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We’re having a wizard time

The stars of the Harry Potter films tell John Hiscock what it’s like to be the most famous children in the world

Written by John Hiscock

During the past two years they have spent 300 days in front of the cameras, either on cavernous sets at Leavesden Studios or at various locations around England. They have been carefully shielded from publicity and access to them has been scrupulously monitored.

But now, with Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the film of J K Rowling’s second Harry Potter book, about to open around the world, the three young stars upon whose shoulders the success of the project rests have emerged, like Dobby the house elf, from servitude into the world.

Daniel Radcliffe (who plays Harry), Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) and Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) have spent the past few days in America doing what sightseeing they can, although it has had to be fitted in around interviews and television appearances.

“I did see the Empire State Building and I met Robin Williams,” Rupert tells me, when I catch up with them in Chicago. They are due to appear on America’s top-rated daytime talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and I am immediately struck by how much more self-possessed they are than when they gave their first interviews a year ago.

Yet they still behave as if the fact that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone grossed more than £600 million around the world and is the second-biggest grossing film ever, after Titanic, means little to them. Jason Isaacs, who portrays the villainous Lucius Malfoy, says of the trio: “They are the most famous kids in the world, but they’re also the most normal.”

The three children sit together in a room at the Peninsula Hotel on a cold, rainy morning and laugh together, share private glances and jokes, and take turns to talk about their lives. The words “cool” and “amazing” feature prominently in the boys’ vocabularies, while Emma, like her Hermione character, speaks like a prim young lady.

“My life hasn’t really changed at all,” says 13-year-old Daniel, whose voice has now broken. He has also shot up two inches in height since the first film. “The only difference is that people come up to me in the street and want to talk about the film, which is fine with me because they’re always so enthusiastic.”

However, it soon becomes clear that playing Harry Potter has changed his life more than he realises as he talks matter-of-factly about the letters he receives from around the world, particularly from China and Japan. “I try to read as much of my fan mail as is humanly possible, and I deal with it with the help of the publicity department,” he says.

Daniel, who had previously played David Copperfield in the BBC television series, already talks with the self-assurance of a veteran actor. Thoughtful and articulate – he is currently reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude – he is clearly the leader of the trio, both on-screen and off, although 12-year-old Emma has firm opinions of her own. A star hockey player at school, she is hoping to win an art scholarship.

Rupert, at 14, is the oldest of the three and, like Daniel, he insists that little has changed – although he has taken up golf, he says he still devotes a lot of his spare time to his PlayStation2 video games. “All my friends have been really normal, but some of the teachers suck up a bit,” he says with a grin.

Rupert managed to complete another film, Thunderpants, in between his Harry Potter commitments and he also gets recognised wherever he goes.”It’s quite weird,” he says. “It’s hard to get used to, but it’s quite cool as well.” As to the new film, his favourite scenes are those in which he is “coughing up slugs and driving the flying car”.

None of the children has any idea of how much they are earning for the films or how much they are worth, although they all went on a spending spree when their first pay cheques arrived. Daniel, who is a big fan of films and music (particularly the Sex Pistols and the Stranglers), bought himself “a stack of DVDs”; Emma went on “a massive clothes shopping spree”; and Rupert bought “a cool phone with a camera on it and loads of stuff”.

But money is not something that occupies their thoughts. “I don’t know how much money I have, and I don’t need to know, because I’m only a kid,” says Dan, whose father is a literary agent and mother a casting director.

“We don’t have anything to do with it,” Emma agrees. “My parents decided not to tell me what I am earning because it is easier that way.”

Rupert shrugs offhandedly. “Dunno,” he says.

The Chamber of Secrets sees Harry Potter lurching into darker territory, as a malevolent force is hiding in Hogwarts with the intention of purging it of “Mudbloods” (those who are not of pure wizard stock). One by one, pupils are being turned to stone, and it is up to Harry, Ron and Hermione to unmask the villain.

The film depicts Harry as more of an action hero this time, wielding a sword, battling a monster and risking death from giant spiders while tracking down the evil force terrorising the school.

“Dan is more of a leading man now,” says the film’s producer, David Heyman. “On the first film, most of the 12-year-old girls went for Tom Felton, who plays Draco Malfoy, but this time I think it will be Harry.

“He’s more confident now and much more aggressive in the action sequences. He has come into his own as a leader. I have been around Dan for the past two years and to see him grow has been one of the big rewards for me. He has become really mature.”

Daniel, Emma and Rupert and the 600 child extras in the cast can only work for up to four-and-a-half hours a day, because they have to take regular half-hour breaks and three hours off to attend school classes, which slows down production but allows the filmmakers to edit as they go.

Filming is due to begin early next year on the third in the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, with the Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron replacing Chris Columbus as director. (Columbus is staying on as a producer.) After that, nothing is set.

A lot will depend on how fast the children grow during the next year, and whether Rowling carries out her plans to write a total of seven books. Four have been published so far, with a fifth now overdue.

Heyman says: “The Prisoner of Azkaban is set for release either in the spring or autumn of 2004, but after that we just don’t know.” Despite suggestions that the children will be replaced after the next film, Daniel sees no reason why he should not continue to play Harry Potter well into his teens.

“Harry actually grows in the books,” he says, “and there’s no reason why I can’t grow with Harry, or why Emma can’t grow with Hermione or Rupert with Ron.”


Original article found here: The Telegraph | October 25th, 2002

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