'Harry Potter' Stars Talk Returning to Hogwarts for 20th Anniversary
By Meredith B. Kile
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Harry Potter fans around the world are eagerly awaiting the debut of the Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts special, which premieres on HBO Max on Saturday, Jan. 1. And for the cast of the celebrated 8-film series, it was just as thrilling to make their return to the franchise they called home for over a decade.
To celebrate 20 years since the release of the first film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, many of the films' stars returned to the Warner Bros. studios in Leavesden, England, a former airfield-turned-studio complex where all eight of the Harry Potter movies were filmed. The studio now features a "Making of Harry Potter" tour, and so is still set up to look like many of the franchise's most iconic locations, like the Hogwarts Great Hall and Platform 9 3/4.
In the upcoming special, the stars who played the young wizards -- Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Tom Felton, Evanna Lynch, Matthew Lewis, Alfred Enoch, Bonnie Wright and more -- look back on the stories they told and the performers they shared scenes with during their time in the hallowed halls of Hogwarts.
"If you point to a background person in Harry Potter, they probably won an Olivier Award. It’s nuts," Radcliffe jokes in the special. "We really did have some of the greatest Shakespearean actors of their era. And getting to watch them every day... Some people have a process, and it is painful for them and that’s part of it. But there’s also an option of having a really nice day and also just doing some acting while you’re here. It was really cool to watch."
Here's what each member of the cast who participated in the special had to say about returning to Hogwarts and looking back at their time as a part of the celebrated franchise.
DANIEL RADCLIFFE (Harry Potter)
"We’ve seen even more how much it means to people, and what a part of people’s lives it is. I was never not happy to be a part of that, but it means even more now. I’m able to appreciate how special that is. It’s a nice thing. It has been lovely to see everyone. It really has. I didn’t know if it would be. I have a very mixed relationship with nostalgia. It’s just so much feeling that it can be weirdly painful sometimes, because there’s so much of life to take in that happened in those ten years. But seeing everyone again and going, 'Oh yeah, we’re all doing great.'"
"I think the thing that scared me the most when we were coming out of it was the implication that the most meaningful thing in our life was done. And there’s something so joyous about seeing everyone. And it wasn’t though. We’ve all gone on to other stuff. We have wives and kids and lives. There’s something really lovely about seeing that."
"I’ll always be happy to talk about it. Again, I think that people expect me not to want to talk about it. But that’s like somebody never talking about their childhood or their teenage years. Every part of my life is connected to Potter and to Leavesden. My first kiss is connected to someone here, my first girlfriends were here... it all spirals out from the Potter set somewhere. Everyone also says that “you grew up on screen,” and it’s like “Well, yes and no...” We actually did our growing up privately still; we just did it on a film set. And we did it with each other. And that’s bizarre."
RUPERT GRINT (Ron Weasley)
"It was amazing to see everyone again. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen any of them. But I think about those movies all the time. And I remember a lot. But it was such a weird time to finish something that had been our lives. So I think coming out of it, it was always important for me to figure out what I was doing, who I was... It’s been nice to have that time. This is the perfect time to sit down with everyone and reminisce. It’s so nostalgic and it’s everywhere. It’s never really left me. It’s found so many different new lives. Even the music can stir it for me. There’s so much nostalgia threaded into these movies. It’s a really important part of all of our lives and it’s great to see everyone again."
"For me, it was amazing growing up. I got involved with it because I was a fan of the books. I was obsessed with this world and escaping into it. To suddenly dive into the books and be on the sets and live it for real is indescribable, really. It was an absolute dream. Just very surreal. You had to really pinch yourself in some moments because it just didn’t feel like it was really happening. As the films got on, it wore off a little bit [laughs]. Not in a bad way. But it became more real, and you just felt hugely grateful to be a part of it."
EMMA WATSON (Hermione Granger)
"I honestly didn’t know how I was going to feel [returning]. And then something happened where it was just like the comfort of the people that I’ve known for such a long time and the history that we share and that sense of safety. And then, once I started feeling really safe, enjoying everything that we made and that we created and feeling like we could kind of celebrate and just enjoy being together. Some of us haven’t seen each other for years. So, it’s just been a joy. An unexpected joy. I really didn’t know how I would feel. I felt quite overwhelmed this morning. I’ve just been really pleasantly surprised by actually just getting to relive it all."
