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[Warning: This story contains spoilers from HBO’s Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts special.]
At the end of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (also named Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone), as Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry prepares to leave Hogwarts after completing his first school year he recites the famous line, “I’m not going home. Not really.”
Now, two decades later, Radcliffe, along with stars Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and more franchise alums, are finally returning home to where it all began to commemorate the film’s 20th anniversary in the HBO Max retrospective special Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts.
When the Harry Potter franchise’s trio of Radcliffe, Watson and Grint publicly reunite for the first time since the 2011 release of the eighth and final film, many conversations center on childhood nostalgia and growing up while simultaneously starring in blockbusters centered on literature’s most recognizable child wizard.
Throughout the nearly two-hour special, Radcliffe, Grint and Watson, along with other franchise alums, share their memories at Warner Bros. Studio in Leavesden, home to all the beloved sets of the Harry Potter movies. The reunion almost resembles that of a school homecoming, with the opening sequence showing some of the cast receiving their Hogwarts letters and returning to the Grand Hall. Behind-the-scenes footage from the eight films is also shown throughout the special, which is broken down into chapters of each film.
Featured alums recounting their magical journeys include: directors Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuarón, Mike Newell and David Yates, along with stars Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Ralph Fiennes, Jason Isaacs, Gary Oldman, Imelda Staunton, Tom Felton, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps, Mark Williams, Bonnie Wright, Alfred Enoch, Matthew Lewis, Evanna Lynch and Ian Hart.
One notable figure who did not make an appearance in the special is Harry Potter franchise author J.K. Rowling. In recent years, she has faced backlash for controversial social media comments, including ones about the transgender community. Rowling was shown in archival interview footage from 2019, briefly commenting on the difficulties of casting Harry, the emotional moment they found Radcliffe and seeing the set for the first time.
From experiencing fame at a young age to on-set crushes and surprise injuries, THR takes a look at some of the best moments in the retrospective special.
Landing the Roles
In an interview with THR ahead of the anniversary, Columbus explained that Radcliffe was a casting Hail Mary and it took convincing his parents to allow him to star in the leading role. When looking back on the experience, Radcliffe admits his parents felt him signing on to star in what was originally a seven-film saga could be a “huge disruption” to his life. He also quipped that though he was a “very happy kid,” he apparently learned that he had a “really haunted quality” that made him the perfect Harry.
As a fan of the books, Grint said he was “always attracted” to the Ron character and saw himself in Ron “in quite a deep way.” Watson said that she and her brother were “obsessed” with the books and she knew immediately she would audition for the role of Hermoine. “I always knew that I was going for Hermoine in a way that terrified my parents because they were like, ‘What are we going to do with her if she doesn’t get the part?'” she said.
During the audition process, Radcliffe, Grint and Watson remembered testing with different people, but when the three of them rehearsed together something clicked. “I do remember that when it was the three of us, something felt different and right and easy,” Watson said. They also agreed that each was similar to their characters personally so their casting made sense. “Rupert was Ron and Dan kinda was Harry,” Watson said.
After securing the roles, Radcliffe said they were warned that “a lot of media” would be outside their homes given how much attention and anticipation followed the adaptation.
The First Two Films Were a “Funfair”
Depicting a story of Hogwarts’ first-year students resulted in a set filled with young actors all excited to star in their first big film, which Columbus told THR resulted in a “love fest of, ‘Can you believe we were in together?'”
“They were kids, so they didn’t know how to behave on a set. They weren’t that accustomed to film acting. The first week was just getting them to stop looking into the camera and smiling,” he said.
When looking back on the first two films, the stars admitted their attention could “come and go” and praised Columbus for making the atmosphere a “funfair.” “He was such a dad. You could really feel that … like kinda part of his family,” Grint said of the director.
“Columbus basically just let us be kids,” Felton said, adding that it never felt like they were really working. Lewis said it must’ve taken a lot of patience to work with the young stars who were “hyperactive and excitable.”
While sitting in the set of the Gryffindor Common Room, Grint, Radcliffe and Watson also reminisced on how easy-going things were during the filming of the first two films. “They kept us having fun the whole time,” Radcliffe said, with the trio noting that they would play a myriad of games on set including hand slaps.
