In this extended interview transcript, correspondent Mark Phillips, who, talked with Rowling, playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany, all three of whom collaborated on the story of the stage production, "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child." A continuation of the story of Potter, now an adult and parent, the play (presented in two parts) has been the theatrical event of the year in London, where it won a record 9 Olivier Awards (Britain's version of the Tonys). The show is now headed to Broadway; tickets go on sale next month.
MARK PHILLIPS: It must seem like another life. Or does it?
J.K. ROWLING: It does and it doesn't. When I remember us on the train, that seems like about six months ago. But then when I pull out a little bit, and think of everything that's happened since, you know, in my personal life as well, suddenly I realize, no, I've grown two more human beings in that time.
MARK PHILLIPS: And what, four more books?
J.K. ROWLING: Yeah. Well, four, five, six, seven, eight books. Collaborated on a play and written two screenplays. Yeah. So when you look at that, you think, yeah, that's definitely not six months.
MARK PHILLIPS: I'm tempted to start by asking kind of a Mrs. Merton-y question which is, what is it about the prospect of earning millions of pounds from bringing Harry Potter to the stage that most appealed to you?
J.K. ROWLING: Michael Jackson wanted me to go to Neverland and talk about a musical Harry Potter. And I didn't want to do it. No, I genuinely didn't want Harry to go onstage. I didn't want a musical. I felt that I was done.
MARK PHILLIPS: With Harry?
J.K. ROWLING: I think I felt, if ever I feel really inspired, absolutely I will go back into that world. I'd always said never say never, because I knew that Warner Brothers wanted to do something with "Fantastic Beasts," and I did have kind of a yen to do that.
But you know, I was in no hurry. And the truth is that it wasn't until [theatrical producer] Sonia Friedman came to see me to talk to me about the possibility of doing something onstage that I started to think, "Okay, what you're proposing is something that I could be creatively excited about." Because to answer your question equally directly, we all know I don't need the money. Life is too short. I only want to do things that I enjoy, or that I think are good or worth doing.
MARK PHILLIPS: But aside from Michael Jackson, specifically about the idea of bringing it to the stage -- this is something that we all know that famously emerged fully formed out of your mind, and that became the books, and that -- no?
J.K. ROWLING: No. People have run with that a little bit. I have also said it would be quite a stretch to claim that the whole seven-book series came fully formed into my mind. The premise of a boy who didn't know he was a wizard and went to wizarding school, that did come into my mind in its wholeness, yes.
MARK PHILLIPS: Right. And famously you had written the last chapter before you wrote the others.
J.K. ROWLING: Yeah, I did write that chapter early on, yeah.
MARK PHILLIPS: But what did theatre hold for you as a prospect? Was it just the challenge of making those ideas work live instead of in the imagination or with the help of movie [special effects] that you found attractive?
J.K. ROWLING: If I'm honest, it was the prospect of working with these guys. Because Sonia and Colin [Callender], our producers, were offering me the chance to work with two people that I thought were extraordinary. And I felt confident from our first meeting that we could make something really special happen.
Now, I could have been wrong. We still have had a huge amount of fun doing it, because we ended up very good friends, and that's an incredible thing to take two very good friends for, out of a creative process like this. But it so happens that three of us worked very, very well together, and I think we produced something we're all very proud of.
MARK PHILLIPS: Was it the idea of carrying the story forward? I know the sword is hanging over our heads to talk about the plot, so we won't, but the idea of taking the story forward, generations forward, was that something that appealed to you? Is that part of the challenge that you felt intellectually?
J.K. ROWLING: Well, I've said publicly before now that the character that I was most interested in going forward was the character of Albus [Potter]. And he was certainly the character I had thought most about. The son who clearly, you see in the very last chapter of the series, is off to Hogwarts with a sense of being burdened by his family history. That was our starting point, yeah.
We would like to protect as much of the stagecraft as we can, because we'd like audiences to have the experience that so many people in London have been able to have. So that's why we don't want to over-share.
MARK PHILLIPS: Right. We're all sworn to secrecy up to a point. I know we're sitting here under penalty of excommunication if we talk about the plot, but what can you tell us? It's the continuation of the end of the last book?
JACK THORNE: I'm not taking this one. (LAUGHTER)
JOHN TIFFANY: The first scene of our play is the last chapter of "Deathly Hallows," so we see Harry and Ginny and Albus, Harry's middle son, at King's Cross, as well as Ron and Hermione and their daughter Rose. And as in the last chapter, also the Malfoys are around somewhere, aren't they, as well. And they're sending Albus and Rose to their first day at Hogwarts.
James is the older brother, Harry and Ginny's first son. He's already been at Hogwarts. But we see Albus. Albus, being the character that, as Jo was saying earlier, she was most interested in, because he's called Albus Severus, he's named after Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape, two of the kind of most loved characters from the books.
