Why Actors Don’t Read the Book [JAB]

Today, our good friends at the Harry Potter Automatic News Aggregator lead us to a very sensible explanation of why some actors avoid reading the novel a screenplay is based upon–to avoid the “heartbreak of exclusion.”

In this interview in METRO.co.uk actor Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy to Potter fans) explains it as follows:

I stopped reading the books when the scenes I loved, usually involving me, stopped making it into the scripts. I’m waiting to read the script for the last one, then I’ll read the book. I don’t want to fall in love with particular sequences that don’t end up in the film. Obviously, they can’t include the whole story or the films would each be 20 hours long. I read the first four books all in one go, but haven’t read one since.

In the rest of the article, it appears that the real life Malfoy pater familias prefers Macs to PCs; opposes Religion (meaning of statement not explored); and is, contrary to his screen persona, adamantly opposed to racial prejudice.

What say you HogPros? Are the inevitable alterations that come from compressing a full novel into a two hour screen experience sufficient reason for an actor to avoid the novel in preference to the screenplay? Could this help assure that he or she accurately portrays only what was written in the script?

Or is it preferable to add the experience of the entire novel in order to create an accurate aura behind the necessarily evanescent figure being portrayed? Would this hold true even at the risk of accidentally presenting an aspect of the character not justified by the final script?


  1. Dave the Longwinded says

    I can understand the emotional attachment; but, it would seem that, as actors, they would be well aware of this dilemma already. And it would seem that reading the character from Rowling’s texts might provide some more material to work with in terms of insight into the character’s behavior, motivations, and attitudes.

    This seems like a cheap excuse designed to appeal to readers’ sentiments about seeing beloved segments from the books excised from the films.

  2. Is Isaacs saying he reads the book after he reads the corresponding script or that he will finish the series after he reads the script for DH? Personally, I believe the actors should read the source of the script they are being asked to bring to the screen to get a sense of author’s intent and to accurately portray the characters. Good actors will follow the director’s guidelines, great actors will bring forth a multi-dimensional aura for the director to work with and not sacrifice either the book’s character or the character found in the final script. Since *Harry Potter* is a compilation of seven with immense character development in the storyline(s), I believe Isaacs and other HP actors who might agree with his views are doing themselves a disservice by not seeing the “whole picture.”

    As for accidentally presenting an inaccurate portrayal; is this not the reasoning for bringing the author of the source material on site during filming? I understand JKR will be more accessible to the cast and the director for movies 6 & 7. I hope she does not compromise overmuch in the blending of events. Granted, if the actors were knowledgeable of the books, their portrayals would be true to the author’s intent and recognized by the reader/viewer. The non-reader wouldn’t know one discrepency from another. (I get irked by the little things myself: Dudley is blonde in the books, but dark-headed in the movies. And Cho DID NOT reveal the D.A.’s existence in OotP…I could not believe Jo let that detail get by in the movie.)

    Interesting discussion point, JAB. Keep up the good work.

    Isaacs has his work cut out for him if he plans to wait until he reads the script for DH before finishing the series. Or maybe he’s very comfortable with depicting evil at its worst? I wonder how he feels about groveling, humiliation, and all-out fear? The post-mortem scene in the Great Hall at Hogwarts should speak volumes. I can’t wait to stand and cheer!!!!!!

  3. Arabella Figg says

    I’m just going off the quoted part above.

    PJ, you bring some good points to the table. Yet Isaac’s portrayal of Malfoy is one of the film series’ greatest strengths and I wish we had more of him. I think he plays the role beautifully and in a nuanced way. Since the book character shows no evidence of growth, I don’t feel Isaacs needs to read further until he wishes. He’s read the first four; he’s got the idea. And I believe he’s up to any aspect of the role.

    I would add that most of the adult characters alter little, although some (i.e., Dumbldore and Snape) have revealed layers, in which case, reading the books would help those actors. In the Pottercast interview, Jo says she told Alan Rickman early on that Snaped loved Lily because he needed to understand how to play Snape’s conflicted character, especially his seemingly insane hatred of Harry.