Young Stars Had No Idea Who Many of the Adult Actors Were
With the films marking many of the young stars’ first onscreen performances, Felton admitted that despite being surrounded by a “cream of the British acting industry” he had no clue who anyone was at the time. “I thought Richard Harris worked here as a tour guide for a while,” he said of the late actor, who portrayed Albus Dumbledore in the first two movies.
“I don’t think any of the kids had the capability of understanding the gravity of who they were dealing with at the time,” Columbus said of the set that was filled with the “British royalty of the acting world.”
With many of the adult cast having been in the business for years, Watson said all of them were surprisingly “the mischief in a funny way” rather than the kids. Coltrane, in particular, “loved making us laugh, and he was incredibly good at it,” Radcliffe said of the actor who portrayed Hogwarts gamekeeper Hagrid. Watson also praised Coltrane for being so kind to her during what she considered her “big piece of acting” in which Hermoine emotionally shares that Draco called her a “mudblood.”
“I spent more time with you than my own children,” Coltrane said to Watson.
Richard Harris Thought Fawkes the Phoenix Was a Real Bird
When going down memory lane of filming Chamber of Secrets, Columbus and Radcliffe recalled unknowingly fooling the late Harris with the animatronic phoenix used as Dumbledore’s Fawkes.
“Richard came in and looked at the phoenix and said, ‘Wow, they train these animals marvelously these days,'” Columbus recalled.
Given the animatronic phoenix had cameras in the eyes, they were able to interact easily with Harris, which seemingly tricked the actor into believing it was following him. “We never told him,” Radcliffe and Columbus said, laughing.
Alfonso Cuarón Gave the Cast Homework
When Cuarón joined Prisoner of Azkaban as director, the cast said he was quick to treat them as teenagers rather than child actors.
“He was the first one that assigned us homework,” Watson said of the director. Grint explained that Cuarón asked them each to write an essay in character to help explain and help him understand the roles since they would know them the best.
“Emma writes like 12 pages that are beautifully written,” Grint quipped of Watson’s Hermoine-esque demeanor, only for the special to later reveal that he never did the assignment.
“Rupert didn’t deliver anything,” Cuarón said. “He said, ‘Well I thought that Ron wouldn’t do it.'”
“Luckily, Alfonso saw that it was very in character for me not to have done it,” Grint teased.
Daniel Radcliffe Was Starstruck by Gary Oldman
Radcliffe revealed that the first person he recalled being “in awe of” on set was Oldman, who would portray Harry’s godfather Sirius Black in Prisoner of Azkaban. Watson poked fun at Radcliffe, recalling her co-star gave a pep talk that they needed to act accordingly around Oldman. “I remember the Gary chat. You were like, ‘Listen, Emma, you need to be cool because Gary Oldman, it’s a really big deal and you need to be cool,'” she recalled, to which Radcliffe added, “Which was really a projection of my own fears!”
When looking back on working with Radcliffe and Oldman on Prisoner of Azkaban, director Cuarón says Oldman was quick to “embrace” and “include” a then-14-year-old Radcliffe in the acting process. “It was really sweet to see the two of them. It was almost as if it was mirroring that relationship,” he said.
“I had a natural sort of paternal thing,” Oldman told Radcliffe during their sit-down in the potions classroom set.
The two would develop a close relationship, which producer David Heyman said was noticeable on set: “You saw them between takes sitting with each other, talking and laughing. You could see in the way that Dan looked at Gary, the adulation and the respect that he had for him.”
Cuarón described a confrontation scene between Sirius Black, David Thewlis (Lupin), Alan Rickman (Professor Snape) and Timothy Spall (Peter Pettigrew) as one of his most memorable moments as a director. “I had never done a scene with such an amazing cast in my life,” he said. Radcliffe also shared the same sentiments, recalling being in awe of the actors as they filmed the scene.
Though Sirius Black is first teased as a villain, readers and audiences learn that he’s “kind and warm,” and becomes the only family to Harry. “I wish I had the whole picture,” Oldman said of his character. However, when Radcliffe shared that the late Rickman was the only one to know of Snape’s journey and had the “inside line,” Oldman was surprised. Radcliffe also recalled Columbus asking Rickman why he would do certain things in a scene, to which Rickman would simply say, “I’ll tell you later.”
