'There's nowhere in the world I can go that isn't somehow touched by this film ...'
Of all the actors discovered for Harry Potter, none's faced a more complicated path from youth to stardom than Emma Watson. Originally ambivalent about success -- at one point stating she might leave the series, then trying to juggle a college education -- Watson seems to have settled into life as an actress and newly-minted glamour girl, even signing on as a new "face" for L'Oreal cosmetics. With her newly-shorn locks evoking memories of Jean Seberg or Mia Farrow, Watson met the press in New York in a feathered Givenchy dress to talk about the end of Harry Potter, global stardom and what's next.
On her last day and last shot for the series:
The last shot we did was this strange moment where we dive into the fireplace in the Ministry of Magic. It was actually for 'Part I,' not 'Part II.' Dan, Rupert and I, one by one, jumped onto these blue safety mats, basically; that was the shot, that was it. It seemed like a strange one to go out on, but David made the point that we were leaping into the unknown. It was a perfect metaphor for what we were about to go into. It's so funny, I can't tell you how I felt when we were shooting it -- I think I was numb.
On when it hit her the hardest:
It's so funny; this film obviously was incredibly challenging for me. It really pushed me as an actress, but at the same time, I was able to use a lot of my own genuine emotion that I felt about loss and all of it coming to an end. I was able to bring how I was feeling to the role. A perfect example of that is the scene when we stand on the bridge after the battle and before we flash forward. I remember really feeling exactly how Hermoine would be feeling, which is, 'Wow, this is all coming to an end; look at everything we've achieved.' The set was built looking out over Leavesden studios, which is where I grew up, essentially, and spent the last 12 years. Not much acting required, really. It was all there for me.
… and Why You Won't Be Seeing Him In 'Harry Potter … On Ice!'
With this week's release of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2" closing out the Potter saga, it feels like as good a time as any to remind ourselves that no matter how you feel about Christopher Columbus' skill set as a director, he certainly deserves praise for finding a set of child actors who, each and every one, grew to become actors -- especially Tom Felton, cast as bad seed Draco Malfoy. With his shock-blonde hair and sneer, Draco was a kid you loved to hate - even as later events in the series challenged both our view of Draco and his view of himself. We spoke with Felton in New York.
This film series will never be out of your life, but when's it going to be off your schedule in that you're doing this last press tour? When does it stop being something you think about every day?
Felton: It will be a while, I imagine. We've been looking forward to this last film for so long. Of course, there's going to be DVDs that come out of it, and I'm sure 3D, and 4D and "On Ice" and musicals and all the rest of it. It's something that I'm not looking to shake. I hope to be remembered -- all of us are going to be remembered, I think, for these characters for the rest of our lives. Obviously I'm hoping to develop things as well, but I'm definitely not looking to shake it any time soon.
When they announce 'Harry Potter on Ice,' you won't be stretching and lacing up?
Felton: I'm actually developing the choreography of that myself; it's my show. We're working on a few different things. I doubt I would -- I'm a terrible skater.
My favorite American films with a French twist
Feel like getting your Francophile on this Bastille Day without leaving home or squinting through subtitles? Here are my top five favorite American films set in La Belle France. Many of these crews never stepped foot on French soil, but no matter—Hollywood’s version of Paris was often more colorful and fun than the real thing.
So, mes amis, power up the flat screen, grab a baguette and a hunk of brie, open up that bottle of Bordeaux you’ve been saving, and have at it, Franco-American style.
An American in Paris (1951). This Oscar-winning MGM film earns the top position on many critics’ lists of their all-time favorite musicals. Eh, I’m more of a Band Wagon guy myself, but that doesn’t mean I’m immune to the considerable charms of this Vincente Minnelli-directed hit starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. The Gershwin songs alone are worth the price of the rental and great supporting turns by Oscar Levant and Nina Foch only add to the fun. The plot is barely worth mentioning but the film is so sumptuous you can see why it won Oscars for set decoration, cinematography, and costume design among other wins, including a rare Best Picture nod for a musical (the film beat out both A Place in the Sun and A Streetcar Named Desire, which is pretty insane). It’s fun to see Paris as shot entirely on Culver City soundstages and if you speak French, you may cringe at some of the grammatically incorrect French dialogue—I guess newbie Leslie Caron was too timid to correct the actors. The 17-minute ballet at the end of the film is pretty amazing if you like that sort of thing—a real tour-de-force for Gene Kelly who won an honorary Oscar that year (his only one). S’wonderful!
