Making magic: Producer David Heyman nears finale of 'Harry Potter' series
“It’s really funny talking about Six because we’ve moved on—we’re deep into Seven now,” says David Heyman, who is the lead producer of all the phenomenally popular Harry Potter films. Truth to tell, he has even proceeded beyond the seventh and emphatically final installment of J.K. Rowling’s prodigiously popular series of books.
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.”
Heyman is not just a fast reader, he’s an early reader—and that, to a very large extent, is the secret of his overwhelming success. “You have to realize this was before the books were published.” It’s a practice which he continues outside the Potter field.
Interestingly, of the four non-Potter pictures he has done since he took up with the wand-waver, the most critically applauded ones focus on young boys making their way in a troubled world. “I think the thing that links them is that they’re films about outsiders. Each is different, but they have an emotional center I respond to.
“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas was about prejudice. The Holocaust is something that I think is important to keep alive—but it’s told from a unique perspective. Also, it’s about how children offer hope for the future. The book and the film were about two boys who were raised to hate each other and were able to overcome that. Ultimately, what separates us from the influences, when they are just alone together, is being able to enjoy each other’s company as young boys, and I think that’s wonderful. With Is Anybody There?, I love the relationships a young boy had being raised in an old folks’ home. I think it’s about community and about living life.”
IMDb lists Heyman with 13 film projects on his plate once he wraps the Potter saga. “That’s actually not that many for some producers,” he injects almost apologetically. “What will happen next, I dunno. I’ve got a project based on the Paddington Bear stories of Michael Bond. I just optioned this book by Mark Haddon called The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time before it was published. Steve Kloves, who scripted all but one of the Potters, is writing and directing it. Then I have this adventure thriller, Methuselah, which writer-director James Watkins will do.”
Not that he’s anxious to get on with his life without Potter. “Harry Potter has taken up a big part of my life, but it has been such a pleasure. This last one, I want to enjoy. I don’t want to be pulled away from it all that often.”
It helps, of course, that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is coming at him now as two films, doubling his pleasure all over the place, but finding the precise line of demarcation “was something we wrestled with. I’m not going to reveal where it is just yet, but there are a couple of places. I initially was not in favor of doing two films. Then I went through the book with Steve Kloves, looking at what you omit, always one of the challenges you make. When Alfonso Cuarón [director of the third film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban] came onboard, one of the shifts we took was to tell the story distinctively from Harry Potter’s point of view—and things that didn’t relate to Harry were put aside because there just wasn’t enough room.
“In the seventh book, Harry is at the center of so much of it that, when we looked at what we would cut, it was impossible. There was almost nothing that we could comfortably cut, so it became a very clear decision that we had to make two films.
“Once we made that decision, the challenge is to find out where you cut it. I think we’ve made a really interesting choice. It’s acknowledging that actually this is one book, and there are two parts to the story, and I think it will be really exciting.
“Actually, there’s almost enough material in here to make three films, but I think that would have probably tipped it over the edge. The book is a very rich canvas.”
Heyman is abundantly aware that a once-in-a-lifetime experience is drawing to a close. “I know I’ve had this very luxurious position of being in pre-production, production or post-production since 1999. By the time it’s over, it’ll be 12 years—and that will have been an amazing, amazing journey. I’ve never had to worry about looking for the next film, so there has been an element of security working with wonderful people who are like a family—a lot of the same people since the first film.
“It will be like starting afresh. There’ll be sadness, but at the same time, I’m really excited about the chances that lie ahead. I’m really excited about new projects.”
Clearly, Heyman is keeping the melancholy at bay. “It hasn’t hit yet because it’s a 248-day schedule, and we’re on Day 67 or 68. There’s 180 to go—and then there’s a year of post—so the horizon looms much closer than ever before, but it’s not yet upon me. I suppose there’ll be mixed feelings. I’ve learned a huge amount. I continue to learn. The material continues to inspire and challenge. Being on this adventure, working on the Potters, has been the gift of all gifts.”