RT Interview: David Yates on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

The director on Harry's sixth year.

RT Interview: David Yates on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
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Are there any characters you've particularly enjoyed developing in this film?

DY: All of them in a sense. Hermione is suddenly discovering that her feelings for Ron are developing rapidly and she can't quite express them coherently and she struggles with those feelings because Ron isn't the most ideal partner in many ways. He's not particularly bright! But she just has a real soft-spot for him. It's a wonderful place to put that character to realise that she's growing up and she's becoming much more sexually aware. Because she's so cerebral, expressing that emotional side is a real struggle. There's a real tension in that character that we're developing which I think is really tender and funny and true.

Ron as a character is really developing enormously. He becomes the Quidditch goalkeeper and he's sort-of slightly arrogant, there's a sort-of middle-aged quality that develops in the character which is incredibly frustrating and irritating but very charming at the same time. He, too, is suddenly realising that he has this deep-seated attraction to Hermione and he's a little slower at recognising it than Hermione is.

With Dan, what's interesting about his development with Harry is that you're seeing someone who's learning to play by grown-up's rules. He's learning to manipulate and manoeuvre and flatter and do things which, in a way, you could argue are quite cynical. He's been charged by Dumbledore to get information from Slughorn and he's employing all these quite interesting tactics which we've never seen him do before. In a way he's not been an innocent but he hasn't quite operated at this level before. Harry does a few things in this story, and Dan's doing a few things, which show you a very strategic side of this character that we've never seen before, which is quite interesting.

There's a good line in the book and in the film which is that, "if the monster was there it was hidden deep within," and this notion that Harry's learning these skills and developing these abilities at an interpersonal level, a human level, the way you deal with people which could be used for good or bad, it's interesting to see that in Harry who's always just been Harry.

How has your knowledge of what happens in Deathly Hallows affected or enriched your approach to Half-Blood Prince?

DY: There are a few connections that we've got. I think Deathly Hallows is such a stonking book, actually, it's incredibly great fun. The big thing is Dumbledore's wand and we've kind-of altered our story really to make sure we don't tread on the toes of what comes in Deathly Hallows. The whole Hermione and Ron relationship, we had a kiss planned for this movie which we've sort of saved because we think it's better to maintain that sexual tension. There are a lot of things we've given a nod to so we make sure we don't tread on the toes of Deathly Hallows.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
On the Great Hall set.
One of your predecessors, Alfonso Cuaron, mentioned that his period on the films was enriched by a sense that there was a beneficial energy surrounding the universe of Harry Potter - have you felt that?

DY: Very much. I think it starts with Jo Rowling on the book side because for someone who is so successful and so famous she's actually incredibly down to earth and self-effacing. She's just a normal human being. And David Heyman who started this whole thing by optioning the books, he's got a great spirit and he's just a lovely man with very positive values. For a Hollywood picture you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone here at the studio at the upper levels who doesn't want to bring anything but a good vibe to work. There is a very positive atmosphere around which I've encouraged since I started because it's always been my experience making any film that you get so much more out of people by empowering and inspiring rather than shouting or cajoling so I encourage all of that and I think it's a wonderful thing.

I like happy sets. Happy sets are good, and I think people feel comfortable on them. When fear arrives in any context it's just boring and it closes people down. If people feel inadequate or if they feel bullied... It might work for some people but I think, as a rule, it just takes any joy out of the creative process. We have a very happy, positive set and people feel they can take risks and try things. It's a much nicer place to come to work as a result.

And it seems to show in the films. The general rule from Hollywood has been that big-budget blockbusters are cold, unfeeling, impersonal things, but there's a lot of heart and personality to the Potter films.

DY: I hope so. Even though we've got this big machine I think that ultimately what I'm interested in, and I think what the audience are interested in, is the delicacy. You get all the bells and whistles, that's a given, but it's the little, nuanced character moments. I love these characters. We're filming a scene today with Emma and Rupert and the nuance of that relationship is this kind-of stopping and starting, stopping and starting thing. It's the delicacy of that relationship that you're interested in and you want the personal stuff. I think it's more valuable than the biggest CGI set piece ever.

J.K. Rowling has been quoted as saying that she felt this was the first half of a two-part ending, six and seven. How do you make sure it's its own project and film even though it has this big cliff-hanger ending?

DY: It's really tricky and we've struggled with it a lot. I think ultimately it will feel like part of a bigger journey. I think that's inevitable. I think audiences are invested in the series now, so rather than fight it I think my job is to make sure that it's as tremendous a ride as possible but that the audience's commitment to this journey will continue beyond this and that you feel that there are things that aren't quite resolved. That's an acceptable experience for the audience now, they can acknowledge and accept and embrace that notion that we're part way through. We're still trying to make the journey as complete as possible in many ways but I like the idea that this is an involving story and I like the idea that you can sit in a movie theatre for two and a half hours and still come out and go, "Wow, I want to go back and see what comes next."

I think it will be satisfying and fulfilling. I feel confident that it will be an enjoyable two-and-a-half hours. But I think there's more to come and I think rather than fight that it's better to embrace it and I think audiences have done over the course of the movies to date.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is out now.

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