Back to the future

Upcoming releases by world-class directors.

After the release of long-awaited films, such as Pedro Almodóvar's The Skin I Live In and Tomas Alfredson's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, we take a look at what's coming next from some of our greatest living directors.

Twixt (2011), Franis-Ford Coppola

In Coppola's new detective thriller, Val Kilmer plays a pulp horror writer living in a Californian town, who becomes involved in a dramatic murder story of his own. Narrated by Tom Waits, the cast includes Ben Chaplin, Bruce Dern and Elle Fanning.

Making a rare public appearance, this year Coppola showed parts of Twixt to the Comic-Con fan convention in San Diego. He used real-time editing tools to present a version of the film which was directly influenced by the audience's response. This was the first run of an interesting project due before Twixt's theatrical release: a national tour in which Coppola will show a different version of the thriller each night.

Carnage (2011), Roman Polanski

Carnage is based upon God of Carnage, the 2009 Tony-winning play written by French playwright Yasmina Reza. Reza and Polanski started adapting the play for the big screen in 2009. Set in Brooklyn, Carnage is based on the interaction between two sets of middle-class parents who meet after their sons are found fighting in the school playground. In this witty film, hostility and resentment are unleashed between two couples: the Longstreets (John C Reilly and Jodie Foster) and the Cowans (Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet). Premiered at the Venice Film Festival, Carnage will open the 49th New York Film Festival on 30 September.

Melancholia (2011), Lars von Trier

From the director of the 2000 Palme-D'Or-winning Dancer In the Dark, comes this visually stunning end-of-the-world melodrama. The film was in the running for this year's Palme D'Or, but lost to Terence Malick's Tree of Life.

A mysterious new planet called "Melancholia" threatens to collide into the Earth, which has a damaging affect on the relationship between two sisters: Justine and Claire. Kirsten Dunst won Best Female Actress at Cannes this year for her role as Justine, a bride-to-be who suffers from depression. The more rational sister, Claire, is played by Charlotte Gainsbourg. The film also stars Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Rampling and John Hurt.

Gambit (2012), Michael Hoffman

The remake of the 1966 British action thriller starring Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine has a screenplay written by Joel and Ethan Coen.

In his first film since The King's Speech, Colin Firth stars as a cat burglar trying to rob a billionaire. The criminal employs the help of a waitress (Cameron Diaz) who closely resembles the billionaire's ex-wife. Gambit's shooting in London began in May this year, and it should be released in 2012.

The Great Gatsby (2012), Baz Luhrmann

Baz Luhrmann is dedicating a vast budget of £90m to his film production of one of the best novels of all time. First published in 1925, F Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby conveys how a materialist and hedonistic culture can both attract and estrange people from one another. The novel is set in Long Island and New York City, but the film is being shot in Australia.

In parallel with his role as Jay Gatsby, Leonardo DiCaprio is stupendously rich, topping the 2011 Forbes list for the top-earning male in Hollywood. Tobey Maguire plays the novel's narrator Nick Carraway and Carey Mulligan stars as Gatsby's love, the enigmatic and unforgettable Daisy Buchanan. In other roles, Isla Fisher stars as the sassy Myrtle and Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan.

It's said that Luhrmann will shoot the film in 3D. This has sparked anger from some who fear that the form is suited to fast-paced action films rather than to an adaptation of a classic novel.

The Bop Decameron (2012), Woody Allen

Woody Allen's first film set in Rome is a romantic-comedy partly influenced by Fellini and the Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio's 14th-century collection of bawdy stories.

Allen will star in the film, alongside actors such as Oscar nominee Jesse Eisenberg, Penelope Cruz, Alec Baldwin and Ellen Page. This is the second time Allen has directed Penelope Cruz - the first time being Vicky Christina Barcelona in 1998, for which Cruz won an Oscar. Allen has also casted real life members of Rome's paparazzi.

