The godfather readies for the rescue. Gary Oldman, who plays Sirius Black, paces fretfully around the set of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, trying to find his way into a life-and-death scene.
It is September 2006, eight months into production. Harry and his mates have penetrated the Ministry of Magic's vast underground Hall of Prophecy and gotten their hands on an all-important prediction, encased in glass. Lord Voldemort's blond henchman, Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs), confronts the boy. He threatens to kill Harry's friends unless he hands over the prophecy. Now Oldman, looking almost hippieish in a long-haired wig, must rush in, shout ''Get away from my godson!'' and clock the unctuous Malfoy right in the chops. It's a here-comes- the-cavalry moment, but Oldman feels his delivery has been off in rehearsals and he has no intention of faking it. ''I've been an actor 22 years,'' he tells the director, David Yates. ''The moment ain't there. I've been working so hard to find this f---ing moment, and it ain't there!''
Daniel Radcliffe watches all this, transfixed. He has worn Harry Potter's famous scar on his forehead since he was 11, but only lately, he feels, has he begun to grow from a mere photogenic kid into a full-fledged actor, and he's in awe of Oldman's mastery. ''I'm at a stage now where I'm ready to be pushed further by a director,'' he says. Radcliffe is 17, two years older than his character. His eyes, always plaintive, look strikingly large without Harry's signature glasses. ''David wants everything to be real and detailed,'' he says. ''So if I'm doing, say, a quite general sense of fear, he'll come up and quietly say, 'I think you can do it better, Dan.' He'll be completely frank with me. I don't think there's been a moment on set this time where I've walked away after a scene and thought I didn't give it my all.''
A few hours later, Oldman has nailed his scene, decompressed, and begun bantering naughtily with his castmates. ''Have you noticed,'' he asks Isaacs, ''how long my wand is?'' ''Yes,'' Isaacs volleys back, ''it expands in the warm, doesn't it?'' Radcliffe listens and grins broadly. He asks Oldman for advice on a tough role he's signed on for in Equus, a London revival of Peter Shaffer's 1973 play about a troubled stable boy, for which Radcliffe will appear naked eight times a week. ''You'll have to shave,'' Oldman tells him. Radcliffe's wide eyes open even wider: ''What down there?'' Oldman nods, eyes closing. ''Especially down there.''
Radcliffe may not bare his body in Order of the Phoenix, but emotionally, he's putting it all out there. The movie, the fifth adaptation spun from J.K. Rowling's seven-book series, is the most unsettling Potter installment to date. With a plot that follows the endangered hero's plunge into isolation and despair, the tale feels even darker as cinema than it did as a novel. ''Jo Rowling has said that if Harry Potter were a real kid in the real world, he'd be deeply damaged, he's been through so much,'' says Yates, a soft-spoken man who hails from British TV dramas. ''So I was keen to make this a much more psychological, emotional Harry than we've seen before. Dan's done some wonderful work exploring it, to try to make it real for the audience.''
NEXT: Deciding on director David Yates