Mzimba, Lizo, moderator. Chamber of Secrets DVD interview with Steve Kloves and J.K. Rowling, February 2003.

Video excerpt: The Leaky Cauldron Video Gallery (24 seconds)

Transcription: Eric of Mugglenet and Melissa of TLC

Lizo: Now, to bring a story like Harry Potter from the page to the screen, the starting point is your original novel, written by you of course, J.K. Rowling. And the script is based on that novel but is written by the screenwriter, of course you, Steve Kloves. Can you explain both how you worked together to produce the final script because it must be very very different writing a book as compared to writing a film.

Steve: Yeah, you know, I mean, I just... steal her best stuff, for the most part...

JKR: [Nodding] That's basically it. And I don't sue!

Steve: I think the thing...What's always been great about Jo is that, from the beginning she gave me tremendous elbow room, but when you're in the middle of a series like this it's important that I talk to Jo along the way and ask her, beyond advice, just simple advice, and certain sequences and things, but just, ,"Am I on the right path?" and Jo's always been good about, in that, she's maddening in the sense that she will not tell me what's going to happen but she will tell me if I'm going down the wrong path...

JKR: I've given you more than I've given anyone else which I probably shouldn't probably say...on screen, or they'll kidnap and torture him, and we need him. But yeah, I've told Steve probably more than I've told anyone else, because he needs to know. Because it's incredibly annoying of me when he says "Well shall we cut that", or "I wanted to do this" and I say, "Well no... because, you know, in book six, something will happen and you'll need that in" or "that will contradict something that happens" and I can feel him on the end of the emails, you know, [does impression of frustrated Steve typing] "would you mind telling me why?" So I have told him things. But he's very good at guessing. He's guessed more shrewdly than anyone else, I think.

Lizo: How frustrating is it for you, working slightly in the dark with some of these issues, Steve?

Steve: Well it's frustrating because, you like to know... when you're writing a character, you want to know where they're going...

JKR: I'd tell you if you were dying!

Steve: [laughing] That's... that's nice to know.

JKR: But you don't need to know at the moment!

Steve: Well, you know, I am dying, hopefully it's just gonna take a while! But I think it's frustrating just, again, it comes down to the details and the magic of those details and I think just reading the books is just quite a wonderful experience.

Lizo: There are so many rich details in the books. Can you tell us how you decide what goes in and what stays out?

Steve: I will sometimes ask Jo. I will say, you know, this detail, you just seem to have cast just a bit more light on this in this scene than the other details. Sometimes I'm wrong, but often she'll say "No, that is going to play." There's one thing in Chamber, actually, that Jo indicated will play later in the series. The hardest thing for me, honestly, is I'm writing a story to which I do not know the end. Which is, I'm not going to lie to you, has been the case sometimes in my own originals.

JKR: I was gonna say!

Steve: But I assume I will find an end. With this, it's just I'm writing a story over a decade, and I keep waiting, you know, keep hoping that Jo will slip-up and actually tell me something.

Lizo: In this movie we've seen the kids develop from the first film, can you tell us about the relationship between Harry, Ron, and Hermione and how that is developing film by film?

JKR: Well I think it is developing in the films as it does in the books, which is to say that they are, they're much stronger together than apart. They're much more aware, in the second film, of their particular strengths. So they're more effective, the children are able to do more complex things, for example the Polyjuice Potion. And also Chris in the second film has kind of foreshadowed what I don't do until the fourth book, which is that you get hints of certain feelings between the three of them, that belong to a sort of slightly more mature person.

Lizo: Steve?

Steve: Yeah, I think you're seeing in Chamber the magic's becoming a bit second nature to them. At least simple magic is. And that basically it's, you know, a little bit of knowledge will get you into a lot of trouble. And I think that's what we're seeing in the second one: is that they're getting more mature but, it's a dangerous kind of knowledge.

Lizo: How do you feel about what the kids were like in this movie?

Steve: Well the first thing that you notice when you watch the movie is that Harry and Ron's voices have dropped about two octaves, which is just bizarre. Suddenly they're not these cute little moppetheads running around. You know, children will grow.

Lizo: Steve, Hermione is a character that you have said is one of your favorites. Has that made her easier to write?

Steve: Yeah, I mean, I like writing all three, but I've always loved writing Hermione. Because, I just, one, she's a tremendous character for a lot of reasons for a writer, which also is she can carry exposition in a wonderful way because you just assume she read it in a book. If I need to tell the audience something...

JKR: Absolutely right, I find that all the time in the book, if you need to tell your readers something just put it in her. There are only two characters that you can put it convincingly into their dialogue. One is Hermione, the other is Dumbledore. In both cases you accept, it's plausible that they have, well Dumbledore knows pretty much everything anyway, but that Hermione has read it somewhere. So, she's handy.

