LONDON - Award-winning British director Mike Newell, primarily known for directing intelligent, character-driven films such as Donnie Brasco, Mona Lisa Smile and Four Weddings and A Funeral, is the new man at the helm of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. He says that he was attracted to this fantastical story because it is essentially a great paranoid thriller.
"What happens [in a classic thriller] is that the hero begins in ignorance," he explains. "He has no idea what is happening to him or why. In the progress of the thriller, he's coming closer and closer to the source of the bad things that are happening to him. I thought that was exactly the case in Goblet of Fire."
For more of Newell's thoughts and experiences on Goblet of Fire, read onâ€¦
You're known for being a character-driven director. Did the notion of doing this huge effects-driven motion picture scare the heck out of you?
"Yes, a little. So I said to myself that this is simply an alternative world in which things that are completely unreal in our world are completely real in that world. Then what you have is a story that is real and you'll be able to investigate the same emotions and take the same emotional paths and character paths as any story about the real world. So that's what I tried to do. "
You seem to have a talent for taking characters with flaws and using those flaws to show their human side. In this script what are Harry's flaws? He seems to be an omnipotent wizard.
"It's a real problem. He's omnipotent. He's a celebrity. What I tried to do in this one is subvert that security. I didn't want to make him jumpy and prey to anxiety. I just wanted to make him not as secure as he had always been, so he did not know what is happening to him, and it worried the hell out of him and frightened him. And I tried to do that to everybody around him as well. Just because he's the kid with the scar on his forehead, that's not a passport to success and security."
What was your approach to working with the visual effects and editing? Are you hands-on or more laid back?
"I am very hands-on in the cutting room. I was working with an old friend of mine, Mick Audsley. This is our fourth film together and he is a tremendous collaborator. As far as the visual effects are concerned, I hadn't done much of that before but was steered by the producer David Heyman to working with visual effects supervisor Jimmy Mitchell. These films are so massive that it's not possible for a director to control the process second by second the way he does in a normal film. I had tremendous help all along. I had a basic vision of what I wanted to happen and then I had these extraordinary interpreters who would bring these incredible things to me. What I wanted was simply to be real. Okay it's a dragon, but what does a dragon really look like? If you're being chased by that dragon, what does it feel like? What I wanted to do for the kids, and sometimes the grown ups, is to make it feel like it could be them."
When you get to the editing, do you feel that the movie finally comes together or is the editing more mechanical - just putting together what was already there in the script?
"There was a French film director who said, â€˜You make a film three times: you make it on paper, you make it on celluloid and you make it in the cutting room.' I think that's absolutely right. There's the film that you are so proud of when the last draft is delivered and you just know it's the best blueprint there is. Then you hit the practical business of making the film where suddenly the actors arrive and you realize you actually could short cut that a bit because just the way the actor stands there, he tells a lot of story. All that would be part of the process of actually making the film. And then you have to find the film you made. Whatever your intentions were, chances are they will be very slightly different from the achievement of it. So in each of those three processes you have to find interesting new life in the story.
"You can feel you nailed the life of the story on the page, and you've nailed it on celluloid and then you take it to the cutting room and say I wonder what we did? The reason I have such a strong relationship with the editor is that the editor is the man who stands very slightly to one side, and only slightly, and says, â€˜Look, what you did was this.'"
You're the first British director of a Harry Potter movie. How do you feel that's significant in approaching this story?
"There's a huge body of English children's school stories, and I know all of these. And I also have a very strong memory of my own school time. I felt that there wasn't enough personality to the organization, the institution, under which these children were kept. I certainly remember school being violent. I remember getting beaten up quite a lot. I remember it being anarchic and that there was a constant struggle for supremacy between the teachers and the children.
"I began to think that school was foretaste of life, where you were having to make a society tick, and school is a society, and it's made to work by the authority of the teachers and the taught. They're linked in that way."