Potted Potter: Creators Dan Clarkson, Jeff Turner Talk 'Harry Potter' Love And Rejecting J.K. Rowling
Dan Clarkson and Jeff Turner travel together, share hotel rooms and dressing rooms. They spend so much time together that Clarkson's girlfriend refers to Turner as Clarkson's second wife. The two are the stars of Potted Potter, an unauthorized play about the "Harry Potter" series. They're inseparable because when they're performing, they are the only two actors on stage. Clarkson even admits that when he performs alone it's almost feels wrong to have a space to the left of him -- where Turner usually stands.
For years they've dazzled crowds in the U.K. as they go through the seven infamous "Potter" books in 70 minutes. Earlier this month the duo stepped on Canadian soil for the first time, hoping to wow Toronto crowds just like they have on the other side of the ocean. Moviefone Canada sat down to talk with Clarkson and Turner just before the North American premiere of Potted Potter on February 14.
You got started when you were hired to entertain the crowd at a London bookstore. How'd you get from there to where you are now?
Turner: That went so well. We were expecting 50 people to watch that in the bookshop and we got 900. They really enjoyed it. So we thought we might have found a show there. We decided to extend it and take it to the Edinburgh Festival with a little 65-seat venue. We sold out there as well. Our producer saw it, liked it and came and chatted with us. It's gotten bigger and longer. By the time the seventh book came out, it was an already-successful show and we were like, "'7 Books in 70 Minutes' is a great tagline, but if she brings out an eighth book it doesn't sound as good, does it?" Then the Canadian promoter came out and chatted to us, and both of us were desperate to come to Canada.
Clarkson: And still no one's noticed that it's just two guys messing around. We're not sure how far we can get. We're told that we can get quite far.
Were either of you big Harry Potter fans before starting Potted Potter?
Clarkson: I was a big "Harry Potter" fan. I always have been. My brother's about 10 years younger than me and I used to read him the books when he was a kid as his bedtime story. When he'd fall asleep, I'd carry on reading the books.
Turner: I wasn't a fan. I hadn't read the books when Dan first came to me to do the show. I resisted them a little bit, because they were really popular and I hadn't caught onto them early on. I was a little bit like, "Nah, I'm sure it's not very good," but then when I read the first book, that was it. I got through all of them.
You two seem to have great chemistry.
Clarkson: I'm glad you think there is chemistry. We really hate each other. [Laughs] No, we had mutual friends and a lot of it came from our love for comedy and the same sort of comic influences. That's where we bonded quite quickly. For whatever reason on stage from the first time we ever did something we had people saying "Something works." I think over time you start to be able to read and understand each other. By the end of it, it's almost second nature. I've done some performing on my own and it's almost felt wrong that there's a space to the left of me where Turner's been standing all these years.
Turner: Aw, you see me as a space filler!
Clarkson: Yeah, you fill in the gaps between the laughter. You know that.
In previous interviews you've stressed the importance of family entertainment and the lack of it in today's society. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Turner: Certainly in the U.K., there's nothing really on TV like there was when I was a kid. When I was a kid I'd watch "Morecambe and Wise" reruns with my dad. They were huge double acts in the '60s and '70s in the U.K. and they were clean. Now the only things that families sit down and watch are things like "Britain's Got Talent," "X Factor" and "Pop Idol."
Clarkson: I think there was this -- and I'm not sure if it's the same in Canada -- real Saturday evening where the whole family would sit in a group and watch TV and join together. That's becoming less and less now and I think people are going and doing their own thing. With the rise of Facebook and TV on demand, you watch what you want.
Turner: The main thing people say to us after the show -- if a family group comes up -- is: "You know we loved the fact that we all enjoyed the show." Even the sullen faced 15-year-old who didn't want to go because he wanted to hang with his friends liked it.
Clarkson: And you don't enjoy anything at 15. It's a tough year. I think it's great to see with Potted Potter that when we did it last time at The Garrick in London we had a hen party -- or a stag party as it's called here. They were dressed as wizards and witches. Two rows behind them was an eight-year-old's birthday party. They were dressed up as well and they're all laughing along and the stag party was dressed as more risqué witches. It was amazing to watch those two very different groups enjoying it.
Do you think the appeal of going there as a family plays a significant role in why you're selling out everywhere?
Turner: I genuinely do. I mean, we get a lot of families coming as a group and it's not the easiest thing in the world to find a family activity that everyone likes. We don't want to patronize the children. We don't want to keep the jokes at a low level. We pitch it quite high so the adults love it and the kids get it. The kids like being treated like they know what they know.
Clarkson: In the U.K. it's strange because we've obviously got a very large student base following. You have that group who also dress up. They all seem to start dressing up to our shows, which is brilliant. I just think it's nice to have everybody enjoying that. Their costumes are amazing. We had someone who sat as Dobby in this huge rubber head during the whole show. He just sat there and he must have been sweating. He still kept it on throughout the whole show.
Turner: It's commitment.
Clarkson: Not that we're laying the goal for Toronto that now you'll have to come dressed up.
Turner: I want to see a better Dobby!
How did "Harry Potter" fans react to the show in the beginning?
Clarkson: They've always been really responsive and supportive. I think a lot of it comes because we were fans as well. So although the show is very much this unauthorized parody it's very much a loving parody. We're in no way trying to send up the characters. We love them and we're almost looking for more nuances that we can have fun with.
I heard that once J.K. Rowling had made an attempt to come see the show. What happened?
Clarkson: It was when we first did the show. We came out and the girl who was working in the box office at the time -- It was only a young girl, about 18 -- was brought before us by the manager. Turns out that Rowling had turned up to try and get a ticket, but the girl hadn't recognized her and said, "I'm afraid we're sold out," and turned her away. Now we never saw her so we don't know if that's fact. I'd love it if she came back so she could just sign my books. We're such huge fans.
Do you know for a fact that Rowling knows your play exists?
Turner: We do know that some of her team have seen the show, because obviously they want to make sure we're not doing anything nasty. They've seen it and they liked it. So obviously it's got back to her and we're still doing it. They've been incredibility kind to us because they didn't have to.
Clarkson: Plus the subliminal messaging we've been sending her to make sure she knows about it.
Any thoughts on Potted Potter officially premiering in Canada on Valentine's Day?
Clarkson: It's a good thing Ron and Hermoine are in love. There's a lot of love on that stage.
For more information or tickets/showtimes, check out the Potted Potter website -- via Mirvish Productions.
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