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Harry, Hermione, and Ron have to grow up quite literally in the gripping second-to-last installment of the “Harry Potter” movie series, based on the first half of the seventh and final book.  Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Grint) take a swig of polyjuice potion to impersonate three nondescript middle-aged people so they can infiltrate the Ministry.  Afterward, they shed the older personas like giant overcoats. But they know they must stay in the adult world in this powerful story that sets up the final confrontation between the boy who did not die and he who must not be named.

No more Hogwarts school for young wizards and witches. No more Quidditch, no more short-term Defense Against the Dark Arts professors or visits to Hagrid’s creatures or OWL exams or excursions to Hogsmeade for a cozy chat over butterbear at The Three Broomsticks. Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) is dead. Hermione has had to erase her parents memories so that not even a photograph remains as evidence that they once had a child.  The dreadful Dursleys have fled 4 Privet Drive.  Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is stronger.  The Ministry is under the control of his Death Eaters, who despise muggles (humans) and want to eradicate any witches or wizards with muggle blood.

Everything is on the line. Within the first 15 minutes of the film, an important character is seriously wounded and another is killed. Deeper, direr losses are ahead. Harry, Hermione, and Ron are out in the cold as they race from one remote, chilly location to another and try to figure out how to locate the seven places where Voldemort has hidden pieces of his soul.

Director David Yates and writer Steve Kloves return, again showing a deep appreciation for the material, especially in the way the vast, bleak settings reflect the overwhelming task facing the three friends. The book is not an easy one to adapt and like its source material the movie sometimes seems to lack direction as its heroic trio often has no idea what to do next. But its young stars have grown into able performers who hold up well next to what sometimes seems like a battalion of classically trained British actors. The scene of Hermione erasing her parents memory is very brief, but Watson makes it sharply poignant. Radcliffe’s quiet dignity shows us how Harry has matured. And Grint, too often relegated to comic relief, gets a chance to show us his pain as a piece of Voldemort’s soul begins to infect him with jealousy and mistrust. A tender moment between Harry and Hermione lends a sweet gravity that does as much to add urgency to our anticipation for the next chapter as the prospect of the final battle.

David Schwimmer is the director of a new film called “Trust,” the heartbreaking story of a 14-year-old girl who is molested by an internet predator and the devastating effect it has not just on her but on her family.  It is a sensitive, thoughtful, compassionate drama that avoids the overheatedness of television movies.  Schwimmer is best known for appearing as Ross on “Friends,” but his accomplishments also include co-founding the distinguished Lookingglass Theatre and directing “Run Fat Boy, Run.”  I spoke to him about how is work with a program for survivors of sexual abuse inspired this story and working with actors as experienced as Tony-award winner Viola Davis and as inexperienced as newcomer Liana Liberato.

Tell me how this movie came about.

I’ve been a part of this organization, The Rape Foundation, for fourteen years and a member of the board for the last ten. This movie is inspired by the child victims and their families that I met and it was developed in conjunction with the counselors there and one friend who is an agent with the FBI who worked on these cased for many years until he burned out.  The people who work on the “Innocent Images” program have a psych test every six months and the burnout rate is very high.  When he had his own daughter, he had to quit.  These people are real heroes to me.

A few years ago, we had a fund-raising event for The Rape Foundation and for the first time, we invited a father to speak about what he went through when his 14-year-old was brutally raped.  What he described was so devastating to me, so moving, it make me realize that this traumatizes the whole family.  He was a big, lumbering guy, a professional, not at all a public speaker, shaking the whole time in front of this crowd of 1000.  But he articulated so beautifully his combination of grief, and what a lot of these fathers describe as an incapacitating rage, and impotence because they can’t do anything and men want to fix the problem.  He described all these feelings — guilt, shame, responsibility, and it almost destroyed his marriage, his work, his relationship with all of his kids.  And I thought, “That’s a lens I haven’t seen before, the father/daughter relationship.”  So I started the process of developing it and writing it.

The therapist is played by one of the finest actresses in the world, Viola Davis.

I love Viola.  She was my first choice.  She is such a presence in the film and she was only on the set for two days.  Some of her scenes were among the toughest in the movie and they were the first two days of filming.  The person she plays is inspired by Gail Abarbanel, director of The Rape Foundation, so we named the character Gail.  She had that combination of strength and compassion, a grounded presence, never talking down to a kid, incredible generosity of spirit.  This issue was important to her and she wanted to do it.  Everyone came to the table because the story meant a lot to them for personal reasons.  We didn’t want it to be a series of scenes in a therapist’s office.  What she does in four scenes is just remarkable.

