How an 11-year-old kid became The Boy Who Lived

By Jeff Jensen
Updated July 01, 2011 at 12:00 PM EDT
Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

The first scene Daniel Radcliffe ever shot as Harry Potter was the very last scene in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It was Oct. 2, 2000, in Goathland, England, a tiny village whose quaint railway stop doubled as Hogsmeade Station. For his first day wearing the boy wizard’s glasses and lightning-bolt scar, the 11-year-old Londoner had to board the Hogwarts Express alongside Rupert Grint and Emma Watson. Radcliffe was no stranger to movie sets; he had just made David Copperfield and The Tailor of Panama. And yet his previous experience could not prepare him for the moment when he saw a mob of extras — 150 kids, all dressed in Hogwarts robes — staring in their direction. In that instant, Radcliffe says he felt most unmagical. ”I remember everyone looking at us and going, ‘Oh my God. That’s him,”’ recalls the actor, who turns 22 this month. ”I was a kid, among other kids. To be ‘special’ just because I had been picked for this part was just…bizarre.”

Radcliffe is still very much a humble lad, though he’s earned the right to feel distinguished. Emphasis on the word earned. The Harry Potter films brought Radcliffe fame and riches. But what’s remarkable is how he used his decade of playing Harry to stretch as a person and as an actor. His defining memories of the franchise aren’t about filming Quidditch scenes or kissing Bonnie Wright. Instead, he remembers how Alfonso Cuarón instilled in him a passion for cinema, or the time Gary Oldman taught him the bass line to the Beatles’ ”Come Together.” In 2007, Radcliffe spent his break between Potter films laying himself bare — emotionally and physically — in an acclaimed London stage revival of Equus. (He brought the play to Broadway in 2008.) ”We were so proud of Dan,” says Potter producer David Barron. ”He has such a huge appetite to learn and grow. It was the same kind of pride as watching your own children flourish.”


Radcliffe — who completed his formal education via tutors — credits his costars for his personal growth, citing in particular the brother-sister relationship with Emma Watson. They certainly argued like siblings — but in a good way, about politics, religion, and art. Says Watson: ”William Blake, who is one of my favorite poets, wrote, ‘Without contraries is no progression.’ Dan and I, we really sparked on each other. He questioned me. He made me think. He’s so incredibly driven, ambitious, and passionate. You get something when you’re around someone like that all the time. He gives you that energy. I will miss that. A lot.”

Moving forward, Radcliffe hopes to toggle between screen and stage work. He’s currently earning raves on Broadway in the musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. His first post-Potter movie will be the supernatural thriller The Woman in Black, due next year. He aspires to work with ”interesting young filmmakers” and focus on ”odd things that some people might love and others might hate but at the very least will get a reaction. I am not averse to doing a big movie again, but I would like to work on smaller things for a while.” He’s the first to admit he might not be the right fit for most studio blockbusters: ”At 5 foot 5, I am not a natural action-movie star. Although lucky for me, I’ve already done enough stunts to last me a lifetime.”

And one day Radcliffe would like to direct, a realization that hit him hard while working on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2. ”I was sitting next to [director] David Yates on the set, watching him film a scene,” says Radcliffe, ”and there was a boy in the background who I really wanted to give a note to. I was rocking back and forth in my chair, going, ‘David! Please! Tell him this! Please!’ And it was right then that I realized, ‘Dan, clearly you want to be a director.”’ He laughs, until thoughtful humility takes hold. ”But I have a lot to learn first.”