    Isaacs has a point about seeing juicy opportunities for his character being cut from the film. As I read the books, I’d often think, “Oh, that actor must be salivating!” And the scene(s) would never appear, such as Ron’s Quidditch keeper storyline.

    But all the kid actors would seriously need to read the books, to understand their growth.

    In general, I think actors should read the source material; with HP, though, we’re talking 7 books in which some characters are mapped out early and change little.

    The kitties had me mapped out early–I’m the Rhode Island of their Texas-sized world…

  4. JohnABaptist says

    Enjoying a few minutes as myself instead of having to be the Granger Clone!


    I know what you mean about Cho. I almost cried out “No! You fools it was Marietta, not Cho!” right in the middle of a crowded theater.

    However on subsequent reflection, I think I see why in the context of the movie, it had to work out that way.

    The problem was not introducing the character of Marietta and letting her reveal the secret meeting place. That would have taken at most a few lines of dialog. The problem was how to get Harry out of love with Cho without making Harry seem a heartless rogue or someone lacking in deep emotional commitment (puppy love can be deucedly had to shake!) Making Cho the traitor saved filming an entire series of scenes from the book wherein Cho’s unresolved feelings about Cedric slowly tear the two of them apart. The process worked well in the book, but there just wasn’t time to build all that into an already longish movie.

    So quick and neat. Movie Harry may come to understand Movie Cho’s actions and even forgive her, but the betrayal exceeds the bonding power of romantic attraction. Romantically Cho is history and Harry is free to meet Ginny…Harry and the screenwriters are off the hook in one scene. It makes sense in that light, it’s even brilliant in that light.

    But it still stinks! Cho, as PJ says, DID NOT betray Harry. Grump. (I’d have set through another 20 minutes to get it worked out right…especially if they built an intermission in somewhere around Christmas.)

  5. As book-readers AND movie-watchers we are supposed to be able to distinguish between the two versions of the story.

    So why on earth should we accept a much smaller ability to distringuish between the same two things from an actor?

    Odd Sverre Hove
    (Bergen Norway)

  6. Arabella Figg says

    PJ and JAB, I too was upset that Cho was made traitor in the film. However, you’re forgetting that the film Cho was forced to confess through Veritaserum administered by Umbridge. (Snape reveals this when Umbridge ask him for it to interrogate Harry before the MoM standoff.)

    This served three shortcut purposes. 1) When Harry faces Cho at the end, through her shamed confessional plea, he sees how even his own friends can be unwillingly used against the White Hats (setting up good groundwork for the DH film); 2) It closes off the relationship neatly, first angrily, then sadly and 3) Harry can hold no ill feeling toward Cho, as he has also been forced against his will to do ugly, shameful things–attack Mr. Weasley (as the snake), feel the surge of hatred toward Dumbledore and, through compulsion and his own stubbornness) accomplish LV’s purpose by going to the Mom, which results in so much tragedy. All these happen in the very same book/film. Who is he to point fingers?

    It also (under #1 above) shows the depravity of the MoM that would endorse using such a tool (the Veritaserum) on an underage child.

    Use all the Veritaserum you want on a cat, you still won’t understand a word…

  7. Isaacs has a point. I can understand why he wouldn’t want to read the book first, but after he has the script, I’d think that it would be imperative to an actor to read the source for the story. For Isaacs, especially, in the last two movies, he’s going to go from being an arrogant jerk, to being terrified that his only son is going to die at the hands of the “person” he helped bring back to power.

    On Cho in the movie, wasn’t she tricked into drinking veritaserum? I think it wasn’t revealed until the very end of the movie, but she didn’t betray the DA of her own volition; she was tricked into it by Umbridge. It certainly simplified the plot, even if it wasn’t as satisfying as the book version.


  8. I can see advantages & disadvantages to Isaacs’ position on reading the books. He at least seems to be doing so for more noble reasons. The actors I get upset at are the ones who refrain from reading the books because they don’t want someone else to impinge on ‘their’ vision for the character. It comes off as a certain kind of acting arrogance.

    But there’s one person who proves perfectly that one can read the books & know the character they’re portraying down to the bone & then be able to nail that characterization on the screen. Evanna Lynch, of course!

