An Extra Life On… Harry Potter 7 Part 2 (pt2)

My camera phone is crap.

It’s entirely appropriate that I should cover this film in two parts since it was made, as you’re no doubt aware, in two parts. This, apparently, wasn’t a ploy by Warner Bros to make even more money (because, y’know, 7 massively-grossing films wasn’t lucrative enough) but because – I’m told by a geezer as he ferries us to the set – many hardcore fans had complained that the makers were cutting too much of the books out of the movies, so the studio eventually bowed to their requests.

(Hmm, maybe if I pester Disney enough they’ll make future Pirates of the Caribbean films in zero parts…)

In fact, I’m informed that they were considering halving them from book 5 onwards, but Warner decided that by the time the finales hit cinemas, the fans would’ve hit puberty and grown out of it.

After the relative tedium of the first week, during which I spent much time deliberating whether I’d rather give it to Draco’s Mum or Miss Bonham-Carter (Draco’s Mum), us not-co-carefully selected supporting artistes switched locations to Leavesden Studios. That’s right, the only thing that gives the Watford area any credibility, and you’ve never heard of it. A former airfield that for the past near-decade has been the main base of the Potter films (everything gets abbreviated in Extras world, not just our lunch breaks), which – amongst sparse buildings – bears heap after tarpaulin-wrapped heap of wizarding memorabilia, like a huge al fresco attic. Bits of houses here, a purple triple-decker there…

At the far end of the runway-cum-carpark sat our ‘trailer’ for the next few months, a double marquee housing eatery, costumes and make-up. With most of the scenes outdoors, and winter closing in, we were regularly in at 06:00 to make the most of daylight hours. Once we’d suited up and swapped our payslips for disappointingly synthetic wands, we were shipped back down the tarmac, past Privet Drive with its backless, unfinished houses, and to the scene of battle: Hogwarts courtyard.

You have to hand it to set-builders, they can make a pile of polystyrene look surprisingly realistic, even from a few feet away. What seemed like a genuine stone quad with the odd section reduced to rubble was in fact from the same Blue Peter school of cardboard construction as the Robin Hood castle. The scene is completed by accessorising with some squashed giant spiders, a few toppled statues, the odd puff of smoke, and of course some world-class actors.

And they were all in this scene. (All except Alan Rickman, who was busy crying in a boat shed, I believe.) Which is the main reason we shot the initial scene, the prelude to the final battle, in about 3 million takes. Because everybody had to be snapped from a multitude of angles, good guys and bad guys, until the director had every possible permutation covered. This might sound inordinately dull, considering us Deatheaters – special or otherwise – were just standing around waiting for the signal. And yes, it would’ve been, had it not been for perpetuating fits of the giggles fed by lines from Voldemort, Malfoy and co. Apart from Mr Fiennes repeating “Neville Longbottom” in snigger-inducing fashion (which ultimately got cut), our funny bones were tickled by Draco’s Dad trying in vain to persuade him to cross over to the dark side, with the immortal line “Don’t…. be…. stupid!”, so painfully drawn out that we incurred pains in our sides attempting to stop laughing. In fact so immortal was the line that… it too was chopped from the final edit. (Yet even in the cinema, knowing it’d been cut, we still couldn’t stop ourselves from chuckling.)

Anyway, about three weeks after we started shooting, we concluded that primary scene (yes, three weeks! God knows how many random women Ralph had entertained in his trailer in that time,) during which basically Voldy says “Potter’s dead, come be baddies with me” and Neville says “Let’s fookin’ av it!”.

And then it all kicks off.

That’s when we got to charge at children, wands out, and the fun started in earnest. Some of us were required to ‘apparate’ (disappear) while other braver souls joined battle. The A.D. asked us who was born on an odd day, and those people were told to vanish. Thereby losing a few days’ work. Harsh, but that’s the way it goes. Lucky me, I got to stay, and laid assault to those pesky schoolkids with as much passion as one can with a plastic wand in hand, leaping over fallen bodies and surging forward, like Aragorn through a throng of Orcs.

Well, that’s how it played in my head. I’ll never know, because that was cut too. In fact, the entire clash was disappointingly less colossal than I’d expected, and what we’d spent weeks (not to mention millions of pounds) creating was cut hugely. Perhaps they’d learnt a lesson from Attack of the Clones and gone easy on the full-on, brain-overload death-fest. It is somewhat disheartening, though, when you’re told you’re going to be a ‘special’ Deatheater and don’t even get picked out for your fighting skills; when you’re putting everything into your spellcasting, proper angry like Skywalker at the end of Jedi, and you notice the lame-o next to you is prodding at the air with their wand as if picking shoes out in a shop; when you work all hours of the day and night in cold and wet conditions, splashing in puddles and tripping over rocks, and about 75% of what’s filmed – Expelliamus! – ends up in the bin.

However, there were many good points about working on Potter, and I have many fond memories of it – the laughter (or stifling thereof); the excellent food; sitting in the marquee playing Trivial Pursuit (mainly because I won); dropping stones into the depths of people’s hoods then watching the subsequent attempt at retrieval; trying to concentrate on my moves while a stuntman ran past on fire; watching real-world females (especially hairdressers) go all gooey when you tell them you’re a Deatheater; and Daniel Radcliffe’s ever-present look of bewilderment, like he’s never been on a film set before, wide-eyed and gnashing his teeth like an amphetamine addict.

No, not part of the costume...

But the highlight of the lot for me was the night I got to play dead. An on-set decision which meant I wasn’t given thermals beforehand, and as I lay there, with combatants leaping around me (and occasionally on me), the temperature noticeably dropping by the hour, the damp seeping through my cape, I began to wonder what my life had come to. But then, at about 04:00, we finished for the night, and as the main actors left set, Miss Emma Watson walked past me and called ‘Good night’ to those around.

