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He was having a bath when the phone rang and changed Daniel Radcliff’s life forever; he was so excited he cried a lot, woke up at 2am and checked with his parents in case it was all a dream. After a long and frustrating search, the filmmakers had their Harry Potter; but Harry’s two best friends at Hogwart’s School Of Witchraft and Wizardry were also crucial.

By March 2000, director Chris Columbus and producer David Heyman were deep into pre-production on the adaptation OF Harry Potter for the screen. The search for a boy to play the role of the beloved wizard, Harry Potter, had yielded no convincing results. Heyman and the Potter casting directors had been auditioning hopeful young actors since 1999, meeting thousands through open casting calls and advertisements, but they had yet to find the Harry.

"It was not easy to find a boy who embodied the many qualities of Harry Potter"

"It was not easy to find a boy who embodied the many qualities of Harry Potter," Heyman explains. "We wanted someone who could combine a sense of wonder and curiosity, the sense of having lived a life, having experienced pain; an old soul in a child’s body. He needed to be open and generous to those around him and have good judgement. Harry is not great at academics; he has flaws. But that’s what makes him so compelling, so human – that he’s not perfect. Harry has an ‘everyman’ quality, yet he is capable of great things. He makes us all believe that magic is possible."

Columbus was also ensconced in the seemingly endless quest. "We had auditioned hundreds of potential Harry Potters, and I was still unhappy with the results," he recalls. "The first casting director, in a fit of total frustration, threw up her arms and said ‘I just don’t know what you want!’ Sitting on a shelf in the office was a video copy of David Copperfield, starring Daniel Radcliffe. I picked up the video box, pointed to Dan’s face and said ‘This is who I want! This is Harry Potter!’ The casting director said, ‘I’ve told you before, he is unavailable and his parents aren’t interested in him doing this film.’"

The search continued. Ironically, a few months later, Heyman and Harry Potter screenwriter Steven Kloves decided to take a break and go to the theatre. "We bumped into an agent I know, Alan Radcliffe," says Heyman, who was immediately struck by the look of the child sitting with the agent. "Alan and his wife Marcia introduced us to their son Dan during the intermission. It was all the clichés – lightning struck and the skies opened! All through the second half of the play, I couldn’t concentrate. The Radcliffes left before I had a chance to speak to them, so I had a very sleepless night before calling Alan the next morning."

"His energy and enthusiasm were wonderful"

The Radcliffes expressed caution when approached about involving their only son Daniel in Harry Potter. "I completely understood their reticence and caution in allowing their child to play a role that would inevitably change his life," Heyman says. "But, we arranged a meeting over tea that afternoon with Dan. We talked for an hour and a half. His energy and enthusiasm were wonderful. I had a feeling then that this was our Harry."

"To the Radcliffes’ credit, they were totally aware of the enormity of the project and for the sake of their child, were not going to make this decision lightly," says Columbus. We made it very clear to the them that we would protect their son. We knew from the start that Dan was Harry Potter. He has the magic, the inner depth and darkness that is very rare in an eleven year-old. He also has a sense of wisdom and intelligence that I haven’t seen in many other kids his age. We knew we had made the right choice after sending Jo [Rowling] a copy of Daniel’s screen test. Jo’s comment was something to the effect of ‘I feel as if I’ve been reunited with my long lost son.’"

Eleven year-old Daniel Radcliffe had first been tipped off about the auditions for the much sought-after role some months earlier by a school friend, but had dismissed his chances. "I thought, there are millions of boys auditioning for that part and I know I won’t get it!" Radcliffe remembers.

After completing several auditions and that fateful screen test, Daniel’s life-changing phone call finally came. "I was in the bath and talking to my Mum when the phone rang and Dad came in and told me I’d got the part," Radcliffe recalls with wonder. "I was so happy, I cried a lot! That night I woke up at two in the morning and woke up Mum and Dad and I asked them ‘Is it real? Am I dreaming?’ I was so excited!"

For both Chris Columbus and David Heyman, finding the right boy to play Harry Potter was fundamental to the casting of the key roles of fellow-wizards-in-training Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. "We’d been simultaneously looking to fill the other roles, but the casting of Harry was the peak of the triangle, and without him none of the rest would make sense," Heyman explains. "We brought in several children for screen tests, but it soon became apparent who were the three."

"We immediately fell in love with Rupert Grint," Columbus says. "He’s extremely funny and has such an incredibly warm presence. Emma Watson embodies the soul and the essence of Hermione Granger. When we saw Dan, Rupert and Emma together onscreen, they had amazing chemistry. It was electric. We knew we had found the perfect team."

Rupert Grint had no previous professional acting experience apart from school plays, but the self-described "biggest Harry Potter fan ever" badly wanted to play the part of Ron. "Ron is one of my favorite characters and I can really relate to him," Grint says. "I’ve got loads of brothers and sisters and I know what it’s like growing up in a big family. And I still get hand-me-downs!"

Grint learned about the casting search for the role of Harry Potter’s best friend Ron Weasley while watching a BBC television children’s news show. "I was watching Newsround and they told us how you could audition for a part in the Harry Potter film," Grint remembers. "I sent in a form and a photograph and a month went by and I heard nothing. Then I was on the Newsround website and found out that one boy sent in a video of himself reading a little piece from the script. So I put together a video, sent it off and I got an audition!"

For Emma Watson, the chance to play Hermione Granger was the culmination of several years of acting, dancing and singing in school plays. "When I read the book I thought that Hermione would be a great character to play," Watson says. "But I had to go through a lot of auditions. It wasn’t easy. Then one day, they sat Rupert and I down in David Heyman’s office and simply told us we’d got the part. It didn’t sink in at first. I just stood there looking blankly at them for about five minutes!"

Watson confides that there are some basic similarities and differences between herself and her character. "Unlike Hermione, I’ve never been top of my class. In fact, quite the opposite! Although I am very bossy and my little brother tends to suffer a bit."

Published November 29, 2001

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Andrew L. Urban talks to Academy Award winning cinematographer


Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone –
Australian release: November 29, 2001

In the US, the film is released as
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

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