Director Chris Columbus On Overcoming Intense ‘Harry Potter’ Anxiety: ‘If I Screwed It Up, I’d Be in the Witness Protection Program’

The stakes were high when Chris Columbus helmed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It was the first of what would become a monster eight-picture Harry Potter film franchise. Now that the movie is hitting its twentieth anniversary, the iconic director is sharing his thoughts about heading up the first two films. And he’s admitting he had serious anxiety. 

Chris Columbus said he was initially ‘euphoric’ 

Harry Potter film stars with J.K. Rowling
J.K. Rowling and the cast of ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’ | Dave Hogan/Getty Images

The Home Alone director recently told Jake Hamilton of Jake’s Takes that the excitement of getting the job wore off quickly. And anxiety subsequently replaced euphoria. That’s because he knew the fan base of the J.K. Rowling books was, (and remains) incredibly devoted. 

“I was, you know, once I got the job, there was about 20 minutes, 20 seconds, of euphoria, then I was filled with terror, anxiety because I knew the entire world is looking at this book series,” he told Hamilton, per ScreenRant.  

“If I screwed it up, I’d be in the witness protection program,” Columbus continued. “So it was important for me to get it right, and I still had that sense of anxiety when I went to meet with J.K. Rowling and she said ‘What’s your vision for the film?’” 

Furthermore, Columbus recalled that a long meeting resulted in an agreement between the famous author and the well-known director. 

“I talked about it for two and a half hours, and she said at the end of that conversation ‘That’s exactly the way I see the film.’” Columbus added. “As a result of that, I felt a tremendous amount of confidence because she was basically backing my vision of the film.” 

The director went on to direct the second ‘Harry Potter’ film, ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’ 

It was a good experience for Columbus. As a result, he returned and directed Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in 2002. Moreover, he produced the third film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004). 

However, he said it was time to move on after Chamber of Secrets. The reason? A back-to-back shooting schedule between the two films put added pressure on his then-young family. He similarly said the backbreaking pace of production was enough to exhaust him. 

“I thought I was going to stay for all seven, initially,” he told Hamilton. “Basically, after 320 days of shooting, I could barely form a sentence.” 

Alfonso Cuarón ultimately took over for the third film. 

In a separate interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Columbus admitted that he had guilt about his children at home.  “I wasn’t seeing my kids, who were young at the time, growing up,” he told THR. “I was missing dinners with them.”

Columbus continued, saying he realized he didn’t have much time before they grew up. So he bowed out after the second Harry Potter film.

“I thought, ‘I can’t do another six, seven, eight years of this. My kids will grow up and I’ll never get to know them.” 

Chris Columbus admitted that his anxiety over the first ‘Harry Potter’ film affected his confidence 

In yet another separate November 2021 interview with Variety, Columbus said his anxiety made him think he wouldn’t last through the original first Harry Potter movie — let alone the entire franchise. 

“I had every expectation that I would probably be fired within the first two weeks,” Mrs. Doubtfire director said. “I was very, I don’t want to say anxious, but aware of the fact that if I screw this up, I probably will never work again. And I would have millions of fans at my door just infuriated. I knew I was taking on something fairly gigantic, and I’ve never been involved in a project that had so much scrutiny.” 

Despite the anxiety and the fears of not living up to fan expectations, Chris Columbus successfully directed the first two movies in the Harry Potter film series and set the tone for the entire franchise. 

And in short, 20 years later the compulsively watchable films are a testament to his ability to push through his worries — and the demanding schedule — to create an enduring fantasy adventure classic

RELATED: ‘Harry Potter’ Director Chris Columbus Reveals Why He Left The Franchise: ‘I Wasn’t Seeing My Kids’