She may have said it to everyone, but I was nearest. So she said good night to me. Which is half a dream come true. The other half being I wake up next to her in the morning and she begs me to… [This has been cut – Ed.]

Next time: Ridiculous hair-pieces and fainting on John Carter of Mars

An Extra Life On… Harry Potter 7 Part 2 (pt1)

 

I know it makes me sound like a bit of a cock, but it’s always rather fun to get a phonecall from one of your casting agencies and to say to any accompanying friends (and frankly whoever else is within earshot): ‘Just a sec, it’s my agent’.

Even more so if you then turn to those around you and announce that you’re going to be in the finale of Harry Potter.

A month or so after Gulliver’s ended, having paid my board and lodging meantime with the odd gig on Holby City or some other BBC drama trying desperately hard to be decent, I got the call I’d been eagerly awaiting. In fact, it wasn’t just the opportunity to be a ‘Deatheater’ in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part II, but a ‘Special Deatheater’. If you’re imagining a black-clad guy in a wheelchair, tongue lolling out the side of his mouth, waving a wand with all the conviction of a female second-violinist and shouting ‘TIMMYYYY!’ then you’d be mistaken (although frankly I’d pay to see that film). The makers were auditioning not just for ordinary bad guys for the final sequences of the film, but co-ordinated, convincing wand-wavers who looked like they were genuine harbingers of doom, rather than baddies who were the other kind of ‘special’.

Yes, auditioning.

Not something you often get in the sub-human world of Extras. Something more familiar to proper actors, genuine thespians. Okay there were no words to be learnt, no emotive soliloquies to be rehearsed in front of the mirror, but still, it was quite a big deal. And I was nervous.

The agent had put forward a bunch of ‘suitable’ representatives to apply for the available roles, and I imagined these to be fit, agile, martial-arts-trained candidates who’d be practising backflips beforehand. Turns out they’d just chosen any old random people. Probably just those with a ‘W’ in their name. For example, my friend who’s a trainee stuntman and a Commonwealth gold-medal trampolinist (and not as much of a nonce as he sounds) didn’t get put forward, yet several non-gold-medal-winning citizens did.

That’s like if your company was hired to send a contract team to work on an I.T. project, and rather than deliver your best computer-loving nerds the company sent a random collective – a handful of tech geeks mixed with some guys from finance, a couple of admins, a receptionist or two, a cleaner, and the fire safety officer. That’s basically what they did.

And one of those guys was Steven Seagal’s brother.

Not literally. But if you saw this man, you’d be like ‘Is that Steven Seagal’s lesser-known, out of shape, less-coordinated older brother?!’ Cos he bloody was. Ponytail and all. And when I saw that guy, and a bunch of other out-of-shape folks looking just as anxious as me, I relaxed. This’d be a doddle, I thought. This is what that single Ju Jitsu belt, achieved at Uni between periods of extreme wastedness, was all for.

They dished out sticks of wood (wands), taught us a few basic attacks and defences, and then paired us up for ‘combat’. Imagine fencing, but done 20ft apart, with no contact. Which means you have to make your actions look all the more convincing. And so, two hours later, after much lunging, stick-waving, sweating, thrusting (calm down, ladies), leaping, tumbling, somersaulting, pretending-to-die-on-crashmats and the hilarious sight of Steven Seagal’s brother turning beetroot as he attempted his 4th press-up, we went home.

The next day, I got the part.

Fast-forward a few weeks, Autumn 2009, and I found myself at the world-famous Pinewood Studios dressed in by far the coolest costume I’d worn so far, in fact the coolest I’ve ever worn. Imagine Darth Vadar’s fencing outfit: black top that zips up at the back, embossed with some kind of other-worldly pattern, butt-hugging trousers that tuck into leather gaiters, over pointy boots, leather cuffs from wrist to elbow, a cape with an unnecessarily deep hood, and a scabbard. I felt like I should’ve had a Squire to help me put it on, and when I walked out the dressing room everything went slo-mo.

The anti-climax was that the wand itself was a lot like a seven-year-old whipping out his willy at a porno shoot.

Other than that, I haven’t walked with as much swagger since I was the first guy in my year at school to get a hand-job. Yes, I loved that costume.

After breakfast, a lot of us started practising our moves, going through the actions we’d been taught (The Matador, The Tommy Cooper… you can probably envisage the accompanying hand gestures) and generally readying for battle. The battle – the one many of us had been excitedly preparing ourselves for for weeks – was not in fact one of good versus evil, of wand versus skilled wand, but more a battle of keeping a straight face while the Big Names around us over-acted for their lives. Or it was for the next few weeks anyway. The first few days were spent inside the 007 Stage in an impressively-realistic-looking wood, with roots so convincing that if you tried hard enough you could actually trip over them (I never did that, no, not in my cool costume, no…). This is the scene where Voldemort and his posse are waiting – like weasels in The Wild Wood – for Harry to turn up. And when he does, we did our best ‘Oh my God it’s Harry Potter, I’m going to tiptoe warily towards him’ actions, wands en garde, until Big V zapped him with some laughably-pronounced spell that sounded like he was struggling with a particularly stubborn bowel movement.

And that was that. Not a massively thrilling start to filming of the most anticipated film of all time (Part 2), the highlight of the week being Helena Bonham-Carter’s burping (strangely sexy it was too), but it got better. The next week, I’d get to wave my wand at schoolchildren. Without the resulting knock on the door from the Authorities.

Yep, only in the film world…

Next time: The battle for Hogwarts, and Hermione’s pillow talk.