Thursday, January 23, 2014

Some excerpts from J.K. Simmons on "Magnus Monk" and the original Harry Potter universe

It's hard to believe that, back in 1994, Harry Potter was little more than a twinkle in the mind of author J.K. Simmons.  It wasn't until several years later that Simmons committed the character to paper and mesmerized the world--including more than a few "muggles" (re: "adults")--with the twisted tale of a wizard-child.  But there were several revisions along the way to the final product, many of which Simmons revealed in a candid interview after the series came to an end.  Here are some excerpts:    

     "Harry Potter was originally going to be named 'Magnus Monk'--a name I came up with while I was entertaining fellow passengers on the hour-long commute to work.  Like Potter, Magnus Monk was a precocious little boy who had a penchant for magical mischief, although his adventures were very episodic...almost like Superman or Batman or what have you:  A villain threatens London and Magnus flies in on his magic carpet and shoots the bad-guy with a 'haunted Luger', thereby saving the day.  They were very short stories, generally, because Magnus lacked a true 'weakness' and was astonishingly efficient..."

     "...It is true that 'Magnus' (Potter) and 'The Gunga Din' (Dumbledore) were basically carbon copies of Tin Tin and Captain Haddock.  For example, I'd have them running around, gunning down criminals, and the Gunga Din constantly smoked "oriental spices" from an elaborate brass pipe.  It was retrospect, it was actually pretty clear that The Gunga Din had a borderline personality, although that wasn't intentional..."

     "One day, my coworker said to me, he said, 'Why don't you start writing down all of these [Magnus Monk] stories and put together a collection that you can sell?'  I remember thinking that this was a fantastic idea, especially since I was tired of working at the steel mill where some obscure, Soviet-era Thatcherite policy had us working, quite literally, for beans.  Can you imagine such a thing?  Unsurprisingly, trains refused to take the beans as legal tender, which meant that you had to leave the mill and immediately, you know...sell some of your beans to afford the ride back home.  Nobody wanted to buy these beans.  I don't know where they found these beans.  You'd be lucky to get a single quid for an entire pound of them.  So then I condensed a lot of the [Magnus] 'episodes' into a single story and decided to rebrand the main character as something less 'religious' sounding, but still ridiculous.  That's where the inspiration to create Harry Potter came from."
     "Now, I've always seen Hermione as a sort of 'Prince Leia' character.  She's beautiful, but rough around the edges...and she plays a critical role to the resistance against the snake men, who were the original nemeses of the story.  And actually, I feel like I'm deviating from the question a little bit here, but the whole concept behind the snake men--which lives on in Slytherin, Voldemort, and so on--is rooted in concrete historical data.  For instance, there's a lot of reason to believe that our own Earth is hollow, and that the dinosaurs didn't really become extinct--certainly not from a comet.  Rather, they retreated underground and evolved into sapient life.  A lot of world leaders might even be snake men in disguise.  It's very shocking, once you open up your eyes, and discover the reality of our world."  
     "There was going to be an...intimate...scene between Malfoy and Potter.  It was going to be very progressive."

     "When Tom Felton was cast for the role of Malfoy, I would have never guessed that he would end up looking like he did by the end of the series.  If I had, I don't think I would have allowed it.  I don't think Chris [Columbus, the director] would have allowed it."

     "No, I made it very explicit that Malfoy was an attractive, brooding, sensual character throughout the series.  Then they cast Felton 'the Fivehead' and I think a lot of people subsequently lost track of who was supposed to be playing Malfoy in the films.  In fact, I remember somebody calling Matthew Lewis [Neville Longbottom] 'Malfoy' for a significant part of the Order of the Phoenix screening, and I actually had correct them.  I said, 'no, that's Neville.  Malfoy is over there,' and I pointed and they gasped, and their entire body language changed completely." 

     "They told me, 'J.K., we'd like to have your feedback on casting Ron Weasley' because, up until then, I had been quite adamant on the look I wanted for Ronald.  I had always envisioned him as this horrid Irish child and, looking back, there was certainly a lot of vitriol for him in the original writings.  For example, I frequently referred to his behavior as ignorant and 'piggish'...also, his dialogue was strictly phonetic (it was an accent I'd describe as a 'subnormal Kerry-Irishman') and readers had significant difficulty understanding him.    
     "Brian Jacques actually did this a lot in his Redwall series, which had anthropomorphic badgers and mice speaking at great length about food--that's where I got the idea from.  The difference was that Ron would launch into these half-unintelligible rants about unremarkable subjects.  Even commonplace items often mystified him, and his natural reaction was to grow angry.
     "So I discover that the film crew wanted a rather handsome lad to play the character...I think it was Logan Lerman, originally.  I thought the entire thing was ridiculous, and rejected [Lerman].  I kept saying 'more piggish!' and having to describe this awful creature I had created in my mind (and on paper).  Finally, after I thought I would be at an impasse with the film staff, in walks Rupert [Grint] and I remember, I threw up my hands and shouted, 'HIM!"