24 Jun 2007: Director David Yates has given the boy wizard some clout, he tells Amy Raphael.
The last time I interviewed David Yates, he was standing next to a pothole on a country road in Romania, directing the harrowing film Sex Traffic. Then, in the winter of 2003, he was looking forward to taking on a remake of Brideshead Revisited and there was even talk of the gentle Merseysider returning to direct a second series of the brilliant BBC series, State of Play. Now Julian Jarrold is behind the camera of Brideshead and Kevin Macdonald is to direct an American feature film version of State of Play.
And Yates? He’s having the time of his life directing Harry Potter films. Taking the baton from Chris Columbus, Mike Newell and Alfonso Cuaron, he finished Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, to be released on 13 July, just five weeks ago and is already in pre-production on its follow-up, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. He seems genuinely to have no idea if he will direct the final film; not surprising given that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows isn’t published until next month.
Without wishing to sound rude, how did he get the job? ‘You’re not the first to ask,’ he laughs. ‘David Heyman, who produces the Harry Potter films, was a big fan of the TV work I’d done. There were certainly other directors in the frame, such as Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who directed Amelie. But as Order of the Phoenix is quite edgy and emotional, and it’s got a political backstory, the studio saw a fit with me. I think they wanted to wake it up a bit, make it real.’
His great skill as a director is taking actors to another level. He did this most successfully with James McAvoy in State of Play and most recently with Anamaria Marinca in Sex Traffic. ‘I like to create an atmosphere where actors feel safe enough to take risks. I certainly don’t believe in being a macho bully; I’m not interested in frightening good work out of people. It’s bollocks.’
Hollywood is already calling. Is Yates tempted? ‘In an ideal world, I’d bounce between big projects and no-budget TV dramas with fantastic scripts. A lot of Hollywood films tend to be bloated, bombastic, loud. At the same time, I do like the infrastructure of making a blockbuster; it’s like having a big train set. I’m very excited about going to see an Imax print of Order of the Phoenix because the last 20 minutes are in 3D…’
When Yates starts shooting Half Blood Prince later on this year, JK Rowling will have the time to hang out on set, given that there are no more Harry Potter books to be written. ‘Jo is actually going to come and join us for a few days and talk through the script. I’m really looking forward to having her around; she’s grown up enough to say that the film is a separate entity to the book so she always leaves the director to get on with his job. Having said that, she has great ideas and insights.’
Given that he’s now a Potter insider, has JK Rowling given Yates a sneak preview of Deathly Hallows? ‘Jo’s dropped a few hints, but nothing juicy enough to share. I’ve only got one thing left to say about Harry Potter: go see the film!’