JACK THORNE: And the most complicated.
J.K. ROWLING: And the most hated, as well. Yeah.
JOHN TIFFANY: Whereas James, kind of as the grandfather's namesake, has kind of breezed through his time at Hogwarts, Albus, it's kind of suggested very beautifully, isn't gonna have as easy a time. So, it's all there for the kind of taking. So, that's the first scene. We then jump forward four years, and meet them again at the beginning of fourth year.
JOHN TIFFANY: And that's where the story really starts to run and take shape and things get very complicated, very quickly.
MARK PHILLIPS: You know, spells can happen in movies. The spells can happen in the books. But making spells happen onstage is a whole 'nother thing, as they say.
JOHN TIFFANY: Yeah, I mean, I was approached by Sonia and Colin, and they told me that they'd been to meet with Jo, and Jo had given them the okay to move forward with the idea of putting Harry onstage and exploring the adult Harry, and specifically looking at what happened to somebody who'd had the childhood that Harry had, and how he then became a parent, a father himself.
I mean, I'd loved the books and the films, and was a huge fan of Jo's, and had read them to my godchildren and my nephews, and had seen the absolute power that they had to transport kids and to give kids a sense of belonging, in lots of ways. And also, I'd started my kinda working life in Edinburgh, which is where Jo was at the time.
J.K. ROWLING: And we met.
MARK PHILLIPS: Did you know each other there?
JOHN TIFFANY: I was an assistant director at the Traverse Theatre, yeah.
J.K. ROWLING: Which had a brilliant cafe where I used to write. And he was in there. And when we met formally to do this project and to explore whether we're going to do this project, I thought he looked awfully familiar. And turns out we'd met years and years before in Edinburgh. That was, yeah, pre-publication.
JOHN TIFFANY: Yeah, Jo had been there with her pram, nursing a cappuccino.
MARK PHILLIPS: You didn't know she was gonna be JK at that point.
JOHN TIFFANY: No, it was only a year later.
J.K. ROWLING: No, he was very sweet to me, though. Let me sit there for ages with coffee.
JOHN TIFFANY: Yeah, you kept saying, "Do you mind if I stay here?" And I was like, "Absolutely not." You were writing away. And then a year later, "Philosopher's Stone" came out. And then she wasn't in the cafe much after that. You weren't anywhere much after that, were you?
J.K. ROWLING: Well, I was still in cafes 'till I got hounded out.
JOHN TIFFANY: So when I was approached by Sonia and Colin, I thought, "Wow, this is quite an ask, in a way. It's so loved." And also, that world has been so beautifully explored in film, visually. But at the same time, there was a little thing in my head, I was very, very excited about the prospect of how we could use theatricality to tell these stories.
That a story of cloaks and suitcases and sleight of hand potentially could sit very beautifully onstage, I hoped. And I knew that if we did move forward with this, that a huge number of our audience would be first-time theatregoers, and this was an opportunity to show them theatre.
MARK PHILLIPS: But was part of that expectation also frightening? I would have thought it would be. Because these kids would have seen the movies where the sleight of hands and the execution of the spells and the flying and everything else was very vividly portrayed.
J.K. ROWLING: I had total faith that John could do something amazing. But I think at this point in my life, I can't see the point in doing something that isn't a bit frightening. You know, it would be very easy just to do the same thing -- people like it, just keep doing the same thing until they stop liking it. And I'm only really interested in doing things that I find satisfying or exciting or challenging. The bar's always going to be very high now.
MARK PHILLIPS: You're raising the bar yourself, is what you're saying.
J.K. ROWLING: Well, there are risks attendant on that. But then you don't get the creative satisfaction unless you have taken a risk. Of course there were going to be people who didn't like what we were doing, were upset. When you have a fandom like Potter's, they are passionate, and it's a beautiful, beautiful thing.
With that comes very high expectations, and sometimes people don't like what you're going to do. I cannot tell you how much I loved doing this. I loved it from start to finish. And I'm really proud of what John's just said about bringing first-time theatergoers into the theatre through Potter. We know 60% of our audiences have never been to a play before. And we also know that 15% then go on and book other shows. It was about saying to young people particularly, "This is not an alien space view." All three of us were educated in the state system. We do not come from naturally theatergoing families. And we felt passionately, this is a way of taking what is often perceived as an elite space, the theatre -- how do you dress? How do you behave? Live theatre is rather scary -- and bursting it open for everyone. We went into it very much with that ethos, didn't we?
JOHN THORNE: Very much, yeah.
MARK PHILLIPS: What does this play seat? 1,200 people or something like that. Compared to the mass media element that the books and the films have, this is still a small space and a small target. Did that figure in converting this from the ideas into a stage play?
