No other scene in the eight “Harry Potter” films created more angst for filmmakers than the epilogue of the final movie, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2,” a movie that last week crossed the $1 billion mark in worldwide box office.
There were no chained dragons, hairy hippogriffs or crackling magic energies in the sequence — it’s a few minutes of quiet dialogue between parents and their children in a train station — but the anxiety of it all was so smothering that the franchise’s star, Daniel Radcliffe, at one point wanted to sit out the scene.
“I think they should do it with older actors and just leave us out of the scene,” Radcliffe said two years ago during a quiet moment on the stone-floor movie set where he has spent half of his working life and half of his life working. “If that’s what’s going to look best that’s what we should so. It’s too important that the ending is done right.”
(Needless to say, this is an article you shouldn’t read if you haven’t seen the film and want to remain in the dark as you walk into theaters.)
The sticky issue for Radcliffe, director David Yates and the rest of the “Potter” team was the fact that the epilogue takes place 19 years after the story’s climax at the smoldering Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In it, Harry and his now-adult friends, Hermione and Ron, are sending off their own children to study at Hogwarts. The plan was to “age up” Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and other young stars of the Warner Bros. franchise so they could convincingly play their elder selves.
On the set in 2009, Radcliffe, still shy of 20, was leery of the plan to wear rubber fixtures on his jaw and a false hairline to age to 37. “I worry it will be a distraction,” Radcliffe said. “I don’t want people staring at our faces and getting distracted from that moment.
“If they giggle,” he added, “we’re dead.” For Radcliffe, the answer was to find adult actors to play the older roles.
It would be difficult for any moment in any popcorn film to bear all the weight coming down on the “Deathly Hallows” epilogue.
For all the billions of dollars the movies and books have piled up, the filmmakers also had to account for the emotional connection of, say, a 20-year-old moviegoer who has literally grown up with this vivid tale of loyalty, courage and loss.
“Potter” producer David Heyman was thinking of that when he told Radcliffe that there was no way that three “strangers” could deliver the final lines of the three main characters right before the final fade to black.
“After all we have been through with these characters, the way that a generation has grown up with them, they need to be the ones on screen when it’s time to bring it to a close,” said Heyman, who was a key decision-maker back when Radcliffe and his costars were first cast in their roles back in 2000. “There’s an expectation — even if it is not articulated — that they need to be on the screen when it’s coming to an end.”
The scene was finally filmed last May at King’s Cross Station in London. A few weeks later, Radcliffe was happy to say that he believed the challenge had truly been met. The relief in his voice was clear even in the trans-Atlantic phone call from London.
“The thing we didn’t want was for it to be distracting and I think we figured it out,” Radcliffe said. “We did it with prosthetics, in the end, and I’m sure there will be little bits of visual effects for retouching on those moments when we do a close-up… when you have the prosthetic on for a long time, it’s hard to maintain it, that illusion, and with close-ups you need to fix it up. It’s also a challenge to make someone who is 19 or 20 — an age where their face is still changing — and make them a fully grown adult. I think they looked fantastic though and, if I do say so, particularly mine. Mine looked pretty dead on. That’s me in the future I think.”
Not everyone agreed.
Some images of the made-up trio leaked to the Web and some fans thought Radcliffe’s visage had gone too far into Old Man Potter territory and he looked more like a 48-year-old Harry S Truman than a wizard still shy of middle age. Many thought that Watson didn’t look especially different as Hermione of the future, others couldn’t stop staring at Grint’s aged-up Ron and his considerable expanse of forehead.
“The images of me still haunt me,” Grint told MTV later. “It was like this monster Donald Trump kind of mixture. It was scary.”
This week, reached in Italy on vacation, Heyman moaned when asked about that day at King’s Cross.
“Rupert looked like he was about 75 years old with the triple chin and the belly, he looked like he had really lived as a lush,” Heyman said. “We knew we needed to rework the makeup. There was another problem, too, shooting at the train station proved quite challenging for some of the younger kids who played the children of Harry, Ron and Hermione. It was really noisy every few minutes a train from Liverpool would pull in on one of the other tracks. We only had our one track closed.”
Yates went back to footage afterward but no clever edit or CG tune-up was going to elevate it enough. So, in December, long after the movie had wrapped, Yates and the producers summoned their young stars back to Leavesden Studios for a second, salvaging effort.
With New Year’s Eve approaching, time was running out. If the “Potter” team needed an ominous reminder of what could go wrong all they had to do was look at Disney’s big holiday-season release, “Tron: Legacy,” with its dead-faced, digital “de-aging” of Jeff Bridges. The “Potter” team decided to go with less tech and more of a classic makeup approach, but Rick Baker, the seven-time Oscar winner in the field, says that approach is hardly perfect.
“There’s nothing harder than the human face because we all spend so much time looking at them,” said Baker, who has admired the “Potter” franchise from a distance. “You can create creatures and aliens and all of those things but people judge human faces in a different way. Especially if it’s a human face they recognize because it’s already famous.”
“Post-graduate work,” was the director’s playful reference to bringing the Hogwarts alumni back to the soundstages. The epilogue was re-shot and director Yates, reflecting on it during a Los Angeles visit last month, said it was “the right thing to do at that point” despite the expense, inconvenience and murmurs of negativity in the press.
The makeup team for “Deathly Hallows” was led by Nick Dudman and, to Heyman, the second shot on the “age-up” work was a home run.
“It made all the difference in the world,” Heyman said. “We got what we were looking for. There was a challenge in the performance for the young actors. I know Emma talked about her approach was to think of her young siblings — her father has remarried and she has a new family — and how being with them was her way to get into the head of a parent going off to school. It wasn’t easy for them.”
Heyman has said the hushed control of the Leavesden soundstages provided “the place to get the needed intimacy” but the timing also created the unexpected benefit of making the epilogue the “true” last scene made by the young stars. Film scenes are rarely shot in the same order they are shown on-screen but in this instance the farewell feeling brought an evocative gravity to the day.
“We should have thought to film it last in the first place,” Heyman said Wednesday. “It created a reality of sorts to the feelings in the scene and in the air. And I think now we’ve heard from the rest of the world that it worked. In the end, we used some shots from King’s Cross, too, to make a hybrid. There was a little bit of CG as well. The combination is subtle, which it needed to be.”
So just as the saga ends not with a bang but with a steam train’s whisper, the epilogue isn’t the most visually dynamic achievement in “Potter” history but it was one of the most hard-won. And for Heyman, looking on the faces of his young stars and seeing so much artificial age added, it was a surreal send-off to a decade of wonder.
“It was something very strange and affecting,” the producer said. “I was really pleased because I thought there was a real tenderness about the last scene, a feeling of closure and the cycles of life. There’s a new beginning and there’s an ending. There are different sorts of adventures for these actors and for all of us. But we made it to the train station together.”
– Geoff Boucher
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