Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint open up about their decade in the spotlight

Of course they knew it was coming. Yet it wasn’t until the final day of filming that the three Harry Potter stars fully understood that the most significant chapter of their lives so far was ending. ”Somehow, I wasn’t prepared for how emotional it was,” says Rupert Grint, who has played Ron Weasley for almost half his life. ”It hit home how much it all meant to us.”

After the trio finished their last scenes for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows this past summer, the crew asked them to sit down for a little going-away presentation: a video montage of images from their decade on set and goodbyes from the hundreds of artists — the makeup and costume teams, the set decorators and prop designers — who had watched them grow up. ”The three of us were just in pieces by the end,” says Emma Watson (Hermione Granger). ”It was our lives played over on tape, and all these people that we’ve known, in this place where we’d spent more time than in our actual homes. It was overwhelming.” Not least of all for Harry Potter himself. ”I was sitting there thinking, ‘What am I going to do without all these people that I love and who love me?’ ” Daniel Radcliffe says. ”I will miss them all very, very much.”

For tens of millions of Potter fans, the long goodbye will begin this month. The Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final novel in J.K. Rowling’s record-obliterating book series, has been split into two films. Part 1 opens on Nov. 19. Part 2 opens next summer, on July 15. (The studio recently scrapped plans to release Part 1 in 3-D, citing quality concerns, but will release Part 2 in both formats.) The cultural and financial impact of the movies has been nothing short of staggering. The previous six films have earned more than $5.4 billion worldwide, making Potter the highest-grossing global franchise in history, and have put the series within a wand’s length of overtaking the Star Wars films domestically. ”It’s so satisfying,” says Warner Bros. Entertainment president Alan Horn, who snared the Potter rights not long after he took over the studio (which shares a parent company, Time Warner, with EW) and who recently announced his plans to step down next April. ”Not only has it been good for our company and made a lot of money and all that, but it’s been a wonderful creative journey. I think we converted the books to film respectfully and honored them.”

The decision to halve Hallows for the screen frustrated some fans, who accused the studio of corporate greed, but the upside, at least, is that much more of Rowling’s final tome will make its way into multiplexes. The life-or-death showdown between Harry and Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) won’t happen until Part 2, naturally, but that doesn’t mean this first installment is sleepy. In Part 1, Voldemort and his Death Eaters have taken over the Ministry of Magic, and are on the hunt for Harry. Forced to live as fugitives, far from the protective walls of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry, Ron, and Hermione must discover and destroy the remaining Horcruxes — objects that hold pieces of Voldemort’s shattered soul. Friendships fray, commitments are tested, and Ron and Hermione’s relationship…evolves (see below). ”The emotional stakes are more complex and intriguing,” says director David Yates, who also helmed the previous two Potter films, The Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince. ”You put these characters in the big, wide world and have them pursued by people who want to kill them. Suddenly, they seem very fragile.”

The three stars are now heading into the big, wide world as well. They still face another nine months or so of premieres and press interviews, but their days within the protective walls of Leavesden Studios outside London, where all the Potter movies have been filmed, are over. ”It has been weird adjusting to not going in every day,” says Grint, 22, the oldest of the bunch. ”It’s been nice, the freedom, but a bit strange.” For the adults who’ve watched them grow up and now need to let them go, it’s a bit poignant too. ”I’ve known them for 11 years,” says producer David Heyman, who first spied a young Radcliffe in the audience at a performance of Stones in His Pockets in London’s West End and thought he might be right for Harry. ”I think they’ll all be fine, they’ve got good heads on their shoulders, but if anything happens, they know that I will be on a plane or train, that I’ll be there for them. A lot of people feel that way.”

Journalists have watched them grow up too, and those of us who’ve written about Potter all these years have our own memories and observations. Now, with the end of their journey at hand, it seems an ideal time to look back — to recall a decade’s worth of firsthand encounters with these young actors, to remember who they were, and to see who they have become.

Emma Watson
Movie acting didn’t exactly wow her at first. ”It’s not as glamorous as I thought it would be,” she said, sitting in her dressing room at Leavesden, wearing her Hogwarts uniform. ”I mean, it’s a lot more complicated, a lot longer days, more work.” Watson had just turned 11 at the time, the youngest of the three stars, and was then finishing The Sorcerer’s Stone. She wasn’t complaining, really, just stating the obvious. Prior to landing the role of Hermione, she’d never acted in, or auditioned for, a single film role. During the long walk from the Diagon Alley set back to her room for a tutoring session, she chatted amiably about her character (”I reckon she’s very, very bossy”), the audition process (”Eleven auditions! That’s a lot. Rupert only had to go through three”), and, of course, her costars (”They’re very well-mannered, as far as boys go”). She was wry, smart, eager to discover the world. ”I’d love to go to America,” she said. ”I know quite a bit about it, actually. It sounds really fun.”

