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Casting a Spell--and a Film

Can Chris Columbus make it magic? 'Harry Potter' fans aren't so sure, but they have their own ideas to offer.

April 03, 2000|VALERIE J. NELSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With the news that Chris Columbus has been selected to direct the first "Harry Potter" film, many of the books' countless fans made a collective grimace. Children may have loved "Home Alone" or "Mrs. Doubtfire" but they can't see the connection between the boy wizard who springs from pages laced with subtle humor and the "silly, slapstick" movies the director is known for.

Ouch.

Adult fans--and there are many--also tend to greet the choice of Columbus with a raised eyebrow.

"He's certainly experienced at portraying mischievous tykes, isn't he?" asks Ashley Milne-Tyte, 29. "But a glance at his credits convinces me he has a predilection for the schmaltzy, the all-tied-up-with-blue-ribbon ending. And the thing about the Harry Potter books is that there's a darkness running through them that shouldn't be eradicated on film by cuteness."

While Columbus has had a few days to officially ponder the casting of the movie, it seems an entire community of book lovers has been casting the movie for months--and they have definite ideas about the creation of "Harry Potter: The Movie Franchise."

"I am passionate about the roles going to British actors," says Milne-Tyte, who grew up in England but lives in New York. "It will be anathema to the books' British fans--not to mention the author--to hear Harry or one of his companions come out with an American accent."

Score one for Columbus, who plans to cast a Brit as Harry.

Equally apprehensive are librarians and booksellers, who have witnessed a renaissance in reading they credit Harry with bringing about.

The children's staff at the downtown Central Library "feels very strongly that the children should be played by unknown English actors," says Anne Connor, the library's children's service's coordinator.

Ditto at Children's Book World, one of the Los Angeles stops on author J.K. Rowling's book tour last fall.

"They shouldn't even be people who could duplicate British accents," says Linda Dimitroff, co-manager of the bookstore.

So how British will the film be? Warner Bros. is "sensitive" to the wishes of the books' huge fan base and hopes to shoot the movie in London, says Nancy Kirkpatrick, a studio spokeswoman.

"We are working very closely with the author," Kirkpatrick says. (Score two for Columbus, who met with Rowling last week in Scotland.)

But Kirkpatrick stopped short of saying the movie would have an all-British cast. "Obviously, a lot is up to the director and what actors he chooses to work with," she says. "But we have every intention of pursuing a British Harry and British kids."

Before Columbus was given the magic wand, one Potter devotee theorized that Harry's story is so magnificent, it might require two directors.

"Spielberg for the parts that kids would really enjoy. ['Sleepy Hollow' director Tim] Burton for any part that would involve Snape, or a part that has excessive weirdness to it," read one posting on the Harry Potter Movie Board, found at http://www.InsideTheWeb.com, and considered one of the better unauthorized Harry Potter Internet sites.

Professor Snape, the mean, crooked-nosed teacher of potions, should be played by Alan Rickman, proffered this same posting by TheHumanBludger (bludgers are balls used in a wizard's sport in the books.) "He's the perfect bad guy, ever see 'Die Hard'?"

Plus, he already has the requisite accent, several other enthusiasts point out. For plain old creepiness, Johnny Depp and Christopher Walken could be seen donning the dark wizard's cloak.

School Just Wild About Harry

At Edith Bowen, a grade school on the Utah State University campus, an informal poll of the kids revealed a "lack of excitement" over Columbus and concern over his perceived lack of subtlety. The school takes all things Harry seriously; on Halloween, it virtually turned into the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, with every staff member becoming a character in the books, says Lynnette Harris, mother of two devoted Potter fans at the school.

"Many have said they hope things move along quickly so Hatty Jones, who played the title character in the film 'Madeline' a couple of years ago, won't be too old to play Hermione. She was charming in that film, and seems perfectly able to play tough, brainy Hermione," she says. That would be one of Harry's best friends, a know-it-all whose name is pronounced "Her-my-uh-nee," the subject of its own ferocious debate.

"Maybe, just maybe, the girl who played the twins in the movie 'The Parent Trap' would be a good Hermione,' " read a Movie Board posting that referred to Lindsay Lohan. (She's not British, but she effectively flung about California and British accents in the 1998 remake.)

Harry's other loyal best friend, Ron Weasley, a fellow first-year student at Hogwarts, fell into the cast-an-unknown-Brit category, but suggestions abound for who should play the members of his family with seven children, many of whom have red hair.

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