TOM FELTON (Draco Malfoy)
"It feels rather strange to be back here in Leavesden, to be honest with you. It’s been a while and it’s been great seeing everyone. All the familiar faces. It’s bizarre, actually, how long it’s been since we’ve seen each other and how short amount of time it took for us to be all chummy back again, so yeah, good times."
BONNIE WRIGHT (Ginny Weasley)
"It’s an almost out-of-body experience being back here at Leavesden. So much of it is familiar but then also so much of it is kind of slightly different because obviously it’s been turned into this wonderful tour. So it’s kind of those elements to the sets with a sort of slightly different kind of layout. Not exactly the same door that we walked in when we used to for 10 years when we arrived on set every day. But then you see everyone’s faces and it just brings so many memories back and it’s just lovely to be here and to share this anniversary together. It’s been really special, and I think my brain is still computing everything that’s going on and taking it all in."
"I think my fondest memory...I mean, I was only in the one scene in Platform 9 3⁄4 [in the first film], and I didn’t have a line in the script to the point, and then Chris Columbus gave me a line on the first day so I was very excited to suddenly be saying 'Good luck,' as Harry goes through into the platform. And it felt like just such a lovely kind of addition on that day. I felt like I didn’t get too nervous because it was just happening in that moment. And another really special moment for me was Julie Walters, who played my mum. She really just took me under her wing. She probably saw that I was totally out of my own depth, and I was sort of wide-eyed everything, so she really just looked out for me and that kind of carried on through the series."
MATTHEW LEWIS (Neville Longbottom)
"It’s hard to put into words, really. I went on the Great Hall set earlier and we shot a bit for this. It’s all dressed and they’re doing this incredible dancing, and everyone’s in costume and it’s all set for a ball, and I kind of just walk straight in and did my bit without really looking around, as if like it was back to work, which is weird 10 years later. I just suddenly thought for a moment, 'Hang on, just recall where you are right now, just take a moment.' I’m quite bad at just having a moment and taking things in around me, I kind of get tunnel vision quite a bit in life. I took a moment to just sort of look around the Great Hall and sort of take it in and try and think about the significance of it, of being back on there."
"Seeing everyone was wild, it was really cool. It was really surreal in that it didn’t feel like it was...it wasn’t unusual, it was great and it was cool, but it was like, 'Oh, we’re just back here again.' It very much felt like that. Even though it was 10 years ago since we finished, it still feels so close, to me anyway. Time-wise it feels very close."
EVANNA LYNCH (Luna Lovegood)
"It’s lovely, I mean, the whole studio is obviously much more glossy than when we filmed on it, so it feels different. And also, it just feels really nice to come back as an adult and with the maturity and, I suppose, wisdom that you’ve gained in 10 years. I think as a teenager I often felt quite anxious on set and felt self-conscious, so to come here and feel more grown up and more relaxed, it’s lovely. I wish I had felt this relaxed when I was younger, actually."
"You know, we all want to have that connection to something magical. I think we all sense that there is more than just this Muggle world, there is more than just the world of form, and that the Harry Potter world is so rich, so textured, and so beautifully drawn by J.K. Rowling, really. And yet, the main characters are all very relatable people. They have these special powers but they’re normal teenagers who are struggling with the same sense of inadequacy, insecurity and questioning what their purpose is in the world, and just figuring all that out."
ALFRED ENOCH (Dean Thomas)
"It was very strange getting in the car and going back to Leavesden Studios, that’s something I haven’t done for a long time. It was a bit of a surreal start to the day, I suppose. The other thing that struck me is how much everything’s changed. It looks completely different to what it looked like when we were here shooting. But still as you start realizing, 'Oh, yeah, that’s where the runway used to be...I guess that’s the flight shed,' it’s funny these things start coming back. Same thing being back with everyone, I suppose. We’ve all been shooting stuff today, so most of us have sort of either snatched little moments with each other before we’ve gone off to do this, that or the other, or had a little catch-up now during lunch, which was really nice. It’s nice to have the opportunity to come back and see everyone and take a trip down memory lane, I suppose."
"The thing that really stays with me from the first film is just how much fun it was to be exposed to this world, to get to be part of a story which I knew and loved. I’d read the first two books by the time I was involved in the first film, and I loved them, so to get to be part of this world that I had been conjuring up in my mind as I was reading those books was a real luxury. So it’s more the feeling of the thing rather than a kind of any specific individual moment."
JAMES & OLIVER PHELPS (Fred & George Weasley)
OLIVER: "It’s been quite a few years since we’ve seen each other, so to come back to where it was actually taking place...albeit it’s been a bit more glamorized since when we were here before...but it’s still really special, like being in the Great Hall with everyone earlier was just incredible."
