On Thursday, July 16 2009 at 8pm EST/PST, the ABC newsmagazine 20/20 will air a one-hour special “J.K. Rowling: A Year in the Life.” I had the exciting opportunity to interview 20/20’s Elizabeth Vargas who hosts this special about J.K Rowling, the only person in the world who’s earned a billion dollars just from writing books.
How did you get the opportunity to be the lead reporter on this story?
I volunteered for the story because I have kids and nieces and nephews who are die-hard Harry Potter fans. When we found out that Joanne Rowling had allowed ITV to spend an entire year with her – the year she was finishing up the seventh and final Harry Potter – we just had to take a look and see what this was like.
She’s an author who has never ever really spoken about herself. She rarely gives interviews, much less personal ones. And she’s deeply personal in this. She goes back to old apartment where she lived when she was a very very poor single mother.
She gets very emotional when she gets in there; she begins to cry, actually. And she’s very honest and candid about the debilitating depression she suffered in that time period. So much so that she told me that she contemplated suicide.
What happened to her, and how she felt in her life, really informs a lot of what happens to Harry Potter. The characters in these books: Harry is an orphan; she felt very orphaned by her mother’s death and her father’s absence. She and Harry share the same birthday. The house where she grew up had a cupboard under the stairs just like Harry’s did. And even in the later books some of the characters that Harry encounters are the physical manifestations of depression.
What is Ms. Rowling’s opinion of the film versions of her novels?
She’s always been very close to the productions. There were a couple of times when she has been on the set sort of helping the actors and the director to create these characters. So she was able to be on the set and pull the actors aside and tell them to play a certain role more ambiguously because what the actor doesn’t know, and neither does anyone else, is that that character may turn out to be a good guy.
She hasn’t been rudely surprised by any of the movies thus far.
Does Ms. Rowling have any new projects coming up?
She’s got two that she’s working on. Their small; not nearly the size and ambition that Harry Potter was. She has made it clear that [the character] Harry Potter is done; that it’s finished.
The 20/20 special “J.K. Rowling: A Year in the Life” airs Thursday, July 17 at 8pm EST/PST on ABC.