Right now, at this point in time—shooting a scene between Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) on a sunny location in Burnham Beeches where the two have temporarily pitched their tent in their road travels—the 48-year-old producer is steady and holding at seven-point-five. Understandably reluctant to let go of a good thing, Heyman opted to halve Harry’s last novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, into two feature-length installments. Part I will go into release on Nov. 19, 2010, and Part II will follow suit on July 15, 2011.
On July 15 of this year, Juggernaut No. Six in the series—Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince—moves muscularly into the marketplace where the five previous films have averaged almost a billion a picture in worldwide grosses (for a total of $4,485,466,623).
Heyman needs a moment to dredge up what that one is all about. “My head is so much into Seven, and then, all of a sudden, you have to come back to Six,” he vamps by way of an explanation. “What I love about the Potter films is that each is different from the one that precedes it. In fact, I think they’re all quite different. They focus on different stories, and you have new characters who come in and bring them to life.”
The usual suspects and lots of old friends are also returning for Harry’s sixth semester at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. On the school staff alone, there’s Michael Gambon’s Albus Dumbledore, Alan Rickman’s Severus Snape, Maggie Smith’s Minerva McGonagall, David Thewlis’ Remus Lupin, Fiona Shaw’s Petunia Dursley, Gemma Jones’ Madam Pomfrey, Robbie Coltrane’s Rubeus Hagrid and an ominous new addition, Jim Broadbent’s Horace Slughorn, who harbors some secret about Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), the dark force hovering over the series.
Fiennes could have phoned in his contribution to this installment, but Voldemort’s sinister presence is quite palpable, his impending rise to power and inevitable showdown with the boy wizard gathering steam for the climactic Round Seven(s).
To prepare him for this battle, much like Burgess Meredith did in Rocky, Professor Dumbledore begins to educate Harry on the evil nature of Voldemort, taking him on various journeys so when he comes to face the villain in the final episode he is better prepared. Not only is Slughorn regarded warily, so is Harry’s arch adversary from Episode One, snobby Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), whom Harry alone suspects of being an agent of Voldemort. “Tom has been in all the films,” says Heyman, “and it’s wonderful for him—in this film particularly—to have something to flex his acting muscles. I think it is a more nuanced performance because he has much more to do.
“And while all this intrigue is being played out, we have some burgeoning romances among the principals.” Love found Harry Potter as recently as Installment Five but only fleetingly and largely ineffectively. Now, the second time around, he strikes amorous sparks with Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright), sister of his best friend, Ron (Rupert Grint), who develops a shine for Hermione. Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave) and Dean Thomas (Alfie Enoch) likewise figure in this race of raging hormones.
This new film is a quite literal change of pace from its predecessor, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix—the fifth Potter and the first directed by David Yates, who has stayed on board to see the Warner Bros. series out. “Phoenix was a very tightly wound, hard-driving film,” says Heyman. “This one is much looser. We take the time to explore the characters. Of course, there are big action scenes, big set-pieces, but what I think people really love in Harry Potter films are the characters—Ron, Harry, Hermione—spending time with them. That’s where the real pleasure is, I think. For me, when I read the books, what I loved most were these three characters—in fact, all of the characters, the teachers they got along with and the theaters they didn’t—and I thought that was all very relatable, very true and very familiar, having gone to a school like that.” His Westminster school was painfully short of magic, as he dimly remembers it, “but there were a lot of gothic structures not unlike Hogwarts.”
Producing is the Heyman family business. His father, John Heyman, produced The Go-Between. His mother, Norma Heyman, produced Dangerous Liaisons. Their son entered the biz as a production assistant, paid attention and, by 1992, was producing his first flick, Juice, with Tupac Shakur and Samuel L. Jackson, following that two years later with the cult “stoner” film, The Stoned Age. After success in this country as an exec, he returned to his native London and formed his own company, Heyday Films, in 1997—the year he encountered Harry Potter in galley-proof form.
“We optioned the first one, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone—Warners optioned it for me—with rights to all subsequent novels. I love books. I read voraciously, and I happened to have been fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time.”