July 23, 1989 • London, England
While there may be a number of people in the world who do not recognize the name of Daniel Radcliffe, many millions do know the name of the character he plays: Harry Potter, boy wizard and hero of the best-selling books and blockbuster films. Radcliffe had minimal experience as an actor—he had scored small roles in a television movie and one feature film—when he was chosen, at the age of eleven, to portray on film one of the most popular characters in the history of literature. The Harry Potter films have been record-breaking successes, with each earning close to $1 billion at box offices worldwide. Radcliffe, meanwhile, has gone from childhood to adolescence in front of the camera, a transition that has paralleled the increasingly adult situations Harry must confront. While some observers have wondered whether Radcliffe will mature too quickly to be convincing as the young Harry Potter in the final movies of the series, millions of fans cannot imagine any other actor wearing Harry's trademark round glasses and brandishing his magic wand.
Debut role: monkey
Daniel Jacob Radcliffe was born in London, England, in 1989, less than ten years before the publication of author J. K. Rowling's first Harry Potter novel. His parents, Alan Radcliffe and Marcia Gresham, had been involved in the entertainment industry, both having worked as actors at one point. Alan went on to become a literary agent, helping authors get publishing deals, and Marcia became a casting director, helping filmmakers find performers for film and television roles. Alan would later put his own career on hold to manage that of his son. Daniel Radcliffe, an only child, wanted to be an actor from an early age, but his parents would not allow him to audition for professional roles. He did perform in a school play at age six—cast as a monkey—and enjoyed the experience so much that he continued to ask his parents to let him try out for other shows. When casting began for a film adaptation of nineteenth-century English author Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist, Radcliffe renewed his pleadings with his parents. They initially refused to let him audition, concerned that he was too young. By the time they had changed their minds, it was too late—the film had been cast.
"I like playing someone who is a complete underdog. Harry is a huge hero, but he's not perfect. He's completely awkward around girls. He's not a perfect student. He just scrapes by."
Another opportunity arose when, in the late 1990s, a television production based on another classic Dickens novel, David Copperfield, was searching for an actor. Radcliffe auditioned for the role of the young David Copperfield, and he won the part, thus beginning his career as a professional actor. The film, which was jointly produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in the United States, aired in 1999 and earned positive reviews. Radcliffe's performance was praised, in a review at the Web site culturevulture.net, for being believable and down-to-earth: "Daniel Radcliffe has a naturalistic presence—rare enough in child actors—and he seems like a real boy." Radcliffe later earned a small role in the feature film The Tailor of Panama (2001), portraying the son of characters played by Geoffrey Rush (1951–) and Jamie Lee Curtis (1958–). Starring Pierce Brosnan (1953–) and directed by John Boorman, the film—which was based on a book by esteemed spy novelist John LeCarré—was modestly successful at the box office and earned the admiration of a number of reviewers.
The Other Kids: Ron and Hermione
While not as front-and-center as Harry Potter is, his best pals Ron and Hermione are nonetheless critical elements of the stories. Rupert Grint plays the part of Ron Weasley, Harry's anxiety-ridden redheaded friend. A huge fan of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, Grint desperately wanted to be chosen to portray Ron when casting began for the first film. He felt they shared much in common: both have red hair and come from big families; both love sweets and are terrified of spiders. His passion paid off when Grint was selected from among thousands of boys to play the part.
Grint was born August 24, 1988, in the small English town of Hertfordshire. He is the eldest of five children and, when not filming, attends an all-boys school. He loves studying science and playing sports and videogames. For his fourteenth birthday, Grint asked for and received a unicycle. He has told reporters that he loves making films and would like to continue in the role of Ron for as long as possible. As for life beyond Harry Potter, Grint speculated in an article in People magazine: "When I was a kid I wanted to be an ice-cream man. That still seems like a cool job."
While she shares Hermione Granger's tendency to be a bit bossy as well as her self-confidence and intense loyalty to friends, Emma Watson also points out that there are many ways in which she departs from the character she portrays. She performs well in school but is not nearly as academically disciplined as her on-screen counterpart. Watson's friends are mostly girls, unlike Hermione's, and she spends her free time hanging out with friends, playing such sports as field hockey and rounders (similar to American softball). Watson pointed out another difference in an interview with Time for Kids: "I am also much more obsessed with clothes and shopping whereas Hermione has no fashion sense at all."
Born April 13, 1990, Watson lives in Oxford, England, home of the famed Oxford University. Before auditioning for the role of Hermione, she had acted in several school plays but had not performed professionally. Just as her costars did, Watson beat out thousands of other hopefuls trying out for her role. She loves the camaraderie on the set, joining in with her costars to play pranks on the other actors. In an article for the Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, Watson insisted that her life has not changed dramatically since winning the part of Hermione: "I mean, obviously I'm recognized on the way from home a lot more and, let's face it, I have an action figure of myself. But apart from that I'm just trying to keep my life as normal as possible."
