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Wand for the Money (2004)

Not every big-budget film experience turns out badly for Harry Potter actor David Thewlis. Just most of them.

You wouldn’t blame David Thewlis for being gun-shy when it came to taking on the role of the kindly but mysterious Professor Lupin in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”.

While the British actor had made a name for himself in gritty independent films such as “Naked”, “Life is Sweet” and “Gangster No. 1″, viewer reaction to his excursions into big-budget territory ranged from disinterest to loathing.

Take the recent time-travel adventure “Timeline”, which featured Thewlis as a scientific mogul whose shady experiments saw the story’s attractive young heroes trapped in 14th century France. Not even the actor liked that one.

“God, that was awful,” he says, holding court in a Melbourne hotel suite during his ‘Prisoner of Azkaban’ publicity jaunt.

There’s also the film that last brought Thewlis to Australia: the science-fiction thriller “The Island of Dr Moreau”, based on the H.G. Wells novel, which was filmed in Queensland in 1995.

What happened behind the scenes on this gloriously deranged monster-mash of a movie was far more eventful than anything that made it to the screen.

Its initial director, Richard Stanley, was fired a matter of days into the shoot and replaced by the late John Frankenheimer, whom Thewlis believes “came in without much love for the project.”

Original leading man Val Kilmer requested a smaller role because of personal problems and supporting player Rob Morrow walked off the film.

Still, when Thewlis was offered a starring role opposite Marlon Brando he wasn’t about to turn it down.

“Richard Stanley’s original script was very intelligent, a post-modern take on genetic engineering, a plausible look at some very outlandish theories,” he says.

“It was also actually meant as kind of a spoof – the creatures were created for a spoof – and Frankenheimer tried to turn it into a serious thriller, but it didn’t have a villain. Brando didn’t want to make Moreau the villain.

“So we’ve got this island that’s a metaphor for a totalitarian state but you don’t want to be the villain, Marlon? That kind of put us up shit creek to begin with. And it went on from there.”

Given experiences like these, you’d forgive Thewlis if he stuck to low-budget independent films for the rest of his career.

But the lure of working with Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron (“Y Tu Mama Tambien”) proved too enticing.

One of Thewlis’s biggest thrills on the Azkaban set was sharing a scene with three other British actors: Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman and Timothy Spall.

“Tim Spall, who was made up as a rat, . . . said, ‘You know, I always wanted to work with you three but I thought it would be in a David Mamet play or a Scorsese film, not like this’.

“Someone said it was like Mike Leigh on acid. Me, Tim and Gary have all worked on Mike Leigh films before, and I believe Ray Winstone is working on the fourth one, so come the fifth film there’ll be a scene with me, Gary, Tim and Ray Winstone all together.

“Get Kathy Burke in there and it really will be like a Mike Leigh film: ‘Harry Potter, you slag’.”

· Published | 27 June 2004
· Journalist | Guy Davis
· Source | © The Age
· Credit | Submitted by Amanda

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