Interview : David Thewlis

Whenever any older – not as in Richard Harris or Michael Gambon, but merely anyone who’s not playing one of the three central kids – actor is interviewed and asked about what appealed to them about appearing in a "Harry Potter" film, most of the time they’ll say it’s for their kids. Something their kids little ones can watch, even their grandkids in time to come. But as British actor David Thewlis explains, he didn’t do the film for anyone but himself.

“I didn’t do it for anyone else, cos I haven’t got any kids”, says the overtly-polite actor in a Melbourne hotel suite. “It just came to me, it was offered, so there was no fight for it. It was the easiest job I’d ever got. They said Alfonso (Cauron, the director) wants you to do it. I was a bit strapped because I was directing my own film at the time so I didn’t give it much thought”.

Thewlis, who plays the mysterious but altruistic Professor Lupin in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, says it’s not the first time he’s been up for a role in one of the film adaptations of J.K Rowling’s beloved books. “I was up for the role of Quirrell in the first film, but Ian Hart got it”, he explains. “I was directing my own movie when this offer came through, and I’d actually cast Ian Hart in my movie so obviously I wasn’t bitter. He said ‘Who’re you playing’? And I said ‘Lupin’ and he said ‘we’ll you gotta do it, that’s the best part in the book’. Then I found out Alfonso Cauron was directing it and agreed to a meeting”.

Thewlis said he wasn’t the only one who didn’t know much about Harry Potter before he signed on. “I don’t think Alfonso was a big expert on Potter either. He was feeling his way through it more than I was. Which I think is why the new film feels quite fresh. He hadn’t seen the previous two films; he hadn’t read the books, so he came onto it with a totally original objective slant. He had some interesting ways of looking at it too. He had some metaphors. But I think that goes for J.K Rowling’s writing too. I’m just reading the fifth book now and there’s a moment where the twins are sharing this substance, which is actually referred to as Class C”.

Whatever the kids have to play, says Thewlis, he’s certain they can handle it, especially Daniel Radcliffe, as Harry Potter, who has grown up considerably over the last couple of years. “His confidence has really grown. He’s great company. And he’s quite eccentric for his age, really batty. Great taste in music, he got me into some great bands I’ve never listened too before.”

Thewlis has similar praise for Azkaban co-stars Gary Oldman and Timothy Spall. Did they all have to resist playing it hammy? “Gary had to worry about that, and Tim Spall – who was dressed as a Rat. He turns to us and says ‘I’ve always wanted to work with you three but I thought it would be for a Scorsese film or for David Mamet, not for Harry Potter’. But there is a scene, not unlike Reservoir Dogs where we have to stand there with this wand in kind of a stand-off, pretending this stick’s like a magnum. That was hard [Laughs]. I basically wanted to play my character realistic anyway, I don’t really know how to play it big – I don’t really like doing caricature. But poor old Tim, what could he do, he was a bloody ol’ Rat?”

Regardless of how droll it was that an ensemble of veteran English actors were sharing the screen for a children’s film, Thewlis said doing Harry Potter ranks up top with his best ever film experiences. “I had such a nice time making it, and I can’t wait to make the fifth one. The whole crew were just really, really lovely. All the costume people, the make-up girls, the kids…even my driver.”

And yes, he has experienced the polar opposite, Richard Donner’s Timeline and John Frankenheimer’s blunderous Island of Dr Moreau being snug examples. “Timelime was awful. That’s proof that something can get so bastardized along the way that at the end it doesn’t even resemble the original project. Michael Crichton’s book is actually quite intelligent, a compelling look at time-travel, and you end up with a film where everyone’s just running around going ‘this way, this way, down there’ – a chase movie. The element of time-travel is handled far more intelligent in Harry Potter. Actually the only reason I did it was because my girlfriend was working on it so it was just one of those kinds of jobs that was there. It wasn’t ideal casting or that sort of thing. I don’t realty see myself as an American scientist.

“Island of Dr Moreau was the worst. That was a pain in the arse, to say the least. Richard (Stanley, the Director) left, and Rob Morrow, who would’ve played the part that Val now plays in the film, left, and Val was going through some personal problems at the time, so he wanted to take a smaller part and so they rang me with eight hours notice and told me that I’d been offered this film with Marlon Brando and that was the key to me doing it. The original script was actually very intelligent and a plausible look at such a lavish theory. Frankenheimer came in with not much love for the project and despite the fact that Richard had planned the movie to do a spoof and therefore had Stan Winston create creatures for a spoof, tried to make it into a serious thriller. And Brando didn’t want to make Moreau the villain, which kind of put us up shit creek for a start and went on from there guys”.

There’s no Dr Moreau’s or Timeline’s in the near future says Thewlis, if anything, his next couple of movies should be quite grand. He appears in Ridley Scott’s new film Kingdom of Heaven, before featuring in a new film from Terence Malick called The New World and sooner rather than later will be reprising his role as Professor Lupin for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

“I’m in the fifth one, so I’m reading the book now. You know he’s not a werewolf don’t you? He’s actually a cat!” teases Thewlis. “We’ll have to do it next year otherwise the kids will be too old. I mean, they have to make one a year to be able to do all seven of them, even then that’ll be pushing it a bit because Rupert’s (Grint, who plays Ron) 15 now, so he’ll be 19 then. She’s writing it so the kids do grow up though so it’s not like its Bart Simpson stuck in time.

“Now [though] I’m going on to star in Terence Malick’s new film. It’s the story of Pocahontas, we start in July, Virginia”.

Sounds like someone walked away from Hogwarts without anyone sprinkling him with a Curse.

HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN Commences Thursday across Australia


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