Opening the Chamber of Secrets

The Philippine Star, 15 September 2002
*Thanks, HALFBAKEDZ and Igor

The much anticipated Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets–the sequel to 2001’s top-grossing film Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone–introduces a wealth of new and exciting characters, foremost of whom is the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, the flamboyantly self-obsessed Gilderoy Lockhart, played by multi-talented actor, writer and director Kenneth Branagh.

"Gilderoy Lockhart is a fascinating creation of J.K. Rowling’s," Kenneth Branagh says. "I’m having great fun immersing myself in the magical world of Hogwarts and working with this phenomenal cast and crew."

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets finds young wizard Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) facing new challenges during their second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as they try to discover a dark force that is terrorizing the school. Outshone only by his own vanity, Lockhart craves the attention that Harry shuns and is only too keen to associate himself with Hogwarts’ young hero. But not even Lockhart can offer an explanation or solution to the slippery and sinister new terror that is gripping the school. Branagh further discusses the upcoming film in the following interview:

Question: How would you describe your character?

Kenneth Branagh: Gilderoy Lockhart is a fantastically successful wizard and writer of many famous books which are now being used as text books at Hogwarts School. He is much admired by the female students which is very irritating to the boys. He is a narcissus, a gadfly, very full of himself and faintly idiotic. But he can be rather touching at times. He amuses and intrigues us. Is he or isn’t he a good guy? He is certainly a strange peacock of a man.

Q: How difficult was it making him real? How do you go about fleshing him out?

Branagh: [Director] Chris Columbus takes his cue from JK Rowling. She writes with complexity (there is a very deceptive simplicity about the books). They seize on moments when Lockhart is rather vulnerable and we used these to try to show that he is more than a pantomime character. Like many actors, he is a mix of massive ego and deep insecurity. The extremes of his character seem to be an annoying super-confidence (utterly ruthless at times), and then a weakness and helplessness when challenged. But, there is a beating heart in there which goes hand in hand with arrogance. Chris Columbus was keen to see the fragility in the character. He is idiotic but vulnerable and his vulnerability is a redeeming feature which helps keep the audience–and the kids at the school–on his side.

Q: Did you have much input into the look of the character?

Branagh: JK Rowling describes Lockhart’s appearance in a much more impressionistic way than many of the other characters. She talks of his "flowing golden locks" which we have tried to match with quite an excessive hair-do. Given that the book says little about his clothes, we had a lot of license–and we used it.

Q: What is Lockhart’s relation-ship with Harry Potter?

Branagh: Lockhart is ravenous in his appetite for publicity for himself. It’s partly born out of insecurity and the knowledge that his achievements are bogus. Harry Potter guarantees Lockhart the front page of the wizard newspaper, The Daily Prophet. Lockhart’s policy is to meet truly clever people, copy them and publish their stories under his own name. So Harry Potter is the greatest prize he has ever come across and he takes the teaching post at Hogwarts because he wants to purloin Harry’s fame. The pursuit of Harry’s genius drives Lockhart’s journey through the film. Harry and the other boys are also jealous of Lockhart’s success with the female students who are very impressed by him. Lockhart believes the craven pursuit of fame at any price is a perfectly laudable exercise.

Q: What about his relationship with the other professors and their view of him?

Branagh: Initially they are prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. But almost immediately they see that he is very full of himself and they begin to suspect he is a charlatan. Some of them find him touching and amusing e.g. Dumbledore and McGonagall, but to Snape and Filtch he is very irritating. Lockhart has no time for anyone else but himself so he disregards Snape’s disdain which leads to some comic opportunities. He is a whirlwind of narcissism that blows itself through the school– amusing and irritating in equal measures.

Q: Were you a fan of the "Harry Potter" books before?

Branagh: I was very admiring of the apparent simplicity with which JK Rowling writes about a world of great detail and complexity. Apart from great storytelling she creates characters that fit beautifully into the already complicated pattern of a detailed series of books that she has mapped out right to the end of the series. I am in awe of the way she marshals all this material and of the cosmology of magic that she has newly minted. If you read around the subject, every name has an etymology that is completely consistent with the world she has created. It’s remarkable work.

She takes kids seriously and deals with issues such as race, politics and power struggles that are presented with sophistication but still inside a rollicking good read. Her contemporary themes are lightly done and engage the audience. Her confidence that she is taking the audience with her allows her to be more ambitious so that the tone darkens as the books continue and she is prepared to frighten her readers more. As you read all the books, it’s fascinating to see her meet the challenge of taking a young audience through their own adolescence as well as Harry Potter’s while still creating books that appeal to a new generation of 10-year olds. When I read the first book, Dickens came to mind. Her construction, the moral tone, the gallery of characters make her a modern parallel to Dickens.

Q: How do you feel that "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" will differ from the first film?

Branagh: It’s darker. The books get darker one by one so it’s nice to be Gilderoy Lockhart who brings a strong comic energy to the piece and complicates the audience’s idea of who has done what. It’s also good to see the kids growing older before your very eyes. It adds a different texture and makes the story grittier, tougher and leaner (as they are!). It makes you feel that you are watching something different and highly unusual in cinema.

"Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" is a Warner Bros. film opening in the Philippines this November.

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