The first film of the Harry Potter franchise, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. To kick off 2022 in a truly magical way, the cast and crew of the eight treasured films reunited for the Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts special which premiered on HBO Max on New Year’s Day. Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), and Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) joined many others from the beloved cast and crew to reminisce about the 10 years that changed not only their lives but the lives of millions, both young and old, who stood in long lines for those magical midnight releases and are now passing the films and the books on to younger generations.
As Watson shares in the special, “There’s something about Harry Potter that makes life richer, like when things get really dark and times are really hard, stories give us places we can go, where we can rest, feel held.” Here are some of the biggest takeaways we learned as the cast and crew shared their most memorable behind-the-scenes stories in this spectacularly nostalgic special.
Casting the Lead Role of Harry Potter Was Extremely Difficult
According to Christopher Columbus, the director of the first two films, “the search for Harry Potter was insane.” In a pre-recorded clip from 2019 used in the special, author J.K. Rowling said, “We couldn’t find Harry. We just couldn’t find Harry and it was getting kind of weird and panicky.”
After months of searching with no success, Columbus saw a young Radcliffe in the 1999 BBC version of David Copperfield. “Immediately, a lightbulb went off in my head,” Columbus says in the special, “and I said, ‘This is Harry Potter. This is the kid we’ve been looking for for months.’” David Heyman, the producer of the eight Potter films, then approached Radcliffe’s parents and convinced them to bring Radcliffe in for an audition, and the rest, of course, was history.
Many Cast Members Were Fans of the Books Before Joining the Movies
The first three books, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, were published before filming began for the first movie. During the special, many of the cast members recall the impact the books had on their lives before they joined the film franchise.
Watson remembers reading the first book with her family when she was eight years old. She says, “My dad used to do all the voices, and my brother and I just became obsessed. We would just beg him to keep going.”
Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom), laughing, recalls going to a friend’s house for a sleepover where, for the entire time, they both sat in silence reading the first two books. He says, “And that was it, really. I never looked back.” Likewise, Alfred Enoch (Dean Thomas) remembers Chamber of Secrets being the first book he “genuinely stayed up at night reading.”
The Younger Cast Members Didn’t Initially Realize They Were Working With A-List Actors
The younger cast fondly recalls during the special how on the set of the first two films, Columbus allowed them to first and foremost be kids. That, of course, presented its challenges. Columbus says, “They’d say a line, and then they’d smile at the camera. They were just so happy to be in a Harry Potter film that they couldn’t contain their excitement long enough to focus on an entire scene.” He adds, “I don’t think any of the kids had the capability of understanding the gravity of who they were dealing with at the time … The British royalty of the acting world.”
While talking with Enoch and Lewis, Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) says, “What’s funny . . . is being surrounded by the cream of the British acting industry and not having a clue who anyone is.” He adds, laughing, “I thought Richard Harris worked here as like – as a tour guide for a while.”
Gary Oldman (Sirius Black) was the first person Radcliffe remembers being completely starstruck by. Watson, while sitting down with Radcliffe and Grint, says she remembers Radcliffe giving her the “Gary chat.” She tells Radcliffe, “You were like, ‘Listen Emma. You need to be cool. It’s Gary Oldman. It’s a big deal.’”
Alan Rickman Was the Only One Who Knew His Character’s Arc Before the Books Were Released
When Radcliffe sat down with Oldman, Radcliffe told him that Alan Rickman (who sadly passed away in 2016), was the only one with the “inside line.” Rickman approached Rowling early on and said that as Professor Severus Snape, he felt like he needed to know what was going to happen to his character. Everyone else on set — Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson included — found out what happened as each book was released.
Radcliffe adds, “And he never told Chris [Columbus], he never told anyone. Chris would literally say to him, ‘why are you doing that like that?’ He was like, ‘I’ll tell you later.’”
Emma Watson Considered Leaving the Franchise After the First Four Films
The pressures of fame “finally hit home in a big way” for Watson and she considered quitting Harry Potter before the fifth film, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Watson recalls finding an old diary entry and says in the special, “I could see that, at times, I was lonely.”
Felton reflects that while her male counterparts had each other, “Emma was not only younger, but she was by herself. . . People definitely forget what she took on, and how gracefully she did it.”
Grint recalls that he “had similar feelings to Emma, contemplating what life would be like if I called it a day.” He says, “But we never really spoke about it. It just didn’t really occur to us that we were all having similar feelings.” Radcliffe adds, “We never talked about it on the film, because we were all just kids. 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 okay?’”
In the end, however, Watson says, “No one had to convince me to see it through. The fans genuinely wanted you to succeed and we all genuinely have each other’s backs. How great is that?”
Emma Watson and Tom Felton Had a Special Bond Over the Course of Filming That Continues to This Day
Watson shared that she had a major crush on Felton on the set of the films. She describes the moment where she “fell in love with him”: “I walked into the room where we were having tutoring. The assignment that had been given was to draw what you thought God looked like, and Tom had drawn a girl with a backward cap on a skateboard. And I just don’t know how to say it — I just fell in love with him!”
She continues, “I used to come in every day and look for his number on the call sheet — it was number seven — and if his name was on the call sheet, it was an extra exciting day.” Sadly for a young Watson, Felton, three years older, always viewed her as a little sister.
Although they never were together romantically, Watson and Felton just clicked. “The truth of it was Tom was the one I could often be more vulnerable with,” Watson says. “Nothing has ever, ever, ever happened romantically with us. We just love each other. That’s all I can say about that.”
The Long-Awaited Kiss Between Ron and Hermione Was a Nightmare to Shoot
The build-up to the hugely anticipated kiss between Ron and Hermione in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II put an enormous amount of pressure on Grint and Watson, both of whom grew to view each other as siblings over the course of filming the eight movies. “Kissing Rupert is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do,” Watson says. “It just felt wrong, so wrong on every level.”
Grint and Watson couldn’t stop laughing during the filming, so eventually, Watson took initiative. Grint, laughing, says to Watson, “I kind of think I blacked out. I just remember your face getting closer and closer.” To make matters even worse, Radcliffe recalls being “an absolute dick” and telling them, “‘I’m gonna come on set and watch you guys kiss!”
The Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts special and the entire Harry Potter film collection are now available for streaming on HBO Max.