JOHN TIFFANY: Well, you know, that's what theatre is. Theatre is a group of people who sit down and watch a story told by actors. We knew that there'd be a huge demand for tickets, because of the Potter fandom. But we also knew that, were it to be successful, we would then very quickly look at taking the show to other countries, as we're now talking about bringing it to Broadway, which we're so excited about, aren't we?
J.K. ROWLING: We really are.
JOHN TIFFANY: As we progressed with the ideas for the story, and the three of us kind of met and started talking about, you know, what story "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" was going to tell, it became clear to me that we were gonna be doing something quite unique, in that we were taking a group of characters that an audience had seen through seven books and eight films, and we were going to tell a new story featuring those characters. And so it's been such an honor, hasn't it, sitting in the audience from the very, very first performances, seeing the people come in, knowing these characters and yet not knowing what was going to happen to them. And the gasps! It's exactly why I went into theatre and became a theatre director -- you want people to gasp and coo and be unified as an audience together watching the story. And that's been a joy.
J.K. ROWLING: No, it's amazing.
MARK PHILLIPS: Did you actually have a fear, though, that they might not like it?
J.K. ROWLING: Of course. Good lord. Of course. I don't think any sort of creative person alive would not understand how we all felt going into that first preview. I think we three, do you agree? We felt we'd made it as good as we could make it. We were proud of it. We thought we'd done a good job. But, you know, that's three of us.
And there's something about theatre, because it's a visceral experience. And I was sitting up there in a box to see one of those very early previews. And the atmosphere was--
JACK THORNE: Ridiculous.
J.K. ROWLING: Wasn't it?
MARK PHILLIPS: But the weight of expectation, I would have thought--
J.K. ROWLING: Yeah, exactly. It's the weight of expectation. You know that people are coming in with a huge number of preconceived ideas. You know that candidly, some people are taking the view, "Maybe they've just dialed this in. Maybe they're just trying to get a little extra out the franchise." And we knew it was something very new and different. But the proof is when the audience sees it.
And in all honesty, I think we feel the same way about going to Broadway. We're not going off to Broadway feeling, "Oh, this'll be in any way an easy ride." We're going off to Broadway very much thinking, "Okay, well, let's see how this does." You just don't know. There are no certainties. You take nothing for granted. It's Broadway, you know? We have, I think, quite a healthy sense of fear.
MARK PHILLIPS: Has there ever been a point where you felt your audience, your public rebel against what you were doing?
J.K. ROWLING: Oh god, yeah.
MARK PHILLIPS: There has been?
J.K. ROWLING: Come on. This is the age of social media. You think I don't get told in no uncertain terms that I've done the thing they didn't want to happen to a character, or why on Earth am I taking it into theatre? No, believe you, in the age of social media, one is never deluded about the fact that some people aren't happy, expect not to be happy. That's the way it goes.
MARK PHILLIPS: Do you care what the public says?
J.K. ROWLING: Do I care? Do you know, I'm going to be very honest. Yes, I do. And no, I don't.
So yes, I do. Of course I do. For me, I always go back to readers. So the fact that people love the books, and the movies as well, and that those stories meant so much to so many people, that is everything to me. No writer is gonna tell you differently. I have phenomenal love and respect for those people. Forget the material side; they gave me a sense of belonging, actually, and purpose that I'm not sure I had had before. Because it turned out I could tell a story. That's all I'd ever wanted to do in my life. And they, in their enthusiasm, gave me that. So yes, I care hugely.
On the "no, I don't" side, I think as a writer or any kind of creative person, you actually do have to hold tight to your vision. And ultimately you have to be able to look in the mirror and say, "Did I do that for the right reasons? Did I do it to the best of my ability? Am I happy with the result?"
MARK PHILLIPS: Because you were afraid you could be pandering?
J.K. ROWLING: Well, I know I'm never gonna pander. I know, genuinely, I know full well, I have limited time left on this Earth. I have no interest whatsoever in doing certain things that I know would be very popular with the fandom. And I think the fandom watching this will know exactly what I mean, 'cause they know what they keep asking me for. But there's nothing there for me creatively, even know I know they'd all buy it.
MARK PHILLIPS: Can I ask what --
J.K. ROWLING: I'm not even gonna go there.
MARK PHILLIPS: -- are they asking for? Come on.
J.K. ROWLING: I'm not going there. I'm not going there. No. I'm not saying that. Because my Twitter feed will be a place of hell for three months if I say it, so I'm not gonna say it. But there are certain things that I know I could write, and just, we'd sell millions. It has to excite me, and it doesn't excite me. So yes. Do I care? Yes, passionately, and no, because ultimately I've gotta do what feeds me.
MARK PHILLIPS: Are the mechanics of writing Potter for the theatre different than either the books or the screenplays?
