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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 – How Director David Yates found it really moving

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 - Director David Yates with Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 - Director David Yates with Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) on location during the filming © 2010 Warner Bros

When David Yates was employed to direct Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, little did he know that job would lead to him helming the rest of the franchise with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and the movie’s final two-parter, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

At the press junket for the movie in London, Yates spoke of the first part of the finale, working with Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, and saying goodbye to the iconic characters created by JK Rowling.

How do keep topping yourself with these films?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 - Director David Yates
Director David Yates during a promotional interview © 2010 Warner Bros

The books get more and more interesting in a way.

All the books are wonderful, but Jo Rowling’s work just continues to inspire and I guess just the fact that Daniel, Rupert and Emma are getting older and they can do more nuanced things now, and the material offers that opportunity.

Having made two movies already you kind of build on all of that too. That inevitably gives you the platform to build on and you get more confidence.

As you were shooting, even the first Harry Potter movie you made, were you thinking, ‘Am I thanking my lucky stars that these three people were cast in these roles, and that they’ve made it these ten years.’

It’s marvelous and I do thank my lucky stars, I thank David Heyman for finding them initially. They are remarkable young people actually, they’re quite level-headed, they’ve got great senses of humor, they’re very modest, they’re very ambitious, all things that you could possibly (want in a person).

There was a point when I was making Half-Blood Prince where I was asked to do Deathly Hallows, and I thought, ‘I wonder if one of them is going to rebel,’ because you would think under all that pressure that would be a perfectly normal response. And quite the opposite, they’ve remained really grounded, they’ve always had a terrifically professional attitude.

Why do you think that is, because I don’t think a Hollywoodkid would have been able to do this?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 - Director David Yates
Director David Yates on the set © 2010 Warner Bros

I think it’s a combination of things. I think there is a very down-to-earth ethic, at least in studios where we work, they’re surrounded by people they’ve grown up with, all of them are very normal, decent people. They’ve got great, supportive families.

David Heyman, who started this series, is very level-headed, and each of the directors, including me, has treated everyone with a great deal of respect.

Dan is remarkable when people come and visit the set, he’s a real ambassador and diplomat. He’s hugely generous, as are Rupert and Emma and all the young actors we work with. It’s a combination of all those factors I think that have kept their feet on the ground.

One of my favorite scenes in the film is the dance scene between Daniel and Emma. It was more like watching two friends who have grown up together. How much of their real life spills into their reel life?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 - Director David Yates
Director David Yates © 2010 Warner Bros

I’m always encouraging them to try to think about their wider experiences, because you can only get an authentic performance if you draw on things that are happening away from the film set.

Ultimately we are all storytellers, and you can only be an interesting storyteller if you experience life and they’re getting better and better at doing that and bringing things in from the outside.

How challenging was it for you shooting two films simultaneously?

Wow, it was like running two marathons back-to-back. It was tough on me, but it was tougher on my crew, but I had some great people working with me who drove it through from the production point-of-view, and a scheduling point-of-view.

I found it challenging just to get to the end standing up. But I had a huge army of people with me who put in so many hours.

The hardest thing actually was we filmed both parts (together), part one a few days, and we’d go to part two for a day and then back to part one. And I wanted to make both films slightly different, so that was a challenge for me. I was going, ‘Oh my god, it’s Tuesday, that’s part two, right?

That means every shot will be slightly wider,’ or, ‘Oh, it’s part one, that’s hand-held, let’s keep that look.’ So that was slightly tricky. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

You’re asking a lot of these actors, because as they get older it gets darker and darker and very emotional. The torture scene with Hermione and Bellatrix is heavy stuff. How did the two of them handle that?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 - Director David Yates
Director David Yates on the set © 2010 Warner Bros

I shot that scene in two takes and the actual takes run for about four minutes.

One thing I encouraged the actors to do is to try to find the freedom within the frame sometimes. The problem when you go, ‘Action,’ ‘Cut,’ is there’s a bookend there which doesn’t allow them a freedom to be, and so with that scene I wanted Helena (Bonham Carter) and Emma to have a freedom to explore that moment together.

Emma was really ambitious, she wanted it be right. And Helena was great, and I just rolled the camera for four minutes on each of the takes.

My crew were around me, and Emma was screaming and screaming, and it was actually very distressing to watch, and out of the corner of my eye I could see my crew looking at me and I could see they were going, ‘When’s he going to stop? When’s he going to shout cut?’ But I needed to let them find a place that was intense, and they did. And I only put 20 seconds of it in the movie.

Was the last day of shooting very emotional?

It was. It was really tricky. I did this final shot with each of them running in slow motion, where they just jump onto these mats, because they end up jumping into this fireplace and whizzing up into the air,  and that was it. They said, ‘This is the last shot?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ And that was the last thing they did. And it was really moving.

There were some tears and lots of hugs. It was very sad.