Pinocchio (2014), Guillermo del Toro

Guillermo del Toro will direct a new version of Pinocchio in 2014, an exciting prospect after his mesmerising dark fairy-tale Pan's Labyrinth, which was set in facist Spain.

A follow-up to The Five Obstructions, Martin Scorsese and Lars von Trier

Scorsese and Lars von Trier have confirmed that they will collaborate to make a follow-up to The Five Obstructions- von Trier's 2003 documentary about filmmaking. In 1967 Danish film director Jorgen Leth made a short film about human behaviour. The Five Obstructions was based on von Trier's challenge to Leth to make five remakes of his film under certain constraints, such as to shoot the film in the "most miserable place" Leth could think of. It is rumoured that in this follow-up von Trier will challenge Scorsese to remake the Taxi Driver.

Silence, Martin Scorsese

Scorsese's next feature film, Silence, is set to begin production in early 2012 and will have an impressive cast, including Daniel Day-Lewis, Benicio Del Toro and Gael García Bernal.

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Jonn Elledge and the Young Hagrid Audition

I auditioned for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, for the part of “Young Hagrid”. Except I didn’t.

I’ve been dining out for years now on the fact I auditioned for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, for the part of “Young Hagrid”. It’s one of those funny stories I tell people when a bit drunk, under the no doubt entirely wrong impression that it makes me sound like I’ve lived an interesting life.

Except, when I came to write this thing, I realised that it’s not actually true. I didn’t actually audition for the part of Young Hagrid at all.

Technically, I auditioned to be Voldemort.

Let’s start from the beginning. In November 2001 I was in my last year at Cambridge, where I split my time roughly equally between pissing about on a stage, writing thundering student paper columns about the true meaning of 9/11 as only a 21-year-old can, and having panic attacks that the first two things would cause me to screw up my degree and ruin my life forever. I was, I suppose, harmless enough; but looking back on that time, I am quite glad that nobody had yet invented social media.

I was also – this is relevant – quite substantially overweight. I’m not a slim man now, but I was much heavier then, so much so that I spent much of my later adolescence convinced that my mum’s bathroom scales were broken because my weight was, quite literally, off the scale. I was a big lad.

Anyway. One day my friend Michael, with whom I’d co-written quite a bad Edinburgh fringe show eighteen months earlier, came running up to me grasping a copy of Varsity. “Have you seen this?” he panted; in my memory, at least, he’s so excited by what he’s found that he’s literally run to find me. “You have to do it. It’d be brilliant.”

“This” turned out to be a casting call for actors for the new Harry Potter movie. This wasn’t unusual: Cambridge produces many actors, so production companies would occasionally hold open auditions in the hope of spotting fresh talent. I don’t remember how many minor parts they were trying to cast, or anything else about what it said. I was too busy turning bright red.

Because I could see the shameful words “Young Hagrid”. And I knew that what Michael meant was not, “God, Jonn, you’re a great actor, it’s time the whole world got to bask in your light”. What he meant was, “You’re a dead ringer for Robbie Coltrane”.

I was, remember, 21 years old. This is not what any 21-year-old wants to hear. Not least since I’d always suspected that the main things that made people think I looked like Robbie Coltrane were:

  1. the aforementioned weight issue, and
  2. the long dark trench coat I insisted on wearing in all seasons, under the mistaken impression that it disguised (a).

Most people look back at pictures of their 21-year-old self and marvel at how thin and beautiful they are. I look back and and I wonder why I wasted my youth cosplaying as Cracker.

The only photo of 2001 vintage Jonn I could find on the internet is actually a photo of a photo. For some reason, I really loved that tie. Image: Fiona Gee.

I didn’t want to lean into the Coltrane thing; since childhood I’d had this weird primal terror that dressing up as something meant accepting it as part of your identity, and at fancy dress parties (this is not a joke) I could often be found hiding under tables screaming. And I didn’t want to be Hagrid, young or otherwise. So I told Michael, quite plainly, that I wasn’t going to audition.

