Chris Columbus has an impressive cinematic resume. In the 1980s, he wrote Gremlins and The Goonies before going on to make his name by directing smash-hits Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire. But to modern audiences, he’s best known for his adventures in the wizarding world: directing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
Without him, the franchise would have been very different, as he supported J.K. Rowling’s wishes to keep the characters British and remain faithful to the plot of the books. He was also instrumental in casting then-unknowns Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, who have come to embody these iconic characters.
But it turns out he had to pull a clever trick to actually get the job. In an interview with The A.V. Club Columbus said his daughter had pestered him for years to read the books and when he finally did, he instantly knew he was the man for the job.
Unfortunately, his agent told him there were 30 other directors in contention, including luminaries like Steven Spielberg, Terry Gilliam, Jonathan Demme, Rob Reiner, Ivan Reitman, Tim Robbins, M. Night Shyamalan, and Peter Weir. So Columbus hatched a cunning plan:
“I said to my agent, ‘Make sure that I’m the last meeting.’ In other words, after all the other directors have been interviewed, I want to be the last guy in the room. It was about 10 days before I went in, and I took those 10 days and took the script and basically rewrote it. Steve Kloves wrote a brilliant script, but I wrote a director’s version so I filled it with tone, how I was going to move the camera, and what the sets were going to look like.”
The meeting went well and Columbus impressed the producers by simply offering them his work to do with as they saw fit, saying:
“Look, I’ve rewritten this for you for free…Keep it. I don’t want to get paid for it. I just want you to see what I would do with the movie.”
Having proved that he understood the books, had a clear idea of the movie he was going to make and demonstrated a sincere passion for the Wizarding World, he got the job.
The eight-film Harry Potter series is currently streaming on Peacock and January 1 will see HBO Max reunite the cast and crew (except Rowling, whose persona non grata) in a retrospective special Harry Potter: Return to Hogwarts.