Steve: Yeah, she's really handy. And she's also just, I think, just tremendously entertaining. There's something about her fierce intellect coupled with a complete lack of understanding of how she affects people sometimes that I just find charming and irresistible to write.

Lizo: Does Dumbledore speak for you?

JKR: Oh yes, very much so. Dumbledore often speaks for me.

Lizo: How do you see Dumbledore, Steve?

Steve: I think Dumbledore's a fascinating character because I think he obviously sort of imparts great wisdom that comes from experience, but I've always felt that Dumbledore bears such a tremendous Dark burden, and he knows secrets and I think in many ways he bears the weight of the future of the wizard world, which is being challenged, and the only way that he can keep that at bay, the darkness, is to be whimsical and humorous. And I think that's just a really interesting thing, I think he's a character of so many layers and I think when he does say, that it is our choices and not our abilities. I just coming from him it doesn't feel like a sermon, it doesn't feel like a message, it just feels like an absolute truth and it goes down easy. And I like that about him. But that's what I like about the books, I've always said that I thought that Jo's writing is deceptively profound, which is that you never feel there are messages in there, but there's a lot of things being dealt with in a very sort of clever way, and they're never pretentious, the books, and I think that's why kids love reading them.

Lizo: You say that you don't set out to put particular messages in each book, they grow organically. But do you think that it's important to have the right messages there when they do emerge?

JKR: Well obviously in the wizard world passes for racism, and that's deeply entrenched in the whole plot, there's this issue going on about the bad side really advocating a kind of genocide, to exterminate what they see as these half-blood people. So that was obviously very conscious, but the other messages do grow organically. But I've never, no I've never set out to teach anyone anything. It's been more of an expression of my views and feelings than sitting down and deciding "What is today's message?" And I do think that, although I never, again, sat down consciously and thought about this, I do think judging, even for my own daughter, that children respond to that than to "thought for the day."

Lizo: What was the most important difference in doing the story for Chamber of Secrets as opposed to the first film?

JKR: Well we probably had a bit more contact on the first film, but we probably needed more contact on the first film because we were establishing a relationship that has lasted two years and is going to last hopefully longer, so that was really about getting to know what we needed from each other. So it's probably a good sign that we had less contact on Chamber because I think there's a lot of trust there. I was very prickly when I met Steve. Because I knew that they'd chosen this American guy, even though he wrote and directed one of my favorite films, The Fabulous Baker Boys, I still thought, "Well, you know, he's American." Not to be... I don't know... He was just... I was most worried about meeting Steve. He was the writer, he was going to be ripping apart my baby. And it turns out I really like him, so that worked!

Lizo: How do you communicate, how does all that work, and how often?

JKR: Uh, it... it varies to what we're doing at the time.

Steve: Owls.

JKR: Owls, mainly, obviously, a bit of Floo Powder. [laughs]

Lizo: How does this film differ from the first?

JKR: It is, I think we would both say an easier book to transfer into a film, isn't it? The first one is episodic, you have individual adventures, it chops and changes more. I remember when we were working on the script of Philosopher's Stone that was something that came up continually, wasn't it, that you have these sort of discrete adventures. And Chamber is a more linear structure so it was easier to translate to screen, I think, wasn't it?

Steve: Yeah, though I thought it was going to be easier than...

JKR: Than it actually turned out to be.

Steve: Because you do have that sort of Tom Riddle moment where Tom explains it all. And that's always challenging in a movie. Also what's interesting about, I think, what makes Chamber interesting is that things are occurring that you don't really quite understand until Tom explains them at the end. So you've got to work toward that moment and hope you can hold the audience during that moment. But there's no question, it had more of a sort of, it just more of a, tight plot to sort of play out.

Lizo: What were the biggest challenges for you in this film?

Steve: The challenge always for me is keeping it from being four hours. Because I like everything that, what I honestly think is magical about what Jo does is the details. And so my first drafts are always chock-full of details. I think for the thing for me is, the things I respond to sometimes are hard to sort of put in proportion. I mean, I was really interested in the whole Mudblood thread, so that became a very interesting emotional thing for me to write in the script. I don't know that it's still there in the way that I saw it entirely. But those, you want to give some of those things weight, in some ways, so that becomes a challenge always, but it's mainly compression.

Lizo: Jo, were there any bits of Chamber of Secrets that didn't reflect the way that you originally saw it in your mind?

