Late last night I was given my overall results for my degree, which means I can give to you that Robert Hardy interview I’ve been promising for a while.
He was absolutely brilliant, such an interesting man with a lot to say and I will be forever grateful that an acting star such as himself took the time out of his day to help a journalism student with their work.
A fair warning though, it’s a bit long.
Anyway, without further ado here it is:
A Word From the Minister
From studying under world renowned authors at Oxford to claiming a role in the Harry Potter series, Robert Hardy has enjoyed a varied and diverse career.
“I reckon I got the best of it all in Harry Potter.”
When Christopher Columbus took on the first two Harry Potter films he had the enormous task of casting the Harry Potter characters. It soon became a long list of Britain’s best talent, one which Hardy joined in 2002 as Cornelius Fudge.
“They said; ‘would you like to play [Fudge]?’ and I thought ‘what fun,’” Hardy said, “and it was fun because I joined on number two and it was already with people that I knew and liked. We all got on and some of us older ones, like Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon and I, all behaved quite badly. We romped about a bit, occasionally we had to be told off ‘now you old darlings’ they would shout.”
Hardy’s career started on the stage, acting in plays such as Hamlet but his talents transferred easily to the screen. In 1978 he started playing Siegfried Farnon in long running television series All Creatures Great and Small. In 1981 he became the first person to play Winston Churchill on British TV and, in the same year, he was awarded a CBE for his service to drama; “I think it was really because of All Creatures Great and Small.” Hardy explained. “I was delighted because I believe in an honour system as long as it’s properly administered and fairly.”
Enthusiastic about history, Hardy studied at Oxford and was tutored by C.S Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien, at the time he hadn’t the slightest idea of the masterpieces at work in their heads; “They were just tutors. We didn’t know they were going home and writing immortal classics,” Hardy reminisced, “I loved them both.”
Once he finished his degree he went on to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) after which he started to perform on stage. He joined the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in 1949 and had roles in Hamlet and Henry V and acted alongside Dame Maggie Smith (whom he would work with once again in Harry Potter). It was a time of his career that he cherished as it led to more work; “That lasted from January1949 until 53 or 54 when I went to America and made my first film,” he explained, “then I was back on the stage until television burst on an unsuspecting world and then I was constantly in demand for it in those days. It was absolutely thrilling.”
Despite becoming a prominent British actor he never appeared in the film adaptations of The Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings even though he knew their authors.
“I never wanted to be in [Narnia] and I never wanted to be in the Tolkien stuff, I really didn’t. The first thing I heard about was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe which I used to read to my children and it would make my children cry and then of course that made me want to cry and I didn’t want to.
Although he was quite keen to take up the role of Fudge, Hardy hadn’t read the books beforehand; “I hadn’t read the books, but I quickly did. After that I read each one before the next film came out because in that world you never know if you’ll be going onto the next film. Even if it’s the same part you might get chucked out.”
One of the greatest parts (and one of his most favourite) that Hardy took on was Winston Churchill; “Churchill was a very great man and a very great leader,” Hardy said amicable. However when asked if he thought Fudge shared any similarities to the Prime Minister a hint of incredulity edged his voice.
“No, in no way at all. Absolutely at no point do their characters or their situations touch. One might inhabit Mars in comparison to that,” he exclaimed. “What attracted me about Fudge was that his name was him, he was a typical second-rate fudging politician and it was fun to do, but I wouldn’t have minded playing Dumbledore because I’d have been in it right the way through”
During the conversation it becomes clear that Hardy did indeed enjoy his time as the Minster of Magic and of the four films he appeared in it was Prisoner of Azkaban that left the deepest impression. Directed by Alfonso Cuaron and released in 2004 it is regarded by many fans as the best of the films, despite it being the lowest grossing of the eight movies.
“Cuaron was marvellous; he was such fun and so inventive and so full of humour,” Hardy enthused. “I remember filming in Scotland, Hagrid’s Hut up in Glencoe and the weather turned bad on us as we arrived. Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon and I climbed up to Hagrid’s Hut in the rain and the mist and the wind, and there was Alfonso Cuaron standing, looking bemused by the British weather.”
At this point Hardy puts on a South American accent and does an impression of Cuaron; “He would say to us ‘Hello, hello, I don’t know. I can’t see you, my cameras can’t see you. It’s too foggy, why don’t you go back into your cars and back to your hotel and have some lunch.’”
For several days during the shoot the same thing would happen and the three stars would return to their hotels, hoping the weather would change, until eventually Cuaron was forced to film in the rain.“He had to film because we were running out of time,” Hardy said, “of course the effect of mist and fog on the screen was just magic.”
