ABOUT THE STORY
As Harry Potter's (DANIEL RADCLIFFE) 11th birthday draws near, he anticipates little in the way of excitement or presents from the Dursleys, Harry's unpleasant relatives who took him in following his parents' deaths and forced him to sleep in the cupboard under the stairs.
But this year, Harry's birthday will be different.
A mysterious letter addressed to Harry arrives, written in peculiar green ink and accompanied by an owl. Harry is surprised and excited by the curious dispatch, but his horrified Uncle Vernon (RICHARD GRIFFITHS) destroys the letter before Harry has a chance to read it.
Their plan appears to be working when suddenly a LOUD CRASH carries the hut door off its hinges, revealing the awesome bulk of an enormous giant called Hagrid (ROBBIE COLTRANE). Furious with the Dursleys for destroying the letters and trying to conceal their nephew's real identity, Hagrid reveals the secret that will change Harry's life: he, Harry Potter, is a wizard!
Much to Harry's disbelief, it transpires that the puzzlingly persistent letters are invitations for him, on the occasion of his 11th birthday, to leave the regular world and join his similarly-talented peers at the legendary Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Hagrid goes on to explain that Harry's parents did not die in a car crash as his insecure relatives have repeatedly told him - they were in fact murdered by an evil wizard who in turn etched the distinctive lightning scar on Harry's forehead!
Harry is completely overwhelmed by the revelations about his parents and the invitation to Hogwarts. However, faced with another night in the cupboard under the stairs and a life of hand-me-downs, he doesn't hesitate in accompanying Hagrid to London's King's Cross Station, where he discovers the secret Platform 9 ¾ and catches the Hogwarts Express.
Aboard the train packed with wide-eyed first year students, Harry befriends fellow wizards-in-training Hermione Granger (EMMA WATSON) and Ron Weasley (RUPERT GRINT). Together with his new friends, Harry embarks on the adventure of a lifetime at Hogwarts, a wondrous place beyond Harry's wildest imagination where he discovers his extraordinary talents and finds the home and the family he never had.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
FROM NOVEL TO SCREEN
With over 100 million copies sold in over 46 languages, j.k Rowling's best-selling series of books based on the adventures of the world's most beloved wizard, Harry Potter, have truly become a worldwide phenomenon, touching and capturing the imaginations of readers of all ages around the globe. However, the book was barely in print when it captivated British producer David Heyman, the former Hollywood studio executive-turned-producer of such acclaimed independent films Daytrippers, The (1996).
In 1996, Heyman returned to London from the U. S. to set up his own production company, Heyday Films, with a vision of producing truly international films for both Europe and the United States. "Having a brother and sister who were 10 and 14 at the time, I was very interested in finding a children's film that I could enjoy as much as they would," Heyman recalls. "My team at Heyday was aware of this and my Head of Development, Tanya Seghatchian, read an article about a new children's book by a then-unknown author. The agent sent her a copy and my assistant Nisha read it over the weekend. Nisha reported that it was a curious book about a young boy who goes to wizard school. I thought it was a wonderful idea and read the novel that evening. What I thought was a great idea turned out to be an even more remarkable book, and so much richer than the idea that initially attracted me. I realized this was something very special and began pursuing the rights the following morning. "
It was during his auspicious first meeting with author J.K Rowling in early 1997 that Heyman made his commitment clear. "I made a promise to Jo Rowling to be true to her vision," Heyman says. "This was and has been the most important consideration to me throughout the process. "
But finding a director who shared Rowling and Heyman's passion, commitment and vision for the film adaptation proved to be a challenge. Chris Columbus, renowned for directing the blockbuster hits Home Alone (1990) and Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), made the short list of those considered for the daunting but prestigious task.
