Wizardry takes dark turn in 'Order of the Phoenix'

LONDON - Storm clouds are gathering over the world's most famous wizard in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth film to be adapted from J.K. Rowling's magical saga.


Daniel Radcliffe's teenage Harry has acquired stubble on his chin and angst in his soul, facing a sense of isolation, a showdown with his evil nemesis, Lord Voldemort, and - just as scary - his first screen kiss in the film, which opens Wednesday.

"He is very troubled," Daniel, 17, told The Associated Press recently.. "He's troubled by the fact that he doesn't think anybody is believing in him, his friends don't seem to understand him ... He lets that out in various ways. He lashes out."

Order of the Phoenix is directed by David Yates, a Briton best known for the multilayered TV thrillers State of Play and Sex Traffic.

Mr. Yates brings a touch of grittiness to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which as the film opens is undergoing a creeping takeover by the bureaucratic Ministry of Magic and its emissary, the deceptively rosy Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton).

That, combined with nightmares that link Harry ever more closely to the dastardly Voldemort, bring a sense of impending doom to the wizarding world as Ms. Rowling's saga takes a turn for the darker.

Mr. Yates said his goal was "to introduce a real sense of emotional and spiritual angst and danger. The series is ready for that."

"I wanted to push (the actors) - and they really wanted to push themselves," he said.

The actors, in turn, say they loved the challenge.

The result, Daniel says, is a more mature and complex Harry Potter - a hero with magic powers but human frailties.

"It's nice to know that he's real and he experiences real anger and rage and frustration and loneliness," Daniel said. "That's what makes him a proper hero as opposed to the Superman perfect-at-everything sort of hero. Harry's a genuine hero because he's flawed."

Apart from the angst, it's Harry's first kiss with fellow student Cho Chang (Katie Leung) that will likely attract attention from moviegoers.

Daniel - who earlier this year appeared nude onstage in the play Equus in London's West End - admitted to some trepidation about the kiss.

"I was a bit nervous about doing it because I've known the crew and everyone for so long," he said. "It was a little bit strange. But it was Katie, and we were both very professional about it.

"This isn't a particularly sexy or exciting kiss - it's very sweet and very clumsy, like all first kisses are. "

The Harry Potter books have been translated into 65 languages and sold more than 325 million copies since the first volume, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, was published in 1997. The frenzy that attends each new book launch is reaching a climax with the publication of the seventh and final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, on July 21.

Daniel and co-stars Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, who play Harry's friends Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, have been at the center of the Harry Potter storm for almost half their lives.

All three stars have signed up for the final two Potter films, the first of which - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - starts shooting in September.

Until Deathly Hallows is published, the actors have no more idea than ordinary Muggles about how the series will end, and whether the young wizard will die.


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