Harry Potter's last hurrah
The close of the Potter film franchise opens a new chapter for its child stars – but ends a lucrative one for JK Rowling’s agent. Cassandra Jardine reports
As portentous messages go, IT ALL ENDS 7.15 has an absurdist air to it. So that’s it then, Armageddon in the midst of the Channel 4 News. We will never know about the weather, but then who needs a forecast when, as the publicity posters announce, the Harry Potter era finally winds to its conclusion. Thunder and lightening are guaranteed in the cinema on July 15 as the biggest book/film franchise of all time draws to a close.
Twenty-one years since Jo Rowling sat on a train from Manchester to London and had the initial idea, 14 years after a tentative 1,000 copies of Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone were printed, the final film of the final book – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt 2 – hits the cinema screens next Friday. In that time, 450 million copies have been sold and J K Rowling has become the world’s first author to earn $1 billion from writing.
Christopher Little, 69, her agent throughout, hasn’t done badly either, with a 15 per cent share of UK book sales and a slice of revenues from elsewhere in the world. But for him IT ALL ended last week when J K Rowling left the Christopher Little Agency. She is now represented by Neil Blair, a lawyer who joined Little’s agency in 2001 from Warner Brothers, where he was head of Business Affairs, Europe. They have worked together for a decade. Now that he has set up an agency of his own, Little’s golden client has gone with him.
The shift sounds logical. Blair is younger, and has more expertise in electronic media deals. Rowling’s next move is e-publishing via the website Pottermore, which opens in October. She needs his advice more than she needs a book deal: the political fairytale for children that she’s been talking about for years has not materialised. But it was not an amicable parting. “This was a painful decision, especially as Ms Rowling had actively sought a different outcome for some weeks,” says her press statement. “However, it was not taken without good reason and it finally became unavoidable.”
Little’s spokesman says he was as surprised and shocked by the statement as he was by being dumped last week. The implication is that she believes Little has been intransigent and unreasonable, which does not surprise publishing insiders. “He’s affable but steely,” says one who has been in negotiations with him. “This is all about commission.”
By the standards of an industry where tempestuous authors routinely relieve their frustrations over the size of advances by sacking their agents, Rowling has been unusually loyal to Christopher Little. In turn, let’s hope he has richly rewarded Bryony Evens, a reader of unsolicited manuscripts for the agency. It was her enthusiasm for Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone that led to Little’s decision to represent Rowling, who was then a single parent living on benefits with her daughter Jessica in Edinburgh.
Rowling, now married to Neil Murray, an anaesthetist, with two further children, David and Mackenzie, is not the only one to mark the end of the Potter era by saying or doing something dramatic. Everyone – cast, crew, catering staff – was bawling on the set at Leavesden Studios in Hertfordshire after the last take on the final scene when, Prospero-like, Radcliffe throws his wand into a ravine. With it goes a happy chapter for the British film industry, given Rowling’s stipulation that the films be made here using British actors.
After 11 years of work, it is hard to move on, not least for the three young stars, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint. Of the three it is, perhaps unsurprisingly, Radcliffe who appears to have most nearly gone off the rails in the way that tut-tutters thought was inevitable for children immersed in fame and money throughout the second decade of their lives.
Aged nine and 10, when they were cast at the end of the Nineties, the trio were small and sweet and not obviously talented in the way of, say, Haley Joel Osment (Sixth Sense) or Dakota Fanning (Charlotte’s Web). For proof see their screen test on YouTube. A single Winnebago with your name on the door is enough to go to a child star’s head. These children had that, and a lot more, year after year. In between shoots, they have been the subject of constant interest, gossip and attempts to trap them into tabloid-worthy bad behaviour.
It’s little wonder that, at the age of 18, Radcliffe went looking for an answer at the bottom of a whisky glass, becoming for a while Harry Blotto. His derailing occurred during the filming of Harry Potter and the Halfblood Prince in 2008. There were a few horizontal incidents, but since last August he hasn’t touched a drop. With a wisdom beyond his years, he already knows that he’s not the type to be able to have just a couple of drinks without going overboard. Now he is concentrating on his other enthusiasms – politics, cricket, poetry, roll-up cigarettes – and trying to find an acting niche for his 5ft 5in self as “a short little nerdy guy”.
For years all three of them have been asked about life after Potter. Now they are starting to live it. Still coasting on their Potter fame, as they will be able to for years, there is plenty of acting work for them. Radcliffe is currently singing and dancing as the lead in How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying on Broadway. He’s developing a new look-n-glasses image. In the August issue of GQ he is photographed in moody James Dean mode with a quiff, and chewing a toothpick.
Watson has just appeared in My Week With Marilyn, playing a wardrobe assistant to Michelle Williams’s Monroe, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower while carrying on with her liberal arts degree at Brown, an American college, designing for ethical fashion labels, and modelling. Grint, meanwhile, is enjoying spending his money on daft cars, among them an ice cream van and a bright orange Range Rover. He is also expanding his acting range from wry looks and exclamations of “Oh bloody hell” – his refrain in the Potter films. In his latest film, Comrade, he plays a Second World War PoW.
As the Potter effect fades it will become apparent whether they suffer the adjustment to adult obscurity problems of Macaulay Culkin or Judy Garland or whether they make achieved sustained career success like Christian Bale or Jenny Agutter. Whatever happens, they can dine out on their Potter stories for the rest of their lives.
But those who were directly involved in the books and the films aren’t the only ones to be leaving an important part of their lives behind them. I asked a young man, who had seen Deathly Hallows 2 in preview, what he thought. “It was like watching my childhood come to an end,” he replied. Harry Potter had grown and changed with him. The books and films had seen him through from a child of four foot, to a man of six foot. When Harry Potter first became part of his life, the mobile phone was a rarity, and Tony Blair was newly elected.
The world has moved on. So must Christopher Little and Potter fans. But not before they’ve seen the last film several times.