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The most heartbreaking part of the movie is realizing that what the rapist did to the girl’s body is nothing compared to what he did to her spirit.  It is very painful for her to let go of her insistence that she is special to him.

Her eventual realization that she wasn’t ever loved — that’s the most brutal part.

How did you talk to Liana Liberato about the role?

She is a remarkable, gifted actor for any age, and fearless.  To be able to take direction as well as seamlessly, effortlessly is astonishing.  And when you meet her in person you will be doubly amazed because in person she’s just a kid, so shy and gawky and inexperienced.  She got it, she understood this person from the get-go.  I met her and worked with her a few times and had her read with Clive and Catherine.  They said, “That’s our daughter.”  We were equally jealous of her talent.  I made it clear to her she had to take this on as her own research project.  She immersed herself in the world, met with girls from The Rape Foundation.  We did a lot of table reads and listened to their input and their instincts.  I intentionally put the hotel scene toward the end of the schedule so she would feel as comfortable as possible with me.  It was her choice and instinct not to spend any time with the actor who played the predator.  By the time we did the scene, she was really nervous and anxious about it and that worked for the scene.  I let her know that every step of the way, she was in control.  The lingerie she was wearing was built for her with special lining for modesty.  A wardrobe assistant who befriended her was with her off camera.  The actor who plays the predator was equally uncomfortable — I had to take care of him, too.  I explained every thing he was going to do so every step of the way both of them knew what was happening.  She could lose herself in her imagination and be unsafe in her interior but know that her physical world was safe.  There as a line we had written where she said, “You don’t think I’m fat?”  I know really thin girls say that, but she wanted to say, “You don’t think my body’s weird?”  I wanted her to own this person and that is the line we used.

Tell me about casting and directing the actor who plays the rapist.

The first step was casting someone who is in my research and experience more like the guys that are commonly like this.  They are our neighbors, our teachers, our coaches, our pastors, our doctors.  You can’t see evil coming.  Traditionally the guy is portrayed as a weird creepy guy living with his mom and I wanted to shatter that.  The other thing that was important to me was the ending.  I didn’t want the audience to leave the theater on an exhale.  “Everything’s good, that story’s resolved, where do you want to eat?”  I wanted people to leave more active and engaged.

What have you learned as an actor from the directors you’ve worked with?

I tried to study every director and take the best stuff and remember things I didn’t like, how I was treated, how a set was run.  As an actor, I can sense it if the crew’s not happy, if they’re not supported or if they’re overworked.  If you have a director who is screaming at some prop assistant because they’ve got the wrong prop or everyone is in fear of losing their job or being yelled at — that was something I resolved never to do.  If there is a problem, I never raise my voice on set.  My job is to create the right kind of atmosphere on set to tell the story I am telling.  In “Run, Fat Boy Run,” there was a lot of humor on the set.  On this set, sometime we needed a breather and some levity but for the most part I had to remind the crew that Catherine or whoever is raw right now, preparing for a scene, so if you have to adjust the light, try to do it sensitively.

The father in the film, played by Clive Owen, works in advertising on a campaign that shows teenagers in sexy poses.

He doesn’t understand that he is being complicit.  I wanted it to add to his feeling of culpability.  My hope is that in that scene where he finally imagines his daughter in the campaign at the launch party, it was his unconscious surfacing.  I’m taking an obvious swipe at the sexualization of young people in advertising.  I wish there was more public uproar about it.  It’s the way I was raised, i guess, because my mom is such an activist.

How have people responded to this story?

After we shot the film I adapted it for the stage in Chicago.  What was really interesting is that every night after the play we would have Q&A’s and talk backs and people would stay for an hour and then come back with their daughters. There are very few movies to help families talk about parenting.  I want this to start some important conversations.


I loved the old PBS series “Upstairs, Downstairs,” which ran from 1971-75 on the BBC.  It was revolutionary because it gave almost-equal time to the stories of the servants (downstairs) and the wealthy Edwardian-era family they worked for (upstairs).  Jean Marsh, who played a housemaid, was the series co-creator with her friend Eileen Atkins.  A new 40th anniversary DVD set has been released by Acorn Media with more than 25 hours of new bonus material.