JKR: It's interesting what Steve says about the Mudblood theme because I would agree that there's always the pressure of time and space with the film, that is a stronger theme in the book and yet it is present in the film but for me I suppose when I look back in the book or I think about that book that is the time in the overall entire series where the issue of pure blood becomes very important, so yeah, maybe more weight to that.

Lizo: What stands out most in this film?

JKR: It was scary, I've always thought Chamber of Secrets, people underestimate how scary the book is. And in fact it's the book I've got the most complaints about, bizarrely. Possibly because people got upset at Chamber of Secrets and didn't carry on reading the rest of the books, and I think that's certainly translated to the screen, a couple of really frightening moments.

Lizo: The visual effects are a huge part of bringing the magic to life. In this film we have Dobby, we have the pixies, we have Fawkes, we have the basilisk. What do you make of the effects in this movie?

JKR: Dobby's wonderful. Dobby's really really good, and the Mandrakes...superb. I really love the Mandrakes.

Lizo: Is that a big challenge for you, Steve, getting the effects, getting those scenes right?

Steve: No, no, it's easy for me because I just write it and dream it...

JKR: He just writes it, and watches them faint! [laughing.]

Steve: ...and then someone else has to actually do it! But I'm amazed to see something like the Mandrakes, which is really, it's essentially, puppetry.

Lizo: Which parts of Chamber of Secrets were you most excited to see on screen?

JKR: I was most worried about the spiders. Because you see these old sci-fi movies where they have spiders and they're always hysterically funny, they're never, never scary. And it's easy to write a scene like that in a novel, and make it scary. But when I started thinking about how we were going to actually see that, in fact it was extremely frightening. They were the most frightening large spiders I've ever seen in my life.

Steve: I had the same concern, I just thought, as I was writing, I was thinking "How are we going to do this?" You've got Aragog saying "Who goes there?" basically, you know, this giant spider, and I was saying "This is just going to be hysterical," sorry, I'm laughing as I'm writing it! I know I'm imagining it being...

JKR: We've had that problem a lot.

Steve: Yeah, well one thing that you learn about movies is that the thing that you're more worried about often is the thing that's not a problem. And the thing that you don't worry about is a complete disaster. So I've found, it's funny because you're talking about the scares in the movie. I know the thing that terrified my son the most in the first movie was opening the book, and the book screaming. And I think it was because it was something he could identify with. Which is, he could take a book off the shelf, and open it, and there might be a face in there screaming. He wasn't scared by the other things at all.

JKR: But I think I wrote that, those are the sort of details that I write because, that would scare me. I read all the time and to have to just open something and have it shriek at me. And one thing that I thought that was well done in the film, Chamber of Secrets, was the diary. Now, the diary to me is a very scary object, a really, really frightening object. This manipulative little book, the temptation particularly for a young girl to pour out her heart to a diary, which is never something I was prone to, but my sister was. The power of something that answers you back, and at the time that I wrote that I'd never been in an Internet chat room. But I've since thought "Well it's very similar." Just typing your deepest thoughts into the ether and getting answers back, and you don't know who is answering you. And so that was always a very scary image to me, in the book, and I thought it worked very well in the film. You could understand when he started writing to see these things coming back to him, and the power of that, that secret friend in your pocket.

Steve: Yeah I've always loved that in the book. I thought that was just one of the great... that someone's writing back to you that you do not know who they are and there is something inherently ominous in that, but the fact that they also know the secret you want to know and they're inviting you, like a finger beckoning you into the past. I always thought that was an incredibly interesting concept.

Lizo: How different has it been working on the script for now the next movie Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban?

Steve: Well we've just started, I honestly think it's going as well as any of the others. Personally I feel it's going to be the best movie.

JKR: Yeah, I think so too.

Steve: I think that we're at a better place than we've ever been on the script.

JKR: Mm-hm.

Steve: And we're months from starting shooting so I think it's the best place we've been. I think Three could be really, really be interesting.

JKR: Yeah, I agree.

Lizo: Where does Three stand on your list of favorites?

JKR: Oh, I know it's very corny and all to say it, but it's like choosing between your children. It really is. But I have a very soft spot for Three because of a couple of the characters who crop up there for the first time. Lupin and Black, obviously very important characters and yeah, I'm really fond of them.

Lizo: So far you've had two very successful collaborations on Harry Potter, what are your hopes for the future of the Harry Potter series?

JKR: Well, I hope Steve keeps writing the scripts, because I'm used to him now, you know. Just keep being faithful to the books, I suppose. From my point of view I'm bound to say that, aren't I?

Lizo: J.K. Rowling and Steve Kloves, author and the script writer, I'm sure we're looking forward very much to the results of your future collaborations, thank you very much.