For the past two months in Harry Potter-ville, the name of the director who would take over the franchise from Chris Columbus was a bigger mystery than the whereabouts of Lord Vol-- that is, He Who Must Not Be Named. Columbus, who directed the franchise's blockbuster first installment (''Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone'') and is currently shooting the second (''Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets'') announced at the end of May that he would not direct the third movie, ''Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.'' Warner Bros. came up with a short list of three candidates for the director's chair, but it was unclear whose name would come out of the sorting hat -- until now.
One candidate was Callie Khouri (''Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.'') Another was Kenneth Branagh, who is playing Professor Gilderoy Lockhart in ''Chamber of Secrets.'' But Branagh tells Entertainment Weekly he is now out of the running. ''There was a little talk about it, but now it's definitely not going to happen,'' he said on Friday. ''I don't know what I can say, but I think a candidate has been chosen. It is a person who I know and like and will make everyone happy,'' Branagh said. ''He is an exciting choice.''
That ''he'' seems to indicate the third candidate, Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron. Cuaron may be best known for his current Spanish-language indie hit, the brazenly sexual ''Y Tu Mama Tambien,'' but he also directed the acclaimed children's fantasy film ''A Little Princess'' for Warner Bros., a movie based on a British novel and set in a boarding school. He also directed the Ethan Hawke-Gwyneth Paltrow update of Charles Dickens' ''Great Expectations.''
While ''Chamber of Secrets'' is set to open this November, ''Azkaban'' isn't expected to be ready until 2004. Although Columbus cited a desire to return with his family to the U.S. as the reason he was stepping down, he is expected to remain in England and serve as a producer on the third film.
(Additional reporting by Daniel Fierman)