"My daughter Eleanor was reading the book at the time and insisted that I read it as well," Columbus remembers. "I started reading it, finished it in one day and couldn't stop thinking about turning it into a film. But, at that point, the film was already in the hands of another director. A few months later, I received a call from my agent, telling me the book was again available. There was only one problem: several directors were now also interested in making the film. Warner Bros. and producer David Heyman began a lengthy process of interviewing the potential candidates. Nevertheless, I wasn't intimidated by this. I felt that if I could articulate my passion and obsession with the material, if I could clearly specify how I would make the film, David and the Studio would realize that I was the man for the job. "
The next step was meeting with the author, J.K Rowling. "At first I was nervous, being such a big fan of the books," Columbus says. "But I immediately felt comfortable with Jo. I explained that I would protect the integrity of the book. I told her how I wanted to keep the darkness and the edge of the material intact. I also think Jo was excited by the fact that I wanted her to be involved in the creative process. And she was an invaluable collaborator. Her inspiration and ideas were absolutely wonderful. "
"There was a lot of interest from numerous directors who wanted to be involved with Harry Potter," Heyman says, "but Chris emerged as the person with the greatest passion and understanding of the books and the desire to remain faithful to Jo's vision. "
Indeed, Columbus, like Heyman and Warner Bros. , had no desire to deviate from the world that Rowling had so meticulously created. "I'd heard these horrendous and actually quite amusing stories about how certain directors had wanted to adapt the book, like changing the locale to a Hollywood High School or turning Harry, Ron and Hermione into American students or making the entire film as a computer animated picture. I was stunned by some of these notions. I mean, it all feels painfully obvious to me. There's a reason why millions of children and adults have fallen in love with the Harry Potter books. To destroy the basic foundation of this world and these characters would alienate our audience. So I was adamant about being incredibly faithful to the books, which means shooting the films in England, with an all British cast. "
"There was never any desire to make the film in America," Heyman reports. "In spite of the book's 'Britishness' and its specificity in terms of locale, it is in fact a universal story. "
Once Columbus came aboard and it was agreed that the film would be shot in England, the filmmakers moved on to perhaps their greatest challenge: finding the right boy to play Harry Potter.
THE SEARCH FOR HARRY POTTER
By March 2000, Chris Columbus and David Heyman were deep into pre-production. The search for a boy to play the role of the beloved wizard had yielded no convincing results. Heyman and the Potter casting directors had been auditioning hopeful young actors since 1999, meeting thousands through open casting calls and advertisements, but they had yet to find the Harry.
"It was not easy to find a boy who embodied the many qualities of Harry Potter," Heyman explains. "We wanted someone who could combine a sense of wonder and curiosity, the sense of having lived a life, having experienced pain; an old soul in a child's body. He needed to be open and generous to those around him and have good judgment. Harry is not great at academics; he has flaws. But that's what makes him so compelling, so human - that he's not perfect. Harry has an 'everyman' quality, yet he is capable of great things. He makes us all believe that magic is possible. "
Columbus was also ensconced in the seemingly endless quest. "We had auditioned hundreds of potential Harry Potters, and I was still unhappy with the results," he recalls. "The first casting director, in a fit of total frustration, threw up her arms and said 'I just don't know what you want!' Sitting on a shelf in the office was a video copy of David Copperfield, starring Daniel Radcliffe. I picked up the video box, pointed to Dan's face and said 'This is who I want! This is Harry Potter!' The casting director said, 'I've told you before, he is unavailable and his parents aren't interested in him doing this film. '"
The search continued. Ironically, a few months later, Heyman and Harry Potter screenwriter Steven Kloves decided to take a break and go to the theatre. "We bumped into an agent I know, Alan Radcliffe," says Heyman, who was immediately struck by the look of the child sitting with the agent. "Alan and his wife Marcia introduced us to their son Dan during the intermission. It was all the clichés - lightning struck and the skies opened! All through the second half of the play, I couldn't concentrate. The Radcliffes left before I had a chance to speak to them, so I had a very sleepless night before calling Alan the next morning. "
The Radcliffes expressed caution when approached about involving their only son Daniel in Harry Potter. "I completely understood their reticence and caution in allowing their child to play a role that would inevitably change his life," Heyman says. "But, we arranged a meeting over tea that afternoon with Dan. We talked for an hour and a half. His energy and enthusiasm were wonderful. I had a feeling then that this was our Harry. "
"To the Radcliffes' credit, they were totally aware of the enormity of the project and for the sake of their child, were not going to make this decision lightly," says Columbus. "We made it very clear to the them that we would protect their son. We knew from the start that Dan was Harry Potter. He has the magic, the inner depth and darkness that is very rare in an eleven year-old. He also has a sense of wisdom and intelligence that I haven't seen in many other kids his age. We knew we had made the right choice after sending Jo Rowling a copy of Daniel's screen test. Jo's comment was something to the effect of 'I feel as if I've been reunited with my long lost son. '"
Eleven year-old Daniel Radcliffe had first been tipped off about the auditions for the much sought-after role some months earlier by a school friend, but had dismissed his chances. "I thought, there are millions of boys auditioning for that part and I know I won't get it!" Radcliffe remembers fondly.