When Curtis, Radcliffe's costar and screen mom in The Tailor of Panama, initially met the young actor, she made a connection between him and the ultrapopular character Harry Potter, immediately imagining Radcliffe portraying the boy wizard in the yet-to-be-made first film. She told Entertainment Weekly in 2000: "The first time I laid eyes on this kid, I said, 'He's Harry Potter. He should be Harry Potter.' He's the perfect choice." The man chosen to direct that upcoming film, Chris Columbus, also had his eye on Radcliffe, having seen the boy's performance in David Copperfield. Concerned about the intensity of attention their son would certainly receive if he portrayed Harry Potter, Radcliffe's parents at first declined. Then one evening the Radcliffes, accompanied by their son, ran into their friend David Heyman at the theater. Heyman was sitting with Steve Kloves, the writer who had written the screenplay for the first Harry Potter film. Radcliffe could not help but notice that the two men repeatedly turned around to look at him during the performance. Heyman, who also happened to be the film's producer, took one look at Daniel Radcliffe and felt the long search for an actor to portray Harry Potter was over. "Right then," Heyman told Terry Lawson of Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, "I knew I had found our Harry." He spoke to the Radcliffes about his feelings, and they eventually reconsidered, allowing Daniel to try out for the role. In spite of the director and producer's hunch about Radcliffe being right for the role, the actor still had to go through three rounds of auditions before being cast. Radcliffe was taking a bath one evening when his father told him he had won the role. "I cried," he recalled to Stephen Schaefer of the Boston Globe. "It was so cool."
Radcliffe went overnight from being a boy who dabbled in acting to the instantly famous actor who would embody Harry Potter in a highly anticipated film adaptation. The first Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (titled Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in England and Canada), had made a literary superstar of author J. K. Rowling. Millions of fans all over the globe were ready to shower their intense Potter devotion to the film—or to condemn it to obscurity if it betrayed the spirit of the beloved novel. To the relief of the book's fans, Rowling was involved in the film's casting and other aspects of production. As reported by Dana Harris in Variety, the author gave Radcliffe her seal of approval: "Having seen Dan Radcliffe's screen test, I don't think Chris Columbus could have found a better Harry." In the midst of his newfound celebrity, Radcliffe began shooting the first film, joined by a cast of notable English actors and fellow novices Rupert Grint and Emma Watson portraying Harry's best pals Ron and Hermione.
Released in November of 2001, the first film in the series scored a huge success at the box office, earning close to $1 billion worldwide. The movie chronicles Harry Potter's journey from his unhappy life with an emotionally abusive aunt and uncle to his enchanted existence as a young wizard learning his trade at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Thrilled at the prospect of seeing Rowling's vividly described world come to life on the big screen, millions of fans in countries all over the world flocked to theaters. Some fans, and many critics, left theaters somewhat disappointed, complaining that the film was competent and faithful to the book but lacked sparkle and imagination. Mindful of the importance of staying true to the much-loved book, the filmmakers had tread carefully, creating a film that many described as a slavish imitation. Time magazine's Richard Corliss expressed the feelings of several reviewers when he wrote, "The film lacks moviemaking buoyancy—the feeling of soaring in space that Rowling's magic-carpet prose gives the reader." Even many who found the film lacking approved of the casting and praised the actors' performances, including Newsweek 's David Ansen: "His eyes dancing with intelligence, Daniel Radcliffe is a mercifully unsentimental Harry Potter, likable and inquisitive but slightly aloof, his self-possession the necessary defense of an orphan raised by hostile Muggles [non-magical humans]."
The second chapter in the projected seven-film series, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, was released one year later, in November of 2002. Again approaching the $1 billion mark in global box-office tallies, the film intensified Pottermania while drawing some of the same criticism that had been aimed at the first. Some reviewers praised the actors and filmmakers for what they perceived as an increased confidence and adventurousness in the second film. Roger Ebert, of the Chicago Sun-Times, described the film as "visually alive," concluding his review with the exclamation, "What a glorious movie." Others, however, felt that for all its faithfulness to the original work, this film failed to capture the wonder and glory of Rowling's book. The San Francisco Chronicle 's Mick LaSalle wrote: "It's still possible, at times, to tell that Chamber of Secrets has, at its foundation, a work of extraordinary imagination and spiritual generosity. But just as often the film is as monotonous and despair-inducing as three hours on an airplane with nothing to read but the in-flight magazine." Regardless of any negative reviews, Chamber of Secrets increased the media and fan frenzy surrounding Radcliffe. Even as he was recognized and approached by fans more and more often, however, the young actor tried hard to continue his normal life, getting together with friends and attending school whenever he wasn't filming.
