Order of the Phoenix Press Conference
Did you hesitate to do this role and what did you like about playing Dolores Umbridge?
Imelda Staunton: “Of course I didn’t hesitate. It was wonderful for an actor to be given a challenge and it was an enormous challenge. It was more than I anticipated, actually. She wasn’t the nicest women in the world and to play this is just what I like.”
People were surprised when you were announced as the director of this movie and to your credit, you pulled it off. What were the challenges for you?
Director David Yates: “Initially it’s pretty scary. When you go to Leavesden which is where these movies are shot, the scale of the enterprise is just enormous. I went to see Mike [Newell] in New York shoot Goblet of Fire for half a day and it feels like you’re walking into this Roman arena. It’s massive. You’ve got butterflies in your tummy to begin with, but I really, really quickly found my feet, really. I think what you do is you just learn to prioritize what’s the most important thing for you to focus on as a director, and for me it was working with Michael on the screenplay, pushing the performances, and putting a creative team together which is a kind of combination of people I’ve worked with before and people who had already done some Potter.
Actually, it’s an incredibly safe environment. That’s what I’d say about Potter. David Heyman and David Barron are both incredibly supportive. The studio was very excited by the dailies so I felt actually quickly very, very confident about the whole thing and I had a great time doing it, really.”
How do you think the Potter movies would be with an American production?
Producer David Heyman: “The voices would have sounded different. I have no idea. I don’t really think about that. It was never really a possibility. There was one mention when we were at the very beginning stages of developing the project before the books had any degree of success somebody suggested, ‘Well maybe we could move to America.’ But that was literally one mention and was immediately discarded.
Where I think we’ve been very fortunate with our kids is that the environment at Leavesden is very removed from everything. It’s a little bubble and I think that provides a form of protection. You saw the kids here. They’re remarkably unaffected. They’re kids. They’re quite grown up kids, quite composed, but they’re having a good time. They’re not cynical; they’re not pretentious. They’re not arrogant. They’re humble and frankly very much the same kids that I loved when I began the process. You know, I have no idea. There are some young wonderful American actors who are unscathed and I know ours have remained unscathed so far, and we’re very lucky to have them on board.”
As filmmakers, what is your mindset toward viewers who haven’t seen previous movies and don’t know much about the world? Do you feel the need to give certain background information?
Director David Yates: “I think to a certain extent I have to feel that the audience is going to bring a certain knowledge to the movies when they walk through the door, but at the same time, we were very [determined] that [with] this film to try to make it as self-contained as we possibly could, to make it feel like a story in its own right. There’s inevitable connective tissue. Michael will probably tell you more about this, but the adaptive process is quite tricky. The worst thing you can do in a movie is take the audience out of the moment. Once you start referring back to things that are relevant to the story you’re telling or try to predict things that might be coming, it tends to fall into the expositional and that’s not great for theatrical experience. We try to put as much of that out as possible in this movie.”
Writer Michael Goldenberg: “David was quite wonderfully ruthless of that. I don’t know if that comes from thrillers, you know that sort of keeping it very much in the moment and keeping everything on a need to know basis which is generally hard to do anyway. We pushed the limit on that, I think, and the question was, ‘Do you absolutely need it? Does it make sense for the context? Can you use that information without spelling it out?’ Just streamlining everything as much as possible and it’s amazing how much information you get in a frame, how much your mind fills in even if you’re not up to speed on the specifics. I think David was right about that and it gives the film a vitality that it wouldn’t have otherwise.”
So many actors would love to have Harry Potter on their resumes. Were you waiting for that call and was this the right part at the right time for you?
Imelda Staunton: “Yes and yes. It was great. I have a 13-year-old daughter. It was such a thrill. Working with actors who are going to be here when I’m not here, working with actors who, but working with actors I’ve known since drama school. You know, from the past to the future.”