John Heyman, producer of films such as The Go-Between and The Jesus Film, and Norma Heyman, producer of Dangerous Liaisons and Mrs Henderson Presents.
- Attended J.K. Rowling’s charity fundraiser with his wife in November 2013. The funds went to Lumos, Rowling’s non-profit that aims to end the systematic institutionalization of children in Eastern Europe.
- Like David Barron, Heyman is immortalized as a portrait in the marble staircase of Hogwarts.
- Is close friends with Prisoner of Azkaban director Alfonso Cuarón. Cuarón is godfather to Heyman’s son, Harper.
- He kept a few props from the Potter movies. His favorites include the Time-Turner and Quidditch box.
- The win of the Best Theatrical Motion Picture Award from the Producers Guild of America was a tie with 12 Years a Slave. This is the first and only tie for Best Picture from the PGA.
Connect with David Heyman
Connect with David Heyman
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