“Cursed Child” Producer Sonia Friedman Was Moved to Tears on Meeting J.K. Rowling
Sonia Friedman, the producer of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, has opened up in a new lengthy interview about the play’s impact on her career and why meeting J.K. Rowling made her cry.
Friedman, who is up for a record-breaking 31 awards at tonight’s Olivier Awards, is labeled by many in the theater community as the “Queen of the West End” for her unprecedented success. Cursed Child, which is already fully booked up until April 2018, is nominated for 11 awards, a record for a new play.
She has enjoyed an incredible 15 years since forming her own company in 2002: Among the most illustrious in her distinguished portfolio (more than 160 shows in total) are orchestrating Madonna’s West End debut in Up for Grabs in 2002, bringing Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem into town in 2010, turning the story of the Kinks into the award-winning musical Sunny Afternoon in 2014, and causing a tumultuous sensation with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet in 2015.
But the past 12 months have quite rightly caused more than a stir in theater land with the hugely successful opening of Cursed Child. The play, which has enjoyed glowing reviews from the press, is not only Friedman’s biggest show but also the closest to home and her “dysfunctional childhood.”
To have the show recognised in its own right as a good piece of work – that matters more than box-office. You crave that approval.
In the play, as in the books, the young, orphaned Harry is shown in a cupboard under the stairs. In her early youth, Friedman would often retreat to a cupboard at the top of the stairs to lose herself in imaginative play – her violinist father having walked out on her mother and three siblings around the time of her birth. All of them (including award-winning actress and director Maria) have gone on to great things after chaotic, unsupervised but highly creative childhoods. Yet the feeling of abandonment has never left her.
When you grow up with that rejection, it’s very hard ever to get rid of it – it’s in your factory setting.
Friedman remembers being in tears when she knocked on J.K. Rowling’s door in Edinburgh, preparing to make the big pitch; her father had lived in the neighboring street.
I’d been thinking, ‘If only my dad were alive now, perhaps he’d finally be proud of me’. So I talked a lot about him when we first met. We didn’t talk about merchandise and box-office. I talked about what I wanted an audience to feel. I said, ‘I think this needs to be about a dad who doesn’t know how to be a dad’.
After the phenomenal success the show has had in London, what’s next? We already know that Cursed Child will open on Broadway next year, but Friedman says she won’t be “settled until we have 10 productions around the world.” She is also determined not to be “defined ” by Potter.
Lots of producers have said, ‘Now is your opportunity to calm down, Sonia’. It’s the opposite. I look at the work I have coming up and what I want to do, and it’s double what it was this time last year.
We are in a really exciting time. There are two or three new plays on my desk [that] are as good as anything I’ve read in the past 10 years. What’s game-changing about ‘Harry Potter’ is that it’s going to let me do much, much more.
Are you championing Cursed Child at the Olivier Awards tonight? Are you excited for the Broadway production next year?