JACK THORNE: Yes. And just to say in relation to your previous question, I am a fan of the books. A ridiculous fan of the books. And I would consider myself a Potterhead. And in terms of the question that you're not answering about what the fans would like to --
J.K. ROWLING: Sh. Sh. Don't say it. Don't say--
JACK THORNE: You know, there's a part of me that goes, "Oh, please."
J.K. ROWLING: Oh please, no.
JACK THORNE: And that made it even more terrifying from my perspective, because if you are the person that is seen to ruin Harry Potter, then the self-hatred is overwhelming. But in terms of the mechanics of writing it for the stage, yes, to some degree. I've worked with John a huge number of times. And our way of working has always been write it and we'll try it.
And so I didn't write going, "Okay, I'm constrained by a stage." I wrote going, "I am not constrained, because John Tiffany and [movement director] Steven Hoggett are waiting at the end of this journey. And if I write magic into a script, they will try and find a way to make it work." I think you only have one rule.
MARK PHILLIPS: What was the rule?
JOHN TIFFANY: A certain game that appears in the Harry Potter world. I was like, "I'm not doing that."
J.K. ROWLING: "I'm not doing that." I was so okay with you not doing that.
MARK PHILLIPS: You're not gonna fly the kids? Okay.
JOHN TIFFANY: Yeah, you were very relieved, I remember.
J.K. ROWLING: I was genuinely relieved.
MARK PHILLIPS: I was a bit relieved that didn't happen.
JACK THORNE: But other than that, it was no holds barred, go for it. And there's obviously different ways you write plays to writing screenplays in terms of length of scenes and all sorts of boring things like that. But I think we were determined right from the beginning not to be constrained by the fact that this is our space.
And John's line all the way through it was, "The films have special effects. We have the collective imagination of our audience. So if we can create something that takes them on this journey, they will go with us." And that's the most exciting thing. You know, I was back seeing it a couple of weeks ago. Just sat in the audience on my own, and just that experience of sitting beside two people for that length of time, neither of whom I know, and going on this massive journey with them, I always find it thrilling and always exciting and tremendous, really.
MARK PHILLIPS: I was gonna ask a question about how the collective narrative came to be. And I'll just hold on for a minute. You used the phrase, "That length of time." It's a lot of time.
JACK THORNE: Yes. You spend the day with us. And that's kind of wonderful.
MARK PHILLIPS: It seems like an entire, I don't know, mini-break weekend, somebody said.
JACK THORNE: And it came about because we worked on this document together which I wrote up, which was our collective thoughts as to what this story should be. And we sat down at the end of that and went, "This is a really long document." And the beautiful things about the books is you spend so much time with them doing normal things, like the role that food plays in those books; you share these feasts with them all the way through it.
And we could have raced through and tried to cram as much plot as possible into a two-and-a-half-hour theatrical experience. But it wouldn't have done justice to the story we wanted to tell, and it wouldn't have done justice to Harry Potter. And wouldn't have given us any chance to spend time with the characters, and spend time with where they're all at and why they're there.
MARK PHILLIPS: But is it possible to give Potter fans too much? Or will they suck up anything that you lay on to them -- why stop at two performances? Coulda gone on for a week.
J.K. ROWLING: Just because -- she spoke like a mother -- just because people want a lot doesn't mean they should have everything that they want. We'll just give them what's good for them. And we decided that this was. And it is, you're absolutely right.
MARK PHILLIPS: Long as they finish what's on their plates.
J.K. ROWLING: There you go. It is. It's a lot. It's a long time to ask particularly a younger audience member to sit. And I'm very, very, very proud to say they all come back in for part two looking enthusiastic and excited.
JOHN TIFFANY: When we had the idea for how we knew the first half was going to finish, which obviously we won't say, it kind of became clear that it was telling us, "This is gonna be longer than two-and-a-half hours. This is gonna be a two-part event." And you know, I've had amazing experiences in theatre where you go longer than what people think is an appropriate time. And you go into a different time and space. And the audience seemed to kind of love doing that. No one seems to be saying to us that this is too long.
And novels, they tell their story over X number of pages. But theatre really kind of needs much longer to tell that kind of similar story. So we knew that we were gonna have to spread it out over longer. And Sonia Friedman and Colin Callender, our producers, were incredibly encouraging of that. Even though for them, it was going to make their job much harder in terms of selling two parts--
J.K. ROWLING: Yeah, logistically it was hard.
JOHN TIFFANY: Well, in terms of the box office.
JACK THORNE: And we had to rehearse two plays. And so everything took double the amount of time.
MARK PHILLIPS: The ideas for the books came from you. The ideas for the movies came from the books. This was extending the story into the future. Who did that? Which of the three of you was most responsible for the storyline as it weaves its way into the future?
