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
"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!"
THREE’S COMPANY: CASTING RON AND HERMIONE
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
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
Published November 29, 2001