“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” at 20: the movie that started it all


“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” ruined Daniel Radcliffe’s expectations for what is normal on a film set.

The Great Hall, where he shot many scenes from the first of eight films based on the JK Rowling series, was a retail phantasmagoria. Platters of real lamb chops, roasted potatoes and puddings stood alongside 400 hand-written menus and – for at least one scene – hundreds of real glowing candles. The entire hall took 30 people and a little over four months to build.

“I can count on one hand the number of sets I’ve played on in my career that are of this magnitude,” Radcliffe said in a video interview from his New York apartment in October.

Directed by Chris Columbus, the story of a boy who, at age 11, finds out he is a wizard and goes to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry opened on November 16, 2001 and grossed over $ 1 billion worldwide.

When Radcliffe and the young actors who played his friends Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) and Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) were making the movie, they weren’t just claiming to have the time of their lives – they were, Columbus said.

“That’s why we shot with three or four cameras – if one of the kids was looking at the camera or smiling like he couldn’t believe his good fortune, I had something else to cut,” he said. he said during a telephone conversation during a walk. near his home in Malibu in September.

That joy was in large part thanks, Radcliffe said, to Columbus’ contagious passion for his work.

“Chris’ approaches are defined the right way, in my opinion, which is the attitude that we are the luckiest people in the world who can do this for a living,” he said.

Initially, Columbus wasn’t sure he wanted to make a wizarding movie, but after his daughter Eleanor (who appeared as Susan Bones) prompted him to read the books, he finally opened up. the first part and read the 223 pages of a day.

“I was like, ‘I have to make a movie out of this,’” he said.

But when he called his agent to set up a meeting with Warner Bros., “She said, ‘Yeah, you and about 30 other directors,'” Columbus said.

So he came up with a strategy: he asked for the last time slot to meet with studio executives and spent about 10 days writing a script from the director’s point of view.

“I think the most impressive thing about it for them is that I did something for free,” he said with a laugh. “No one in Hollywood does anything for free. “

About six weeks later, he learned the job was his – on one condition: he had to fly to Scotland to meet Rowling.

“I sat there for two and a half hours, talking nonstop, explaining my vision for the film,” he said. “And she said, ‘It’s exactly the same way I see it.'”

It also got her to fight for him over a major casting decision: her Harry. He loved Radcliffe from the moment the actor read for the role – “He was phenomenal,” Columbus said – but the studio wasn’t so sure.

“Finally, I called Jo and I said, ‘Do you want to watch this kid?’,” He said. When she pronounced it “the perfect Harry Potter,” Columbus recalls, the studio followed suit.

Radcliffe, now 32, said that while he did not consider his performance in the film to be brilliant acting, he was no longer embarrassed by certain scenes as he was at the end of his adolescence.

“Now I’m able to look back and say to myself ‘OK you were a kid, you’re okay’,” he said with a laugh. “It’s always a beautiful memory.”

In separate interviews, Radcliffe and Columbus recalled what it took to shoot four key scenes. Here are edited excerpts from our conversations.

Creating the main gathering place at Hogwarts, where students have all their meals at House tables, was a gigantic undertaking.

COLUMBUS When the actors first enter the Great Hall, what you see on their faces is the real reaction to seeing this incredible setting for the first time.

RADCLIFFE He never really lost that power.

COLUMBUS Production designer Stuart Craig and [the set decorator] Stephenie McMillan had an incredible eye for detail. I opened one of the menus and realized they had handwritten the 400 on parchment paper. I thought, “Oh my God, this is the real deal.” Since then, I have never had such an extraordinary production design.

But there were a few hiccups.

COLUMBUS The food arrived – an American Thanksgiving feast – and it was supposed to last eight to 10 hours. I came back the next day, and it was still the same food! By day 3, I can only say that the smell of the Great Hall was getting a little funky.

There was also a mishap.

COLUMBUS When all the children enter the Great Hall for the first time, we see hundreds of candles floating in the air. And then something horrible happened – the candle flames started to burn through the transparent string that held them and started to fall! We had to get everyone off the set – then we shot it two more times, like, “We’re just going to add CGI candles. “

RADCLIFFE We have dispersed! I’m sure Chris was more stressed by it, but as a kid you think to yourself, “This is really funny. “

The Quidditch scenes are some of the most exciting parts of the movie. But the platforms the actors were riding were a bit, uh, bumpy.

COLUMBUS Our stunt coordinator Greg Powell put together these brilliant contraptions that made all of the actors feel like they were almost in an amusement park. What you often see on their faces, especially in the Quidditch match, is real – they were a little terrified, but for the most part, as 11 year olds, they were having the best time of their lives.

RADCLIFFE Looking back, it would have been perfectly acceptable for me, as an 11-year-old, to say, “Yeah, the Quidditch scenes are pretty painful. But back then it was like, ‘I can’t say anything bad or negative about anything’, so you’re just like, ‘No, no, no, that’s great’. It was a broomstick with a thin seat in the middle, and you didn’t have stirrups – or, if you did, they were very, very high – so you were essentially leaning your full weight on your junk. when you lean forward.

COLUMBUS A few weeks before starting the film, I ran into Steven Spielberg. And he said, “There’s one thing you have to do, when these kids come off those platforms, they should be rubbing their thighs like athletes, like that really had been this incredibly painful experience.”

RADCLIFFE I think on the fifth movie, they made a broom that had more of a rowing tractor seat, and we were like, “Why did it take so long to change?” This is really better! “

When Harry and Ron fight the troll in the girls’ bathroom, Ron casts a spell to drop a club on the troll’s head – but not before he knocks Harry down and swings him by the ankles.

COLUMBUS Whatever CGI character couldn’t be there in person, I had to be. So in the second movie, I was Dobby, the basilisk – and here, I was the troll. In wide shots I could only scream and act like a maniac off camera, but in close ups I could actually be next to the camera pretending to be a troll. It was one of the most intense physical workouts I have ever had.

RADCLIFFE One of the great things about movies in the beginning was that a huge amount of effects were practical. The photo of us dodging as the bathroom cubicles explode when the troll hits them with the club – part of it was very real. It’s always better to react to something that’s there.

One of the obstacles guarding the Sorcerer’s Stone is a giant wizarding chessboard, which Harry, Ron, and Hermione must play on. The designers of the film created 32 pieces, measuring up to 12 feet tall and weighing up to 500 pounds.

COLUMBUS Stuart and I thought it would be interesting to build as much as possible so that we could get the actual reactions from the kids to be on these huge chess pieces. The only things that got augmented in CGI were explosions – although we also did practice with them – and some scenes where parts actually had to move. I think it was the pawns who must have drawn their swords.

RADCLIFFE Of course, they got an international master to design a chess puzzle. The attention to detail was really cool.

Some fans have pointed out that the game is not strictly precise.

COLUMBUS I saw the first cut and I said, “It’s really, really slow.” I adhered to an exact game of chess. So I said to my editor, “We have to reduce this. I can’t worry about the game being played exactly the way a chess expert would play it.

RADCLIFFE It was an incredibly cool setting – we literally played on this huge chessboard every day surrounded by fire – and the effects of that scene hold in a way that not all of the effects in the first movie do.

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