Harry Potter director David Yates has never forgotten his St Helens roots, he tells Laura Davis
THE setting was the Great Hall at Hogwarts School – a place where the most extraordinary things happen. Where the sorting hat matches nervous first years with their appropriate house, where Professor Lockhart teaches duelling classes and where huge platters of flaming puddings prepared by an army of house elves are served at Christmas.
It is also where, three films’ later, the bullying Professor Snape would be chased from Hogwarts through a broken window.
But director David Yates’s mind was not on the magical world of Harry Potter, he was thinking of a small former mining town in the North West of England.
“I had a moment of clarity,” says Yates, recalling his first Potter movie, The Order of the Phoenix. “I thought ‘My god – this started in St Helens!’.”
It began, in fact, with a Super 8mm camera, a gift from his mother when he was 14. His interest in filmmaking had been sparked two years earlier when he watched Jaws some 15 times at his local ABC cinema.
He began making films of his friends and family, shooting one, The Ghost Ship, on board the vessel where his uncle worked as a cook.
“I didn’t imagine any of this,” he says, glancing around the booking office bar of the St Pancras Hotel, where hundreds of journalists are drinking cocktails with Harry Potter stars.
“Back then I was just thinking about telling a story, which is what all young filmmakers should be doing today.”
It’s the day before the world premiere of the final Potter film – The Deathly Hallows, Part 2 – marking the end of 10 years as Harry, Ron and Hermione for the series’s three leads, who have grown up on set from excited children to confident young adults.
Yates joined the production team at the fifth film, the series’s second British director after Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love in the Time of Cholera), but despite American Chris Columbus and Mexican Alfonso Cuarón leading the first two, Potter has always been a very British coup.
“I think the remarkable thing (producer) David Heyman and Jo Rowling did right at the beginning was to say ‘this will stay in Britain’,” he says. “It’s created such an infrastructure and industry and it will be sorely missed. It’s going to create a huge hole.
“It’s in all our interests to find the next one. There are no shortage of people looking for the next big possibility.”
While the first part of Deathly Hallows had the feel of a road movie, Yates sees the second as “operatic”, with epic battle scenes, a CGI dragon destroying Gringot’s Bank and a startling final duel between Harry and Voldemort back at Hogwarts.