As the years went on, Watson became increasingly conflicted about whether she wanted to keep playing Hermione — or even wanted to be an actor at all. ”Emma’s really bright, but very tough on herself,” says Helena Bonham Carter, who plays Death Eater Bellatrix Lestrange. Going to university was always at the top of Watson’s priority list — she would go on to earn top scores on her A-level exams, the British equivalent of the SATs — and she fantasized about an ordinary life with school and friends the way other kids fantasize about being a movie star.

While shooting the fifth film, The Order of the Phoenix, she, Grint, and Radcliffe had to sign new contracts with the studio, committing to star in the remaining installments. She was the last to sign, and when we talked on the Phoenix set in late August 2006, a few steps away from Sirius Black’s tapestry room at Grimmauld Place, she was still unsure whether she was going to. She was 16, and the decision was agonizing for her. ”I really don’t know,” she said. ”Daniel and Rupert seem so sure. I love to make people laugh, and I love being creative, but there are so many other things I love doing, too. I’ve been given such amazing opportunities with this, but…I don’t know, and I keep thinking I should know.”

In March 2007, she chose to stick it out, but Watson seemed to hit her lowest point on The Deathly Hallows. At 19, she had been accepted to Brown University, but first had to slog through a long shoot for which she had to be cold and wet for months. (In the film, Hermione and Ron destroy a Horcrux in water; that scene and the ones that immediately follow required extensive filming.) ”I hate to sound whiny, but it’s horrible,” she said, sopping wet, sitting by a space heater near the Room of Requirement set. ”This has definitely been the most intense, grueling period of filmmaking I’ve ever done.”

A year later, in August 2010, she had made it through her first year at Brown (being occasionally dogged by paparazzi) and was preparing to head back to school for her sophomore year. Now, at 20, she sounded, for the first time in years, like the animated, enthusiastic girl she had been at 11. Sporting a chic new pixie haircut — the only time she’d been able to pick her own hairstyle in 10 years — she gushed about her freshman year. ”It feels wonderful,” she said. ”I have such a structure when I’m working on Potter. I get told what time I get picked up. I get told what time I can eat, when I have time to go to the bathroom. Every single second of my day is not in my power. Being at college, I took pleasure in the smallest things. Like, ‘I’m going to wake up at 10 o’clock if I want to.’ Or ‘I’m going to eat a sandwich now.’ It was so liberating! I’d be smiling to myself, and friends would say, ‘Emma, what’s wrong?’ And I’d say, ‘I don’t know. I’m just…happy.’ ”

Rupert Grint
”Wicked” and ”cool” were Rupert Grint’s favorite adjectives for the first five years or so while making the Potter movies. In fact, they were his only adjectives, so when he was really jazzed about something — a WWE wrestler or a hip new band — he had to combine them: ”Wicked cool, yeah.” But what he lacked in volubility, he made up for with amiability and, even as a boy, a deadpan humor so subtle that it was easy to miss.

The 12-year-old Grint’s assessment of why he was cast as Ron Weasley was pretty simple: ”I have ginger hair.” That lack of pretense frequently charmed his adult costars. At an early table reading for The Sorcerer’s Stone, Grint was seated next to the late Richard Harris, who was playing Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore. In the scene, Dumbledore is addressing the student body in the Great Hall in a rather grand way. When Harris finished, Grint turned to the legendary actor. ”That was quite a good reading,” he said. ”I think you’ll be quite good in this part.”

Because of his mellow demeanor, it hasn’t always been easy to grasp what Grint has been thinking about his Potter experience. ”Rupert’s just delightful, and in his own world,” Bonham Carter says. ”He’s a bit like Luna Lovegood, you know? He’s on his own moon.” Off screen, he was just as enigmatic. Rather than buying, say, a Ferrari when he got his driver’s license, in 2007 he bought an ice cream truck for transportation, and he has quietly built a rabid, if eccentric, female fan base. Instead of getting women’s underwear sent to him in the mail, he says, ”I get a lot of pajamas. And origami.”

It wasn’t until shooting Hallows that Grint finally began to open up a bit. ”I’m loving this. It’s been amazing,” he said about midway through filming. At the time, in 2009, he had just recovered from a bout of swine flu and, like Watson, was suffering through months of being cold and wet, but none of it seemed to faze him. ”It’s a little bit annoying, but…” He shrugged. ”These films have given me opportunities I never would have had, and I kind of got into this flukily, so I’m just grateful to have been a part of it.”

Now he’s eager to begin the rest of his film career. He has already starred in a few indie films, including the 2006 comedy-drama Driving Lessons and the current action comedy Wild Target, and is starting to look at scripts. He’s into Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch films and science-fiction B movies, but he’s sort of up for anything. Throughout his years on Potter, he says, he’s never questioned whether acting was the path he wanted. ”The alternative, of just going to school and college, never really appealed to me,” he says. ”On set there were times when it was quite slow and you can get bored, but I’ve always loved it. There was never, ever a doubt that I was going to do this.”

