Friday, February 03, 2006

#112 - Potter Watch: Order of the Phoenix

Being, as I am, in touch with my Inner Dad, I am not ashamed to admit that I am a hard-core Potter-phile. Since Mrs. Woody and I first became acquainted with the series we have followed it like religious acolytes waiting for the next saintly image to appear in someone's breakfast food. We breathlessly join the multitudes who beg J. K. Rowling to for pity's sake hurry up and write Book Seven. But not too quickly, since we know this is the last of the Potter story and will then have only the seven books to hold our interest. So drag it out, but hurry, ok?

Yes, I know, this makes me a pathetic old man. Deal with it.

Anyway, for good or evil I also happen to be a big fan of the movies. Say what you will about each director's style and technique, I find that I can easily transition from film to film without skipping a beat. The stories still hold my interest even after multiple viewings, just as the books can still entertain me after about the twentieth read-through. I even thoroughly enjoyed Goblet of Fire, even though many fault the film for trying to cram too much into too little time. I may not let the Woodyettes see it for about ten more years, but I'm sure they'll enjoy it when I ultimately give in and remind myself that they really are growing up faster than I care to admit.

Thus it is with great interest that I read today of the casting of key roles in Order of the Phoenix. Actors who will portray Nymphadora Tonks, Bellatrix LeStrange, Kingsley Shacklebolt, and even the batty Arabella Figg have been announced. I've seen photos of most of them now and they look like they'll fit their characters just fine, thank you. The one that makes me most nervous, however, is the actress who will portray perhaps the pivotal character of the fifth book, the hideous Dolores Umbridge.

Here's my dilemma. As a fan of both the books and the movies, I quite naturally visualize the characters using the actors who portray them as I go back and re-read the books. I even try to use some of their vocal characteristics whenever I read the books outloud, as Mrs. Woody and I are wont to do when we want some together time. (Once an actor, always an actor.) For example, I use Robbie Coltrane's gravelly delivery whenever I voice Hagrid. My voice gets sore quicker when I do that, but Coltrane is my visualization of Hagrid and always will be. Likewise, I can use some of the characteristics of Dame Maggie Smith's Minerva McGonagall, as she will always be whom I envision as that character.

This is not to say that my mental/vocal images from the books always synch up with the casting of the films. I use the voice Richard Harris gave to Dumbledore (in the first film, moreso than the second) when I read aloud, even though I appreciate the visualization of Michael Gambon more in the films. Gambon's voice even matches more closely the description Rowling herself gave the character, but I still use the somewhat breathy delivery that Harris used.

In other words, for the pivotal characters of the books, the actors cast to play them on film become extremely important to my later enjoyment of the books. I need to visualize Alan Rickman as Snape (even if I use my own "oily" voice) in order to properly assign my anger to his actions. It helps, anyway.

So hopefully you will understand my nervousness over the casting of Dolores Umbridge. Firstly, it has nothing to do with the actress herself. I am certain she has the chops for the role, and I'm equally certain (after seeing a publicity shot from Nanny McPhee) that she can look the part. But that will depend largely on the people who will create that look for the film, such as the makeup artists and the director himself, and I won't know how they did until the film comes out. That means a whole year and half to sweat while the film goes through its production phases.

The role of Umbridge is, moreso than other characters, a true caricature. Her description in the book is such that any deviation from it in the film will instantly destroy that characterization for me. She needs to look short and squat. She needs to have the simpering, faux little girl voice, right down to the pronounced "hem, hem!" that so annoys all who hear it. She needs to have those silly black bows in her hair. She also needs to be cold-blooded and ruthless; the epitome of the calculating career politician. If she is not all of these things, I will be sorely disappointed.

Past experience tells me I'm probably worrying over nothing. I was just as nervous over the casting of Aunt Marge for the second film, and she turned out to be the perfect embodiment. Other shortcuts or mis-castings from the films have not affected the major characters, so they have no real bearing on my ability to visualize when reading.

Speaking of which, if everything goes right we'll have both the next film and the last book coming out in roughly the same timeframe next year.

I can't wait.

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