After completing several auditions and that fateful screen test, Daniel's life-changing phone call finally came. "I was in the bath and talking to my Mum when the phone rang and Dad came in and told me I'd got the part," Radcliffe recalls with wonder. "I was so happy, I cried a lot! That night I woke up at two in the morning and woke up Mum and Dad and I asked them 'Is it real? Am I dreaming?' I was so excited!"
THREE'S COMPANY: CASTING RON AND HERMIONE
For both Chris Columbus and David Heyman, finding the right boy to play Harry Potter was fundamental to the casting of the key roles of fellow-wizards-in-training Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. "We'd been simultaneously looking to fill the other roles, but the casting of Harry was the peak of the triangle, and without him none of the rest would make sense," Heyman explains. "We brought in several children for screen tests, but it soon became apparent who were the three. "
"We immediately fell in love with Rupert Grint," Columbus says. "He's extremely funny and has such an incredibly warm presence. Emma Watson embodies the soul and the essence of Hermione Granger. When we saw Dan, Rupert and Emma together onscreen, they had amazing chemistry. It was electric. We knew we had found the perfect team. "
Rupert Grint had no previous professional acting experience apart from school plays, but the self-described "biggest Harry Potter fan ever" badly wanted to play the part of Ron. "Ron is one of my favorite characters and I can really relate to him," Grint says. "I've got loads of brothers and sisters and I know what it's like growing up in a big family. And I still get hand-me-downs!"
Grint learned about the casting search for the role of Harry Potter's best friend Ron Weasley while watching a BBC television children's news show. "I was watching Newsround and they told us how you could audition for a part in the Harry Potter film," Grint remembers. "I sent in a form and a photograph and a month went by and I heard nothing. Then I was on the Newsround website and found out that one boy sent in a video of himself reading a little piece from the script. So I put together a video, sent it off and I got an audition!"
For Emma Watson, the chance to play Hermione Granger was the culmination of several years of acting, dancing and singing in school plays. "When I read the book I thought that Hermione would be a great character to play," Watson says. "But I had to go through a lot of auditions. It wasn't easy. Then one day, they sat Rupert and I down in David Heyman's office and simply told us we'd got the part. It didn't sink in at first. I just stood there looking blankly at them for about five minutes!"
Watson outlines some basic similarities and differences between herself and her character. "Unlike Hermione, I've never been top of my class. In fact, quite the opposite! Although I am very bossy and my little brother tends to suffer a bit. "
CALLING ALL WIZARDS AND ONE GIANT
In addition to the tireless search for the child actors to play the roles of Harry, Ron and Hermione, there was also the not insignificant matter of casting the adult roles. "We asked Jo who she saw playing these characters and wherever possible, followed her suggestions," Heyman attests. "For instance, Robbie Coltrane was the first person she mentioned for Hagrid, and Robbie was the first actor we cast in the adult roles. "
"Jo definitely had some ideas about casting and for me, a lot of these same actors came into my head while reading the book," Columbus says. "I put together a list of my dream cast. And every one of them said 'Yes. ' That never happens. It's certainly the best cast I've ever worked with. "
Robbie Coltrane makes no bones about his reason for accepting the role of Hagrid, the gentle, if not gentle-looking, giant. "My son would have killed me if I hadn't, so there was no question of me not doing it!"
