Malfoy Actor Cites “Alchemy of Harry Potter”

Probably just colloquial usage rather than a pointer to literary alchemy per se, but Jason Isaacs (Lucious Malfoy) uses the word correctly and even profoundly, I think, in discussing the possible effect of the stories on the movie version’s principal players:

CS: Can you talk about how they have matured over the years? How have they stayed grounded through all of this?

Isaacs: In the beginning all of us grownups got to patronizing a little bit. Now they have gotten a thousand hours more screen time than any of the rest of us put together – and bank balances to match. They are not just very accomplished actors, they’re very seasoned and mature individuals. They have learned to handle this very enormous stress and this kind of global fame. Frankly, I marvel at how well they have turned out as human beings. Like the mystery of “Harry Potter” and the magical alchemy that happens in the stories, the scripts and the books, something very magical has happened to those young people because by rights they should have turned into monsters, but they are still delightful to be around.

Of course, this could just be Hollywood pablum and the Harry, Ron, and Hermione actors and actress could be monsters for all we know. Let’s hope not. Hat-tip to David for his discovery of this reference. Could alchemy be a subject of discussion on the movie sets?


  1. That’s a great quote precisely because he uses “mystery” and “magical alchemy” together. And he linked it to their internal character development. It sounds to me like a purposeful and intelligent comment, that he “gets” the heart of the books.

  2. Excellent observation Travis.

    That’s exactly what caught my interest when I read this interview. The fact that many who work with mainly the “trio” on the movie set and off are surprised at their maturity, good nature and the fact that they have not gone off the deep end with worldwide fame and fortune. I’m sure their parents have a measure to play in that fact, but I wonder how much of the “mystery”and “magic ” from the internal workings that JKR placed in the Harry Potter saga of the virtue, morals and their each individual
    character development from the books and “living” out the script in each movie set has also had an effect on their own character development as individuals in society.

    I have worked at the Harry Potter premieres on a reporting basis and in speaking with those close to the trio and other actors that have worked with them, they have made the same observation.

    Perhaps the “magical alchemy” that happens in the stories, is as you have stated, what gets to the heart of the books. It also speaks to the “heart” of the reader.

    This truly confirms even greater what John has observed for a long time.

    John, Travis, this sounds like a good discussion for a future HP conference talk.

    “The Magical Alchemy within the Harry Potter: the books; the movies” .

  3. Sadly, as much as I enjoy some aspects of the films, they often miss so much of the important symbolism. No phoenix song in GoF, and no Fawkes at the end of OotP are the two most glaring examples.

    Although, someone was paying attention, or at least got something prophetically right by accident: the “Deathly Hallows” symbol was in Dumbledore’s office in the GoF film, which was released long before the cover of DH.

  4. Red Rocker says

    Having already given offense when none was meant, I might as well forge on.

    I would support John’s original theory that Jason Isaacs’ use of the words magical alchemy was indeed “probably just colloquial usage rather than a pointer to literary alchemy per se.”

    But following the adage that a fool may speak the truth, it is possible that Mr. Isaacs expressed a profunder truth than he knew. Or more charitably, that he got the spirit of the phenomenon right even if he was not totally informed about the details of literary alchemy.

    So if I might try to clarify the underlying argument, I believe it reads like this: the message and lessons carried by the books are so profoundly moral that they affect the behaviour of the people who work in making them into films. By being exposed to that message, by acting the roles which have an important part in conveying that message, the actors themselves become better people.

    Do I have it correct?

  5. Red Rocker, I think you have nailed all our observations on Mr. Isaacs’ statement.

    I think either Jason had some education on the British tradition of literary alchemy or having read the Harry Potter series of books has sparked his interest to read further into the depth of how these stories developed in JKR’s mind.

    I believe you’re right on in the fact that the books and their story carry a “spirit of the phenomenon” of the magical alchemy within its pages, either the books or to a degree in the movie script. Though I have to give Travis his point as well, that much of the symbolism is lost on the screen.

    I came to the Harry Potter scene through the movies first and then the books. So I can sense what Mr. Isaacs was pointing out.

  6. Symbol of Hallows in Goblet of Fire film? Veritaserum Thread

  7. Arabella Figg says

    Perhaps Isaacson has had an education in which he learned about literary alchemy…or consider that he has, perhaps, read John’s books. I don’t think the average person throws out the term alchemy in this informed manner.

    Also, the young actors have read the books first. Surely those have been the influence, rather than working on the films only.

    Travis, thanks for bringing up something about which I’ve wanted to ask. You wrote: “Although, someone was paying attention, or at least got something prophetically right by accident: the “Deathly Hallows” symbol was in Dumbledore’s office in the GoF film, which was released long before the cover of DH.” (Great observation, I never caught that, will have to look.)

    When the PoA film was released, JKR said director Cuaron had two things in the film that, without prior knowledge, predicted things coming in the last three books. I believe one of them was Sirius’ death–the film shows the Dementor actually sucking Siriuis’ soul out through the mouth. The soul returns when the Dementor flees Harry’s Patronus.

    Does anyone know what the other predictive thing was? I’ve seen the film since, and haven’t figured it out.

    I can predict with certainty that Little Flako is about to be chased down the hall by Curious Black…

  8. revgeorge says


    If I remember right, the second thing of foreshadowing in the movie were the constant references to Harry having his mother’s eyes.

  9. I don’t think that what Cuaron included without it being in the book had to do with the dementors and Sirius–that was in the book, just visualized differently in the movie than the way I read it.

