A fantasy-world-within-a-fantasy-world: that's what screenwriter Steve Kloves cooked up in his head at the start of his decade-long stint as the writer for the Harry Potter movie series. My interview with Kloves shortly before the premiere of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" turned into a spirited explanation of the art of adaptation, and the creative choices the Potter team made beginning with (or before) Day One. (I'll be posting excerpts all week.) When I asked Kloves how he came up with Harry's first scene in the new movie -- the boy wizard, now almost manly, looking back with ambivalence at the cupboard beneath the stairs that was his early-childhood home -- Kloves went back to his initial thoughts about the series.
Kloves on Harry and the cupboard beneath the stairs:
"I always felt we never [really] did it. There was a different version of what's in the new movie in my notes for the first movie. I mean, I wrote something very involved. I had him create a fantasy world in there with broken toy soldiers and a spider that he named. And all that went away when we made the first movie. There were reasons for that and I understood them. But now I felt we needed to evoke a moment when he looks in the cupboard and we see from his face that it's complicated. It's not all 'good riddance' to this place. (In fact, I may even have said that in the script!) When he looks in there, he just doesn't know how to deal with that place emotionally. And he knows he's never coming back. So that was important: these moments to me were crucial for a kind of summing up.
"When I first agreed to do the first Harry Potter script, the book was not what it became. (Of course, it became what it is very quickly, with the cover of Time magazine and all that.) When I read the book and started making notes, all I was told was that it was very big in the U.K. So i started to make notes -- some very original notes, and extensive ones about him in that cupboard. And I had Harry secretly retrieve any toy that Dudley had broken or discarded and bring it underneath the stairs into the cupboard. So he had this little army of broken men. And there was this spider in the corner that he had named Alastair -- and Harry had conversations with Alastair.
"What I was trying to convey was that Harry was an almost slightly mad 10-year-old who was surviving purely on his own fantasy. So what happens is, when Hagrid arrives, it's almost as if Harry has wished it, because he already had this rich fantasy life.
"Now all that went away because it wasn't embraced by everybody, and because the books had become a kind of bible by the time we actually started making them. I don't have any hard feelings about it. The intent of the notes that I wrote ten or eleven years ago, I felt, was still true to what happened in that cupboard. And so in a sense I tried to evoke that intent for Dan [Daniel Radcliffe] when he was going to have to act that moment in 'Hallows,' when he was looking and remembering how he survived without going insane. And it's complicated. Because, after all, it was horrible. He lived in darkness, with these broken soldiers."
Tomorrow: Kloves on the open secret of the series' appeal, and the supporting character who does the most to embody it.