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Marsh returns for three new episodes, this time with Atkins, as the sequel to “Upstairs, Downstairs” begins tonight on PBS.

When the master of 165 Eaton Place, Sir Hallam Holland, carries his wife across the threshold of their new home, Lady Agnes exclaims with pleasure, “What a ghastly old mausoleum!” Neglect has strewn cobwebs everywhere and furred the surfaces with dust. But with a sumptuous renovation and the help of the indomitable housekeeper Rose Buck (Jean Marsh), the iconic address so beloved in the original series Upstairs Downstairs is soon restored to its former glory.

It’s 1936, a tumultuous time in Britain, and within the walls of 165 Eaton Place, characters from an orphanage, a damp Welsh castle, the heart of the British Raj and elsewhere together will face a changing world, not just upstairs and downstairs, but side by side.

 

I couldn’t help it.  When I picked up the phone to hear the voice of distinguished actor John Rhys-Davies, I had to enjoy a moment pretending I was talking to Sallah from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” or Gimli from “Lord of the Rings.”  Rhys-Davies and his gorgeous speaking voice have appeared in everything from blockbusters to “Star Trek: Voyager” and “Spongebob Squarepants.”  I very much enjoyed speaking to him about the new DVD release of KJB: The Book That Changed the World, a documentary celebrating the 400th anniversary of the most widely-used and influential English translation of the Christian Bible.

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How do you think about faith and science?

I count myself a a rationalist and a skeptic with a very conscious awareness of my indebtedness to Western Christian civilization and I am a fairly passionate defender of it.  My background is as a Welsh Protestant and I find myself championing all sorts of causes when I find them unfairly portrayed.  I am a believer in the evolutionary process and yet I have sympathy for the friends of mine who are creationists.  I don’t find the positions incompatible.  That means I irritate both camps.  How do you expect God to communicate to people — to speak about event horizons and milliseconds?  It is better to say, “In the beginning….”  There is no necessity for them to disagree.  Dare I say it is a failure on the imaginations of both parts.

The issues of faith I keep coming back to.  I am convinced logically that to say there is no God is the act of a fool.  When you get back to fundamental questions — why should anything exist?  A, I’m not sure what the answer is in terms of the science and B, I’m not sure that science can even ask that question.  And it is sophistry to say that it is not a valid question.  In the absence of an answer, reasoned speculation seems to be legitimate.  Given the size of the earth and the number of possible universes that exist — I was told once it was 10 to the 500th power.  The revised figure is 10 to the thousandth to the ten thousandth power, a scale so far beyond our comprehension that to make any assertions about it is simply fatuous.

Don’t you think that is exactly why the Bible presents its lessons in parable and metaphor?  Because so much is beyond our comprehension? 

I think that is a very legitimate observation.  Aquinas got it right when he said, “God is that which nothing is greater.”  But the size of that greatness is slowly revealing itself to us.

Were you on location for some of this film?

Only a few occasions like Holyrood Abbey in Edinburgh, where the kings of Scotland were crowned, Westminster Abbey, Magdalen College and the Bodleian Library at Oxford, and the library of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Beautiful places.  And one had the privilege of meeting ultra-smart minds, people who could understand complex matters and give a simple, clear answer.  Not like me!  I can’t give a soundbite for love or money.

What surprised you in learning about the history of this translation?

The human drama.  And the real surprise for me was the enormous sense of emotion that I felt when I actually held it in my hand.  I was moved to tears. It shocked me into realizing how deep the instinct of faith is still in me.  I’m choking up at the recollection of it even now.

You know that argument the traditionalists have with the modernists about the translation: “Then I shall see him face to face but through a glass, darkly,” that wonderful Elizabethan expression.  It always happens to be my favorite because I know exactly what it means.  Imagine murky, dirty, Elizabethan London.  Carts, horses, noise, excrement.  People dumped chamber pots onto the street.  The glass windows were not the clear glass we have now but rather like those sort of obscure, bubble-filled slightly opaque things that let some light in but you could not exactly see through, and that’s the image they found of the way we can look at God.

The scrupulousness of the scholarship, the care, the sense of importance of what they were doing, the need to get it right, and the extraordinary tensions between them.  And as they worked together and refined things, slowly they began to respect each other’s talents and scholarship.  And that strange mutation takes place when you realize that what you’re doing is not just an exercise but a mounting sense of excitement: “What we’re doing is really extraordinarily good.”  I think by the end they knew what they were making was pure gold.