Casablanca (1942). What’s that you say? This classic Michael Curtiz film is NOT set in France? Ah, but don’t forget the brief, hot, and perhaps unnecessary flashback scene in which we see Humphrey Bogart’s Rick and Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa hopelessly in love in the City of Lights. It’s beyond obvious that the two lovers are sitting in a Warner Brothers soundstage with scenes of Paris projected behind them, but who cares? Bergman is at the height of her beauty here and the chemistry between the two leads is palpable. It’s in this Parisian sequence that we come to understand why Bogart is so bitter. He and Ilsa fell in love during the time when she believed her husband Laszlo had been killed while trying to escape from a German concentration camp. When she finds out that he is alive but ill, she rushes to his side, without giving Rick any explanation. Casablanca is also an appropriate Bastille Day treat because of the magnificent scene in which a bunch of ex-pats at Rick’s club drown out the Nazis with an emotional rendition of “La Marseillase.” Oy, that scene gets me every time.
Silk Stockings (1957). This film, directed by Rouben Mamoulian, is nowhere near as well known as An American in Paris, but for my money it epitomizes the best of MGM musicals made during that genre’s waning years. While there is plenty to complain about, this musical remake of Ernst Lubitsch’s Ninotchka is nevertheless a joy to watch from beginning to end. An American movie producer, played by Fred Astaire, is in Paris because he wants to hire a visiting Russian composer to score his latest film. He corrupts the resistant composer with a bevy of French dames as well as his brash American star played by the wonderful Janis Paige. Moscow hears of the composer’s activities and sends a humorless, workaholic envoy, Nina “Ninotchka” Yoschenko, to bring him home immediately. Okay, let’s be clear—Cyd Charisse is no Greta Garbo (who starred in the original film), her Russian accent is atrocious, and her singing voice is dubbed, but this is still my favorite of her films. No one can hold a candle to Cyd Charisse in the dancing department and her scenes with Astaire are among the best dance numbers ever captured on film. Charisse also gets to showcase her fabulous gams in a reverse striptease number that is so hot it barely squeaked by the 1950s censors. The film was made at the height of the Cold War and is such a propaganda piece I’m surprised Joseph McCarthy isn’t given a producer’s credit. But the Cole Porter music is heavenly, and Paris, aka Culver City, never looked better.
Two for the Road (1967). In my opinion, this Stanley Donen film, starring Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney, is a near-perfect experience from beginning to end. The story (written by Frederic Raphael) details the complex 12-year relationship between Hepburn and Finney with all its highs and lows. The brilliance of the film is that we see the story of the two lovers unfold in a non-linear way—with scenes at the height of their love and attraction juxtaposed with painful moments from their crumbling marriage. The film takes place almost entirely in France, during the couple’s multiple road trips in that country. Watching Two for the Road when I was younger, I always wanted to 1) drive a roadster all over the French countryside, and 2) run screaming from all relationships, but today I see it as a real love story, even with all its heartbreak and pain. Look for an appearance by a young and gorgeous Jacqueline Bissett as Hepburn’s girls choir pal, and a brilliant turn by William Daniels and Eleanor Bron as the permissive parents of the most obnoxious kid since The Bad Seed. I guess this is technically an English film but with Donen as the director I’m keeping it on my list of American Bastille Day treats!
French Postcards (1979). I know, I know—it’s a ridiculous stretch to call this all-but-forgotten film a “classic,” but I have personal reasons for including it on my list. I was going to school in Paris the year French Postcards (which is about American students going to school in Paris) was made so it almost feels like watching a home movie of my year abroad—in fact, several American students from my program were cast as extras. The film was written and directed by Willard Huyck, who is much better known for writing American Graffiti and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (with his wife Gloria Katz), and who would go on to murder his directing career with the infamous Howard the Duck. Debra Winger and Mandy Patinkin both had bit parts in this film and the stars included Blanche Baker (Carroll Baker’s daughter), David Marshall Grant (most recently the producer of Brothers and Sisters), and Miles Chapin (who I remember as Beverly D’Angelo’s square boyfriend in Hair). The French cast was far more prestigious, from the lovely Valérie Quennessen, who sadly died in a car accident at the age of 31, to the legendary Jean Rochefort who is still going strong at the age of 80. Also starring in the film was the great Marie-France Pisier, who died this year at the age of 66. The beautiful actress was in several of Truffaut’s early films as well as the popular Cousin, Cousine, but her attempts to break into American films were less successful, from the trashy The Other Side of Midnight to the mini-series Scruples. If nothing else, French Postcards details many of the stereotypes that French and American people have of each other and it would be an interesting curiosity piece to watch on this holiday…if you can find it!
But wait, there are so many other films I’ve left out that would be perfect for your Bastille Day film festival. What about Charade and To Catch a Thief? How about Gigi and Daddy Long Legs? Or even Moulin Rouge or Woody Allen’s latest, Midnight in Paris? Oh well, you get the idea. Bonne chance!
