'Harry Potter' Producer David Heyman Talks the Big 'Paddington' Cast Change, Rowling's 'Fantastic Beasts' Script and More

'Harry Potter' Producer David Heyman Talks the Big 'Paddington' Cast Change, Rowling's 'Fantastic Beasts' Script and More

Jan 15, 2015

It’s pretty impossible for producer David Heyman to top the global success of the Harry Potter franchise, but it sure looks like he’s having fun trying. He’s since produced Alfonso Cuarón’s visually stunning Gravity and now it looks like he’s gearing up for another profitable franchise with Paddington-- and let’s not forget the upcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

The legendary marmalade-addicted bear from deepest darkest Peru created by Michael Bond in the 1950s has received the big-screen treatment thanks to the VFX company behind Gravity and the voice of Ben Whishaw. Paddington (opening Friday) shows the young bear’s journey to the Brown family in London where he adapts to human life while getting himself into entertaining situations.

We talked to Heyman about the film’s deep-seeded themes, regrouping following the exit of original Paddington voice Colin Firth, and if Heyman is impressed by J.K. Rowling’s screenwriting talents for the Fantastic Beasts trilogy.


Movies.com: The visual effects are striking. Do you recall seeing a specific scene and realizing it’s really going to look great?

David Heyman: When Paddington sticks his head in the toilet bowl and you can see the detail, it was just incredible. And there are also scenes with his Aunt Lucy, like when they’re at the boat and he’s taking off. Just seeing the tenderness in his eyes and the vulnerability, I thought that was astonishing. When you see that you realize he’s going to be a character that audiences could relate to and emphasize with.

Movies.com: Was it always intended that Paddington’s journey would be in today’s post-9/11 environment? There are references to today’s cautious environment, whether it’s the train announcements to keep your belongings close by or the Brown family being cautious of him at first.

Heyman: I don’t think of it quite that way. I mean, Paddington was originally written as a post-World War II character and those values of decency and upright and politeness are characteristics very much from that time. We needed to update him, or we felt we needed to, for today. And when you do that there are certain situations that you put him in. For example, Mr. Brown is a very nervous man. He’s a very good father but very protective that it impacts negatively upon his family. But what I do think is relevant and timely, whether it’s 9/11 or 7/7, is those atrocities have brought xenophobia and I think that is very, very sad. America is made up of immigrants and this country has welcomed immigrants through the ages and are what makes this country great. I think that what Paddington is about is the openness to others: the kindness to strangers, the kindness to people who are different than you or me. We all in some ways feel outsiders. I do.

Movies.com: What is shown in the film is that extending the hand in acceptance takes a little longer now than back in Paddington’s heyday of the ’50s.

Heyman: You’re right. But part of that is film language. The books are short. Paddington is immediately accepted by the Brown family, who are a cohesive, happy unit. We needed to create some obstacles, more born out of the adaptation process than anything else. But the themes of kindness of strangers and to strangers and welcoming the immigrant, and ultimately Paddington’s realization that to fit in he can be himself and he will be embraced for being himself, are timeless and timely.

Movies.com: What was the biggest challenge in changing leads from Colin Firth to Ben Whishaw?

Heyman: Well, I’ll tell you my first thought was: Oh my goodness, we’re going to have to start animating again. And with that comes a great cost and incredible time pressure. So that was the first challenge and the greatest challenge. Because you’ve gone down a path. You’ve animated a few scenes, you’ve built the film around it and it’s not just reanimating a mouth, it’s the whole personality. So we had to recast. And when you’re on a film like this you have a release date and you have animation schedules and we were in danger of missing all of those. So thanks to StudioCanal for coughing up the extra money. [Laughs]

The press part of it, not making it seem like a disaster of recasting, Colin came to the conclusion the same time we did. He actually realized it wasn’t working before we did. He kept on saying, “Are you sure I’m right for this? Are you sure?” And, yeah, you think you have to manage the publicity fall out, but he made things easier by saying what he did, which was a case of conscious uncoupling handled with great humor and warmth. He was brilliant about it.

Movies.com: You’ve had incredible success. But as a producer in today’s landscape, is it still a “one for them, one for me” mentality?

Heyman: I’ve never looked at it that way. Gravity was a privilege to work with a director like Alfonso. Harry Potter is a world I love playing in. The themes and ideas in those books and films resonate. They aren’t simple, there is a real complexity and sophistication which I really enjoy.

Movies.com: But does having that pedigree make greenlighting your project for, say, Derek Cianfrance’s The Light Between Oceans (starring Michael Fassbender and Rachel Weisz) a little easier?

Heyman: I’m not sure that it does. I think that was greenlit because Steven Spielberg and Stacey Snider really felt that it is a good film. And it was at a price point that made it viable. It wasn’t that I’d done Harry Potter so let’s go do that. They aren’t looking at it in those terms. In fact, Paddington was at Warner Bros. and I just didn’t feel the love. They probably would have done it if I pushed hard because of the relationship, but they didn’t want to do it and I didn’t want to be with someone who didn’t want to do it.

Movies.com: What can you give out to the world about Fantastic Beasts?

Heyman: Well, not much. We’re in early stages. We’re in the casting process. We’re planning to start shooting sometime towards late summer, early fall. That’s the current plan.

Movies.com: What was the biggest thing that surprised you about J.K. Rowling’s screenwriting talents?

Heyman: Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, but she is as talented and imaginative and vivid as a screenwriter; creates as wonderfully imaginative world and has fully realized characters with an exciting story as a screenwriter as she does as a novelist.




Categories: Interviews
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