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'Harry Potter' Actors Look Back on the Magic of Making the Films

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the release of "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone," we reached out to some of the Muggle actors of the multi-million dollar Warner Bros film franchise.

Jun 30 2017, 2:20pm

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It's the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone this week, which coincidentally makes it the 20th anniversary of my first-ever erotic dream about a teenage boy wizard. And what better way for us Muggles to commemorate such an important milestone in the wizarding world than by an oral history of the Harry Potter films, as dictated by the child and adult stars who contributed to one of the biggest film franchises of our age?

Here's something I learned while writing this piece: The British film industry is a more socially elitist than a pureblood-only wizarding conference. Like Harry's enormous unearned stacks of Gringotts gold, many former Harry Potter stars literally walked into prime film roles as casually as the Weasley twins using a secret passage to sneak into Hogsmeade. Why? The Warner Bros casting directors essentially recruited child actors from Britain's famously snobbish network of top-tier private schools.

"The casting director came to my school [Dulwich Preparatory School] and picked out 20 people to audition for the part," recalls Edward Randell, who played the part of Justin Finch-Fletchley in 2002's Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Hugh Mitchell—an alumnus of the $10,000 per term Pilgrim's School in Winchester—played the part of Colin Creevy in the same film, and tells a similar tale. Meanwhile, Stanislav Ianevski—who played hunky Bulgarian Seeker Victor Krum—stumbled into a lucrative film career while on his way to class at $43,000 a year Mill Hill School.

"I was late for afternoon registration," Ianevski reminisces, "and bumped into Fiona Weir, one the casting directors of the film and that's how she noticed me." Later, after Iavevski skipped a bunch of castings, Warner Brothers sent a car to pick him up from the school. As Dumbledore tells Harry in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities"—if, by choices, you mean where your parents chose to send you to school.

Elitism aside—besides, who's surprised that the British media industry is wildly nepotistic, I mean Brooklyn Beckham literally released a photography book only this week)—the adult actors involved in the franchise had to actually audition for their parts rather than befriend the casting director in between hockey practice and evening prep.

"There were about 20 Fat Friar potentials," remembers British stage actor Simon Fisher-Becker, "and there were four interviews whittling it down to the last three, and eventually I was the chosen one."

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Unsurprisingly for a $7.7 billion-grossing franchise, stepping out on set was awe-inspiring and frightening for the young and mature actors alike. "It was my first time being on something as massive as Harry Potter—plus, my first-ever professional acting role, so I had mixed feelings rushing through my body," Ianevski explains.

"It was incredibly nerve-wracking," says Randell of his only line in the film. "In the script, I came between Kenneth Branagh and Alan Rickman. You're desperately hoping you don't mess up."

Despite his nerves, Branagh was "great—really charming," Randell enthuses. "It's a special effects scene, so I was standing off camera saying my line over and over again, and he came up to me afterwards and said, 'Good work today, young man.' That was awesome."

If Harry Potters' child cast were privileged teenagers who'd stumbled into a lucrative film career, their adult actors were the finest talent in the British film industry. And for the most part, they were—in Hufflepuff tradition—overwhelmingly kind.

"I loved working with Julie Waters," gushes Chris Rankin, who played officious bore Percy Weasley. "She was the mother hen to all of us and kept us laughing and happy the whole time."

"I remember we did one scene where I was in a Quidditch crowd and we were up on the stand with Robbie Coltrane [who plays gamekeeper Hagrid] all day," Mitchell remembers. "He was so fun to be around, he was cracking jokes all day."

Not everyone was as effusive as Coltrane, Branagh, and Walters. "I think Alan Rickman was trying to stay in character as Snape," Fisher-Becker explains, "because he didn't actually talk. He said very little—just stood around and glared."

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Like the late, great Rickman, Iavevski also embraced the school of method acting. "I wanted Krum to be a special and very impressive character since he was more of a physical type of actor with expressions and presence rather than dialogue," says Iaveski of his role in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. "After some time Krum and I just blended into one, I guess, and things just worked out naturally."

Not all the teenage actors went full Christian Bale on the role. "To be honest," Rankin explains, "Percy is mostly a caricature of a pompous do-gooder, so there wasn't too much 'method' behind him for me. It became trickier down the line as he turned on his family, but unfortunately his part also became less significant in the scripts, which does give you slightly less to go on."

Special effects were crucial to deliver JK Rowling's vision of a magical community. "I remember my first scene so clearly!" Mitchell recalls. "Colin was going out on the Quidditch pitch and was snapping pictures of Harry and Draco, and they had me in front of a blue screen in my Gryffindor colors. They wanted it to look windy, so they had me in front of a wind machine. But as I was so small [Mitchell was 12 at the time] they had to have someone holding down my ankles, so I didn't blow away."

And unsurprisingly for a film set groaning with adolescents, hormones ran rampant and cliques were commonplace.

"It was a funny age," Randell remembers. "You're 13, you're kids, there's loads of sweets around so you're in a sugar-induced frenzy. There was nothing funnier than prank-calling people or gossiping about who had a crush on who. We were all quite immature."

"Everybody fancied everyone else!" exclaims Helen Stuart, who played Slytherin bruiser Millicent Bulstrode. "Tom Felton was the most popular boy-crush by a long way. Everyone loves a pretend bad boy."

Despite the obvious friendliness and ease with which the child and adult actors interacted, there was still a sense–at least from the actors I spoke with—of the main leads being aloof from the rest of the cast.

"I wouldn't say I got close to Dan [Radcliffe], Rupert [Grint] or Emma [Watson]," Mitchell says candidly. "I had a few scenes with them in the Great Hall, but most of the time I was part of the crowd."

"A highlight was Emma Watson admiring my purple Doc Martens with fluorescent-green ribbons," Stuart recalls. "We've probably changed a bit style-wise since then."

"I remember briefly being admitted into Dan's inner circle," says Randell without any bitterness. "Then at some point, I got quietly removed from the inner circle. I think, to his credit, his parents were quite protective and didn't want anyone there they didn't know."

For all the shit that came with navigating the politics of a billion-dollar franchise as a teenage ingénue and Hogwarts student, everyone I spoke to was effusive about their involvement in the films. Partly, their generosity of spirit is financial—Warner Brothers had a lot of cash to throw around, and even minor actors felt the warmth of their lucre.

Despite this, people are coy when it comes down to disclosing exactly how well compensated they were—which makes sense, given Warner Brothers' policy of casting exclusively British actors (British people are weird about money).

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"There was a huge budget on the film," Mitchell laughs awkwardly, "so no complaints there."

"It had a marvelous budget," Fisher-Becker gushes, "and I still get loyalties, for which I am very grateful."

The only downsides? "It's a bit of a weird thing being involved in such a huge franchise at such a young age," Randell says candidly. "Especially when I was a teenager and trying to be cool, you get annoyed when people introduce you as 'Ed who was in Harry Potter.'"

But time—and regular royalty checks—will make even the most painful, smarting teenage memories fade into bland unimportance.

"Now? I see it as a cool, unusual experience to have had." Still, Stuart would have done one thing differently. "I'd have nicked my cloak or wand."

Lede image credit: Photos by Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by Warner Bros Inc/ David Heyman/ Mike Newell/ David Yates/ Heyday Films/ Patalex IV Productions; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by Warner Bros Inc/ David Yates / David Heyman / David Barron/ Warner Bros / Heyday Films; Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone/ Warner Bros/ 1492 Pictures/ Heyday Films/ David Heyman/ Chris Columbus; snowy owl by Tony Hisgett via Wikimedia Commons; Hogwarts via Pixabay