    I think the two things had to do with Lupin and Harry’s conversation on the bridge about Lily seeing the best in others. It sounded as if he spoke from personal experience, and I’m sure he did, but it nicely foreshadows Lily seeing the best in Severus even when he could not see it himself. (And in the book, that scene didn’t exist. I liked it so much in the movie because I always thought that it would have made sense for Lupin to talk to Harry about his parents, or at least that he knew them, before the Shrieking Shack scene. After all, what’s the first thing most of us say to the children of our friends–something about when their parents were younger.)

    The other scene that wasn’t in the book is when Hermione and Harry are hiding from werewolf Lupin who is about to attack them. Buckbeak comes swooping in and drives Lupin away, protecting Harry and Hermione. That one foreshadows Buckbeak saving Harry from an angry Snape in HBP.


  10. schmalchemy says

    It could also be the reference to falling off the astronomy tower that one of the Weasley twins says to Ron when Harry is in the hospital wing after falling off his broom in the Quidditch match. As you all will know, it was from the astonomy tower that Dumbledore falls from after Snape’s AK curse (or not as it were). Just a thought…

  11. scmalchemy I was going to mention he astronomy tower reference but you got there first.

    I am still unsure whether this throw away line is what surprised JKR as it is a little obscure.

  12. I think this NBC interview with Dan Radcliff demonstrates the much cited ‘grounded’ attitude to fame fortune and all that jazz

    my favourite isd the David Yates interview (the sound may be out of synch) about the dangers of success and failure

    you may need to scan down the categories to find it.

  13. Red Rocker says

    I agree that one of the two prophetic things was what Lupin said during that conversation on the bridge with Harry: how his mother could see things in people no one else could see, and that he had his mother’s eyes.

    Imagine that you’re JKR. It’s the fall of 2003. OotP was released a few months ago. The next installation, which you will eventually call Half Blood Prince is percolating in your mind. Maybe you’ve started writing it. Snape’s uncertain allegiance, and the backstory behind it, is in the forefront of your mind. You know Snape is Dumbledore’s mole, and that what drives him is his unrequited love for Harry’s mother who was kind to him. And her eyes – which are also Harry’s eyes – are central to the story. At the same time, CUaron is working on filming PoA. You visit the set, as you sometimes do. Maybe you even see the stills. And you see and hear a conversation between Lupin and Harry where Lupin talks about Lily’s ability to see things in people which no one else could. And tells Harry he has his mother’s eyes.

    Yoy know you did not write those lines – although you would have, if you could go back and do it again. It seems like prescience on someone else’s part. It might almost seem like the world which you created has somehow taken off on its own, and continues, following the directions you’ve set for it.

    You shiver with recognition and awe.

  14. revgeorge says

    It certainly is, as The Police would say, an amazing example of synchronicity. Not much has been said about Lily in the books as to her character other than her sacrifice for Harry. Well not much said until we get to Slughorn.

    But some people saw the things with Lily coming, like Cuaron. I also read somewhere a comment by someone who noted that Snape never said a bad word at all about Lily. He was constantly denigrating James but never mentioned Lily ever in the books (not counting his memories).

  15. Red Rocker says

    Not sure whose idea it was to insert that scene. The obvious suspect would be Steve Kloves, the screenwriter, who had to actually write the scene before it could be filmed. But Cuaron could have conceived and requested it. Or it might have been one of the producers. It would be interesting to find out whose idea it was. But it’s probably too late, now, to learn the truth. People’s memories of the same event differ, as we each remember according to our subsequent thoughts and experiences. Still, I wish someone would ask Kloves, Cuaron and Heyman whose idea it was.

  16. jensenly says

    The other potential foreshadowing scene in the POA film is Snape putting his arms out in front of the trio (as in protecting them) from Lupin as he turns into a werewolf. It seemed quite out of character for Snape up until this point, as he had shown nothing but disdain for HRH.

    I also like the astronomy tower reference. If I were JKR, that line would have jolted me right out of my seat.

  17. Arabella Figg says

    Thanks for all the intruiguing ideas, but I’m still sticking with Sirius Soul-Sucked for one of them. There was no indication of Dementor success in the book; Harry’s Patronus prevents it. The film specifically shows Siriuls’ soul removed and then returned. Probably added for heightened drama, it foreshadowed Sirius’ death in OotP.

    Several characters up through PoA mention Harry’s eyes, so to me nothing new there. However, the comments about Lily in the film–may be. I like the Astronomy Tower ref., too.

    Gaah! Little Flako just dove off the top of the 7′ bookcase…

  18. schmalchemy says

    As I am reading the posts, I was thinking the same thing as Ms. Arabella here as regards the reference to Lily’s eyes. From book 1 on, Harry’s eyes are always being compared to Lily’s. That is one of the things mentioned that Harry sees in the Mirror of Erised (all of Harry’s relatives with the green eyes including his mother) for example.
    Of course, in retrospect and hindsight, it is much easier to second guess this. Without any input from Rowling (and that’ll never happen), we’ll never know,

  19. A long shot I know but does anyone think that perhaps the way Prof Snape was blasted backwards by Harry in the Shrieking Shack foreshadowed his death in that dreary place?

    I cannot remember if/how this occurred in the book, perhaps someone would be kind enough to enlighten me?

  20. revgeorge says


    It did happen in the book. However, it was Harry, Ron, & Hermione hitting Snape with an expelliarmus all at the same time.

  21. Thanks RevGeorge; another theory bites the dust….

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