A phenomenon, a craze, a legacy. However described, there’s no denying of the impact the Harry Potter franchise has had on a generation. As one young respondent wrote on a feedback card at an early test screening, “Goodbye childhood,” reads true not just for the millions who literally grew up reading J.K. Rowling’s books and watching the film adaptations, but also for the young cast who are now just entering their early twenties.
In the last big screen installment, the battle between good and evil explodes into an epic all-out war with Hogwarts as the battleground, though it is Harry alone who must confront Lord Voldemort once and for all, no matter how personal the battle.
For star Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), the true enormity of the success of the franchise didn’t hit her until she was abroad after the first film was released in 2001.
“I was in a shanty town in Bangladesh and a boy stopped me in the street and said, ‘You’re the girl from Harry Potter.’ There’s nowhere in the world I can go it feels that isn’t somehow touched by this film franchise. It’s absolutely amazing, it reaches the furthest corners of the earth and in the least expected places that you would expect.”
And reach a worldwide audience it has; raking in well over 6 billion dollars at the box office over the last decade with many of the films taking a place in the top ten best opening weekends worldwide, with the last hurrah, ‘Hallows Part Two’ earning the best US opening weekend of all time.
For the actors who have spent the last decade playing these characters, they concede it is sometimes hard to distinguish the blurred line between themselves and their famous characters. Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) has even been known to combine his name with his character:
“And after ten years playing the same guy every day, I think you do naturally just morph into him and we have become this ‘Ronpert’ thing which I think will stay with me for a while. There will always be a bit of Ron in me for the rest of my life.”
Emma Watson agrees:
“I feel as though so much of me went in to her and so much of her went in to me, I can’t really differentiate too much anymore, it’s all a bit of a blur.”
Watson also admits, very candidly that she has grown as an actor:
“The last two, ‘Part One’ and ‘Part Two’ for me, really stand apart from all of the rest. The quality is amazing and the role and the depth and how much darker they get really gave me a chance to stretch myself as an actress and really feel like I was an actress and like I was acting. Because actually for the first however-many years I didn’t really feel like I was doing much acting at all. It’s nice, I feel like I can say I’m an actress and really believe in that.”
For the child actors, not all lessons in acting happened easily. For Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), that lesson was one that he will never forget:
“The most embarrassing thing for an actor when you’re surrounded by other actors that you look up to, is cocking up your lines. And there was one time that I did it very noticeably, I think it was at the end of the third film, possibly the second and I couldn’t get it out for love nor money. I’m not sure what it was but I couldn’t do it and I actually started crying. I was only about thirteen, fourteen. I was like, ‘I’m so sorry, so sorry I can’t do it,’ and Chris Columbus the director was like, ‘It’s fine, it’s fine, we got it, it’s in the can, it’s going to be in the movie.’ They cut it out of the film, it wasn’t there. So I learned very quickly from that, don’t mess up your lines!”
Ten years later, making the final film in the franchise, director David Yates says felt the added pressure of wrapping up the story and the expectations from fans:
“There’s always pressure when you make movies, but especially with this one because it’s legacy filmmaking I guess. But you know what you do? You just go to work and every day you just tell the story in the best way possible. The minute you start over thinking that, it would cripple you.”
Surprisingly, the most challenging scene to shoot in the film for Yates, is one that lasts only a few minutes:
“The (scene at) Gringotts Bank vault. It doesn’t look very complicated but when those three characters get in to that small room and the treasure starts to replicate, we had to design a hydraulic floor which would lift all the treasure up, we had to figure out ways of putting cameras in there and it was a completely enclosed set. It took months and months of planning even though it runs for about two and a half minutes. It was tricky.”
Almost as surprising, is that Yates rates not the epic war scenes, but a simple one as his proudest of the film:
“The end scene at Kings Cross. For me, it’s very moving and there’s not much magic in it, but it feels very magical.”
Though, by the end of shooting, Yates admits that he was ready to close the chapter on Harry Potter:
“By the time I got to Hallows Part Two I was really glad we had finished quite honestly. It’s very tough making these movies, they’re really complicated.”
And while the actors are also embracing moving on from the franchise, they offer much more sentiment. Emma Watson describes the scene that resonated most with her:
“After the battle and before we flash forward, I remember just really feeling exactly how I guess Hermione would be feeling, which was ‘Wow, this is all coming to an end and look at everything we’ve achieved.’ The set was actually built looking out over the studios which is where I grew up essentially and spent the last twelve years, so not much acting required really.”
For Rupert Grint, the week of promoting the film and seeing the finished product has been the most difficult:
“It has been quite an emotional week, really … It’s been a very weird time, really kind of accepting the end. I mean we finished filming a year ago and I was left with this quite empty feeling and it’s taken me a while to fully accept it’s over … But it’s going to take a while for me to really let go of this because it really has been my childhood and for that to come down to this last film, feels really weird … It’s over for us as well. It’s quite sad, I’m really going to miss it.”
And so too for the millions of fans around the world who say goodbye to the world of Hogwarts, to Harry and Hermione.
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” is now playing.
– TIM JOHNSON