20 Years After the First ‘Harry Potter’ Film, Chris Columbus Reveals His Favourite Scene

harry potter 20 years

20 years ago, the words “You’re a wizard, Harry” became part of our pop-culture consciousness, as the first book in the Harry Potter series came to life on the big screen.

Since Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was released in 2001, there have been seven subsequent films, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint have become some of the highest-earning actors in the world and, sadly, author J.K. Rowling has essentially been cancelled after making harmful comments about the transgender experience.

Reflecting on the making of that first film, director Chris Columbus chatted with Variety about the process and recalled how nervous he was about being tasked with such a fiercely beloved IP.

“I had every expectation that I would probably be fired within the first two weeks,” he told the publication. “I was very, I don’t want to say anxious, but aware of the fact that if I screw this up, I probably will never work again. And I would have millions of fans at my door just infuriated. I knew I was taking on something fairly gigantic, and I’ve never been involved in a project that had so much scrutiny.”

No doubt you’ve heard the oft-used Hollywood expression “never work with kids or animals” and Columbus affectionately reminisces about the challenges of working with three lead actors who had no prior experience.

“In the first film, there was not a lot of professional experience between the three leads,” he says. “That’s why that film was filled with so many cuts. I could only really shoot, for the first three months, a close up of one of the actors before they would lose concentration.”

Of course, as we witnessed with our own eyes, Radcliffe, Grint and Watson blossomed into seasoned actors over the course of the eight films, with Columbus revealing, “by the time we did Prisoner of Azkaban, you could basically shoot the entire film in 15 single takes if you wanted.”

Circling back to the iconic line we mentioned at the start of this post, Variety asked Columbus about how much discussion went into ensuring that Robbie Coltrane, as Hagrid, delivered it ‘just so’, with the filmmaker revealing that the adult actors on set needed little coaching.

“I had the fortune of working with probably the greatest British cast in a long time: Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Harris and Maggie Smith,” he enthused. “They understood their characters immediately because everyone had read the books.

“When you’re working with British actors, there’s the sense of high professionalism. You get a lot of American stars who are complaining that their trailer isn’t as big as someone else’s. So Robbie Coltrane delivering the line “You’re a wizard, Harry,” he got it on the first take. I probably did two other takes for safety, but he knew that character inside out.”

The story of Harry Potter is, at its core, a rather sad one given Harry is an orphan and almost everyone he loves is killed by Voldemort or his cronies, so it’s conceivable that we’ve all shed more than a few tears watching this trauma brought to life and potentially a few more tears watching the happy moments too.

For Columbus, he has one favourite scene that really stands out. “There’s a moment with Dan as he looks back to Hogwarts, and someone mentions something about going home. And he said his line: ‘I’m not going home, not really.’

“I remember looking over at [producer] David Heyman, we’re standing next to each other, and I yelled, ‘cut.’ David and I both had tears in our eyes. We were like, ‘That was beautiful.’ He was fantastic.”

And that is where we’ll leave it because you know what? I just need a moment to compose myself before I start watching the movies from the start all over again.

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