Chris Columbus on Home Alone, Harry Potter, and Christmas Chronicles 2

In this extended interview the filmmaker discusses some of the biggest films of his career and reveals Kurt Russell’s Santa obsession.

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For some people, filmmaker Chris Columbus is the King of Christmas movies. For others, he’s the guy who set the tone for the Harry Potter franchise. For another section of people, he’s got a special way of making you laugh and cry in equal measure. Columbus’ career thus far is impossible to sum up in one specific phrase, because it’s as varied as it is accomplished. He got his first break writing a hard R-rated script for a horror movie called Gremlins, then went on to direct two family films that ended up being a pair of the highest grossing movies of all time – Home Alone and Home Alone 2. Throughout the 90s he worked with folks like Robin Williams and Julia Roberts to dig deep into human stories like Mrs. Doubtfire and Stepmom, and then in the early 2000s he was tasked with adapting the biggest book around: Harry Potter.

From teen movies to musicals to even accomplished arthouse films (he produced The Witch and The Lighthouse), Columbus has really done it all, and he hits more often than he misses. Which is why I jumped at the chance to interview the filmmaker about his latest film, the heartwarming and deeply charming holiday Netflix sequel The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two.

Columbus graciously agreed to take part in our Collider Connected series, in which we sit down with filmmakers and performers and take a deep dive into their career thus far. And while I only had limited time, Columbus shared delightful stories about how his love of Hammer horror movies inspired him to become a filmmaker, and how the intense pressure of turning a wildly popular book series into a franchise made him feel like he could be fired at any minute.

Over the course of our 30-minute conversation, Columbus explained how luck played a huge role in getting his Gremlins script in front of Steven Spielberg and talked about his relationship with John Hughes and how he landed the directing job of Home Alone after leaving Christmas Vacation. He discussed the immense world-building involved in tackling Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and how the entire production was fraught with anxiety as he was under intense pressure to nail it. He also talked about feeling more relaxed when it came time to make Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and switching up the visual style of the films with that sequel. We also talked about the hard-hitting stunts of Home Alone and Home Alone 2 and why, when they were being filmed, the entire production was on edge until they knew the stuntman was safe.

And we of course talked about The Christmas Chronicles 2, including why his close friendship with Kurt Russell inspired him to co-write and direct the sequel himself and how he and Russell collaborated extremely closely on the script for this new film. Columbus also talked about expanding the mythology of the franchise for Chronicles 2, and why the pretty stunning Home Alone homage within the film caught him by surprise. We also talked about the potential future of the franchise, and the kinds of movies he’d like to make next.

It’s a wide-ranging and insightful interview, and my only regret is that I didn’t have another hour to pepper Columbus with questions. The guy clearly loves film and filmmaking, and is refreshingly candid when it comes to discussing the many iconic films he’s been involved with over the years.

Check out the full interview below followed by a list of what we discussed. The Christmas Chronicles 2 is now streaming on Netflix.

  • Did he always love movies? Talked about becoming obsessed with Hammer horror films when he was 10 years old.
  • The original darker script for Gremlins and how luck played a role in getting it made. Talks about Steven Spielberg’s involvement in softening the tone to make it more commercial.
  • Gremlins 3
  • What was his relationship with John Hughes like? Talks about Hughes’ involvement in Home Alone and Home Alone 2, and how Hughes saved his career by giving him Home Alone after walking away from Christmas Vacation.
  • His penchant for world building. Talks about creating the world for the first three Harry Potter
  • When did he know he nailed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone? Talks about the anxiety-riddled production and screening a three-hour cut of the movie for audiences.
  • How he changed the visual style for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
  • Did he ever want to come back and direct another Potter movie?
  • Filming the stunts for Home Alone and Home Alone 2
  • Why did he want to direct Christmas Chronicles 2 after producing the first film? Talks about hitting it off with Kurt Russell, and how Russell wrote a 200-page origin story for the character all on his own.
  • Opening the world and expanding the mythology in Christmas Chronicles 2.
  • How does he collaborate with his cinematographer? Talks about the giant Santa’s Village set.
  • The big musical number with Darlene Love and how it came about.
  • How the Home Alone homage came about entirely by accident.
  • Are there plans for more sequels?
  • Talks about the pros and cons of debuting on Netflix, and how he wishes Christmas Chronicles 2 could be playing in more theaters.
  • Are there any genres he’d love to tackle that he hasn’t done yet? Talks about maybe wanting to make a straight horror film and how he’s produced Robert Eggers’ first two films.
Image via Netflix

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