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Director Chris Columbus gets candid

Director Chris Columbus tells us what it’s like working with young actors, and why his latest film, Percy Jackson, is different from his earlier work in the Harry Potter series.

entertainment Updated: Mar 05, 2010 19:13 IST
Jayeeta Mazumder

Director Chris Columbus tells us what it’s like working with young actors, and why his latest film, Percy Jackson, is different from his earlier work in the Harry Potter series.

What part of filmmaking do you enjoy the most, considering you’ve done it all— from writing, to directing and even some cameos?
I enjoy all of it! I was told earlier, when I was writing, that if you have a couple of successful films, they’ll let you direct. That’s how direction happened. Acting happened by chance, though I must say I was a horrific actor. I saw myself on screen once when I was in Home Alone and I would have fired myself, if I could. I was horrible!

How do you go about choosing a young cast? Especially, when you have to keep a sequel in mind?
It was really important that the characters were teenagers because I couldn’t envision gladiator or battle training with 11-year-olds with wooden swords. Each young actor chosen for this film is really passionate about the film and the series. I just loved their enthusiasm and I want to go back to work with them quickly.

What made you cast Logan Lerman for the role of Percy Jackson?
I saw 3:10 TO YUMA and I was completely taken by this kid (Logan). I thought, ‘that was a pretty good performance for a 14-year-old.’ So, when we were casting Percy, I asked Logan to come in for a screen test; and I have to say I was very impressed. I think Percy Jackson is just the beginning for him. This guy is going to be like a Matt Damon or a Tom Cruise. He is terrific. He’s a teenager with the mindset of a 60-year-old. He’s committed and intelligent and I don’t think he’s concerned with fame or any of that nonsense. He’s concerned about creating really strong movies.

What are the differences and similarities between Percy and Harry, given that they are both heroes of circumstance?
I bristle slightly when people say this is like Harry Potter, because that’s easy. Once you see the films, you know it’s not like Harry Potter. That was dealing with the wizard world and magic, and I love it, but that was a very different film. And this is pure Greek mythology. It’s an element of a lot of other movies, like Spider Man and Star Wars: you’ve got deeply flawed characters who lose something important in their lives and go on a journey to try to find it. That’s at the heart of a lot of Greek mythology and at the heart of a lot of great fantasy films.

What draws audiences to kidult cinema? What do you think made Twilight work?
I think most kidult films are able to successfully bring out all the inner desires, the fantasies that teenagers experience deep down inside. It’s that age when you are trying to cope with hundreds of issues and if you are able to create a film that touches you at the right spot, it definitely works. With Percy Jackson, we’ve tried to make a film that can be enjoyed by kids as well as parents. We didn’t want parents to yawn away when their kids are enjoying a film.

Does turning a successful novel series into films guarantee success?
There’s no formula to success in filmmaking. Even if you have a good screenplay, you need the passion of every actor and crew member involved, to make it a success. But it does help to have all the popularity attached to the book because audiences know what the film is about and there already is some excitement to watch it.

How do you edit a 400-page novel to fit a 120-min film?
It’s a wonderful book, but you can’t have everything that’s in the book in the movie. We tried to retain the essence of the story, characters and the world that Rick created, and put it in a cinematic context. With my previous experience with Harry Potter, I had learnt that the book stands alone and that the film stands alone. We took the best bits of the book, and I added some stuff, and that’s how it came to be.

What made you stop directing the later movies of the Harry Potter series?
I had my four kids back home and I really needed to take some time off and be with my family. So, I produced the third film; I was around to help the kids with the transition and help them move ahead smoothly.

Having a kid act and hold the film together in a movie like Home Alone is quite a task. Do you generally work well with kids?
With kids, there’s a lack of cynicism and that comes from the fact that these guys are happy to have jobs at its most basic level. They are so happy to be there and that enthuses me and gives me that same kind of energy.

How has the Harry Potter lead cast matured from the untrained kids you had on board for Sorcerer’s Stone?
It’s always a strange, bittersweet experience for me. I’ve been so close to these kids; and seeing them mature into great actors is a very special feeling. I saw the last Potter film and I indeed felt like a distant parent who hasn’t seen his kids in a while.

Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone was a phenomenon, but we haven’t heard from him after. What makes it hard for child actors to survive in Hollywood?
It’s not the case with all child actors. I believe it’s all about how you handle the stardom that comes with such success. But I think kids these days are learning from past cases and are definitely much more focused.