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'Adventures in Babysitting' Almost Featured He-Man, and Other Things We Learned from Director Chris Columbus

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  • Chris Columbus
    Chris Columbus
    American filmmaker

Long before Marvel superheroes dominated Hollywood, Chris Columbus brought Thor to the big screen. The movie was Adventures in Babysitting, his 1987 directorial debut about a teenage babysitter (Elizabeth Shue) who takes her three charges along for a wild night in Chicago. The youngest child, eight-year-old Sara (Maia Brewton), wore a winged helmet and was obsessed with Thor — all because Columbus had never heard of He-Man. For this story, plus Chris Colombus’ anecdotes from Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, the Harry Potter films, and more, watch his Director’s Reel, above.

Vincent D’Onofrio as car mechanic and Thor lookalike Dawson in 1987′s ‘Adventures in Babysitting’

“In the original script, the young girl was obsessed with characters named He-Man and She-Ra,” Columbus says of his Asgard-loving Adventures in Babysitting character. “At the time, those characters meant nothing to me. But I was a huge Marvel comic book fanatic, and so I thought Thor would be an interesting character to go with — not having any idea that twenty years from then, all movies would be based on comic books.”

Here are some more highlights from the Yahoo Movies interview with Chris Columbus, whose new film Pixels opens today.

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

Columbus says that his Mrs. Doubtfire star, the late Robin Williams, was “without a doubt, the best actor I’ve worked with.” In order to accommodate Williams’ gift for improvisation, the director used multiple cameras at once — “like shooting a documentary” — so that he could capture the other actors’ faces as they watched Williams’ comic genius at work. “For instance, in the dinner scene toward the end of the movie, the other actors had no idea what he was going to say,” says Columbus. “And it was getting their expressions and reactions the first time they ever heard him say something like that.” Thanks to Williams’ rapid-fire — and sometimes off-color — improvisation, Columbus said that he ended up with four different cuts of Mrs. Doubtfire in the editing room: “literally, a PG rated version of the film, PG-13, R, and NC-17.”

Home Alone (1990) and Home Alone 2 (1992)

“There was no CGI in Home Alone,” Columbus says of his prank-filled Christmas comedy. For a scene in which Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) shot a BB gun at intruder Dan Stern’s head, the effect was achieved with “ a guy in some basement in Chicago hand-drawing a BB on four frames of the actual negative itself.” After the success of the first Home Alone, a certain New York mogul wanted in on the sequel. “Donald Trump, I think, asked to be in the film,” says the director of Trump’s cameo. “He may have gotten in touch with [screenwriter] John Hughes directly, so I think then John wrote that particular moment into the film.”

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

As the director of the first two Harry Potter films, Columbus was responsible for casting Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint in their iconic roles as Harry, Hermione, and Ron. Because the actors were so young and inexperienced, Columbus says he cast them less for their acting abilities than “was going on inside of them, what I felt from them, and how much the camera loved them.” Columbus accompanied the newbie performers by shooting them with three or four cameras at once, similar to how he worked on Mrs. Doubtfire, “because sometimes they would say a line directly to the other person and it was great, and then they’d wander off and look at the lights, or look into the lens, because it was their first few weeks of shooting.” By the third film, he notes, “They were really terrific, brilliant actors.”

Though Columbus hoped to direct all seven Harry Potter films, he realized after making the first two that it wouldn’t be possible. “Each movie [shoot] was 160 days and we did the first two back-to-back, so when I finished two, I could barely function as a human being,” he admits.

Rent (2005)

It’s probably the film I’m most proud of,” Columbus says of his Broadway musical adaptation. “You know, not a lot of people saw it, it got mixed reviews, but I really, I love that film.”  The director pushed back against the studio’s request to cast hot young talents like Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera, instead making the film with its original 1996 Broadway cast. No one could ever be as strong as that original cast,” he says. “No one could bring what they went through to the film.”

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Image credit: Everett