Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: The End is Near

Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint open up about their decade in the spotlight

Of course they knew it was coming. Yet it wasn’t until the final day of filming that the three Harry Potter stars fully understood that the most significant chapter of their lives so far was ending. “Somehow, I wasn’t prepared for how emotional it was,” says Rupert Grint, who has played Ron Weasley for almost half his life. “It hit home how much it all meant to us.”

After the trio finished their last scenes for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows this past summer, the crew asked them to sit down for a little going-away presentation: a video montage of images from their decade on set and goodbyes from the hundreds of artists — the makeup and costume teams, the set decorators and prop designers — who had watched them grow up. “The three of us were just in pieces by the end,” says Emma Watson. “It was our lives played over on tape, and all these people that we’ve known, in this place where we’d spent more time than in our actual homes. It was overwhelming.” Not least of all for Harry Potter himself. “I was sitting there thinking, ‘What am I going to do without all these people that I love and who love me?’ ” Daniel Radcliffe says. “I will miss them all very, very much.”

“It’s so satisfying,” says Warner Bros. Entertainment president Alan Horn, who snared the Potter rights not long after he took over the studio and who recently announced his plans to step down next April. “Not only has it been good for our company and made a lot of money and all that, but it’s been a wonderful creative journey. I think we converted the books to film respectfully and honored them.”

The decision to halve Hallows for the screen frustrated some fans, who accused the studio of corporate greed, but the upside, at least, is that much more of Rowling’s final tome will make its way into multiplexes. “The emotional stakes are more complex and intriguing,” says director David Yates. “You put these characters in the big, wide world and have them pursued by people who want to kill them. Suddenly, they seem very fragile.”

While shooting the fifth film, The Order of the Phoenix, [Watson], Grint, and Radcliffe had to sign new contracts with the studio, committing to star in the remaining installments. She was the last to sign, and when we talked on the Phoenix set in late August 2006, a few steps away from Sirius Black’s tapestry room at Grimmauld Place, she was still unsure whether she was going to. She was 16, and the decision was agonizing for her. “I really don’t know,” she said. “Daniel and Rupert seem so sure. I love to make people laugh, and I love being creative, but there are so many other things I love doing, too. I’ve been given such amazing opportunities with this, but…I don’t know, and I keep thinking I should know.”

In March 2007, she chose to stick it out, but Watson seemed to hit her lowest point on The Deathly Hallows. At 19, she had been accepted to Brown University, but first had to slog through a long shoot for which she had to be cold and wet for months. “I hate to sound whiny, but it’s horrible,” she said, sopping wet, sitting by a space heater near the Room of Requirement set. “This has definitely been the most intense, grueling period of filmmaking I’ve ever done.”

A year later, in August 2010, she had made it through her first year at Brown (being occasionally dogged by paparazzi) and was preparing to head back to school for her sophomore year. Now, at 20, she sounded, for the first time in years, like the animated, enthusiastic girl she had been at 11. Sporting a chic new pixie haircut — the only time she’d been able to pick her own hairstyle in 10 years — she gushed about her freshman year. “It feels wonderful,” she said. “I have such a structure when I’m working on Potter. I get told what time I get picked up. I get told what time I can eat, when I have time to go to the bathroom. Every single second of my day is not in my power. Being at college, I took pleasure in the smallest things. Like, ‘I’m going to wake up at 10 o’clock if I want to.’ Or ‘I’m going to eat a sandwich now.’ It was so liberating! I’d be smiling to myself, and friends would say, ‘Emma, what’s wrong?’ And I’d say, ‘I don’t know. I’m just…happy.’ “

“Wicked” and “cool” were Rupert Grint’s favorite adjectives for the first five years or so while making the Potter movies. In fact, they were his only adjectives, so when he was really jazzed about something he had to combine them: “Wicked cool, yeah.” Even as a boy he had a deadpan humor so subtle that it was easy to miss.

The 12-year-old Grint’s assessment of why he was cast as Ron Weasley was pretty simple: “I have ginger hair.” That lack of pretense frequently charmed his adult costars. At an early table reading for The Sorcerer’s Stone, Grint was seated next to the late Richard Harris. In the scene, Dumbledore is addressing the student body in the Great Hall in a rather grand way. When Harris finished, Grint turned to the legendary actor. “That was quite a good reading,” he said. “I think you’ll be quite good in this part.”

Because of his mellow demeanor, it hasn’t always been easy to grasp what Grint has been thinking about his Potter experience. “Rupert’s just delightful, and in his own world,” Bonham Carter says. “He’s a bit like Luna Lovegood, you know? He’s on his own moon.” Off screen, he was just as enigmatic. Rather than buying, say, a Ferrari when he got his driver’s license, in 2007 he bought an ice cream truck for transportation.