J.K. ROWLING: The developing the story, I think, was very collaborative between the three of us. I, for obvious reasons, had power of veto over everything. I could say, "No, that didn't happen." But no, it was the three of us. But the play is Jack's play. Jack did the writing. Jack did the heavy lifting. And he did it beautifully. And I couldn't be happier.
MARK PHILLIPS: But you retained power, just as you did in the movies, power of veto just because you feel you still own the Potter character.
J.K. ROWLING: It wasn't really a question of ownership. I know this is gonna sound very bizarre. I know it's right when I have a sensation of, "Oh yeah, of course, that happened." And that when the three of us were kicking that around, one of these guys would say, "Well, how about--" and I'd have that feeling, "Oh yeah, of course, that's what happened." I just knew.
And sometimes it would be me saying, "I think this happened." And unsurprisingly with my own ideas, I definitely thought they were probably what happened. But often, we would be sitting there and trying to finesse something, and one of these guys would say, and I would know, "Yeah, that's how it happened." It felt like excavation, which is how I know that I'm on the right track, when I feel that I am actually uncovering a story that's already there.
MARK PHILLIPS: Which is what you've always said about this story.
J.K. ROWLING: Exactly. And I had exactly the same experience. It was one of the most joyful experiences of my life, working with these two. I absolutely loved it from beginning to end.
MARK PHILLIPS: Just because you could share the burden? Or because it's a relationship?
J.K. ROWLING: Not even that, because you know, I'm writing screenplays now, and obviously that is a much more collaborative process than novel writing. But there was something very special about being in this space, in a theatre, and working together. And you've spoken, Jack, about Paul Thornley's performance and being Ron.
JACK THORNE: Yeah.
J.K. ROWLING: And you said you felt that he partly helped write that character for you.
JACK THORNE: Absolutely. We then spent six months in a room with a group of actors, and that's one of the beautiful things about theatre, that you get to spend time with the people that are putting it on. And so therefore when you're creating these works, everyone feeds in. Christine Jones, our designer. Steven, the choreographer. You know, everyone had a role to play in how this story was told.
I always say, John and Steven and I made something else together, and the annoying thing about it was my favorite scenes were always the bits that Steven did, not the bits that I did. And there's a bit in the second half of part one -- can I say what it's called? Or does that spoil anything?
MARK PHILLIPS: You're gonna have to work this out for yourselves.
JOHN TIFFANY: You can describe what it's about.
JACK THORNE: Yeah, it's about the two boys and they're struggling with each other, and they're struggling with where they are in their relationship.
MARK PHILLIPS: Okay. We can say they fall out.
JACK THORNE: Yeah. And there's this beautiful, it's called a staircase dance. And I'd written words for that sequence, and I think it was about halfway through the rehearsal process, I think you said to me, "Steven's told that story far better than you will. So we can lose the words here." And again, it's my favorite moment in the play. So Steven did it to me again, in terms of just stealing. So I sit there every time looking forward to his bits, rather than my bits. Which is lovely, but sad.
JOHN TIFFANY: But it was incredible just how much was seeded there in "19 Years Later," which is the last chapter of "Deathly Hallows." And we've just gone past that date itself, the first of September, 2017, which was amazing. We had an amazing celebration in the theatre. Normally we have 40 tickets every week of some of the best seats in the house, very cheap. And this was a Friday -- 400 we had, so there were 400 people who were there, lots of people dressed in Hogwarts costumes.
MARK PHILLIPS: So we're now in history--
J.K. ROWLING: Yeah, exactly. But there was one shining night when the people were actually watching the action happen on the day it really happened.
MARK PHILLIPS: Has this whole thing reached cult status?
JOHN THORNE: What's a cult?
MARK PHILLIPS: Has it gone beyond children's literature, or even literature -- the audience the afternoon and night that I was here, were in a kind of state of almost, I would say, silent rapture during this thing. There are very few, as I would have anticipated there would have been, outbursts during the course of it. The audience sits and watches, as if it's listening to a sermon or waiting for the answers to questions it has or something like that. Has it gone beyond even literature into some broader cultural congregation somehow?
J.K. ROWLING: I think when I meet people who are in their 20s, you know, they really grew up with the books. It's that generation to whom the books mean something more than stories. That's definitely true. And I know this because I meet them and we talk. It's a privilege, an absolute privilege. I'm grateful and I'm astounded and I am moved by stories people tell me about, you know, "That got me through my parents' divorce." Or illness. "I was laid up in bed for six months. I listened to all the audio books."
And it's a turbulent time in your life. People became very connected to Potter throughout their adolescence. They lived these stories at a time when Harry, Ron and Hermione were going through adolescence. And I empathize with that. Although, I think the things that matter to you then will always be among the things that matter to you most; it's that time of life. They imprint on you. They're part of you. I've had that experience with certain things and certain people in my adolescence, so I understand it. I think that's where it comes from.