  9. Arabella,

    I’ve always meant to ask you how many kitties you have. My wife & I have fourteen. All indoors exclusively. And all horribly mistreated, if you believe what they say. Forced to eat premium cat food & sleep on comfy blankets & laps. Never as many treats as they’d like. And we have the gall to restrict some of the rooms in our house from them! 🙂

  10. Whew! I’m in a whirl getting my thoughts around the great insights in response to my musings about Cho.

    Thanks, everyone, for helping me better understand how adaptation from book to big screen is just that; taking the big story and smushing it into a sometimes inaccurate, if not neat, compact visual reinactment! I will try to be more forgiving with films 6 & 7 and refrain from comparative nitpicking. (But hasn’t the conversation been interesting?)

    I am curious…and these are open questions to any HogPro motivated to answer…In your opinion, what portion(s) of Book 7 could be eliminated from the screenplay without creating a fan-furor? Do you think the episode in the all night cafe off Tottenham Court Road will be retained in order to set up the event (speaking LV’s name) leading to Harry, Ron, & Hermione’s capture by the Snatchers later in the story?

  11. The original question isn’t necessarily designed to tell Isaacs how to work his craft, but it does lead in that direction. If his performances in the movies had been inferior, a search for the cause would be understandable. Since he seems to have nailed Lucius Malfoy to the core, however, I’m content with his statement that he has yet to read the final novels in the series. A good director and production staff can complete any gaps in his understanding of the character and his psyche, if there is any lack on the actor’s part.

  12. Arabella Figg says

    Oh, RevGeorge, I have to laugh! Fourteen cats! Wow!

    I, Arabella, currently have 26 cats, although Thudders and Big-Eye Foody probably comprise two extra between them. But my Muggle alias has, alas, only one–a certain spotted tabby, Casey Rose–due to my cat-loving husband’s allergies. There’s definitely truth to the adage that “dogs have masters, cats have staff.”

    Many of Arabella’s kitties, however, have, amazingly, become quite “real,” with individual looks and personalities. These are the ones most used in signoffs.

    Now, PJ, yes the conversation has been very interesting. I find I’m almost dreading the 6 & 7 films after the squeezing Knight Bus experience of OotP. In 7, I imagine the Black house and forest roaming will be very compressed, also the wedding (infuriating the alchemy fans). Heavens, they may toss out most of the book as they did OotP. I imagine the Godric’s Hollow and last section will get the most room. And I think we’ll get some Potterwatch and Dobby’s death. I do hope we get to see Harry all scruffy with long hair. What do you others think?

    Stabbers, Screecher, Slobby and Frenzy demand a mention; too many claw to bat away…

  13. Oh my….Arabella, you’ve had me convinced your felines were absolutely attention-demanding real! You go, girl! Fantastic imagery and cat-character development 🙂

    I’m thinking a scruffy Harry will be alarming if we don’t see him reasonably tidy in the beginning…handsome, nontheless. His transformation throughout the movie will be quite interesting on several levels. Ron and Hermione’s changes should also lend themselves to the drama…especially the events in Malfoy Manor! SO MUCH visual for the moviemakers to work with from first chapter to epilogue in 7!!!!

  14. Arabella Figg says

    Shh, don’t tell, PJ, but the kitties are quite real–oh, Thudders, not the ficus again!–and become more so by the day. Thank you for your kind words. Oops, got to rescue Curious Black, stuck forward-facing into an open 6″ wide, partially-filled kitchen glass cupboard; he’s trying to maneuver out backwards, back leg hanging down to find purchase (true story of former cat and photo to prove it). Anyone want to adopt?

    On to scruffy Harry and friends. I think sartorial visuals could be a serious storytelling aid. Everyone spiffed up for the wedding, deteriorating on the run, returned to neater selves at Bill’s cottage and then scruffy Malfoy prisoners. On the other hand, I so looked forward to the Death Eater/baby in the time jar and Ron’s brain attack in OotP…and instead got a stupid Howler, Bellatrix bizarrely fearful of Harry and no crucial DD ending office scene.

    Nevertheless, I still hope for great things from Hermione’s evening bag. Don’t I wish I had one!