JAMES: "And also, there were a couple guys on the crew who were on the crew when we were filming, so that’s also cool. No one ever speaks enough about the crew that made it as well, so that’s cool too.... We were spoiled with everybody here – not just the adults but the younger members of the cast, shall we say. Although we had a good laugh, everyone was very professional, and I guess that did stem from the adult actors. Having Julie Walters and Mark Williams as our parents in the scenes and all the movies definitely was a great experience because we could always just chat with them for any bit of advice. And another person which I didn’t really work so much with in a scene but spoke to off set was Michael Gambon. He was always so giving with his time. I can’t speak highly enough of him. If I told him that I was doing a show, a different production somewhere else, he’d ask if I had the script, and if I did, he would sit down and talk me through it. You don’t expect things like that from people, but that always stayed with me."
ROBBIE COLTRANE (Hagrid)
"This has been like a family reunion, literally. You got to remember, when they started they were about eight. I think the oldest of them was 11 and now they’re big grown-ups with their own lives. Grint’s had a baby, Grint’s now a father. It’s just astonishing, the change. Watching them growing up is kind of like watching your own kids grow up. It was never really an issue how young they were. The great thing is that an awful lot of the crew were parents themselves, so everyone was on their best behavior. There was no fighting or swearing on set. And I was always astonished at how fearless they were because I remember walking to the Great Hall and I’ve been doing this for 30 years and thinking, 'Dear, Lord...better get this one right,' and they were just kind of, you know, the way kids do. I do have enormous happy memories of this, I’d say. I think we all do."
GARY OLDMAN (Sirius Black)
"It was a long time ago, and yet, it’s all just incredibly familiar. All the memories of working here come flooding back. It was like it was last week... It is a weird experience because you met them as kids and now some of them are married and they’ve got kids of their own. My memory of them is locked – it’s sort of locked in. Obviously, they’ve grown up."
"The great thing about the Potter experience was that a lot of kids couldn’t see the type of movies that I made. And then my fanbase was then suddenly, it shifted from like four years old and up. So a whole new kind of fanbase opened up for you."
HELENA BONHAM CARTER (Bellatrix Lestrange)
"It’s been really touching, it’s strange, slightly disembodying coming back because it’s been for me probably over 11 years, so a lot has changed."
JASON ISAACS (Lucius Malfoy)
"I think the entire encyclopedic landscape of it all has burned itself into the fans’ minds and mine. We were all fans. One of the reasons the films turned out so well, I think, is that all of us on the set were as big of fans as you could find outside the studio. We all got the books as soon as they came out. We all devoured them. We all knew that something special was going on."
MARK WILLIAMS (Arthur Weasley)
"Leavesden’s totally changed, it’s not what it was at all, because it was an old aircraft factory... But now, it’s a new, modern electronic facility, so it feels completely different apart for when you get on set – on the studio tour. Because they were the original set. So that just feels like being back."
"People have been asking me if it feels weird to see the family and, no it’s not, it’s 20 years ago and they’ve all grown up, as they should. It would be really weird if they were still the same age."
IAN HART (Professor Quirrell)
"It’s really kind of strange when you drive up because it was once just a field because it had obviously been an airport...not an airport, an RAF testing base is what I mean by that. It felt like it because it had a runway still, which is where they built the Dursley’s house on the runway. So it feels kind of strange because now it feels very formal."
CHRIS COLUMBUS (Director, Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets)
"I hadn’t been back to Leavesden in 18 years, so I remember the last day of shooting Prisoner of Azkaban, I said goodbye to the three kids. I was very emotional, and I walked out, and yesterday was the first day I came back here, so it’s changed quite a bit. We had a stage that was a former Rolls-Royce factory, we had a lot of leaks and rats, it was not an ideal shooting situation, but we loved it – we had a great time."
"Every day was a memorable moment, because every day as a director you were on these incredible sets. You walk into the Great Hall one day and you walk into the Chamber of Secrets, and as a director, it’s the greatest playground in the world.Now it’s a museum, so it’s very emotional."
"I’ve seen Dan Radcliffe throughout the years, every time he’s in a play or does a film, I definitely see every play he’s been in, so we see each other backstage. I’ve kept in touch with Dan probably more than anyone else, but I hadn’t seen Emma in years...still haven’t seen Rupert in years, so it was really emotional to see everyone."
Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts premieres Saturday, Jan. 1, on HBO Max.