The Weasleys and the Malfoys Were “Chalk and Cheese”
Throughout the franchise, audiences not only follow Harry’s journey but two opposite families: the Weasleys and the Malfoys. When speaking about being a Weasley, Grint, Bonnie Wright, and James and Oliver Phelps explained that the Weasley’s parents, played by Julie Walters and Mark Williams, acted as their own family offscreen. “They were like my second family. They always stayed in character,” Grint said.
During a sit-down with the Phelps twins and Williams, Wright explained, “Being a Weasley is the best part of being in Harry Potter. We had our Hogwarts family, but I felt, like, so special having an actual, extra family.” They also noted that it was “chalk and cheese” when comparing the Weasley family to the Malfoys.
Isaacs admitted that he originally auditioned for the role of Professor Gilderoy Lockhart, but he’s convinced he secured the role of Lucius because he didn’t want it. “I read through gritted teeth and deeply bitter and, of course, that’s exactly what was necessary, and they asked me to play Lucius,” he said of his audition.
When working with Isaacs, Felton recalled how easily Isaacs would be able to become the “most unfriendly, horrible person I’ve ever met” when in character as his stern father Lucius. “I adored Tom from the second I met him. He was always just the biggest sweetheart,” Isaacs said of Felton.
However, there was one moment he recalled making Felton cry. Issacs explained that in the first screen he shot, which ended up being a deleted scene, he hit Felton’s hand with his cane after his character touches something.
But Issacs didn’t know how sharp the teeth of the cane’s cobra were, and they cut Tom’s hand. “He looked up at me and his eyes welled with tears,” he said. After quickly apologizing, Isaacs recalled Felton saying it was OK since it was good for the scene. “Real Jekyll and Hyde, that one,” Felton joked of Isaacs.
Mike Newell Broke a Rib While Rehearsing a Scene
In the Goblet of Fire, the Weasley twins famously have a fight scene after they fail to be selected for the Triwizard Tournament. When director Mike Newell noticed that the Phelps twins weren’t being aggressive enough, he decided to pretend to be one of them and wrestle with James Phelps.
“I was a tubby, 60-year-old gent at that stage. I really shouldn’t have done it,” Newell said laughing. Phelps recalled Newell diving on him, and they began wrestling. However, things took a turn.
“I remember gripping him around the waist and trying to fling him about and so forth, and cracked a couple of ribs. So [I] was in absolute agony from then on,” Newell said, adding that “everybody felt much better” after he made a fool of himself.
“A Lot of Hormones Flying Around”
As the Goblet of Fire filming was underway, many of the stars were teenagers and had lives mirroring experiences with their characters as they dealt with crushes and dating.
Radcliffe said he and Watson would go back and forth asking each other for advice when texting someone of the opposite gender. “We had that old brother, younger sister thing,” Watson said. Meanwhile, Grint said filming was interesting given it was a time with “a lot of hormones flying around.”
“There was crushes and people went out with each other and broke up,” Lewis said, adding that set became the “same environment” as school except they were in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom.
“That film was probably peak hormone, at least for me,” Radcliffe said of Goblet of Fire. With the film introducing a myriad of new students set to compete in the Triwizard Tournament, Radcliffe said it made for a complicated setting.
“You had a bunch of hormonal teenagers anyway, and then bringing two massive groups of new people, all of them purposely hot for the film. … It did not take a huge acting stretch for me to tap into my awkward nerdy teenage side,” he said.
The Yule Ball: “I Never Danced With a Lady Before”
In addition to the action-packed sequences throughout the film, the Goblet of Fire also introduced the memorable Yule Ball, the Hogwarts school dance. In one scene, Maggie Smith is instructing students how to dance, using Grint’s Ron as her partner. “I felt self-conscious about it. I never danced with a lady before,” Grint said.
Radcliffe was also not a fan of the dance sequence, admitting, “I’m not a dancer, and I never will be able to dance. I feel like I’m pretty rigid in that dance scene.”
As for their outfits, Grint said Ron’s famously hilarious outfit, which Watson remembered as an “aggressive six-layer collar,” was perfect for his character. “It was very Weasley. I pulled it off,” he joked.
Radcliffe complimented Watson’s look for the dance, describing her as “beautiful,” and it made him and Grint quickly look like “Austin Powers’ mates hanging out on the side.”