Coltrane describes Hagrid as "a bit lacking in social skills. I don't think he would ever be asked to join the golf club, but he's a good sort of fellow who likes dragons and things like that. He's actually pretty fearless and very fond of wild animals which most people are afraid of. He's a giant and generally they aren't very nice, but he's got the good genes and takes the children under his wing. "
Like director Chris Columbus, Richard Harris, who plays Hogwarts' all-knowing Professor Dumbledore, was introduced to the world of Harry Potter by a child close to his heart. "I was asked to play the part and I wasn't going to do it for various reasons," Harris recalls. "Then my eleven year-old granddaughter Ellie telephoned me and said quite simply, 'Papa, if you don't play Dumbledore I will never speak to you again!' So I didn't have much choice in the matter!"
Ultimately, Dumbledore proved to be the most difficult part Harris claims to have ever played. "Dumbledore's presence is felt right through the books, even though you don't see much of him," Harris explains. "He's a very important figure in the stories and I needed to find a rhythm and a metre in this beautifully written dialogue in order to be able to play the part. "
Harris chuckles, remembering one magical casting moment. "Chris Columbus asked me to meet the young cast and I came out to the studio and read with them. When I finished the reading, Rupert Grint, the boy who plays Ron Weasley, turned to me and said: 'Mr. Harris, that was quite a good reading. I think you'll be quite good in this part!'"
Alan Rickman also found himself subject to pressure from the smaller members of the Potter community to play the role of eccentric Potions Professor Snape. "I have lots of nephews and relationships with friends' children," Rickman says. "They weren't so much excited as insistent that I do the part!"
Although Rickman didn't read the novel until after he read the script, he quickly came to appreciate the story's universal appeal. "It's like any great play or novel which obeys certain rules of storytelling," he observes. "You're gripped from the first page and as you keep turning the pages, you get involved with the characters and want to see what happens next. It's a simple rule, but one which requires great talent. "
Dame Maggie Smith had already read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone when she was asked to play the role of Professor McGonagall. "I thought it was such a terrific book for kids," Smith remarks, "and I was greatly interested to see how they were going to create this magic on film. What people don't realize is that jobs like this don't come up very often - this story has captured everyone's imagination! And how often do you get to walk around as a wizard wearing great clothes?"
For Smith, Harry Potter offered the added attraction of working with fellow David Copperfield castmate Daniel Radcliffe again. "I was thrilled when he got the part of Harry," Smith says. "He has such special qualities. All the kids in this cast have amazing stamina. This film has brought out the child in practically everyone involved in the production, but particularly Chris Columbus, who is terrific and has such patience and enthusiasm. "
The filmmakers offered acclaimed actor Ian Hart the task of playing Professor Quirrell, Hogwarts' Professor of the Defense Against Dark Arts and foil to Alan Rickman's Snape. "The ingredients are all there from any great myth," says Hart, who was attracted to universal themes of the story. "You have good and evil and avenging the death of your family. These themes are timeless, but in this story, they're woven together in such a way as to be really funny. Although the film has a very serious side to it, there is also a lot of humor too!"
ORDINARY PEOPLE: THE DURSLEYS
In Harry Potter, as in all classic fairy tales, the hero confronts his wicked stepmother - or in this case, his Aunt Petunia. For this key role, the filmmakers cast one of Britain's most talented and respected stage actresses, Fiona Shaw. "I wanted to play one of the magical characters, but I soon realized that the Dursleys' world is more exotic and more frightening than the one Harry experiences when he leaves them," Shaw notes. "In being ordinary, the Dursleys are a very eccentric pair. Their failure with their own son is all the more apparent in the presence of Harry, a boy who is clearly gentle, very prestigious, civilised and a sort of natural knight, as opposed to Dudley, who is spoiled and hopeless. The Dursleys live on a knife edge of snobbery, aspiration and desperate disappointment that their son Dudley is not Harry. "
For Shaw, the much-maligned Petunia proved to be a fun part to play. "Comedy always happens in the gap between who people are and who they think they are," Shaw explains. "The Dursleys have a house that aspires to being a very grand house, but is in fact a very small house. They're desperately keen to appear normal, but through Harry's eyes, we see that these people are monstrous in their normality. "
Richard Griffiths plays Harry's anxious Uncle Vernon. Like Shaw, Griffiths sights a desire to be ordinary as the driving force in the behavior of his character. "Vernon distrusts Harry completely and is always concerned that he is going to do something strange at any moment," Griffiths says. "That is Vernon's biggest fear - he doesn't want anything strange happening that the neighbors might see. He is terrified that people will think there is something not right about him. The Dursleys want to be average and normal and the fact that they have Harry Potter in their care is dreadful, as he is anything but ordinary. "
The role of Dudley, the Dursleys' bumbling and spoiled son is played memorably by Harry Melling. "Harry's understanding of his physique, his ability to be witty, his inventiveness and his imaginative commitment to every scene is remarkable," Fiona Shaw asserts.
