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December 01, 2011

‘Harry Potter’ director David Yates looks to ‘Doctor Who’ future

Posted in: Movies

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David Yates on the set of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 1." (Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros.)

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Daniel Radcliffe and David Yates on the set of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." (Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros.)

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David Yates with crew and cast members on the set of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." (Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros.)

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David Yates, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe on the set of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 1." (Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros.)

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David Yates on the set of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 1." (Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros.)

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Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and David Yates on the set of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2." (Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros.)

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David Yates, left, and Daniel Radcliffe on the set of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2." (Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros.)

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Jim Broadbent, left, and David Yates go over a scene for "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." (Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros.)

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Director David Yates and wife Yvonne Walcott attend the premiere of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2" on July 11, 2011 in New York. (Evan Agostini/Associated Press)

What do you do after the magic is gone? That’s the career question facing David Yates, the director who this year delivered his fourth “Harry Potter” film and watched it go on to $1.3 billion in worldwide box office along with the best reviews of the entire era-defining franchise. On Tuesday, sipping tea and sitting in the sun on the patio of a Los Angeles hotel, the soft-spoken 48-year-old said he was still trying to sort out his emotions as well as his ambitions, which include a “Doctor Who” feature film.

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PHOTOS: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2"

“It’s so hard to contextualize. I’m not sure how I feel. I’ve gotten much more opportunity, I know that, but how do I feel? I feel … well, I’m still in recovery, frankly. I’m recovering from six and half years of incredibly intense schedules and expectations. I have post-Hogwarts Syndrome. We were joking last night that we were going to form HPA, Harry Potter Anonymous …. Helena Bonham Carter and [franchise producer] David Heyman, Jo Rowling, all of us will have yearly meetings and stand up. ‘Hello my name is David, I was a ‘Potter’ director ….‘ We need some sort of therapy together. How do I feel? I feel proud of the work and I feel glad that it’s behind me now, the weight of it and the responsibility of it. I’m looking forward to the next thing.”

Yates said he needed to decide very soon what that next thing would actually be. “I’m developing ‘Doctor Who,’ so that will be three years, I will be directing a couple of things [before that]. There’s a wonderful comedy I’m looking at. I really need to make a decision this week. I’ve been pushing it away and pushing it away.  The problem is I love three or four things and they’re all great and I have to really make a commitment.”

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Yates and Steve Kloves, the screenwriter who wrote seven of the eight “Potter” films,  had been poised to work together on “The Stand,” an adaptation of the Stephen King epic that would have presented the pair with — at least in tone — a very different bookshelf challenge than bringing the wizarding world of J.K. Rowling to cinematic life over the last decade. But once into the King material, Yates and Kloves found that the 1978 apocalyptic saga didn’t give them the intense action sequences and obvious set pieces that they would need to deliver the sort of blockbuster film that Warner Bros. wants from the source material. The pair withdrew from the project and Ben Affleck is now on board as director.

Yates hopes to be back on a movie set by the spring and he said it would be intriguing to make a film that wasn’t set amid the stone walls of Hogwarts. “I’m looking forward to the next thing because I think once I’m on set and I’m going, ‘Action!’ and there’s no one in a wizard’s gown in front of the camera and no one with a wand, and [the scene is set] in Los Angeles and today, then I’ll be [past ‘Potter’],” Yates said. “But I loved Jo Rowling’s world and sensibility and everything that came from visiting that world.”

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Yates was honored Wednesday night in Beverly Hills by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, which presented the filmmaker with the John Schlesinger Britannia Award for Excellence in Directing. It is a prize that Warner Bros. hopes will be a preamble to an Oscar season that will give the “Potter” finale some rare trophy love; the film series pulled in a staggering $7.7 billion at theaters but it has never cast a successful spell on academy voters. Despite nine nominations in categories such as art direction, costume design and visual effects, there has been a somewhat shocking shutout for the franchise as a whole and, more than that,  there have been zero nominations for “Potter” actors, directors or producers. Warner Bros. is spending big money right now in hopes that (like the third movie in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy) the “Potter” franchise finale and its sterling reviews might lead to a farewell Oscar acknowledgment that plays out as a nod to the entire historic run.

Regardless, Yates has minted a career with the wizard films. He stands as the highest grossing British director of all time, a dramatic statistic considering the fact that before Heyman and the “Potter” team brought him on board with 2007’s “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” Yates was known best for his work in British television with the political thriller “State of Play” and the grim “Sex Traffic,” hardly fare that would make him an obvious candidate to lead Dumbledore’s Army.

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Rowling’s Hogwarts is a sort of sacred ground to millions of “Potter” readers and the pressure of adapting the books to the screen was a good preparation for taking on “Doctor Who,” the BBC series that has a cosmic history that dates to 1963. Six years ago the show became a reenergized presence in British pop culture with a revival led by writer Russell T Davies and with David Tennant and, now, Matt Smith in the title role. The show has even managed to cross the Atlantic with a new fan following in the States jumping aboard the TARDIS to spin through time with the quirky hero.

It’s not clear who will portray The Doctor in the film, which Yates is developing with Jane Tranter, the head of BBC Worldwide, which is based in Los Angeles, but the director has said he will “start from scratch.” Right now, Yates says, the search is on for a screenwriter and a script, although he has also hinted that Kloves might be part of the mix moving forward. Considering Kloves was born in central Texas that might cause a bit of turbulence with diehard “Who” fans in Britain who consider the property to be uniquely British. On Tuesday Yates made a point to praise Steven Moffat, who in 2008 took over from Davies as the television show’s head writer and executive producer.

“Steven Moffat has done a wonderful job and Russell T Davies who kind of reinvented it the first time around,” Yates said. “They’re great. David Tennant was great. Matt Smith is brilliant, he’s marvelous, and very, very clever.”

The wry, irreverent Moffatt (who is among the writers of Steven Spielberg’s “The Adventures of Tintin“) has, through Twitter, made some cryptic comments that many observers assume refer to Yates and Tranter going in search of their new Time Lord. “Announcing my personal moonshot, starting from scratch. No money, no plan, no help from NASA. But I know where the moon is — I’ve seen it,” Moffatt wrote, leading to speculation that he was questioning the viability of the film and its outsider team — or perhaps taking a shot at securing some involvement in the project? It’s not clear and Yates, stirring his tea, was mum on his own plans or priorities as far as The Doctor’s cinematic future. The filmmaker’s expression conveyed one message that would resonate with any TARDIS owner: Time will tell.

– Geoff Boucher

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