Though Hermoine’s entrance to the Yule Ball was a memorable moment, Watson admitted that because the scene was a “big deal,” she ended up being “miserable” while filming it. “I just knew it was the like duckling becomes the swan moment. I knew there was all this pressure suddenly,” she said, adding that Newell would coach her how to walk down the stairs.
She later revealed that she would fall down the stairs while practicing.
Emma Watson’s Crush on Tom Felton
While Watson has previously revealed that she had a crush on Felton during filming, the two spoke more about their special bond in the reunion. “Emma and I have always loved each other, really,” Felton said. Watson revealed that while they were in tutoring, they had been assigned to draw what they think God looked like. Felton drew a girl with a backward cap on a skateboard.
“I just don’t know how to say it, I just fell in love with him,” she said. Her crush became more obvious when Watson said she would look for Felton’s number on the call sheet every day and said if his number was on the call sheet, it would be an “extra exciting day.”
Because Felton was three years older than her, Watson said he considered her a “little sister.” “I became very protective over her. I always had a soft spot for her and that continues to this day,” Felton said.
“Tom was the one I could often be more vulnerable with,” Watson said of their relationship. Though she emphasized that nothing has ever happened romantically between them, she teased with a smile, “We just love each other. That’s all I could say about that.”
Daniel Radcliffe’s Crush on Helena Bonham Carter
When reuniting for a chat on the set of Bellatrix’s vault at the Gringotts Wizarding Bank, Bonham Carter showed Radcliffe the note he wrote to her when she asked for his autograph at the time. As Radcliffe read it aloud, he had not only expressed how great it was to have her as a co-star but revealed a secret wish he had.
Breaking out into laughter before reading the rest of his note, Radcliffe revealed that his note turned flirtatious after he stated that he “wished” he had “been born 10 years earlier” to have a chance with her. “That is in my toilet, Dan,” she joked.
Later on in their chat, Bonham Carter, who starred in the films as Bellatrix Lestrange, also showed Radcliffe the fake teeth she used to wear while in character, something she’s kept for years — and teased she hadn’t cleaned. “These are actually relics. It’s 11 years,” she said while looking at them before admitting they smelled.
Portraying a witch known to be eccentric in the films, Bonham Carter said that when preparing for the character she had to “construct a reason for why she should hurt people and why, for her, she is desensitized.” Portraying Bellatrix resulted in fun antics while in character, and other castmembers remembered witnessing Bonham Carter deliver scenes: “I remember trying to be in charge of a scene and her just having the best time. She’s just allowed to do anything she wanted,” Isaacs said. Felton agreed, adding that “you could never really know what’s going to come out of her mouth next.”
Despite Lestrange being responsible for Black’s tragic death, the two actors addressed the elephant in the room, with Bonham Carter quick to joke with Oldman, “I killed you, didn’t I? … I’m sorry. It had to be done.”
Ralph Fiennes on Transforming Into Voldemort
When thinking of Harry Potter, it’s hard to not immediately think of Lord Voldemort, the dangerous wizard responsible for the death of Harry’s parents and his famous scar. Newell recalled casting Fiennes for the role because he believed “he is one of the most potent actors of his generation” and had a “great, delicate, subtle force.”
When Fiennes saw the renderings of how his character would appear, he admitted he wasn’t expecting such a “strong look” but wanted to be “evil and otherworldly.” To transition into character, Fiennes said it required three hours in the makeup department. Though Voldemort has no nose, the actor said he would be covered in stickers so they could digitally remove the facial feature.
Fiennes’ introduction to the franchise was in the heartbreaking scene where Robert Pattinson’s Cedric Diggory is killed. The scene ultimately marked a transition for the franchise as a whole and is “the moment when the series comes of age,” Newell said. “The children have left childhood and are going to have to confront the perils of adulthood, and it all comes from that moment of death.”
Emma Watson Almost Didn’t Return
Though starring in the eight-film franchise offered a second home to many of the cast, Watson, Radcliffe and Grint admitted that the success resulted in an overwhelming level of fame that grew difficult to come to terms with. When Yates signed on to direct The Order of the Phoenix — he would go on to direct the remaining films — he recalled being told that Watson had expressed not wanting to return.
