Today's cuppa: Sony Studios coffee
Earlier today, I headed over to Sony Studios in Culver City to see a taping of the new ABC series "Shark Tank," in which entrepreneurs run a gauntlet of potential wealthy investors in hopes of realizing their business dreams.
If the rapt attention paid by the crew to the goings-on is any indication, the spirited interplay among the business moguls and the hopefuls makes for great theater — and great TV. Also said a quick hello to executive producer Mark Burnett ("The Apprentice," "Survivor"), who knows a few things about putting together a reality show.
The show premieres Aug. 9, and I'm writing a feature story on it this week, including an interview with Burnett, so watch this space for further updates.
Originally aired in late December 2007 on ITV in the U.K., this documentary by filmmaker James Runcie digs into the private life of the British author whose seven "Harry Potter" novels have set a new standard in young adult literature, along with spawning several movies — the sixth and latest, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," just came out — and a worldwide fan phenomenon.
"As a person, she's fascinating," says Vargas. "It's always interesting to see how someone creatively comes up with stories and characters that are riveting for so many people around the world and in so many cultures. When you really get into her personal story — and she rarely talks like that — it's even more fascinating.
"She's very candid in this special about her depression, about how poor she was, how difficult her life was when she first thought of 'Harry Potter,' and how close to the brink of contemplating suicide — she did contemplate suicide.
"It's a pretty dire experience. I think a lot of people will find her relatable and surprising."
According to Rowling — in a tale now as much a part of "Harry Potter" lore as the characters themselves — the story and the characters came to her during a train trip from Manchester to London, England, in 1990.
"Not only did the characters and the idea come to her in a rush," says Vargas, "but the entire arc of the story came to her in a rush, which I find fascinating.
"She maintains when she was writing the first book, she already knew what was going to happen further down the line. I don't think she knew precisely that there'd be seven books, but she knew the arc of each character's story.
"For example, while making the movie from 'Harry Potter' one or the second book, she could pull actors aside and say, 'Play this guy a little more ambiguous, because, I haven't written book five yet, but I know that you'll find he's not a bad guy. He's a good guy.'
"She was able to actually advise actors early on in the process and give them tips on how to play their characters, because she already knew how their story was going to play out."
Not only did Rowling, a single mother struggling to make ends meet, carve out the time to write the first "Harry Potter" novel, but she found inspiration in the difficulties of her own life.
"That's amazing," Vargas says, "how much she takes from her own life and applies to her characters Harry Potter has her birthday. Harry Potter is orphaned; she felt very orphaned by her mother's death. Her mother died of multiple sclerosis when Joanne was quite young.
"Her father was very emotionally remote. She hasn't spoken to her father in years and years and years. He really isn't a presence in her life. So she felt very orphaned.
"The house that she lived in had a cupboard under the stairs, just the way Harry Potter lived in with his nasty aunt and uncle at the beginning of book one.
"She uses a lot of her own life and her own feelings. Even her battles with depression are used in later books with the Dementors, which are real, physical manifestations of depression. I was amazed at how she was able to bring something as ephemeral and as powerful and debilitating as depression and make it a physical presence."
As for the future, Vargas says, "She did leave a door open recently for another 'Harry Potter' book, a book that wouldn't be about Harry per se, but maybe about one of the other characters.
"At this point, Harry's story, through seven books, has really been told. Perhaps there's a child coming or some other smaller character that she might elaborate on.
"I don't know if she's going to do that. At this point, she has no plans to do that."