MARK PHILLIPS: But are the people who now come to the theatre here, or that you anticipate coming to the theatre on Broadway, are they the same people? Or are they the children of the same people?
J.K. ROWLING: Both. I sit in a box, there's a box up there that is never sold to the public because you can see behind the scenery and see how things are being done.
MARK PHILLIPS: See the tricks.
J.K. ROWLING: So doesn't matter if I sit up there, 'cause I know how it's all done anyway. I've seen the play about ten times now, and I'm always sitting up there. And you've got an amazing view of the audience. And you see whole families. Sometimes you can tell which ones did grow up with the books, can't you? So you might have some 20-somethings in there, but you've got little kids and you've got their grandparents who may have read them first time round to them. And that's the most beautiful thing to see.
MARK PHILLIPS: But have the books maintained their grip on newer generations coming through? I had kids who were in that first wave of Potterphiles, and still are. Are the kids of the age who read the books when they first came out who are now that age reading the books again?
J.K. ROWLING: I obviously can't speak for all of them. I know it is happening, because again, I meet people who tell me so. So I think that the Potter generation certainly want to read those books to their own kids. That's happening a lot.
JACK THORNE: My nephew is ten, and he's an absolute obsessive about it.
MARK PHILLIPS: Well, the question is, I guess, whether they have stood the test of time. They were certainly a cultural phenomenon over the course of the seven waves that went through.
J.K. ROWLING: They were. And that time will not come again. Of course it won't come again, because you had the books and you had the movies coming out. And it did become something enormous that was sometimes -- for the originator -- quite an uncomfortable experience.
MARK PHILLIPS: How?
J.K. ROWLING: Because it was overwhelming. Because it was crazy. I kept thinking, "Right, this is it. Now we're done. We've peaked." And then it would get bigger.
MARK PHILLIPS: Even during the course of the publication of the seven books you thought, "This can't go on, this is nuts"?
J.K. ROWLING: Yeah, I did, yeah. Nothing can prepare you for being in the middle of that kind of situation. There's no training manual that explains to you what that's like. And children's authors do not generally experience that. That wasn't what I saw coming.
MARK PHILLIPS: That's just what I was gonna bring up, 'cause--
J.K. ROWLING: And listen, I don't want to be ungrateful. Let me just shoo that in.
MARK PHILLIPS: It's not like you're saying it's a bad thing.
J.K. ROWLING: I'm not sitting here whining in the slightest. What an amazing problem to have! But I'm just being very honest. At times it was incredibly overwhelming.
MARK PHILLIPS: But also, you didn't anticipate it. I remember that time that we talked after the third novel, you were saying every child author you knew had another job to support their habit. And I suppose you were at the point where you didn't need the other --
J.K. ROWLING: When we spoke in 1999, I had been teaching still the previous year. Yeah. I taught till '98. And in '98 I think I said to myself, "I can probably afford to take a year out." Not because I genuinely could afford that, but because the direction of travel seemed to be that I might be able to keep the mortgage going. Yeah.
MARK PHILLIPS: Because you were making enough money at the time.
J.K. ROWLING: Well, not even that. I felt, "I can probably afford to take a year out and see if I can keep paying the mortgage. But I don't want to tell myself I'm gonna be out for more than a year," because otherwise you start not being able to get the teaching jobs again. I couldn't afford to be out the game too long, see?
MARK PHILLIPS: Yeah, you didn't want to quit the day job.
J.K. ROWLING: And I had a kid to support, yeah. If it had been me alone I would have starved in a garret quite happily.
JACK THORNE: How did it change writing the series? 'Cause if you're working during the day, I mean, I've got a lot of writer friends and we discuss this all the time. If you've got a structure to your day, which is, "I work, and then I've got, like, two hours of writing," did it not change enormously? And the pressure on yourself when you haven't got something else to do with your day, it can be enormous, right?
J.K. ROWLING: Oh god, no, I loved it.
JACK THORNE: Right, okay. So it felt like freedom?
J.K. ROWLING: Completely.
JACK THORNE: Right, right.
J.K. ROWLING: In '98, I was doing supply teaching [substitute teaching]. So I wasn't teaching every single day.
JACK THORNE: Right, okay.
J.K. ROWLING: And then when I decided, "Okay, I'm gonna stop for a bit and see how I go, but I can't afford to be out of the teaching game too long," I've never had a problem with just filling the day with writing. It's like gas; it will expand to fill the available space.
MARK PHILLIPS: Was there a point where you realized, "My whole life is different than I thought it was going to be"? "There are horses pulling this carriage that I no longer had complete control of"?
J.K. ROWLING: I think that's been my whole life, actually! (LAUGH) I don't think there was ever a point where I felt wholly in control. Yes, with Potter, there probably was, around about the time I met you. And the two things aren't connected.