"I thought playing Dudley would be fun because one minute he's sad and the next he's happy and then grumpy," says the twelve year-old, who enjoyed this experience acting along side Fiona Shaw, Richard Griffiths and Daniel Radcliffe, with only one reservation. "I'm really scared about what people will think of me, but I'm really looking forward to the film coming out. "
A VISION OF DARKNESS AND LIGHT
While Columbus had no reservations about directing one of the most highly anticipated films in history, he was well aware that some questioned his ability to bring the darkness of Harry Potter's world to the big screen. "Over the years, people - particularly the media - have implied that I've gone soft because I've directed some sentimental films," Columbus says. "But based on my own personal life at the time, I felt that those were films I needed to make. Once I got those stories out of my system, I wanted to go back to where I was when I started out as a writer, which is a much darker place. "
Of his early influences, Columbus says, "I've always been a big fan of British cinema, everything from David Lean pictures, comedies like kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), and particularly the Hammer Horror films, which I adored. I found them very atmospheric and evocative. I grew up watching these films and they influenced my early writing. "
Helming Harry Potter gave Columbus the opportunity to revisit the dark themes of early 1980s films he wrote but did not direct, like gremlins (1984) and Young Sherlock Holmes (1985). "Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) was set in a British boarding school and involved two pre-teen boys and a girl who solve a supernatural mystery," Columbus enthuses. "It was a sort of preparation for directing Harry Potter. "
But Columbus is quick to commend the talented production team that brought the world of Harry Potter to life, particularly Oscar-winning production designer Stuart Craig, costume designer Judianna Makovsky and director of photography John Seale.
"This film is incredibly collaborative and it's been the highlight of my career for several reasons, mostly because I've worked with such talented people. My cinematographer John Seale and production designer Stuart Craig in particular understand the richness and complexity of Harry Potter's world. In Hogwarts, we strived to create a realistic, magical place, a school that the viewer would believe actually existed. "
Columbus envisioned a rich, warm pallet for the film. To this end, he and Heyman hired three time Academy Award winner Stuart Craig. "Stuart Craig is one of the finest production designers living," Heyman says. "There is no one who designs with such taste and elegance. We wanted Harry's world to feel like it really exists. Stuart made Hogwarts, with all its splendour, seem like a place that truly feels real. "
For the all-important role of cinematographer, the filmmakers tapped multiple Oscar nominee John Seale. "We had loved John's work in a variety of films from Witness to Dead Poets Society (1989) and we knew he would give Harry Potter a fantastic look," says Heyman. "For instance, Chris wanted low light in the interiors, as there is no artificial light in Hogwarts. John was particularly attentive to this and lit the set with torches and candles. He has this incredible energy and works at a remarkably fast pace, and yet he's able to retain tremendous depth and richness at all times. "
Hiring the right costume designer was also crucial. "Beyond the sets and the lighting, we wanted a bit of madness and eccentricity, which Judianna Makovsky has created," says Heyman. "For example, for Madame Hooch, the flying instructor, Judianna took classical professor's robes and added the black and white of a referee and then cut it in such a way it flows like the movement of a bird. "
A MAGICAL EXPERIENCE
"Making Harry Potter has been the highlight of my career," Chris Columbus declares. "I've been able to shoot in some stunning locations and sets, and have been fortunate to have collaborated with the best, most talented crew of technicians and artists. This film is a culmination of the efforts and talents of a group of very dedicated, hard working people. I believe the results speak for themselves.
"The most difficult aspect of making Harry Potter was excising elements of the book that I wanted to put into the film," he continues. "If I had the opportunity, I would have made a seven or eight hour picture. . My strongest desire was to make a satisfying film for every single one of the fans, a movie that truly captures the heart and the spirit of the book, without sacrificing any of its darkness, edge or character. "