Time to change
A year and a half after the release of Chamber of Secrets, the third installment of the film series was released, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban signalled a number of significant changes. A new director, Alfonso Cuaron, had taken over, replacing Columbus, who needed a break after the intense workload of the first two films. Cuaron had achieved fame—and won an Academy Award—for his racy Mexican coming-of-age film Y Tu Mamà Tambièn (2001), but he won the Harry Potter job in part because of his direction of the film A Little Princess, a 1995 children's film that happened to be one of Rowling's favorites. While Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson were initially devastated by Columbus's departure from the series, they eventually embraced Cuaron and credited him with expanding their acting abilities. Cuaron began his acquaintance with the young actors by asking them to write an essay about their characters, prompting them to think about their characters' personality and motivation in ways they had not done with the first two films.
Other major changes involved Radcliffe and his fellow "child" actors, all of whom had grown up considerably during the time between Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban. In spite of the filmmakers' best efforts to complete the films quickly, the young actors were maturing faster than the characters, causing tremendous speculation about whether they would be able to continue in their roles for all seven films. For the time being, however, the actors' plunge into adolescence suited the darker material in Prisoner of Azkaban, which brings to the fore the sense of frustration and isolation felt by so many during the transition from childhood to adulthood. In Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry is forced to confront complex and sometimes unpleasant realities—about himself, his parents' murders, and the possible betrayal of his parents by their friend Sirius Black. Radcliffe explained to Jeff Jensen of Entertainment Weekly that his deep discussions with Cuaron about Harry's emotional state helped him immeasurably. "I'll forever be in his debt," Radcliffe told Jensen. "It [Cuaron's guidance] basically affected the way I approached everything after that."
The series' new direction earned a higher degree of praise from critics and continued to draw in record-breaking crowds at theaters around the world. Opening on June 4, 2004, Prisoner of Azkaban earned nearly $100 million in its first weekend alone. Radcliffe's fame continued to swell, with his every move making headlines. The press wrote that he had surpassed singer Charlotte Church to become the second wealthiest teenager in Britain, behind Prince Harry, grandson of the queen of England. Asked by the Cincinnati Post how it feels to grow up in the public eye, Radcliffe shared his strategy for retaining normalcy: "I never read the articles or read what people are saying about me on the Internet. If you read all that you just become so self-conscious." Instead of fretting about the lack of privacy that accompanies fame, Radcliffe focuses on the benefits of his association with Harry Potter. He has had the opportunity to meet and work with many actors he admires, he learned from Prisoner of Azkaban costar Gary Oldman (1958–) how to play the bass guitar, and his grades have actually improved since he became a film star. He has developed a passion for movies and thinks about one day becoming a writer or director. Cuaron speculated to Jensen that Radcliffe would grow up to be either an actor, a director, or a rock star. When asked which career he thought he might choose, Radcliffe displayed the self-confidence he has acquired in recent years, querying, "Can't I be all three?"
For More Information
Ansen, David. "The Trouble with Harry." Newsweek (November 19, 2001): p. 70.
"A Conversation with ... Daniel Radcliffe." Cincinnati Post (June 5, 2004).
Corliss, Richard. "Wizardry without Magic." Time (November 19, 2001): p. 136.
De Vera, Ruel S. "On the Magic Broomstick of Fame, Harry Potter Kids Keep Feet on the Ground." Asia Africa Intelligence Wire (November 10, 2002).
Ebert, Roger. "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. " Chicago Sun-Times (November 15, 2002).
Fierman, Daniel. "Casting a Spell." Entertainment Weekly (September 1, 2000): p. 16.
Harris, Dana. "Potter Waves Wand over Brit." Variety (August 28, 2000): p. 10.
"Hogwarts 2004." People (June 14, 2004): p. 126.
Jensen, Jeff. "Lucky Thirteen?" Entertainment Weekly (June 11, 2004): p. 32.
LaSalle, Mick. "Tortured Chamber. " San Francisco Chronicle (November 15, 2002).
Lawson, Terry. "Young Actor Daniel Radcliffe Takes His Starring Role in Stride." Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service (November 14, 2001).
Schaefer, Stephen. "Harry Comes, Ready or Not." Boston Globe (November 8, 2001).
"TFK Q&A." Time for Kids (May 7, 2004): p. 8.
The Official Harry Potter Website. http://harrypotter.warnerbros.co.uk/main/homepage/home.html (accessed on August 12, 2004).
Wake, Bob. "David Copperfield. " culturevulture.net. http://www.culturevulture.net/Television/DavidCopperfield.htm (accessed on August 11, 2004).