"He reminds me of a kid, his enthusiasm, his mannerisms, his energy," says Michael Gambon, the veteran Irish stage actor who is replacing Harris as Dumbledore. "He's always laughing around the set."
Long shoot, mammoth budget
Even though he's just taken several days off for a Christmas break, fatigue creeps into Cuaron's voice on a telephone call from London.
On "Y Tu Mama," Cuaron had just a few weeks and a mere $5 million to make the movie. For "The Prisoner of Azkaban," his shooting schedule stretched over eight months and his budget swelled to $200 million.
"No matter how much money you have, you are always 20 percent short," says Cuaron, who worked without his favorite cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki ("The Prisoner of Azkaban's" director of photography is Michael Seresin, longtime collaborator of director Alan Parker). "You can be on a low-budget movie or a big-budget movie, but you always wish you had 20 percent more. There was a point where you just dream, do whatever you want to do. And working with Steve Kloves was about dreaming. And then there was the window of frustration, where you are told, 'This is the budget, and you can't do that.' But it was always about figuring out which movie we wanted to do with these resources and trying to fit everything into what I must say is a very healthy budget."
The production was without any major mishaps, if you don't count the raging Scottish brush fire sparked by a stray piece of burning coal from the Hogwarts Express train.
"It has been insane, but it has been good," Cuaron says. "These kinds of films are not so much about filmmaking. They are about endurance. They just go on forever. And you have to keep up the pace all the time. If you fall behind in editing, it affects all the other departments. It's like a marathon. Sometimes you're in a zone. But sometimes, all of your tendons ache." The next installment, "Goblet of Fire," will be directed by "Mona Lisa Smile" filmmaker Mike Newell.
"The whole goal of taking a franchise in a new direction is what keeps them alive," Cuaron says. "Jo Rowling said to me, 'Don't be literal. Just be faithful to the spirit.' You might have hits and misses. But it's always going to be fresh."