It wasn’t until shooting Hallows that Grint finally began to open up a bit. “I’m loving this. It’s been amazing,” he said about midway through filming. At the time, in 2009, he had just recovered from a bout of swine flu and, like Watson, was suffering through months of being cold and wet, but none of it seemed to faze him. “It’s a little bit annoying, but…” He shrugged. “These films have given me opportunities I never would have had, and I kind of got into this flukily, so I’m just grateful to have been a part of it.”

Now he’s eager to begin the rest of his film career. Throughout his years on Potter, he says, he’s never questioned whether acting was the path he wanted. “The alternative, of just going to school and college, never really appealed to me,” he says. “On set there were times when it was quite slow and you can get bored, but I’ve always loved it. There was never, ever a doubt that I was going to do this.”

Daniel Radcliffe

From the back of Ollivanders wand shop, you could barely see him over the counter. It was early March 2001. Daniel Radcliffe was 11 years old, but he looked about 8. Short for his age and broom thin, he was so pale that cinematographer John Seale said it was like shooting “a milk bottle with shoes.” Tucked at the rear of the store, among the dust and cobwebs and rows of wand boxes, director Chris Columbus was watching a video monitor and trying to elicit a specific emotion from Radcliffe. He wasn’t having much luck. “A lot of trepidation. You’re terrified!” he yelled to the front of the shop, where Radcliffe was about to buy his first wand. Again and again, as Radcliffe grabbed hold of the wand, a golden light would glow and a blast of air would blow back his bangs, but Radcliffe still seemed too blasé. “Dan!” Columbus yelled. “Be Much. More. Afraid!”

Radcliffe has never been afraid to take risks or risk vulnerability. Sitting in a small trailer near the exterior Privet Drive set when he was 11, he told the story of his first audition (“I was totally petrified”) and how he reacted when, many months and auditions later, he found out that he’d landed the most coveted role in the world. “I was in the bath at the time,” he said. Producer David Heyman had phoned the house. Radcliffe could hear his father on the phone in the other room, but couldn’t hear what he was saying. “My dad came running in and said, ‘Guess who they want to play Harry Potter?’ and I started to cry. It was probably the best moment of my life.” At the time, Radcliffe wanted to learn to play the drums, and liked writing songs. (“I’m not very good at it, but I like writing them.”) And he said he seldom got tired because he drank “so many Diet Cokes and ate so many Mars bars, I’m usually just totally hyper.”

As he grew up, Radcliffe kept the fame from going to his head. In all our interviews through the years, he always made a point to discuss where he felt he’d fallen short on the previous film and what he was working to improve on the current one. He didn’t shirk his responsibility as Harry Potter, but he also didn’t let it build a cage around him. “Generally speaking, anybody I meet out in the world is chilled out and perfectly polite,” he says. “It’s people’s camera phones you have to watch. I don’t want to turn up on everybody’s bloody Facebook page. It’s around enough, my face.”

It’s a miracle his other body parts didn’t make an appearance on the Web when, at 17, he agreed to appear naked on stage in the psychological drama Equus. “Part of me wants to shake up people’s perception of me,” he said at the time. Both he and the Potter filmmakers took the nudity in stride. “What’s the worst that can happen? Someone takes a picture of his willy?” Heyman said then. “So what? We’ve all got one — or have seen one.”

His refusal to let fear prevent him from doing that play also hinted at what Radcliffe’s post-Potter career might look like. Harry Potter is beginning to slip into his rearview mirror. “It’s key for me to keep working,” he says. “Focusing on other things rather than just moping around the house.” He’s going to miss the boy wizard, though. “I already do, slightly,” he says. “It’s very rare that you get to burst through the surface of water surrounded by a ring of fire. I took that for granted for quite a long time.”

They knew when it would end, but not how. The three Potter stars had filmed one final scene together, but their last shots ever as Harry, Ron, and Hermione would be alone. In turn, each of them would run and jump into a massive fireplace, vanishing from the Ministry of Magic. The fireplace itself would be added digitally later, so they were running toward a giant green screen and landing on a green crash mat. “It seemed like the best way to go out, because it was physical,” director Yates said. And symbolic as well. Free-falling. Taking a leap. “To be honest, I did not get the significance of that,” Radcliffe says months later, laughing. “Maybe I should call David and apologize.”

It will barely register in the film — mere seconds of screen time — but as their final act, after a decade of childhood spent in their own ministry of magic, they each ran, and leapt, into the great green unknown. “It was really strange,” Watson says. “And then it was wonderful.”

Young wizards in love

Ron finally gets a clue that Hermione has deeper feelings for him. Trouble is, he won’t get to act on that realization until Hallows — Part 2 when the long-bickering Gryffindor pals kiss for the first time. “It was just weird,” says Grint. “I’ve known Emma since she was 9.” Watson was so anxious, she has said, that she “ended up pouncing” on Grint just to get it over with. He didn’t mind, apparently. “After the fifth take we were fine,” he says. “I’m kind of glad it happened.”

This article has been edited for girlsspeakgeek.com. The complete story appeared in Entertainment Weekly Jun.2012.

June 16, 2012 | Interview | this post contains affiliate links