Daniel Radcliffe
From the back of Ollivanders wand shop, you could barely see him over the counter. It was early March 2001. Daniel Radcliffe was 11 years old, but he looked about 8. Short for his age and broom thin, he was so pale that cinematographer John Seale said it was like shooting ”a milk bottle with shoes.” Tucked at the rear of the store, among the dust and cobwebs and rows of wand boxes, director Chris Columbus, who launched the franchise and directed The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets, was watching a video monitor and trying to elicit a specific emotion from Radcliffe. He wasn’t having much luck. ”A lot of trepidation. You’re terrified!” he yelled to the front of the shop, where Radcliffe, as Harry Potter, was about to buy his first wand. Again and again, as Radcliffe grabbed hold of the wand, a golden light would glow and a blast of air would blow back his bangs, but Radcliffe still seemed too blasé. ”Dan!” Columbus yelled. ”Be Much. More. Afraid!”

Radcliffe has never been afraid to take risks or risk vulnerability. Sitting in a small trailer near the exterior Privet Drive set when he was 11, he told the story of his first audition (”I was totally petrified”) and how he reacted when, many months and auditions later, he found out that he’d landed the most coveted role in the world. ”I was in the bath at the time,” he said. Producer David Heyman had phoned the house. Radcliffe could hear his father on the phone in the other room, but couldn’t hear what he was saying. ”My dad came running in and said, ‘Guess who they want to play Harry Potter?’ and I started to cry. It was probably the best moment of my life.” At the time, Radcliffe, like Grint, was into WWE wrestling and music (R.E.M., Stereophonics). He wanted to learn to play the drums, and liked writing songs. (”I’m not very good at it, but I like writing them.”) And he said he seldom got tired because he drank ”so many Diet Cokes and ate so many Mars bars, I’m usually just totally hyper.”

As he grew up, Radcliffe kept the fame from going to his head. In all our interviews through the years, he always made a point to discuss where he felt he’d fallen short on the previous film and what he was working to improve on the current one. He didn’t shirk his responsibility as Harry Potter, but he also didn’t let it build a cage around him. ”Generally speaking, anybody I meet out in the world is chilled out and perfectly polite,” he says. ”It’s people’s camera phones you have to watch. I don’t want to turn up on everybody’s bloody Facebook page. It’s around enough, my face.”

It’s a miracle his other body parts didn’t make an appearance on the Web when, at 17, he agreed to appear naked on stage in the psychological drama Equus. ”Part of me wants to shake up people’s perception of me,” he said at the time. Both he and the Potter filmmakers took the nudity in stride. ”What’s the worst that can happen? Someone takes a picture of his willy?” Heyman said then. ”So what? We’ve all got one — or have seen one.” Still, it was a daring decision, and one Radcliffe clearly got a kick out of. In a scene in HallowsPart 1, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are on the run in London and enter a café. Hanging on one wall in the corner of the café is the promotional poster for Equus. ”It’s my own little in-joke to myself,” he says.

His refusal to let fear prevent him from doing that play also hinted at what Radcliffe’s post-Potter career might look like. Now 21, he’s preparing to star in his first stage musical, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying — ”I’m sure I’ll be absolutely terrified in a few months’ time, but at the moment I’m very excited,” he says — and he’s shooting the eerie ghost story The Woman in Black. Harry Potter is beginning to slip into his rearview mirror. ”It’s key for me to keep working,” he says. ”Focusing on other things rather than just moping around the house.” He’s going to miss the boy wizard, though. ”I already do, slightly,” he says. ”It’s very rare that you get to burst through the surface of water surrounded by a ring of fire. I took that for granted for quite a long time.”

They knew when it would end, but not how. The three Potter stars had filmed one final scene together, but their last shots ever as Harry, Ron, and Hermione would be alone. In turn, each of them would run and jump into a massive fireplace, vanishing from the Ministry of Magic via the Floo Network. The fireplace itself would be added digitally later, so they were running toward a giant green screen and landing on a green crash mat. ”It seemed like the best way to go out, because it was physical,” director Yates said. And symbolic as well. Free-falling. Taking a leap. ”To be honest, I did not get the significance of that,” Radcliffe says months later, laughing. ”Maybe I should call David and apologize.”

It will barely register in the film — mere seconds of screen time — but as their final act, after a decade of childhood spent in their own ministry of magic, they each ran, and leapt, into the great green unknown. ”It was really strange,” Watson says. ”And then it was wonderful.” (Additional reporting by Jeff Jensen and Adam B. Vary)

Young wizards in love
Sure, hocruxes and Death Eaters take center stage in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but romance is in the air too. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) tries to sneak in a few tender moments with new squeeze Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright) while hiding out at her family home, and Ron (Rupert Grint) finally gets a clue that Hermione (Emma Watson) has deeper feelings for him. Trouble is, he won’t get to act on that realization until HallowsPart 2 (July 15), when — SPOILER ALERT! — the long-bickering Gryffindor pals kiss for the first time. ”It was just weird,” says Grint. ”I’ve known Emma since she was 9.” Watson was so anxious, she has said, that she ”ended up pouncing” on Grint just to get it over with. He didn’t mind, apparently. ”After the fifth take we were fine,” he says. ”I’m kind of glad it happened.” — SS

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1
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