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The Harry Potterreunion special on HBO Max, Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts, is a thrill for Potter fans of all ages, as the cast and crew of the legendary film series reunite to celebrate 20 years since the release of the first film and the franchise they called home for over a decade of their lives.
"There are people on these films that are foundational to who I am, as a person and an actor," marvels star Daniel Radcliffe in the special, fighting back tears. "I feel so lucky to be where I am, and to have the life that I have and be able to work with the people that I work with now, but none of it is possible without this. It was a very good 10 years."
However, while it's wonderful to see so many familiar faces return for the two-hour special, the actors and creative team behind the films also take a moment to pay tribute to the cast and crew members that have passed away in the years since their release.
"It's obviously amazing to be back, but it's so shocking that so many people that we thought would be around for much longer than they have been [aren't here]," notes Emma Watson, who played Hermione Granger in the eight-film series.
"They're like family," agrees Rupert Grint, who played Ron Weasley. "You grieve in the same way."
"I feel really lucky to have some little bit of touch with the amount of so many amazing people that have passed," Radcliffe adds. "I'll be very, very old one day saying, 'I knew that absolute legend.'"
One of those legends is, of course, Alan Rickman, who starred in the franchise as the adversarial Potions professor, Severus Snape. Rickman died in London on Jan. 14, 2016, after a private battle with cancer, and his loss was mourned worldwide by his friends, fans and co-stars.
"Alan Rickman never talked to me like I was a child," Watson recalls in the special. "He always took my thoughts and opinions very seriously, which I was always very touched by."
"Alan was a very dear friend," recalls Ralph Fiennes, who starred in the Potter franchise as the villainous Lord Voldemort. "I was a little intimidated by him. His precision, his expert delivery of lines. We sort of went toe-to-toe in a funny way, with Snape and Voldemort. Two actors can relish metaphorically fencing with one another like that. Alan was a magician in that way, as an actor."
Like Rickman, Richard Harris had a storied career before taking on his Harry Potter role, but his portrayal of the wise and kind Hogwarts headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, introduced him to a whole new generation of fans.
"Richard Harris was such a special, warm person," Watson recalls. "He was so twinkly."
Sadly, Potter fans only got to see two films with Harris' Dumbledore, as the actor and musician died on Oct. 25, 2002, after a brief battle with Hodgkin's disease, shortly before the release of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
"Richard was classic, probably one of the funniest men I've ever met," says director Chris Columbus, who directed Harris in the first two Potter films. In the special, Columbus and Radcliffe also take a moment to recall one of their favorite Harris memories, noting that the legendary actor was under the impression that Dumbledore's pet phoenix, Fawkes, was being played by a real bird and not an impressively-realistic animatronic.
"He was this devilish 11-year-old trapped in a 70-plus-year-old man's body," Columbus adds of Harris. "He just had that glint in his eye, which made him the perfect Dumbledore."
In one of the special most emotional moments, Tom Felton and Jason Isaacs take a moment to remember the Potter cast's most recent loss, Helen McCrory, who starred as the Malfoy family matriarch, Narcissa. McCrory died on April 16, 2021, after a battle with breast cancer, and her loss is clearly still fresh for her on-screen family.
"She taught me a lot," Felton shares, fighting back tears. "She had this ability to show such empathy in her eyes. It was a real treat to work with her."
Isaacs, who starred as Lucius Malfoy, recalls his impression of McCrory the first time they worked together: "I said, 'I think I've just met the best actress I've ever seen in my life.'"
"I feel lucky to have worked with her," he adds, "and shared so much frankly adolescent laughter with her on the set."
A moving tribute on screen also recognizes the behind-the-scenes crew members and lesser-known cast who have passed in the years since the films' release, including Richard Griffiths, who producer David Heyman remembers was "just delicious as Mr. Dursley... He embraced his wickedness with such verve and passion."
"His passing was the one that affected me most," Radcliffe admits. "He was just so generous with his knowledge, wanted to share everything with you."
Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts is streaming now on HBO Max.