MARK PHILLIPS: No?
J.K. ROWLING: So about '99, I think it was starting to dawn on me that this wasn't going to go away. And again, that sounds very ungrateful. I didn't want the books not to sell. I was so happy now being able to work fulltime. Funnily enough, "Azkaban" was one of the most enjoyable to write because the pressure was really off me. We didn't yet have loads of money but I knew I could pay the bills. I knew I didn't have to rush back to teaching, and we'd managed to buy our own house, which was quite a modest house in the middle of Edinburgh, but it was ours. And I'd never owned a house before. So around about "Azkaban," I remember thinking, "Okay, okay. Let's stop. Take stock. It's okay. We can handle this." And then everything went mad, because then the movies started. And "Goblet of Fire," I remember as being absolutely insane. Around about 2000, everything went to a bigger, more crazy level.
MARK PHILLIPS: That was the point at which the kids started lining up overnight the night before to buy the books?
J.K. ROWLING: They had done it a little bit with "Azkaban," but it hadn't yet really got crazy. So, I think it was around about 2000, I definitely did feel, "I didn't see this coming. This has now got crazy."
MARK PHILLIPS: I mean, a lot's happened in your life, obviously, since then, on a personal level. Because it became so big, did you have trouble with the balance at any point? Or did the independence that the success gave you allow you to be more yourself over the latter half of the whole "Potter" thing, in terms of the publications?
J.K. ROWLING: This is actually taking us right back into the territory of the play. (laughs) Because this is Harry Potter grappling with –
MARK PHILLIPS: You become your character? (LAUGHS)
J.K. ROWLING: Well, he's going through some stuff in a grappling-with-the-past kind of way.
JACK THORNE: One of our questions at the start of the whole process was, "What would it be like to be Nelson Mandela's child?"
J.K. ROWLING: Well, and my kids definitely don't feel like Nelson Mandela's (LAUGHS) children. Let's just be clear on that one! Just want to put that down.
MARK PHILLIPS: A famous person's child or something?
JACK THORNE: Well, not just a famous person, but somebody who's saved the world. Which is different from just being a famous. So, Harry is seen as a savior, so to be the child of that person, and then trying to make your own way in the world.
J.K. ROWLING: I think I personally feel quite liberated right now. I like doing things that scare me. I feel as though for a long time, I hid from it to an extent. And now I just want to be me, and I want to do the things that I want to do. Harry, in some ways, is the negative image of that. He's never been allowed to hide. And in our play, we watch him trying to find private space.
MARK PHILLIPS: So it's difficult to talk about when you're not allowed to talk about (LAUGHS).
J.K. ROWLING: Well, you can talk about the themes, though.
MARK PHILLIPS: All right. One of the themes was, and again, harking back to the other conversation at the time, I remember you said, "There's never been a kid who didn't look at their parents and think, 'How did I happen to have these parents?'"
J.K. ROWLING: Uh-huh.
MARK PHILLIPS: And there's some of that in this, as well?
J.K. ROWLING: Oh, God. Huge. That's central. Jack wrote this brilliant line about, "We think parenting is the hardest job, but we've forgotten, growing up is the hardest job." And during the writing of the play, Jack became a father for the first time. (LAUGHS) Do we still believe that, Jack?
JACK THORNE: I don't know. (LAUGHS)
J.K. ROWLING: I thought it was such a genius line, because I think there's so much truth in it. And part of the reason parenting's hard is, what do you remember and what have you forgotten about growing up.
JACK THORNE: And I spend my entire life, at the moment, petrified of what he's going to be like when he's 15. Because I was such a bad 15-year-old. And so I'm just wary of giving him the burden of me. (LAUGHS)
J.K. ROWLING: This is so the play.
JACK THORNE: Exactly, exactly. But you know, the play boiled down to its essence is how does someone who didn't have a dad learn how to be a dad?
JOHN TIFFANY: Or parents.
JACK THORNE: Yes. Yes. Yeah.
JOHN TIFFANY: Yeah, and one of the lovely experiences has been meeting the audiences and the people that are discovering Jo's work for the first time and the world of Harry, and the ones that were 11 when the first book came out kind of lived through all those years with Harry and Ron and Hermione. And it's a real honor. I mean, I don't know any 11-year-old, however happy you are, who doesn't kind of think you're leading the wrong life and that you're waiting for an owl to arrive with a letter to say, "We're really sorry about this. You're leading the wrong life. (LAUGHS) You really need to be going to this school up in Scotland and learn to be a wizard," and then you go, and you find your community, you find your people.
What I've realized is that people cleave to these characters and to this world, and it becomes part of their emotional life.
J.K. ROWLING: Yep.
