Let's start with the big news: Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) will be back, albeit briefly, in both parts of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
"I'm in the last two films," Gambon confirmed in an exclusive interview last week in New York City, where he was promoting the latest Potter installment, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. (Spoilers ahead!)
"I'm a ghost, a real ghost, in the one that I'm doing now [the first of the final two films], and I have this big scene with Harry [Daniel Radcliffe]," Gambon added. "And then I'm in flashbacks in the other."
The fact that the great wizard will return as a ghost in Deathly Hallows means, of course, that he perishes in Half-Blood Prince, one of the poorest-kept secrets in Potterdom. Throughout the stories, Dumbledore has served as Harry's mentor and friend, teaching the young wizard about the ways of magic, good and evil, life and death. And in Half-Blood Prince, before the elder character's demise, their relationship takes a crucial turn.
"Harry is more grown up in this film than he's ever been," Gambon said. "He's more of an adult. He's got a girlfriend. He's kissing. He's on this journey. He's confronting Voldemort's past. On this film, me and Dan spent several months just doing scenes together. So we were locked together at Leavesden Studios. It was just the two of us, which was a strange feeling, because normally on Harry Potter we have hundreds [of people around]. That's what J.K. Rowling wanted, because as Albus becomes old and decrepit and losing power and everything else, Snape [Alan Rickman] gets rid of him, and Harry really has to come into his own then."
Gambon has worked opposite Radcliffe since 2003, when he assumed the role of Dumbledore from the late Richard Harris, who died shortly after wrapping production on Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. He said that it's been his pleasure to watch his young co-star grow up.
"He becomes more and more mature every time I go back to do a Harry Potter film," Gambon said. "Sometimes I'm there for three months, sometimes for six, and every time I go back to Leavesden there's a bigger person there. He grows a little bit in height, but he gets more manly, more worldly, more going around telling jokes."
Gambon added, "And he gets better as an actor, more confident, I suppose. He gets more confidence. I remember that I went to see the first Harry Potter film when I knew I was going to take over from Richard, and Dan was a boy in that, a little boy with a different face and a higher voice. And in this one, of course, he's almost fully a man. What is he, 19? 20? So I've watched him—all of them—grow up and become more confident. Actually, he's always been confident. I think it was the luckiest day for Warner Brothers when they found that boy."
Finally, for the record, Gambon cops to not ever having read a Harry Potter book. He prefers to rely on the films' scripts, most of which have been penned by Steve Kloves. "Ralph Fiennes [Voldemort], he doesn't read the books," Gambon said. "There's no point. You just get cross because many scenes are cut. If you just have the script—this is a good excuse, isn't it?—you have your lines and you can run your lines. There's no point in reading the books."
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince opens nationwide today.