Of the eight Harry Potter films from the original fantasy series, the critical consensus is that the third movie in the franchise, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, is one of the best. It’s a less arguable opinion when you find out that the sequel was directed by Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón, who had released the critically acclaimed film Y tu mamá también the year prior. Azkaban would be Cuarón’s sole contribution to the Harry Potter franchise after stepping in for Chris Columbus, who directed the first two films.
Now, Cuarón is speaking out about the franchise in Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts, which recently debuted on HBO Max. The retrospective special reunites actors Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), and Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), along with other cast members and filmmakers, to discuss the series. This includes Cuarón explaining why Azkaban was much darker in tone from the first two movies.
“For Azkaban, it’s a coming of age,” Cuarón said. “They are passing the threshold between childhood and their teenage years. In the first two, Harry is still a child. There is a greater optimism around the tone itself. Nevertheless, when the kid turns 13, there is a big cloud that overshadows everything around Harry, and we needed to convey that, also, stylistically.”
During the special, it was also revealed that Cuarón did something Columbus didn’t do in the previous two films and assigned homework to his three young stars. The assignment was to write an essay in character. “Rupert didn’t deliver anything,” Cuarón said. “He said, ‘Well I thought that Ron wouldn’t do it.’”
A decade after Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Alfonso Cuarón would win his first Academy Award for directing Gravity. His second would come in 2019 for Roma.