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Harry Potter Countdown – Growing Up Hogwarts

The child actors of the 'Harry Potter' series grow up - a look at how they started and how they've changed.

Growing Up Hogwarts

The final movie adaptation of the Harry Potter epic book series is coming up soon, premiering July 7, 2011 in London and July 15th in the US. The previous Harry Potter movie is now available on DVD and Blu-ray so you had better catch up while you can.

In honor of the end of a wild ride, we’ve prepared a series of articles talking about the “magical” adventure. Today’s article is about the all-important kids of Hogwarts — those rambunctious youngsters that serve as the main perspective of the books and movies. Some of the kids cast way back for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (“Philosopher’s Stone” for the UK readers) are still around for the final film, a few in key roles. Others have popped up here and there over the years, including a few who’ve gone through a couple of … changes.

Now, yes, there are characters with almost no lines in the movies (some of whom have a few lines in the books) — or even characters with no lines whatsoever anywhere. Several of these characters have had the same actors throughout the movies, even when barely around (Vincent Crabbe, Seamus Finnigan, Gregory Goyle, Dean Thomas). Some characters have changed actors one or more times (Lavender Brown, Angelina Johnson, Ernie Macmillan, Pansy Parkinson, Padma Patil, Parvati Patil). This can happen when either the original actors are no longer available or they haven’t grown up in a way consistent with the expected visual of the character. Or when earlier non-speaking roles require actual acting ability in later films.

But perhaps we should focus on the characters who have appreciable character arcs, ones that the movie viewer and not just the book reader will care about. Starting with the titular hero of the movies, Harry Potter.

Harry - Then & Now

Harry Potter, as played by Daniel Radcliffe, is not an easy character to portray. His character in the first book is at first both shy and curious, with hints of wit and intelligence that are soon supplemented by feats of honor and bravery. Radcliffe’s portrayal was of a kid essentially saying, “Wow, gee whiz that’s amazing!” over and over — he has even admitted that he didn’t really think of it as acting until the third film. He certainly has the visual look of the character down from start to finish — and honestly has greatly improved as an actor. Harry goes through changes as he grows up, including a hormonal and angst-filled time during his teenage years. The audience should be able to feel those changes without thinking the changes are sudden or incongruous — and for the most part, Radcliffe succeeds with few missteps. I think the role has become tightly associated with Radcliffe due to his ability to disappear into the character — although who knows what the future will bring? In another few years, perhaps we will see the inevitable remake with another moppet wearing the now highly recognizable round spectacles.


Hermione - Then & Now

Hermione Granger, as played by Emma Watson, is not an easy character to portray. She straddles the fine line between a highly intelligent friend and annoyingly arrogant know-it-all, and the movies just don’t have the time to dedicate fully fleshing out any character as well as the books. It would be very easy to find Hermione irritating instead of the valued linchpin of the series — she is essentially responsible for most of Harry’s successes. But Emma Watson has always handled the dichotomy with aplomb, always believable in her overly intelligent retorts, and the only child actor I found that seemed to actually be trying in the first film. Perhaps a bit more glamorous in real life than on screen, she never quite managed the “bushy-haired, buck-toothed” girl that later comes into her own — she honestly always seemed far too charismatic for that. Although apparently they tried the buck teeth but it was difficult for her to speak — in the end, it doesn’t particularly matter. Her character remains one of the best transitions from page to screen.


Ron - Then & Now

Ron Weasley, as played by Rupert Grint, is another one of those difficult characters. He’s not that bright or that competent, especially when compared to his two best friends — or even his accomplished older brothers. Ron is at times judgmental and jealous, and other times the only bright spot of humor in darkness. Although a bit overly flat at first, Rupert Grint has become effective at playing the necessary foil in the dynamic trio. Ron is supposed to be pretty significantly taller than Harry or Hermione, although Harry catches up a bit later — which isn’t quite how it played out with the actors, but that’s the sort of thing that’s not such a big deal. Perhaps Ron isn’t meant to be the main character or even the strongest one — but his redemptive and transformative character arc is affecting nonetheless, and Grint pulls it off in the end.


