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Lupin Happy in Harry’s Loop (2004)

At 11:45pm on June 20 2003, David Thewlis decided he had to know if he would live or die. The English actor had been spending his days shooting “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”, the third cinematic installment of JK Rowling’s phenomenally successful series. But in fifteen minutes – midnight – London’s bookshops would be opening to mark the release of book five, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”. Little was known about the fifth book, except that a cherished wizard that was close to the titular boy wizard would die tragically.

Thewlis’s character, Professor Lupin, a former companion of Harry Potter’s deceased parents and a subsequent friend to their son, was an oft-mentioned candidate. An increasingly toey actor was eventually spurred into action by a comment from his girlfriend.

“She said, ‘are you going to get one to find out if you’ve got a job in two years’ time?’” recalls Thewlis. “So I put my coat on, and went out and queued up with the kids and parents, and stood in the corner of the bookshop, and a few pages in, I saw Lupin’s name in the present tense and I was like, “Yes!”. The guy in the counter was looking at me, but I didn’t care, and I flicked to the back to see if I was still in it. And the guy says, ‘are you checking to see who dies?’. He was most indignant. I’m like, ‘No’. And he goes ‘Yes you are!’. Then I saw more Lupin near the end and I walked out of there a happy man.”

Sitting in a Yarra-side hotel suite about a year later, a packet of cigarettes and a steady stream of Red Bull helping him avoid jet-lag crash, Thewlis is more than happy to laugh at a common fear among members of his craft. But there was also a matter of thespian etiquette to deal with afterwards: Lupin may have avoided the chop, but Sirius Black hadn’t, and on the screen, that part was being played by Thewlis’s good friend, Gary Oldman.

“He actually came around the next morning, because we lived near each other at the time, and he said, ‘Have you seen the new book? We’ve got a lot of work to do, mate.’ He was quite happy, and I didn’t know how to break it to him. So I said, ‘Have you actually read it yet, Gaz?’ ‘No, just flicked through it.’ A few days later I’m in makeup and he comes in and sits down and goes, ‘Have you heard the news?’ ‘What’s that, Gaz?’ ‘It’s terrible fucking news’ ‘What is it?’ ‘You know how everyone is talking about who dies in book five? It’s fucking me! This woman puts the poor bastard in prison for 12 years, brings him back for a few scenes, and then she kills him!’”

The 41-year-old Thewlis, from Blackpool in England’s north-west does an affectionate imitation of Oldman’s south London accent – he could be another character to add to an already memorable repertoire.

Tall and lean, with a thatch of ragged copper hair, Thewlis has worked for film directors such as the Coen brothers (“The Big Lebowski”) and Bernardo Bertolucci (“Besieged”), and co-starred with Brad Pitt (“Seven Years in Tibet”) and Leonardo DiCaprio (“Total Eclipse”).

For all his achievements, it’s still Johnny, the acerbic anti-hero of Mike Leigh’s “Naked”, with whom Thewlis is often identified. Fans of the film will approach him, announcing themselves with dialogue such as “Have you ever seen a dead body?” and expect him to reply, reverting to character a decade on, with a deadpan “Only me own”. Earlier this year he received a letter from a man who had been arrested at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem by Israeli authorities for reciting one of Johnny’s monologues.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Thewlis is rather enjoying being part of an ensemble cast in a children’s flick.

“I don’t have any problem making a kids’ film – there’s far worse audiences to make a film for,” he says. “I had a good time making the film, and I even enjoy promoting it.”

As well as getting to act with Oldman, one of the attractions of Azkaban for Thewlis was the chance to work with Alfonso Cuaron, the Mexican director whose previous film was the art-house hit “Y Tu Mama Tambien” (although it’s his 1995 film, “A Little Princess” that Rowling reportedly adores). Cuaron replaced the rather slicker, digital-FX-oriented Chris Columbus for a film that requires a level of emotional empathy above anything the Harry Potter movies have previously exhibited. The key scenes are some of the smallest, just Thewlis as Lupin and Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, conversing.

“That’s what appealed to me. If it had just been flying on a broomstick with blue-screen special effects, I wouldn’t have been as interested,” says Thewlis, “but most of my stuff is just one-on-one dialogue. Ninety per cent of it is Daniel and I talking, and Daniel is a much more accomplished actor now. It was really enjoyable. I never felt like I was working on a special-effects blockbuster.”

At times the adult cast appears to be a rollcall of modern British realist cinema. Seeing the likes of Thewlis, Oldman and Timothy Spall in the one shot moved Neil Jordan’s veteran producer, Stephen Wooley, to recently tell Thewlis: “It’s like Mike Leigh on acid!” Thewlis even harbours hope of extending the council estate clique’s takeover of Hogwarts.

“Ray Winstone may be in the new one, which would be great,” he says with a laugh, “but we have to get Kath Burke in there as well: ‘Oi, Voldemort, you slag!’”

Before shooting Azkaban, Thewlis made his directorial debut with the low-budget, melancholic comedy “Cheeky”, which is tentatively scheduled for release in Australia next February. He’s also appeared in Ridley Scott’s Crusades epic, “Kingdom of Heaven”, and is scheduled to work on the next film by the reclusive Terrence Malick (“The Thin Red Line”).

Thewlis has put all that time spent on sets to good use. He’s editing his first novel, a fictionalised account of his experiences on the 1996 remake of “The Island of Dr Moreau”, a reportedly chaotic north Queensland set where Thewlis attempted to survive Marlon Brando, Val Kilmer and several directors.

“Nothing you’ve ever heard about that film’s making is an exaggeration,” Thewlis says with a sigh. “I spent one of the worst times of my life in Australia, but it was nothing to do with Australia and the Australian people. In fact, the local crew helped me keep it together. If that film had been made in America there would have been a murder. I’m glad I could come back here under better circumstances.”

· Published | 08 June 2004
· Journalist | Craig Mathieson
· Source | © Film Reporter
· Credit | Submitted by Amanda

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