The Wonder Years
By Stephen Schaefer for the Boston Herald, May 30th, 2004.
‘Harry Potter’ stars Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson face the terrors of adolescence head-on
Could the “Harry Potter” series spark a 21st century version of Beatlemania?
From the squeals, screams and sighs that greeted Daniel Radcliffe’s red carpet appearance a week ago at the U.S. premiere, the mop-haired 14-year-old who plays Harry Potter is the hottest thing out of the British Isles since Princes William and Harry.
It’s been 4 years since he was cast as the boyish English wizard with glasses and a lightning-bolt scar on his forehead, and Radcliffe’s Potter has transformed from cute kid to teen idol.
On Friday, his third Potter outing, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” arrives in theaters nationwide as Harry enters his third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
As the world’s gaze focuses on Harry’s encounter with the escaped prisoner (played by British chameleon Gary Oldman of “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”) and the dangers of the fearsome dark-robed spirits called Dementors, Radcliffe will be busy all summer filming the fourth film, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” due in November 2005. But can he be Harry forever? Or at least until the end of the series?
Scottish author J. K. Rowling promises there will be seven novels. Radcliffe, who earned a measly $125,000 for the first “Potter” (the same as his cohorts Emma Watson and Rupert Grint), is signed on a film-by-film basis, as are all the juvenile players.
Whether he remains Potter for the duration depends on the combination of how much he grows, the box office and Warner Bros.
“I don’t think there’s any point in lying. It would be hard to see anyone else film the part,” Radcliffe said.
“We are getting older. There was a longer gap between the third and the fourth. I’m now 14 and kind of go to 15 in a couple of months, so I’m getting older than Harry. We can only take it one film at a time. If they do want me to do it after five, we’ll have to see then, I suppose.”
In Hollywood fashion, fate seemed to cast him for the role of a lifetime. The son of a British ICM literary agent, Radcliffe had acted occasionally, most notably playing young David Copperfield on the BBC. But unlike everyone else his age, he’d been taken out of the “Harry Potter” pool because his parents feared the notoriety would destroy his life.
As the search continued, the film’s casting director quit, and director Chris Columbus, who a decade earlier had made Macaulay Culkin a star in “Home Alone,” was getting desperate. Rowling, while content to let the filmmakers make their movie without her input, nevertheless had been promised that it would be faithful to the book – and that Harry would not be Americanized but played by an English lad.
“What happened was I know his parents, Alan and Marcia,” producer David Heyman said. “I went to the theater to see a play, and at the intermission I saw this boy with Alan, and he introduced me to Daniel.”
Heyman quickly forgot about the play; he couldn’t get the youngster out of his mind. At 1 a.m., he called Radcliffe’s father, who agreed to let his son try. Three auditions later, Radcliffe was Harry.
Now when Radcliffe is asked to look back, he can’t.
“I haven’t looked at the first (film) for three years now,” he said. “So I can’t really compare it to the third because it’s not very fresh in my mind.”
Asked about his dating, he didn’t blush. “Uh, no. Sorry. I don’t want to disappoint you,” he said, meaning that there’s no special someone in his life. But like Watson, he is aware he’s growing up. “Obviously, we’re both known by the opposite sex, and we’re going what any person is going through from 13 to 14.”
Except he’s in the celebrity spotlight and receiving attention, as evidenced by his first visit to the MTV headquarters in Times Square.
“You’ve got the huge windows all around, and Carson Daly took me over to one of (the) windows and pointed down, and there was a girl down there, wrapped in a towel and nothing else and holding a sign that said, `Nothing comes between me and Harry Potter.’ It was a Harry Potter towel as well. Which made me feel better.”
As for experiencing adolescence in front of the whole world, Radcliffe doesn’t think it has affected him. “I’m probably just going through what every other teenager goes through, but with posters,” he said. “It’s not as different as people would expect.
“Celebrity does have its perks,” he said. “There’s a really cool band called Feeder who I got to meet. They were shooting a video in the stage next to us at one of the studios. That was really amazing. Tim Robbins and Ben Stiller, too. I’ve gotten to meet some fantastic people.”
A film buff who loves making music and is often called a practical joker, Radcliffe watched two classics of adolescent angst before filming began – at the urging of Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron (“Y Tu Mama Tambien”), who took over when Columbus opted out of directing three in a row. They were the French “The 400 Blows” (1959), a portrait of a rebellious boy without parental guidance, and Vittorio De Sica’s “The Bicycle Thief,” the 1947 Italian neorealist masterwork in which the loss of a bike means devastation to a poor father and his son.
“Since I’ve started doing the `Harry Potter’ films, I’ve been watching films a lot more. I’ve watched, I’d say, 90 percent of Gary Oldman’s films, and I have so much respect for him as an actor. I think that he’s one of the greatest actors of his generation, and it was a complete inspiration to work with him.”
One scene the actors did together has Harry on a lake with the escaped Azkaban prison convict as a horde of Dementors swoop down. Radcliffe gave so much of his all to the scene that he passed out.
“I do this kind of stupid thing where I forget to breathe properly,” he said. “I haven’t done it lately.”
One high point in working on the films stands out for Radcliffe.
“Richard Harris, who played the Hogwarts headmaster, the ancient wizard Dumbledore, died shortly before the third one began production,” he said. “It was awful. But there was very much a bright side. I think that I may have the honor of being able to say I was in Richard Harris’ last scene that he ever shot. That’s amazing.
“I don’t think that Richard is the kind of guy who would’ve wanted us to mourn him for ages. I think he’d have just wanted us to be happy and remember him for all the times he made us smile and made us laugh.”