This piece on the making of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire originally appeared in the pages of Movie Magic magazine. The film celebrates its 10th Anniversary this year.
The TriWizard Cup, a Yuletide Ball at Hogwarts, a fire-breathing dragon, deadly mermaids, the ever-growing power of Voldemort and the first signs of teen love are among the many things that Harry Potter dealt with in the film adaptation of his fourth literary adventure, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
And guiding it all is director Mike Newell, whose previous credits didn’t exactly scream Hogwarts, among them Donnie Brasco, Dance With A Stranger and Four Weddings And A Funeral. Yet as far as producer David Heyman was concerned, Newell was the right man for the job to follow up on the efforts of Prisoner Of Azkaban’s Alfonso Cuaron.
“He brings many things to this film,” Heyman said in an exclusive interview during production. “He obviously has a great sense of humor as demonstrated in Four Weddings And A Funeral. He is a great director of actors, as you can see in all of his films. He works with great actors and it’s good for the kids to be continually challenged, and I think in this film they have been challenged even more. Dan, Emma and Rupert have risen to the challenge that Mike has put to them. I also think he brings a very British flavor to Hogwarts, more than the previous films have had.”
For his part, Newell revealed that things in Goblet of Fire would retain the darker, more adult tone established by Cuaron in the preceding film – though it wasn’t a question of just copying that tone. “What I did,” Newell noted, “was simply to make a film of the book that I had, which was appropriate to 14- and 15-year-old children. That’s what makes the difference. It isn’t that you say to yourself, ‘Well, there are visual rules here we have to follow and extend.’ You simply say, ‘What is the internal emotional life of a 14-year-old?’ and what happens to him can be tougher, because he’s tougher himself. Naturally, the challenges grow harder. They’re adolescents now; they’re adults in training.”
And they were evolving as both people and performers, with Heyman pointing to their growth between Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire. “I think that all three kids, but in particular Dan, gave more nuance to their performances. They are more able to draw from their own experiences in acting the roles. He’s 15-years-old and playing a 14-year-old. He knows what it feels like, he knows what it’s like at moments to be isolated, he knows what it’s like to have disagreements with friends, he knows what it’s like to have a crush on a girl. He knows what it’s like to have pressure put upon him and responsibility. Those are all things he lives with in his daily life – some of which is extraordinary because he’s playing Harry Potter, some of which because it’s just the normal things that a 14 or 15 year old goes through. It is the stuff that Harry is going through in this film, and Dan was able to draw on his own experiences to do that. I think that’s the case with all three of them, and I think what you’ll see is that they’re all getting better.”
THE CHALLENGES OF GOBLET OF FIRE
Up to that time, Goblet Of Fire proved itself to be the most challenging chapter in the series simply from a production point of view, ranging from the the events of the TriWizard Cup with the Yuletide Ball in between.
“From a logistical level, it’s the most complicated film we’ve made so far,” Heyman said. “In terms of the number of kids, the number of extras, and Dan having to act underwater for six weeks of filming for part of the competition. Every time we would go underwater with an oxygen tank and an oxygen mask, you’d remove the mask, he would act, get the thumbs up sign and get the oxygen back. That’s quite challenging and it’s gone brilliantly, but no question it is the most challenging of them all.”
One person who would agree with that is Daniel Radcliffe. “I had several scenes that were very exciting and a little frightening,” he admitted. “In this movie, there’s a very exciting underwater scene, which was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, because there was so much going on. At one point, I’m diving in the water and the director said, ‘Say your line!’ And I thought, ‘I can’t say my line. I’m underwater.’ Even with that in mind, though, it’s hard not to have a good time when you’re working with all these wonderful costumes and special effects. Every day was such an adventure for me.”
As it was for visual effects supervisor Jim Mitchell. “With that underwater sequence,” he detailed, “you’re looking at trying to create an environment of a 500-800 foot deep Loch up in Scotland, and we obviously weren’t going to up there and do a lot of diving. So we made it more controlled. We built this huge 60 by 60-foot tank, that was 20-feet deep, in the studio, and John Richardson, the special effects supervisor, was involved in getting that all set up so that we could shoot with camera cranes underwater. And we rigged it with this whole backlit blue screen. It was a massive undertaking to get to the point where we could shoot and get the moments we needed to start the process of making it look like Dan was swimming underwater with all these creatures, as well as the other contestants. The interesting thing is that that whole environment – even when he’s above the water and they’re on the big stand waiting to dive in – was all computer-generated. Nothing existed short of the shots where Dan and the other contestants were swimming against the blue screen underwater. The whole background around them, the interaction of the water, swimming through plant life and seeing these huge cliffs underwater, and the ruins where the victims are tied up, as in the book – it’s totally fabricated. It’s amazing to see this world that you couldn’t have realized any other way.”
THE PORTRAYAL OF EVIL
For Newell, there was also the pressure of properly realizing evil in the film as portrayed by Voldemort. This, he believes, was integral for Goblet of Fire to work and to continue Harry on his journey.
“We talked very seriously about what Voldemort’s motivations were. What does he want? Why does he want to come back? What sort of a person is it that wants to come back and impose a reign of evil? Does someone who wants to impose a reign of evil see it as truly being evil or is it, in fact, for them something good?
“This is what I thought of the wizard world,” he continues. “I thought that they were like sort of medieval knights who would defend the borders of the country, who are innocent of it all, but they are out there knowing that there is evil, knowing that there is all sorts of weird and threatening stuff out there, and unknown to us, they keep us safe. They are the heroes that way. It has to be real people. People ask me what it was like dealing with such a fantastic story. But it wasn’t a fantastic story to me at all. It was absolutely real. Okay, it’s got wands and stuff like that, but you could say this is what it was like living in Europe in the ‘30s [with the spread of Nazism]. There was something really bad out there, and people were either going to do something about it or weren’t going to do something about it, but that really bad stuff was creeping ever absolutely remorselessly forward and it was getting worse.”
The director gives a lot of credit to actor Ralph Fiennes, whose portrayal of the dark lord never strays into the territory of caricature. “He doesn’t chew the scenery,” Newell enthuses, “and he isn’t a 19th century melodrama figure. He’s absolutely real and cold and chilling and absolutely dedicated to doing bad. As soon as you have that, you can do anything.”
For an interview with director Alfonso Cuaron regarding Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, please click HERE.