The Harry Potter series is well known for a lot of things, one of which being the dedication of everyone who worked on set, including the animal trainers which Hardy was able to experience firsthand.
“Cuaron came to me and said ‘why don’t we see if they can get a crow to sit on your hat?’ so I agreed. After two or three goes and careful placing of crumbs on the hat, the crow came and sat on it which I was able to enjoy very much.”
The result of which can be seen in Prisoner of Azkaban after Fudge, Dumbledore, Hagrid and Mcnair discover that Buckbeak has escaped. It was also during this film that Hardy began to admire the three main actors; “Those three kids have my admiration, particularly Daniel,” Hardy said, “I went to see his new film The Woman in Black. He’s been rather knocked for it by some of the critics but I thought he played it beautifully.
“[Emma]’s very good. , I remember up in Scotland, again, while I was waiting I was watching Daniel and Emma doing a scene over and over again and she was being extremely good and each take she was exactly the same. Just as good each time and that, for somebody of her age, is pretty unusual. I admired that very much.”
Perhaps one of the reasons that Hardy enjoyed his time on the set of the most successful film franchise of all time was because it differed from the average filming experience. Usually actors and crew work together for a small amount of time and then part ways, but in the case of Harry Potter they were together for a decade.
“You get together, usually for one film or for one play and you’d be together with people who became sort of either best friends or worst enemies,” he explained his usual experience of acting, “then, bingo, the thing finished or you came out of it and probably never saw them again.”
Yet keeping actors and the crew in work for a decade isn’t the only thing that sets the series apart from other films; “The franchise was becoming so enormous and we were working either on location or at the enormous Leavesden Studio, which they bought,” he described, “you had to travel everywhere in a buggy because it was too far to walk and you’d never have got there.
“The care of which they took of us all was simply wonderful. I remember a day when they said we’d be up at the testing sheds, which were rather dank and cold and a bit away from the centre of operations. They took me up there and, for all I could see, I was in exactly my own trailer. So that was luxurious,” he laughed then added, “but the food was simply frightful.”
However his time on Harry Potter wasn’t always happy, his first film was marred by the death of one of the actors and eventually his own character was dropped from the script before his time.
“The sad thing is that I did my first scene in front of the cameras in [Chamber of Secrets] when Dumbledore was Richard Harris, and that was the last scene he ever played,” Hardy said sadly, “he died that week, if not the week after. I didn’t know him that well, but he was obviously in great distress. He was forbidden to smoke and the moment he came off the set his ‘minions’ brought him cigarettes and whisky and giving him all the things set to kill him.”
Even the loss of such a great actor gave a chance for the crew to prove their talent; “They used all sorts of technical skills and skulduggery to get Michael Gambon into Richard Harris’ place,” Hardy said, “back shot of Harris, a front shot of Gambon, that sort of thing.”
Although Warner Bros. were making a lot of money from the Harry Potter series there was still some cautions that needed to be taken, especially when it came to insurance. For example, when Hardy was filming up in Scotland with Gambon and Robbie Coltrane they were each given their own limousine and when it came to filming Half-Blood Prince the bumbling Minister of Magic was cut from the script completely; “They had to get rid of me early because it was getting too expensive to insure me,” he explained.
“I knew it was going to come, I was being insured for a million and I knew they were running short of money,” quite surprisingly Hardy goes on to defend their decision, “Not that the films weren’t an enormous success and made a great deal of money but all their successful money was ploughed back into Warner Bros. who had lost a fortune. They bought an IT firm at the very top of the market and immediately once they’d bought it the market collapsed. So they were really getting over a huge hole of debt, rather like a lot of us at the moment, into which the profits of Harry Potter were shovelled.”
So while Half-Blood Prince had to make do without the Muggle Prime Minister chatting away merrily with Fudge, Hardy has been making appearances on television from Little Dorrit to Lewis. However when he’s not on screen he can be found indulging his passion for history; “I’ve worked on the Battlefield’s Trust for a long time they started the battlefields panel and I was made a member immediately,” he explained, “It’s interesting and I have to learn a lot about every single battlefield and argue about battles.”
But what does he think of the woman behind the franchise?
“I think J.K Rowling’s a wonderfully inventive person I think she gathered together styles of both Tolkien and Lewis and made a new thing.”
I hope you enjoyed it and didn’t get too bored.
Oh, by the way, I will be graduating in November with a 2:1!
- Harry Potter: The Exhibition Singapore 2012 (review) (marcellapurnama.wordpress.com)
- critical readings: harry potter and the prisoner of azkaban (engl329b.wordpress.com)
- lecture on harry potter and the prisoner of azkaban (engl329b.wordpress.com)