JOHN TIFFANY: And a way to get by, and it doesn't mean to say that they're kind of depressed or unhappy with their families, et cetera. It's just that growing up is really, really hard. And we got to take those characters into adulthood.
J.K. ROWLING: Yeah.
JOHN TIFFANY: And then see an audience come and experience that, and it's been an absolute joy. And we can't wait to kind of go on the next journey of that, which is to bring the show to New York.
MARK PHILLIPS: And does the journey go on beyond that? Is this the end of it?
J.K. ROWLING: There won't be an -- I mean, (LAUGHS) no. This is it. Harry will not be in any other play. This is it. "Cursed Child" is it. I couldn't feel happier about it. We couldn't duplicate this. Nothing could ever match up. If no one else loves it after this, we loved it, didn't we? We loved it. (LAUGHS)
MARK PHILLIPS: You had a great time?
J.K. ROWLING: We had an amazing time, yeah.
MARK PHILLIPS: But this isn't the beginning of a whole 'nother thing?
J.K. ROWLING: Harry's story now, I'm done. I'm done. I needed to be persuaded to do "19 years on," and I'm really glad I was persuaded, because I'm so proud of this play. But no, we're not going to see Albus' son go to Hogwarts. Well, not on my watch. (LAUGHS) In 100 years time, I'll come and haunt the person who does it.
But if we're welcome, we'd love to take this multiple places, because we know that there are people in quite far-flung places who are saying, "I can't get there. I can't get to London." So we'd love to show it to as many people as possible, yeah.
MARK PHILLIPS: You say you can't live without the challenge? You're not interested unless there is a challenge?
J.K. ROWLING: Uh-huh.
MARK PHILLIPS: And you've done other stuff since Harry? I want to talk about that briefly, if you can. There's a kind of interesting irony in your career, that you famously selected to be known by your initials, so that you weren't thought of as a woman writer in the early stages?
J.K. ROWLING: Well, I've said, that was actually my publisher's preference. And I was so grateful to be published, they could've called me Prince. (LAUGHS) I mean, they could've called me whatever they wanted and I'd have gone, "yeah. Fine. Whatever, just publish the book."
MARK PHILLIPS: And who knows what effect changing the name or using the initials –
J.K. ROWLING: Well, actually, in retrospect, I don't think it made any difference whatsoever, because within about three months of publication I won an award and I'm in the newspapers. And from then on, I don't think ever once have I met someone who said, "I thought you were a man." So, anyway. But I don't mind. I quite like being JK.
MARK PHILLIPS: All right, but lately, you did write as a man?
J.K. ROWLING: I did. I have. I do.
MARK PHILLIPS: So, what's with that?
J.K. ROWLING: Well, with the Robert Galbraith books, I wanted to go back to the beginning, and I had an idea for a series, having said I'd never do another series. So, that was a filthy lie. (LAUGHS) But I always wanted to write detective novels. And I wanted to go back to the beginning, and I wanted to send it out as an unsolicited manuscript, and I wanted to get honest feedback, and I wanted to go through that whole process again, and so I did.
MARK PHILLIPS: Why?
J.K. ROWLING: You know, because I'm not stupid. (LAUGHS) I'm fully aware that I could write a really rubbish detective story and people would probably say, "Well, you know, it'll probably sell a few copies 'cause it's got her name on it," and that's not what I wanted to do. I wanted to really earn it. So, yeah. So, that's what I did. And it was great.
MARK PHILLIPS: It wasn't as if you had any doubts as to whether you could write? I think the jury's come in on that one?
J.K. ROWLING: Yeah, but it's a different genre though, isn't it? You're an arrogant person if you assume that because you can do one thing, you can do everything. And I'm not that person. I absolutely love writing the "Strike" books, and so I did. I managed to get an offer from someone who didn't know it was me.
And in fact, we had a couple of people interested in it. And the BBC wanted to meet me, without knowing it was me. They wanted to meet "Robert," which was fabulous, except I couldn't go to the meeting (LAUGHS) because I clearly wasn't "Robert." So, things were getting a little bit complicated when my cover was blown.
MARK PHILLIPS: But there's also the story that the book sold nicely, and then when it became known that you were who you were, ka-boom, they took off?
J.K. ROWLING: Of course.
MARK PHILLIPS: Going forward, if you're not gonna do Potter anymore, where does Jo go from here, I guess is the question?
J.K. ROWLING: Well, I've definitely got more Strike books in me. I have another children's book that will be out at some point. I intend to keep writing these screenplays, because I'm really enjoying those. And I've got a couple of other ideas, so yeah. I've got plenty to do.
For more info:
- "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two" at the Palace Theatre, London | Ticket info
- "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two" - Opening at the Lyric Theatre, New York City, Spring 2018 | Registration to purchase tickets begins Oct. 1
- pottermore.com (from J.K. Rowling)