-- Danny Miller, Los Angeles
Part 2 of Our First Look at 2012's Could-Be Blockbuster with Director Andrew Stanton
In Part One of our sneak peek at "John Carter," director Andrew Stanton's adaptation of Edgar Rice Burrough's pulp adventure "A Princess of Mars" coming to theaters in March 2012, we shared some of Stanton's thoughts before showing footage. With the lights brought down low -- and our expectations raised up high -- we then got to see four sequences. In the first, John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) has clearly just arrived on Mars, first adapting clumsily to Mars' lower gravity, stumbling across a nest of Thark eggs and then being approached by paternal full-grown Tharks -- including Willem Dafoe's Tars Tarkas, with Dafoe's voice issuing from a 10-foot tall, six-limbed green alien.
The second shot, while shortest, was one of the most intriguing, as Martian princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) and Thark Sola (Samantha Morton) confronted each other with guns drawn -- and then conveyed a certain unity of purpose with just facial expressions and gestures. It was a brief moment, but you could still feel Morton's performance behind the CGI creation -- imbuing pixels with personality. Then we saw a clip of Carter and Dejah Thoris talking selflessness and strategy -- with an angry Dominic West as a Martian warlord for some palace intrigue. We next got a gladiatorial combat sequence where Carter and Tarkas have to face down a giant six-limbed Martian White Ape for the amusement of some Thark despot -- and while Carter's low-gravity bounds and jumps were impressive, and the White Ape a fearsome beast, the sense of humor and adventure in the clip -- with a perfect last line that both raised the stakes and got a laugh -- was maybe the best part. Then we saw the trailer -- reportedly attached to this Friday's upcoming "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," and online this Thursday -- and which conceals far more than it reveals, with a moody Peter Gabriel version of The Arcade Fire's "My Body is a Cage" setting a ominous-yet-epic tone.
The third released image of the dwarves from "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"
Two of the youngest Dwarves, Fili and Kili have been born into the royal line of Durin and raised under the stern guardianship of their uncle, Thorin Oakensheild. Neither has ever travelled far, nor ever seen the fabled Dwarf City of Erebor. For both, the journey to the Lonely Mountain represents adventure and excitement. Skilled fighters, both brothers set off on their adventure armed with the invincible courage of youth, neither being able to imagine the fate which lies before them.
Jed Brophy as Nori, Adam Brown as Ori and Mark Hadlow as Dori in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" (Photo by James Fisher)
These three brothers, all sons of the same mother, could not be more different from each other. Dori, the oldest, spends much of his time watching out for Ori, the youngest; making sure he’s not caught a chill or got himself killed by Wargs or Goblins. Nobody quite knows what Nori gets up to most of the time, except that it’s guaranteed to be dodgy and quite probably, illegal. Dori, Nori and Ori are intensely loyal to each other – and whilst they are perfectly happy fighting amongst themselves, woe-betide anyone who means harm to one of these brothers.
John Callen as Oin and Peter Hambleton as Gloin in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" (Photo by James Fisher)
Distant cousins of Thorin Oakenshield, these two doughty, Northern Dwarves join the Company out of a sense of loyalty to their kin, and also because they have a substantial sum of money invested in the venture. Along with Bombur, Gloin is the only other married Dwarf in the Company (there being a shortage of female dwarves in general). His wife is an acclaimed beauty with a particularly fine beard. Gloin is the proud father of a young son, Gimli, who will go on to become part of the famous Fellowship of the Ring.
Neville Longbottom ... Saves the Day?
One of the pleasures of the "Harry Potter" films has been the way they function almost as a high school yearbook for a group of people we've never met, both actors and characters. But while we've seen Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe go from childhood to youth in the leads, we've also enjoyed watching several other actors grow from film to film -- not merely in size, but, rather, in story as well. Hired on board the "Potter" franchise from the first film, Matthew Lewis was cast as series sad-sack Neville Longbottom -- a character whose early mentions (and very, very British name) gave no clue to the importance of the role he'd wind up playing in the saga. I spoke with Lewis in New York as the acting job that had defined his life -- through both the years and at least one growth spurt -- was coming to a close.
When you're reading the script -- with Neville's big speech to rally the troops against series nemesis Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) -- when did it sink in that you get to bring it in this film?
