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Behind the scenes: Marge Dursley

Blowing up like a balloon and floating away is a lot easier said than done, according to Pam Ferris, who plays Aunt Marge. However, it may surprise many to know that this particular spectacle was created with very little computer involvement.

Aunt Marge floating away
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Extracted from Harry Potter: The Character Vault
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Marge Dursley walks into her brother’s house, number 4, Privet Drive, in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. She leaves the house in a very different way, after Harry’s anger with her thinly veiled insults about his parents cause him to lose control of his magic. ‘Well, she blows up like a balloon and floats away,’ says actress Pam Ferris, who plays Aunt Marge. ‘And it’s a lot easier to say that than it is to do it, let me tell you! You need to eat an awful lot of baked beans and fizzy drinks to be able to lift off like she does,’ she teases. ‘I can tell you no more!’

Aunt Marge bouncing on the cieling
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd. ™ Warner Bros.

But before Aunt Marge makes her ‘big mistake’, the makeup department gave her her first unusual characteristic. As Marge is accompanied by her dog Ripper, ‘We all decided that she should have something like the dog,’ says Ferris. ‘Nothing too dramatic. We didn’t want it to be like a “Harry Potter” creature, just that she is a human who happens to look a bit like her dog.’ Ferris was fitted with a dental prosthetic that clipped onto her teeth to give her the under bite and sharp incisors of a bulldog, which she says she tried not to emphasise, but just ‘let them be there’.

Aunt Marge’s transformation was achieved with very little computer involvement. Director Alfonso Cuarón came to creature effects designer Nick Dudman and asked if the effect could be done practically. ‘And it was the one thing in the script I’d read that I thought would be digital!’ says Dudman. Working with the makeup effects department, a plan was devised that would require four stages of makeup, but only needed two inflatable suits, pumped up by air tubes.

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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

‘There were inflatable gloves for her hands and separate inflatable legs,’ explains Dudman, ‘all set off by a computer-controlled pneumatic pressure device. The hands could inflate any given joint in any order.’ Pam Ferris spent up to five hours in the makeup chair having small prosthetic pieces and expandable rubber bladders applied to her face and neck before getting into an inflatable suit, which weighed fifty pounds. ‘At the later stages I was so spherical that I couldn’t sit down; I could barely walk! At my biggest, I’m about four-foot-six across.’ Inside each suit was a flying harness suspended on two wire rigs. One would lift or flip her, the other rig spun her around. Ferris received high praise from the cast and crew for her patience and good nature. ‘It was like she was in a straightjacket,’ says producer David Heyman. ‘Then hung up by wires and suspended, and she never complained once. Not once.’

Jany Temime was also impressed at how the stunt was achieved. ‘We thought this is never, never going to happen. We needed to make thirty-eight tweed suits for Aunt Marge. Her shape becomes crazier and crazier, and by the end, she’s just a big tweed ball.’

Harry Potter: The Character Vault book cover

Extracted from
'Harry Potter: The Character Vault'