When speaking further on it to Grint, Watson explained, “I think I was scared. I don’t know if you ever felt like it got to a tipping point where you were like, ‘This is kinda forever now.’ … The fame thing had finally hit home in a big way.” She also shared that when reading a journal entry from the time, it was clear she felt “lonely.”
Grint shared that he had similar feelings and would contemplate what life would be like “if I called it a day” with filming.
Radcliffe said that because they were so young, it never necessarily occurred to them to ask each other how they were really doing amid the success: “As a 14-year-old boy, I was never going to turn around to another 14-year-old and be like, ‘Hey, how are you doing? Is everything OK?'”
Despite having reservations amid the nonstop worldwide attention, Watson said, “No one had to convince me to see it through” and praised the fans for their support and love.
The Franchise Couples
By the end of the franchise, Harry and Ginny Weasley become a core couple, something Radcliffe admits was odd at first. “Bonnie was the youngest one, so it was a bit like, ‘What? This is weird,'” he said.
When looking back on their kissing scene, Radcliffe said it was awkward to do so around a crew that he had grown up with. “Everyone on the set has known me for six or seven years, and they watch you grow up.”
Another coupling that made for an awkward kissing scene were Watson and Grint. Watson, Grint and Radcliffe laughed as they shared memories prior to filming the anticipated moment between Ron and Hermoine, with Watson describing it as “the most horrifying thing either of us have ever had to go through.” When filming the scene, Watson said she knew she was the one that had to “make this thing happen,” given Grint wouldn’t.
“I needed, like, momentum into the kiss in order to do it,” Watson said with Yates laughing as he recalled Grint’s face “explode with surprise” after the scene.
“I think I blacked out. I just remember your face getting closer and closer,” Grint said as Watson laughed, adding, “Every time you talk about this you make it sound like an actual horror show in your head.”
“It wasn’t that bad, I know,” Grint reassured.
“Kissing Rupert was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It just felt wrong, so wrong on any level because Dan, Rupert and I are so much siblings,” Watson said.
The Cast Pays Tribute to Late Richard Harris, Alan Rickman and More
With a myriad of the cast returning for the special, each took a moment to remember those who have since passed, including the late Harris, Rickman, Richard Griffiths, John Hurt and Helen McCrory.
Emma described Harris, the original Dumbledore, as a “special, warm person.”
When looking back on working with McCrory, Issacs called her “the best actress” he had ever met. Choking back tears, Felton said the actress “taught me a lot.”
“She had this ability to show such empathy in her eyes. It was a real treat to work with her,” he recalled.
Rickman’s Snape may have been crude to the students, but Watson said behind the scenes the actor was always attentive to them. “Alan Rickman never talked to me like I was a child. He always took my thoughts and opinions very seriously, which I was always very touched by,” she said.
Calling Rickman a “dear friend,” Fiennes said he was always “a little intimidated by his precision” and “his expert delivery of lines.”
Saying Goodbye to the Franchise Resulted in an Identity Crisis
Toward the end of the special, the cast looked back on saying goodbye to the characters they had portrayed for 10 years. Grint admitted that when the filming was coming to an end, it marked a “weird time,” and he felt as if he “lost track” of who he was.
“Even my name didn’t feel like my name. I felt like I only really knew how to do one thing: I knew how to play Ron,” he said, to which Watson and Radcliffe agreed.
Many of the cast grew visibly emotional when discussing the impact working on the films had on their lives. In a touching moment, Watson shares with Grint that despite time having passed, it’s clear he’s “a pillar” of her life.
“We grew up together. We’re family. We always will be. Even though we don’t see each other all the time, yeah, it’s a strong bond we’ll always have. We will always be a part of each other’s life,” Grint told Watson before also telling her that he loved her, which left Watson emotional.
Coltrane tearfully said that despite the franchise’s conclusion marking “an end of an era,” they will continue to live on in generations to come. He also said that though there will be a time when he won’t be around, he assured that “Hagrid will.”
“It really is like family. We’re just so intrinsically linked. They’re very important people to me,” Grint said of the cast and crew.
“The crew on these films were unbelievable. There are people on these films that are foundational to who I am,” a tearful Radcliffe said. “As a person and an actor I feel so lucky to be where I am and to have the life I have and be able to work with the people I work with now, but none of it is possible without this. It was a very good 10 years.”
Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts is available to stream on HBO Max beginning Jan. 1.
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