Lewis: I read the book, so I knew what Neville was bringing to the table. You never know when you're making a film if (the exact story from the book) is going to make the screenplay, and it did. I read it and thought, 'Geez, it's going to be something -- I don't know what -- (shooting) with Ralph Fiennes.' I was terrified of the prospect of that; he's an amazing actor. I (thought) they might not get around to shooting it, and then we did, with the whole process, and I thoroughly enjoyed all of it. That was enough -- I was happy just filming it. Whether it got into the film or not, that we would find out later on. Then it did, and I watched it at first, and blew me away. I think you never really know until you sit in a cinema and actually watch it. I feel very proud and very, very lucky.
It's not just the level of moral heroism Neville gets to bring with that great, rousing speech at the end -- you get to jump around and do a lot of action. When you're getting ready to leap with a weapon in your hands, do you have to psych yourself up?
Lewis: Yeah, definitely. Particularly in that scene you're talking about, at that moment Neville's been fighting not only all night at the final battle; he's been fighting all year. He's physically and mentally exhausted; he's got nothing left in the tank. He's on autopilot; he's on instinct. Me and David(Yates, director) wanted it to be very primal, and to get into that frame of mind is not easy. I had to sit there very quietly for a long time and think to myself and try to get into that feeling. With the scream that comes out as he swings the sword, it was not something I'd ever had to do before, never had to do in real life ever. I certainly had to dig deep for that one.
Director Andrew Stanton takes us to Mars with a Sneak Peek at a 2012 Would-Be Blockbuster
In late June, a group of film bloggers were brought to the Bay Area for an early look at Andrew Stanton's "John Carter," the Oscar-winning animator's first live-action film after Pixar hits "Wall-E" and "Finding Nemo," the relaxed and enthused Stanton met the press with a barrage of production art, clips and behind-the-scenes footage explaining his plans to bring the pulp saga "John Carter of Mars" to the big screen. Created by "Tarzan" creator Edgar Rice Burroughs -- and published in 1912 -- "John Carter of Mars" tells the story of the title character, a Civil War veteran (played by "Friday Night Lights" star Taylor Kitsch) brought to the Red Planet by fate, caught between both two warring human groups and the natives, six-limbed 10-foot tall 'Tharks' who call Mars home.
It's a bold, ambitious project - so bold, as Stanton explained, that Hollywood's been trying and failing to film it for literally decades, a process "John Carter of Mars" fan Stanton has been watching his whole life. "I've been following the Hollywood trail of this movie almost being made since I was a kid. It's weird still to be on the other side of this thing, because all I've ever wanted is to see it on the screen: 'Somebody please do it; somebody please make it.' I remember reading about ('John Carter of Mars') possibly being animated in the '30s, and then Ray Harryhausen tried to do it in the '50s, then John McTiernan almost did it in the '80s ... and they just didn't have the technology or the means to figure how to translate it visually."
But by the time Stanton was a film maker -- and a film maker looking for a next film -- the rights had reverted back to the Burroughs heirs, technology had caught up with his childhood visions and Disney was more than willing to back the director on a risky, expensive and technically complex could-be franchise. "I couldn't believe it when (the creative rights for 'John Carter of Mars' finally found itself back to the estate, and here I was already starting to think about what I wanted to do next even though I was in the middle of 'Wall-E' -- that's when I start thinking about that -- and made a call. Again, I don't take it lightly that for the fans, this is on my shoulders. I'm staying true to what I wanted to see all my life, and frankly that's the most insurance I've ever had on anything I've worked on -- you have to stop me from getting out of bed to work on it; that's my best insurance policy."
On Comedy, Camerawork, Nudity, Sequel Madness ... and Money
After the breakout documentary "King of Kong" -- about the surprisingly vicious rivalry between the world's top Donkey Kong players -- Seth Gordon made the jump to fiction filmmaking with the misfired "Four Christmases." After a brief pause, he's back with "Horrible Bosses," starring Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis as three working guys who just might be plotting to kill their upper management in the name of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Coming from the world of documentary filmmaking, the affable Gordon is very aware there's a different level of craft and cash in play. "Yeah, any day on any of these sets would have paid for the entirety of 'Kong,' so that puts everything in perspective for sure. The budgets for the films are so much higher and it's so stratospherical that it's hard even to have much perspective on it. $50 million is a lot of money. It's hard to put your arms around that figure. I'm grateful to have gotten the chance to have a studio believe in me in that way, and I hope we get that money back for them. ..."
Based on early reviews, the odds are pretty good that Gordon will. Gordon didn't take any easy outs, however -- including not only finding room for his actors to improvise but having them do so during stunt sequences. What percentage of the film was what was on the page and what percentage was made up on the day? "I'd say 85-15. Sounds about right. It's almost always an ornament or an aside that is improv, or the button of the scene will be improv -- it'll be some funny thing they came up with. The script was really well-crafted: It's full of surprises, and we kept all those surprises but found a few more along the way."