Ginny - Then & Now

Ginny Weasley, as played by Bonnie Wright, is the nearly literal girl-next-door turned girlfriend of our hero. Although they do take a break for most of the last movie, and only hooked up in the middle of the sixth … well, hopefully they managed to sneak in some quality time in that 2½ hours. Ginny is an interesting character, because she starts as a damsel in severe distress — possessed by the evil Horcrux of Tom Riddle, she is in dire straights for most of the second book. And she has a pretty severe crush on Harry, which doesn’t help matters. Eventually she becomes an interesting person in her own right, independent and confident enough to go with her friends to fight evildoers in The Order of the Phoenix. Bonnie Wright doesn’t always pull it off, and she doesn’t appear much in the films overall. She’s also unfortunately a bit overshadowed by the ridiculous glamour of Emma Watson. Hopefully she’ll get a chance to shine in the final movie.


Neville - Then & Now

Neville Longbottom, as played by Matthew Lewis, is Harry’s mirror, after a fashion. Both have lost parents, both victims of Lord Voldemort and his minions. But Neville has a truly fantastic character arc, starting as a stuttering, incompetent boy who still manages moments of sheer guts in the first movie. And of course, he’s just awesome in the final one (one presumes, based on the books) — and we see this transformation in the background of the books and films. Neville is trying to emulate Harry all along, and he helps save the day in the end. Matthew Lewis has turned out to be the ideal casting choice, perfectly portraying the bumbling 11-year-old and the steely, confident 17-year-old in equal measures. The producers had gold with this one.


Draco - Then & Now

Draco Malfoy, as played by Tom Felton, is the classic villainous foil to our intrepid trio. He starts as a spoiled, bullying and mean-spirited child, always trying to ruin everything. And then he becomes one of the most tragic characters in the entire series. Forced into servitude for Lord Voldemort, he sees his pampered life become a terrifying struggle for life and death. Which he doesn’t entirely deserve, if we’re fair. Tom Felton does a fantastic job of playing the child you want to smack, and later on the conflicted young man you aren’t quite sure about. What else could we want from Harry Potter’s rival?

As the actors have grown up, they have matured through awkward phases to become excellent representations of how the characters should be reflected. Some a bit more dramatically than others, true — but perhaps the most dramatic is the changes of Harry’s corpulent and caustic cousin Dudley Dursley. Although the two cousins come to a bit of an understanding in the end, we didn’t see much of it in the films. Dudley was initially cast as a chubby youngster — but how did he end up?

Dudley - Then & Now

Dudley Dursley, as played by Harry Melling, is a relatively simple character at first. He’s a bully, pure and simple, a blatant metaphor of excess, greed, and cruelty by his enormous and bulbous physical appearance. It is only after his life is saved by Harry in The Order of the Phoenix that he changes his perspective on Harry — but never do the two become friends. Harry Melling never was required to do much in the films, as most of his scenes were minimized, but he’s there. Although, as it might be obvious by the picture above, he wasn’t quite out of shape enough for the final film — so they tossed on some extra padding to stay consistent.

So …

The Harry Potter kids have grown up as they filmed the movies and as the book series has completed. We’ve seen them become talented actors in their own right, although surrounded by some of the finest UK actors in history, perhaps it was inevitable it’d rub off on them a bit. I wonder how it feels for those kids who have grown up alongside the films — as Harry and company have matured, so have (hopefully) they in their own real world lives. There may be another or another hundred remakes of Harry Potter in the years to come, but there will only be one first cast of young actors — only one around when the series came to an end. And I think they will always be the face of those characters for a long time to come — and they deserve it.


Photo Credit: Warner Brothers, David Rose

Categories: General

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