After giving the world Gremlins, Goonies, Mrs. Doubtfire and Macaulay Culkin, writer/director Chris Columbus has already made some significant contribution to pop culture. But a decade after launching the Harry Potter films, he looks back fondly at what will surely be his most enduring cinematic legacy.
Not only did Columbus direct the kick-off installments "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" and "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," he produced part 3 ("Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban") and, perhaps most significantly, was the man who put Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint in the robes that would grant them cinematic immortality.
“Over the past years it's been kind of surreal when I go to the theater,” Columbus tells PopcornBiz, as the final Potter film "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2" preps for release. “I haven't really been involved, and yet I'm still seeing all the sets that we built, all the cast that I cast – basically all the jobs that you're expected to do as a director are still there. So it's very surreal to go into a theater and see everything you've done still sort of working, only with a different story and different camera angles, but at the same time it's everything that you set up. And I never really thought about it.”
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“Last week I was reading the Entertainment Weekly article and I had an out-of-body experience,” he explains. “I'm reading about myself and I thought, 'Wow. I really did that.' It didn't occur to me at the time. It did not occur to me that I was casting this movie, that I was designing these sets, creating all this stuff that was going to last for ten years and I felt this incredible sense of satisfaction. I really felt great, like, 'Wow. I never really thought about it that much, but it feels pretty good.' So I'm going to see the [new] movie and I think the most rewarding experience of all of that is to see that these kids have really become terrific actors over the course of doing eight films. I'm going to see the movie at the premiere in New York and I assume that it's going to be a very emotional experience for me, but it's going to be a very happy experience as well.”
Perhaps the most rewarding result of his efforts, he suggests, is the fact that these previously unknown child actors have matured into fine performers in their own rights.
“I do know one thing: they became better actors over the course of the films,” says Columbus. “I tend to think of the first two films as sort of running an acting school, of sorts. In the first film their concentration levels were not really there, and so they were doing one or two lines at a time, and then by the time we got to the second film they were able to get to a couple of more lines. By the time that we got to 'Azkaban' they could do an entire scene together. I felt good about that. Yeah, it doesn't usually happen and I can't think of another time in sort of the history of film where a cast, even the 'James Bond' series or even 'Star Wars', the cast on this film has really stayed together over the course of ten years. That's incredibly unique.”
Columbus began his career as a screenwriter, largely working in the stable of Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment crafting huge hits like “Gremlins,” “The Goonies,” “Young Sherlock Holmes” and “Adventures In Babysitting” before stepping behind the camera himself as the director of pop touchstones like “Home Alone,” “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Stepmom.” And now, as a producer, he’s trying to pay forward the big breaks he received by nurturing emerging talent like writer-director Tate Taylor, director of the Columbus-produced “The Help.” Think of him as the Dumbledore to a new generation of filmmakers.
“For me it's like a juxtaposition of two things in my life: I continue life as a filmmaker who wants to grow,” he says. “For me it's all about maintaining a sense of hunger in terms of climbing this sort of cinematic, artistic mountain and the only way to do that is to constantly keep an eye out for young, fresh talent and keep one foot there, and then the other foot steeped heavily into the past and keep a definitive, almost obsessive sense of film history.”