But as the days went by, I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. This was an audition for a proper, actual movie. I’d always had this idea I must have some kind of talent*, and that Cambridge was where I would find out what it was**. What if this was my big break?*** What if I was being silly?****

So when it turned out that Michael had literally started a petition to get me to change my mind, I acceded to the inevitable. Who was I to resist the public demand for moi?

And so, I graciously alerted the people doing the casting to the fact of my existence. A few days later I got an email back inviting me to go see them in a room at Trinity College, and a few pages of script to read for them.

The first odd thing was that the script did not, in fact, mention Hagrid. The film, I would later learn, does include a flashback to Hagrid’s school days at Hogwarts. By then, though, the filmmakers had decided they didn’t need a young actor to play Young Hagrid: instead that sequence features a rugby player in a darkened corner, with a voiceover courtesy of Coltrane. The section of the script I was holding instead featured a conversation between Harry Potter and a character called Tom Riddle.

I asked my flat mate Beccy, who unlike me had actually read the books, who this person might be. She shuffled, awkwardly. “I think he might be Voldemort...?”

Further complicating things, the stage directions described Riddle as something along the lines of, “16 years old, stick thin and classically handsome, in a boyish way”. As fervently as I may have denied any resemblance between myself and Robbie Coltrane, I was nonetheless clear that I was a good match for precisely none of those adjectives.

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I went to the audition. I don’t suppose I expected Chris Columbus to be there, let alone Robbie Coltrane ready to embrace me like a long-lost son.  But I was expecting more than a cupboard containing a video camera of the sort you could buy at Dixons and a blonde woman not much older than me. She introduced herself as “Buffy” which, given that this was 2001, I am not entirely convinced was her real name.

“My friends always tell me I look like Robbie Coltrane,” I told her, pretending I was remotely enthusiastic about this fact. 

“Oh yeah,” said Buffy. “But he’s really... big isn’t he? I mean he’s a huge guy. You’re more sort of...”

Or to put it another way, if they had still been looking for a young Hagrid, they would have wanted someone tall. I’m 6’, but I’m not tall. I was just fat.

If they had been looking for a Young Hagrid. Which, as it turned out, they weren’t.

The section I read for was included in the final film, so with a bit of Googling I found the script online. It was this bit:

TOM RIDDLE Yes. I’m afraid so. But then, she’s been in so much pain, poor Ginny. She’s been writing to me for months, telling me all her pitiful worries and woes. Ginny poured her soul out to me. I grew stronger on a diet of her deepest fears, her darkest secrets. I grew powerful enough to start feeding Ginny a few secrets, to start pouring a bit of my soul back into her...

Riddle, growing less vaporous by the second, grins cruelly.

TOM RIDDLE Yes, Harry, it was Ginny Weasley who opened the Chamber of Secrets.

I mean, you can see the problem, can’t you? I don’t remember this many years on what interpretation I put on my performance. I suspect I went beyond camp and into full on panto villain, and I dread to think what I may have done to communicate the impression of “growing less vaporous”.

But what I do feel confident about is that I was absolutely bloody awful. Five minutes after arriving, I was out, and I never heard from Buffy again.

So – I didn’t become a star. You probably guessed that part already.

In all honesty, I didn’t really realise what a big deal Harry Potter was. I’d seen the first film, and thought it was all right, but I was yet to read the books; three of them hadn’t even been written yet.

I had some vague idea there was an opportunity here. But the idea I was missing a shot at being part of an institution, something that people would be rereading and re-watching and analysing for decades to come – something that, a couple of years later, at roughly the point when Dumbledore shows Harry the Prophecy, and a tear rolls down his cheek, would come to mean quite a lot to me, personally – none of that ever crossed my mind. I’d had an opportunity. It hadn’t worked out. Happened all the time.

I do sometimes like to think, though, about the parallel universe in which that audition was the start of a long and glittering career – and where the bloke who played Tom Riddle in this universe is scratching a living writing silly blogs about trains.

*I don’t.

**I didn’t.

***It wasn’t.

****I was.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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