Mike Newell: Stan is the Real Thing

Novinite Insider » INTERVIEW | November 29, 2005, Tuesday // 00:00
Mike Newell: Stan is the Real Thing Photo by Yuliana Nikolova (Sofia News Agency)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire director Mike Newell visited Sofia for the movie's premiere, accompanied by Bulgarian-born Stanislav Ianevski, who gained international fame with his performance as Viktor Krum. Newell, who has directed hits like Donnie Brasco, Four Weddings and a Funeral and Mona Lisa Smile answered the questions of international media.

SNA gives you an insight into Newell's experiences on set and his opinions of British and American actors and of Ianevski.

Q: How many times did you watch the other three Harry Potter movies in order to prepare?

A: I watched the first film a lot. I watched the second film very little. I watched the third film not very much, but it went in a lot because it's very different from the first two.

Q: How many times did you read the books?

A: I read the books but I didn't read them obsessively because if what you do is to read the novels again and again and again and again, then all you do is to reproduce the book. And I wasn't doing the book, I was doing the movie. So I wanted to be very careful not to get so obsessed by the books that I couldn't make the film.

Q: Have you had an opportunity to consult with the author J.K. Rowling, have you met her?

A: Yes. Everybody thinks that Joan Rowling is a sort of dragon lady and she grabs the director with her claws. She doesn't at all. She's adorable to start with. She's very pretty she's blond, she's very self-possessed, but she knows that what she really cares for is that you don't betray the spirit of the books. And if you don't she's fine. So the producer and I went to see her and I had a lot of questions I wanted to ask her particularly where in Harry's moral development his character was in the story. And she was really good about that, she explained it in terms of John Wayne.

What she meant by that was that at the end of the story, Harry , who is no longer simply part of a trio, he's on his own, has a choice to make with Voldemort as to whether he shall take his death-wound in the front or in the back. He's gonna die anyway but is he going to die bravely or is he going to die a coward. She was great about that, she put her finger on that and she was very helpful. And then we didn't really talk to her again.

One really interesting thing happened, while we were talking to her in Scotland. She's very determined that nobody shall know what's going to be in the next story until the next story is published. She has an eight year-old daughter, she was eight then, and at one point during the conversation the daughter came in, and was listening to what we were saying and suddenly said: "Mummy, what's going to happen to so and so in book number six? " And Joan looked at her very, very calmly and said: "Darling, you know I won't tell you that."

Q: Why did you replace John Williams with another composer - Patrick Doyle?

A: I wanted a different composer because in the film there was a tremendous amount of music that the actors had to work with, dancing music, walking music, there's lots and lots of music. So it's very difficult for me to work with a composer who is 6,000 miles away. And John Williams lives in Los Angeles, so I needed somebody who was right there. And I've worked with Pat, Patrick Doyle, who is a great composer, twice before, also on Donnie Brasco and he is a great man, to work with, he gives you a lot.

Q: Why did you include a rock band in the Christmas Yule, whose idea was that?

A: That was my idea. These are not little kids anymore, they are fourteen. They don't look in wonder at the world, they've got spots. So I wanted to get a kind of new reality and I remembered that when I was in university, there would be at the end of every year a series of these formal balls we got dressed up and mostly that was all very formal. But then at the end of the night when everybody was drunk we'd get a rock band in there and go crazy which is what everybody wanted. And so that's what we did with this and we thought Jarvis Cocker [Pulp lead singer] was brilliant.

And the reason that we had a rock band as well was because Stan, Viktor Krum, had to be an absolutely wicked dancer and he had to wash her off her feet. It was much better to see him do that with modern dancing.

Q: What was the hardest thing for you, as a director, in this movie?

A: Oh yeah, I know what it was. The most difficult for the video stuff was under water There's a big sequence under water. What everybody who makes movies knows is that celluloid and water do not mix. They are a disastrous combination. The cameras leak, people drown, people get cold, it's a disaster. Do not get near the water with a film camera. So we were desperate not to shoot the underwater sequence in the water.

So what we tried to do first was to shoot the whole thing upside down in dry land, which meant that we had to have a system of blue scaffolding poles, because the computer can take out blue. We would then hang the actors off the poles, upside down, because their hair would hang down like their hair would hang in he water. So of course the problem with that was that everybody went scarlet in the face, terrible, complete fiasco. So what we had to do then was train all the actors to swim like fishes and shoot it in this huge tank. But then the computers put in everything. They put in the fish, they put in the weeds, they put in the little dots in the water, everything was done with the computer, quite brilliant.

Q: What did you personally bring to the Harry Potter mania.

A: The thing, of course, that I brought was that I am English and I've been to schools like that. And I knew that schools in England are very anarchic places. Children there are nasty, brutish and short. Now look, that line either gets a laugh or people take it seriously. And I beg you not to take it seriously. So I wanted the school to be a character and I could do that because I'm English.

Q: Did you enjoy working with Ralph Fiennes who gave a face to Voldemort?

A: He's a good boy. I've known him for quite a while and I've nearly worked with him twice before. So he and I had a great appetite for working together and we had a very happy time. He's very intelligent and he's very precise, so we had a good time.

Q: Is it easier to work with Hollywood titans like Al Pacino and Julia Roberts, or with British actors?

A: They are absolutely different but they are equally brilliant. A British actor is brought up in the theatre and so he commands, he controls. Mostly the American actor is brought up on the screen and he can't control life, there's just too many things gong on. So an English actor will be very commanding, they tell you what should be. Whereas an American actor will surround himself by a feeling or a state or whatever and he simply won't come out.

Q: Did magic help you compete in the "alien" world of young people nowadays, that ties them to computers, so that you could "win" with the movie.

A: I think it probably did because children now live in some ways in a very prosaic world. They can fly, they just get on an airplane, they can make anything happen on a computer, so there isn't very much mystery left in their lives. And I think that one of the reasons that these movies got so popular is children. Because they are for children and I think that they loved having this mystery to watch.

Q: There is a wax figures exhibition currently in Sofia, featuring Harry Potter figures. Should there be a Viktor Krum figure among them in the future?

A: Anybody who was in the water had to have a very exact body scan that means that the computer can reproduce exactly the body. And Stan had one of these done, it's probably in a computer somewhere. But what's a wonderful thing is, and I don't know if Stan even knows this, but he has made it into Lego.

Q: What will be your next project?

A: I'm either gonna do a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel, or a western.

Q: Any last words of wisdom?

A: I don't know if I have any last words except that we couldn't have made Stan's character if I had to pretend that he was Bulgarian. If I had gotten an English actor then I'd have no idea what it means to be Bulgarian. What I know is that because he's real, he's the real thing, he's very handsome, he has beautiful eyes, but I don't believe that I would have found either his looks or his eyes from an English actor. And so therefore what Stan brings to the movie is that he brings absolute authenticity. And that's a big thing, a really big thing.

I want to say something about Stan and what kind of an actor he is. You don't get anywhere as an actor unless you can shut out absolutely everything except the character and your belief in the character and your belief in exactly the moment that you're playing right now. You can't think into the future, you can't think sideways you have to be now with an actor. Now he's never acted before, never acted before. And that huge, huge thing without which no actor is any good, he can do just like that. So he's good.

So I am very glad to be here and I wouldn't be here if Stan wasn't the real thing and didn't come from Sofia.

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