J.K. Rowling biopic brings magic to Victoria streets

Parts of downtown Victoria will be transformed into Scotland, England and Portugal for a biopic about J.K. Rowling that is shooting several scenes here

You'd think J.K. Rowling herself was in town judging by the excitement a TV movie about her life is generating.

Today marks the start of a six-day shoot here for Magic Beyond Words: The J.K. Rowling Story, a movie for U.S. network Lifetime based on Sean Smith's biography of the British creator of the phenomenally popular Harry Potter books.

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The film, previously titled Strange Magic, stars Australian actor Poppy Montgomery, best known as FBI agent Samantha Spade on the CBS series Without a Trace, as the literary legend. Victoria will expand on its reputation as "a wee bit of Olde England" to double as Edinburgh and Portugal for the film that traces the fiercely private author's rags-to-riches story.

It includes Rowling's ill-fated first marriage to Portuguese journalist Jorge Arantes; her devastating divorce; her years as a single mother on the dole raising their daughter Jessica; and her literary struggles on the road to Harry Potter fame and fortune.

In an email to the Times Colonist, Rowling's public relations agent, Nicky Stonehill, said, "I can confirm that the biopic Magic Beyond Words: The J.K. Rowling Story is unofficial and not authorized. We can not comment further."

Scenes for the movie directed by London-born Paul A. Kaufman and co-starring Antonio Cupo will be filmed at a private home, in Bastion Square and on Government Street, with Munro's stepping in as a historic London bookstore where Rowling book signings take place.

Scenes filmed there will contrast sparse crowds in her early years with hordes of fans lining up as Pottermania takes off.

"We're very excited," said Munro's assistant manager Jessica Walker. "We like to think of ourselves as Harry Potter Central."

The store's centre tables will be removed for the shoot, she said.

And just in case the filmmakers need them, staff have saved owner Jim Munro's handmade wizard wands, magic Harry Potter coins and Hogwarts graduation certificates handed out at book releases, Walker said.

"We're really excited about the filming," added Ann Proudfoot, assistant manager of Caffe Artigiano in the Bedford Hotel.

Peter Gray, owner of Bastion Square's Renaissance Books, was also welcoming.

"If J.K. Rowling's here, why doesn't she come in and sign some of my Harry Potter books and help a poor bookseller out?" he joked.

Montgomery, who turned her brown eyes blue and affected a British accent to play Rowling, told Access Hollywood she has never met the British literary sensation and wasn't sure what she'd say if she did.

"I'd turn into a puddle of water," she said, laughing.

Kaufman hinted viewers might be surprised by what they see.

"This is about a woman who decided to persevere, to keep on with her dream," he said. "She was on welfare ... and she really hit rock bottom."

Montgomery is the third Without a Trace alumnus to shoot here. Anthony LaPaglia filmed Dead Heat here 11 years ago, shortly before Without a Trace was launched. (Co-star Kiefer Sutherland also went on to film a hit series — 24.) And two years ago Eric Close, who played clean-cut FBI guy Martin Fitzgerald, came to film the Lifetime mini-series Seven Deadly Sins.

Expect to see lots of classic European automobiles during the Magic Beyond Words shoot — and some road closures.

On Monday, there will be intermittent stops to vehicle traffic on Government between Fort and View from 9 to 11 a.m.

"Those will be about three minutes max, while there's filming," said City of Victoria film liaison Kathy Barlow.

The same stretch of Government will be closed to vehicle traffic between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., and Langley Street will be closed to vehicles between 4 and 9 p.m.

On Tuesday, Gladstone Avenue between Stanley and Fernwood streets will be closed to vehicles from 8 a.m. to noon, with intermittent interruptions from noon to 6 p.m. on Fernwood between Vining and Pembroke streets.

On Wednesday, Gordon Street between Humboldt and Broughton streets will be closed to vehicles between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

"We don't anticipate too much of a disruption," Barlow said.

RUSHES: By all accounts, the Greater Victoria Film Commission's sold-out Oscar Night Gala emceed by Maria Manna at Hotel Grand Pacific was a smashing success — so much so that film commissioner Kathleen Gilbert said they hope to make the glitzy affair an annual event. Limousines, champagne and the red-carpet treatment set the mood for 160 well-heeled guests, many dressed to the nines and beyond. Head-turners included Johnny Depp, Batman and Geisha Girl lookalikes.

"It brought a little bit of Hollywood to Victoria," said Gilbert, who launched it just to see if there was interest ....

And a producer and director got more than they bargained for last week when they came to scout wilderness locations for a feature film and got caught in our freak snowstorm. On the morning after their arrival the city was blanketed in snow.

"We were booked to take them out to Royal Roads, but instead they had a nice snow day at Laurel Point Inn," Gilbert said.

mreid@timescolonist.com

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