    Ninny’s making eyes at Hairy Plotter, who’s busy suspecting a waiting-to-pounce Tom Piddle around the corner…

  15. Jason has nailed Lucius up until this point and I have every confidence he’ll be able to transform himself into the defeated, frightened shell-of a-man he becomes in DH, whether or not he has read the final book.

    And speaking of the Malfoys, I sincerely hope we get enough of Narcissa in the 7th movie to drive home the scene in the Forbidden Forest whereby she betrays Voldemort by announcing Harry is “dead”. I found that to be such a pivotal moment in the book; next to Harry, she’s a huge reason LV is ultimately destroyed.

  16. Arabella Figg says

    Excellent point, Jensenly, about Narcissa, who has made no appearance in the films. She did become a pivotal character and the only way for the films to deal with that, of course, is to leave her out completely (haha). They’d better bring her in well with HBP or the moment will lose it’s startling meaning.

    Ack! Cleverpuss just jumped in my lap!…

  17. OK…so what was the meaning behind Narcissa’s fingernails piercing Harry’s chest? Was she trying to get him to make some kind of movement and give himself away or was she communicating to Harry something else? Maybe Narcissa was trying to contain her relief at hearing Draco was alive in the castle and the fingernail action was a silent “YES!” for her?

    I agree, Jensenly; LV’s disregard for the feelings of his followers was, in truth, the very seed that blossomed into Narcissa’s ultimate betrayal. Of course, parental love doesn’t really count for anything, don’t you know?

  18. pj –

    I, too, am baffled by Narcissa and the “piercing” thing. I like your theory of her containing her relief upon hearing Draco was still alive, though. The fingernail action also seems to fit her character more than just a subtle “squeeze” of some sort.

    Nice analysis. I can now move on to some other puzzling piece of trivia…..

  19. Arabella Figg says

    I think it was relief. I was curious and read the part. If you’e got long nails, press your own chest and contract your hand. Ouch!

    Kitties specialize in chest penetration, claws nice and sharp…

  20. JohnABaptist says

    While all of the preceding comments about Narcissa’s nails are definitely to the point, we should not forget the many parallels between this scene and Jesus’ crucifixion. In particular, John 19:31-37 tells of a soldier piercing Jesus side with a lance in the identical location, and other references speak of Jesus being pierced with nails (granted those were in His hands and feet, not his side). In typical Rowling fashion those such as I who wish to see a parallel here find it strikingly present, and those who wish to deny or ignore its presence do so handily.

  21. Arabella Figg says

    I’d thought of your point (no pun intended), too, JAB, but the context doesn’t support it, I don’t believe. This was post “death” and King’s Cross. True, Narcissa was an enemy, but she intended no harm to Harry. So I think you might be reaching a bit.

    Narcissa’s nails have nothing on Fullatrick’s claws…

  22. just looking to see if anyone got around to discussing pj’s jan. 28th questions about whether the scene in the cafe on Tottenham Court Road would appear in movie 7…

  23. Narcissa will be in the sixth movie. In an odd bit of casting, Mugglenet reported that the actress originally cast as Bellatrix will be playing Narcissa. Helen McCroy was cast as Bellatrix, but then she became pregnant. That’s how Helena Bonham Carter was ultimately cast in the part.

    As for Narcissa digging her claws into Harry’s chest … is it the first of the many challenges he has to face in playing dead? Mostly, I saw it as a venting of her relief … with the usual lack of concern for the well-being of others that Narcissa demonstrated again and again and again throughout the series.

  24. ” In particular, John 19:31-37 tells of a soldier piercing Jesus side with a lance in the identical location, and other references speak of Jesus being pierced with nails (granted those were in His hands and feet, not his side).”

