The British movie producer talks about the secrets of his success

By Jeff Jensen
Updated November 19, 2010 at 05:00 AM EST

One Monday morning in 1997, Nisha Parti, the secretary to British movie producer David Heyman, told him she had spent the weekend reading a children’s novel by an author named J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. She thought it’d make a great movie. His response: ”That’s not a very good title.” But when she pitched its premise (”It’s about a boy who goes to wizarding school”), he read it and acquired the film rights. Smart move. Heyman, whose biggest previous hit was the Tupac Shakur drama Juice, has overseen a franchise poised to overtake Star Wars as the highest-grossing film series ever. We asked Heyman, 49, to identify his most magical choices.

1. He found a 10-year-old leading man.
”I was at a London theater production of Stones in His Pockets. It was a very good, award-winning play — and it was completely forgettable for me. All I was thinking about was the boy sitting in the row behind me — Daniel Radcliffe. He had these big blue eyes, a deep curiosity, a real stillness and composure — he was an old soul in a young body. When I met him, he was incredibly generous of spirit, warm, friendly, and open. He wanted to please in the most unassuming of ways. What was also evident was an inherent decency, which he still has today.”

2. He made friends with J.K. Rowling.
”Jo reads each script and she’s there for all of us if we need her. On the fifth film, she said, ‘There’s a character from the book that’s missing that’s going to be very relevant in the seventh film’ — and that was Kreacher.”

3. He hired a world-class screenwriter.
”Steve Kloves has such a brilliant way of capturing an author’s voice. He had done the Wonder Boys script — and it felt to me like you were hearing [author] Michael Chabon while watching the film. He has been such a brilliant part of the series, from making the right choices in editing each book to giving voice to [Rowling’s] characters.”

4. He picked passionate directors — and then listened to them.
”Chris Columbus defined the world. He cast all the [main] actors. Alfonso Cuarón brought a true sense of magic to the third film. And he encouraged us to start telling the books from Harry’s point of view. That helped give us cinematic structure and a rationale for the editing process. He taught us that it was more important to capture the spirit of the books than capture everything.”

5. He discovered that the right production designer can do magic.
”Stuart Craig made the world of Harry Potter both accessible and fantastic. Even when he’s doing the Dursley house, he makes it look as unpleasant as possible in the most classy of ways.”

6. He made the set feel like home.
”I’m most proud of creating an environment where our young actors felt safe and could blossom, grow, and feel comfortable coming back film after film.”

7. He didn’t rush the ending.
”As we began breaking down the final book, Deathly Hallows, it became clear that we couldn’t tell this in one film. It’s too much, even just focusing on Harry and letting other things fall by the wayside, because almost everything involves Harry. If we were to leave things out, we wouldn’t have been able to do the series justice.”