An Extra Life On… Harry Potter 7 Part 2 (part 2)
(ORIGINALLY POSTED AS A COLUMN ON BLEEDING COOL)
It’s entirely appropriate that I should cover this film in two parts since it was made, as you’re no doubt aware, in two parts. This, apparently, wasn’t a ploy by Warner Bros to make even more money (because, y’know, 7 massively-grossing films wasn’t lucrative enough) but because – I’m told by a geezer as he ferries us to the set – many hardcore fans had complained that the makers were cutting too much of the books out of the movies, so the studio eventually bowed to their requests.
(Hmm, maybe if I pester Disney enough they’ll make future Pirates of the Caribbean films in zero parts…)
In fact, I’m informed that they were considering halving them from book 5 onwards, but Warner decided that by the time the finales hit cinemas, the fans would’ve hit puberty and grown out of it.
After the relative tedium of the first week, during which I spent much time deliberating whether I’d rather give it to Draco’s Mum or Miss Bonham-Carter (Draco’s Mum), us not-co-carefully selected supporting artistes switched locations to Leavesden Studios*. That’s right, the only thing that gives the Watford area any credibility, and you’ve never heard of it. A former airfield that for the past near-decade has been the main base of the Potter films (everything gets abbreviated in Extras world, not just our lunch breaks), which – amongst sparse buildings – bears heap after tarpaulin-wrapped heap of wizarding memorabilia, like a huge al fresco attic. Bits of houses here, a purple triple-decker there…
At the far end of the runway-cum-carpark sat our ‘trailer’ for the next few months, a double marquee housing eatery, costumes and make-up. With most of the scenes outdoors, and winter closing in, we were regularly in at 06:00 to make the most of daylight hours. Once we’d suited up and swapped our payslips for disappointingly synthetic wands, we were shipped back down the tarmac, past Privet Drive with its backless, unfinished houses, and to the scene of battle: Hogwarts courtyard.
You have to hand it to set-builders, they can make a pile of polystyrene look surprisingly realistic, even from a few feet away. What seemed like a genuine stone quad with the odd section reduced to rubble was in fact from the same Blue Peter school of cardboard construction as the Robin Hood castle. The scene is completed by accessorising with some squashed giant spiders, a few toppled statues, the odd puff of smoke, and of course some world-class actors.
And they were all in this scene. (All except Alan Rickman, who was busy crying in a boat shed, I believe.) Which is the main reason we shot the initial scene, the prelude to the final battle, in about 3 million takes. Because everybody had to be snapped from a multitude of angles, good guys and bad guys, until the director had every possible permutation covered. This might sound inordinately dull, considering us Deatheaters – special or otherwise – were just standing around waiting for the signal. And yes, it would’ve been, had it not been for perpetuating fits of the giggles fed by lines from Voldemort, Malfoy and co. Apart from Mr Fiennes repeating “Neville Longbottom” in snigger-inducing fashion (which ultimately got cut), our funny bones were tickled by Draco’s Dad trying in vain to persuade him to cross over to the dark side, with the immortal line “Don’t…. be…. stupid!”, so painfully drawn out that we incurred pains in our sides attempting to stop laughing. In fact so immortal was the line that… it too was chopped from the final edit. (Yet even in the cinema, knowing it’d been cut, we still couldn’t stop ourselves from chuckling.)
Anyway, about three weeks after we started shooting, we concluded that primary scene (yes, three weeks! God knows how many random women Ralph had entertained in his trailer in that time,) during which basically Voldy says “Potter’s dead, come be baddies with me” and Neville says “Let’s fookin’ av it!”.
And then it all kicks off.
That’s when we got to charge at children, wands out, and the fun started in earnest. Some of us were required to ‘apparate’ (disappear) while other braver souls joined battle. The A.D. asked us who was born on an odd day, and those people were told to vanish. Thereby losing a few days’ work. Harsh, but that’s the way it goes. Lucky me, I got to stay, and laid assault to those pesky schoolkids with as much passion as one can with a plastic wand in hand, leaping over fallen bodies and surging forward, like Aragorn through a throng of Orcs.
Well, that’s how it played in my head. I’ll never know, because that was cut too. In fact, the entire clash was disappointingly less colossal than I’d expected, and what we’d spent weeks (not to mention millions of pounds) creating was cut hugely. Perhaps they’d learnt a lesson from Attack of the Clones and gone easy on the full-on, brain-overload death-fest. It is somewhat disheartening, though, when you’re told you’re going to be a ‘special’ Deatheater and don’t even get picked out for your fighting skills; when you’re putting everything into your spellcasting, proper angry like Skywalker at the end of Jedi, and you notice the lame-o next to you is prodding at the air with their wand as if picking shoes out in a shop; when you work all hours of the day and night in cold and wet conditions, splashing in puddles and tripping over rocks, and about 75% of what’s filmed – Expelliamus! – ends up in the bin.
However, there were many good points about working on Potter, and I have many fond memories of it – the laughter (or stifling thereof); the excellent food; sitting in the marquee playing Trivial Pursuit (mainly because I won); dropping stones into the depths of people’s hoods then watching the subsequent attempt at retrieval; trying to concentrate on my moves while a stuntman ran past on fire; watching real-world females (especially hairdressers) go all gooey when you tell them you’re a Deatheater; and Daniel Radcliffe’s ever-present look of bewilderment, like he’s never been on a film set before, wide-eyed and gnashing his teeth like an amphetamine addict.
But the highlight of the lot for me was the night I got to play dead. An on-set decision which meant I wasn’t given thermals beforehand, and as I lay there, with combatants leaping around me (and occasionally on me), the temperature noticeably dropping by the hour, the damp seeping through my cape, I began to wonder what my life had come to. But then, at about 04:00, we finished for the night, and as the main actors left set, Miss Emma Watson walked past me and called ‘Good night’ to those around.
She may have said it to everyone, but I was nearest. So she said good night to me. Which is half a dream come true. The other half being I wake up next to her in the morning and she begs me to… [This has been cut – Ed.]
*The former Leavesden Studios is now the location of the Warner Bros "Harry Potter World" Studio Tour
Next time: Ridiculous hair-pieces and fainting on John Carter