    As for the spiritual link re: Narcissa’s nails/Harry’s chest. Arabella, would the reference have to be spot-on with evidence to have meaning? I have to admit that I’d not contemplated the parallel…not because I don’t look, but at the time of the post I was focused on the progression of Lucius and Narcissa’s characterizations. JAB,you have provided me with another *V-8 Moment*! Thank you, thank you 🙂

    Arabella, I was initially prepared to disagree with you about Narcissa’s lack of intent to harm Harry, but when I review her behaviors in Madam Malkins’ shop, with Snape in Spinner’s End, and throughout the events in DH, I believe you are correct. Narcissa appears to be a woman not unlike a mobster’s wife: while she understands her husband’s *business* to be his domain, she also knows her place in the public eye…a supportive wife and mother. Her focus was on the preservation of her family, not the death of Harry Potter. Unfortunately, Narcissa becomes a hostage of sorts in the final months; Voldemort in her home, the removal of the senior Malfoys’ wands, the presence of Death Eaters, LV’s prisoners in the cellar, and the constant bickering and sibling confrontations with the crazed Bellatrix.

    I doubt the depth of her love would not have prevented Voldemort from killing Lucius and Draco outright…and I could not fathom why he didn’t except for the fact that JKR wished to present us with 1) the Malfoys’ public defeat and humiliation and 2) a continuation of the Harry/Draco conflict through Albus/Scorpio in the Epilogue. So why didn’t LV kill Narcissa to hurt Lucius? Because of Bellatrix? Wouldn’t that have displayed concern for another person? We are never told that Narcissa bears the Dark Mark herself and I see this as another example of her detachment from Voldemort and ability to see Harry as her pathway into the castle to rescue Draco.

  25. JohnABaptist says


    “So why didn’t LV kill Narcissa to hurt Lucius?”

    I think LV left Narcissa alive because:

    a) He had no fear of her.

    b) It was too much fun to tormenting her.

    c) Once you have killed someone, you can’t hurt them any further.

    The Dementors are very much avatars of LV. He too seems to feed off of the processes of sucking the joy out of others lives. His followers offer him loyalty and a twisted kind of love, but he does not want that…he wants Fear. Only when he is satisfied that all around him Fear him totally is he content. In this he is, of course, a stark contrast to Dumbledore and subsequently Harry who cherish being surrounded by Love.

    An interesting contrast incidentally to the Old Testament concept of Fearing God vs the New Testament concept of Loving Him.

  26. JAB, are you suggesting that the family members of the marked Death Eaters were essentially pawns to perpetuate allegiance through the means of intimidation and a Fear construct? I can see that. Lots of that behavior going around today, I think.

    I think LV was too obsessed with Harry to realize Narcissa’s loyalties were negotiable. Had he used Legilimens on her, he would have known unless Narcissa was skilled in the use of Occlumens. Didn’t Snape appear to use Legilimens on Narcissa during her visit at Spinner’s End? She would have wanted him to understand her deepest concerns about Draco without further interference from her sister and Snape’s keen ability would have been an ideal vehicle to communicate by.

  27. All of the above are good reasons for Lord Voldemort not to kill Narcissa (or Lucius or Draco, for that matter). But ultimately, our author has her own reasons. Because of her love for her own son, Draco, Narcissa conceals the truth that Harry is alive from Voldemort. Thus, Voldemort’s final undoing at the end of the series comes about by much the same way as his undoing at the begining: through a mother’s unstoppable love for her child.

  28. Nice “come-full-circle” observation, TrudyK. Once again, love triumphs over LV in ways he cannot fathom.

  29. JohnABaptist says

    Bingo TrudyK!

    I had not seen that aspect. Very good!

    I love the way I can throw a half-baked thought into this blog and have it come back to me fully cooked, nicely glazed and wrapped in an attractive package.

    JAB smiling in delight.

  30. Wow! Great job, TrudyK, for cutting right to the chase and recognizing the maternal-love factor.

    JAB…if your thoughts are half-baked, then I’d better stay out of the literary kitchen all together! I’m sure I’ve misread more than my share of discussion ingredients than I care to admit.

    Come to think of it…my husband is the family chef around here (although I bake a pretty mean batch of double-chocolate chip cookie bars when necessary).

  31. Arabella Figg says

    Trudy K, bingo! Good one!

    I also feel Narcissa demonstrated “what goes around, comes around.” Here’s a haughty mudblood-hater, arrogant in her husband’s position, brought low and now dependent upon a mixed blood child she’d despised.

    PJ, I’ll match my fool ya gluten/wheat-free chocolate chocolate chip cookies with your yummy-sounding bars any time! 🙂

    Little Flako would love some chocolate but he’s not getting any…

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