The Harry Potter films had some pretty strange things happen during shoots. Some were really bad, some were pretty funny. None of them, however, stop us from wishing we’d gotten our Hogwart’s acceptance letter at age 12. Or that we were Aurors, instead of whatever we really do for a living. Really, we’d settle for a dishwasher position at the Leaky Cauldron. Anything but real life!
Alas, the magical Potter world is imaginary. But these strange things that happened on set? They’re all real. Take the Hogwarts Express with us to learn about the strange things that happened on the set of Harry Potter.
The Hogwarts Express was vandalized at least twice
Wait, maybe we can’t take the Hogwarts Express. Once in September of 2003, and again in 2007, the train used in the movies as the Hogwarts Express was vandalized. In the 2003 attack, youths spray-painted the train with silver and green symbols all over one of the train cars, while it stationed at a depot in Scarborough, since they were using it as a tourist train between Scarborough and York when not used by Warner Brothers for Harry Potter filming.
The 2007 incident was much more violent. "The Leaky Cauldron," a news source for Potter fans, reported that young vandals had smashed several windows with the train’s emergency hammers. Ten young men between ages 12 and 14 years of age were arrested for the vandalism, which cost anywhere between 50,000 and 75,000 pounds to repair. Repair it they did and, after the wrap of Deathly Hallows II, the train returned to Scarborough to become the main locomotive on the Scarborough Spa Express route. Scarborough ain’t no Hogsmeade, but at least the beaches are nice.
There was a hamster funeral
On the set of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, personal tragedy struck young star Emma Watson, who played Hermione. Her pet hamster, Millie, died during filming — Watson being only 11 years old, that was a pretty sad day for her. But it seems that there may have been some truth to Beedle The Bard’s Fountain of Fair Fortune. In that story, a person with hard luck can go to the fountain and bathe in it, and win "fair fortune forever more." Watson’s success in the coming years would indicate that her fortune was fair indeed.
Fast forward to 2014: Watson won the Bafta award for British artist of the year. In her acceptance speech, Watson talked about Millie’s heart attack, subsequent death, and how the movie’s set department even made a tiny mahogany casket with velvet lining for the little critter. It even had a silver plaque with "Millie" engraved on it, because why not make the most heartbreakingly adorable story a little more heartbreakingly adorable? Watson, an eloquent speaker, feminist, and UN Goodwill Ambassador, closed the speech with "Rest in peace, Millie. This one’s for you." Who says a successful film actor can’t have a sense of humor?
Daniel Radcliffe had to be rescued from drowning
Or, at least, the scuba divers training Daniel Radcliffe for the underwater scenes in Goblet of Fire thought he did. Radcliffe apparently got the common hand signals for scuba diving confused (what the landlubbers thought meant "a-OK", divers actually read as "I’m running out of air, get me to the surface NOW") and the crew complied. After all, even though the underwater filming took place in a water tank, rather than a real English lake, the risk of drowning was still very real, and the crew couldn’t afford to take any chances.
Despite this little snafu, Radcliffe turned out to be a quite diligent student, and he trained for a long time to perfect not only being underwater, but learning to be Harry Potter while swimming around. Any fan of the movie will tell you that the second task of the Triwizard Tournament came off beautifully onscreen — you wouldn’t even know that Radcliffe accidentally tricked everyone into thinking he was about to pull a Cedric.
A terrible accident happened during the second-to-the-last film
On January 28, 2009, during the filming of Deathly Hallows, a horrible accident occurred, rendering Radcliffe’s stunt double, David Holmes, permanently paralyzed.
The 25-year-old former gymnast was filming a flying scene, one that required him to be yanked backward during a controlled explosion. Something went wrong and he was thrown to the ground — Holmes, who had been Radcliffe’s stunt double since the first movie, suffered a broken neck and is still in a wheelchair.
Despite this tragedy, Holmes has maintained his relationship with some of the Potter cast members, especially Radcliffe and Tom Felton, who played Draco Malfoy. He’s also an official Ambassador for RNOH, the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital Appeal, where he did his strenuous recovery after the accident. He’s even encouraged other people, like gymnast Max Whitlock, to get involved.
Life, of course, isn’t easy for Holmes. In 2011, he faced some trouble getting permission to build a house to accommodate his needs. He likely had to find a new spot to build his house (the news is inconclusive), but he moved on to other projects, notably a crowdfunding attempt to raise money for a specialist spinal unit at the hospital (RNOH) that treated him for seven months after he was injured. When he’s not busy raising 15 million pounds to buy new equipment and facilities for RNOH and running a production company with two of his friends, he gets his kicks driving specially modified race cars. At 150 mph. This all just goes to show that the Gryffindor bravery is real.
Hogwarts caught fire while filming the final film
Also during the filming of Deathly Hallows, a fire broke out during the huge battle scene. A pyrotechnic special effect went awry, catching the actual set on fire. None of the main cast was present, but 100 crew members were there and it took 40 minutes to put the fire out. Luckily, the castle that burned was a mocked-up version — in fact, no major damage was caused to the main set, and the fire was out by the time the fire department got there.
Though tabloids exaggerated the incident (like they do), Warner Bros. representatives said the set was going to be rebuilt anyway for Deathly Hallows II, though sources joke that the crew was forced to write "I must not burn down Hogwarts" using the Blood Quill. Guess it’s better than the Cruciatus Curse. Crucio!
The Whomping Willow whomped at least 15 Ford Anglia 105Es
In a fun scene from Chamber of Secrets, Ron and Harry take an enchanted car to Hogwarts because they missed the Hogwarts Express. Upon arrival, they encounter (ie, crash into) the Whomping Willow, a magical tree grown a generation before to protect the school from a student who was also a werewolf. The car was damaged, of course, but in real life, many cars were used to get the right shots for this scene.
The car model was a 1960 Ford Anglia 105E, a car that, in its heyday, was fairly popular in Britain — over 1.1 million were produced between 1959 and 1968. Rather than relying on CGI for the car-meets-tree-and-the-tree-wins scene, the special effects team erected an 85-foot tall tree for filming. They also used real cars for the scene — sixteen of them, to be exact. They were all differently adapted to get the scenes needed. Movie magic, or just a crapton of hard work? Either way, the results were satisfactory for us Muggles.
Early on, the films received religious protests that could have impacted filming
The plan, at first, was to use Canterbury Cathedral to film the scenes when Harry first enters Hogwarts. Despite the money Warner Bros. offered, the Dean said no, so the plans moved to Gloucester Cathedral instead. In fact, the Dean of Gloucester said that many people commented on the friendliness of the cathedral, and that it would be a perfect setting for a story about a boy making friends at school.
Well, the Dean may have been on board, but many local residents were, well, not. In fact, many were downright troubled, resulting in talk of a protest. Many an incensed letter to the editor was received by the Gloucester Citizen — an honorary chaplain reported in 2001 that one guy in particular wrote in passionately, and often, protesting the sheer fact that a movie would be filmed in the church.
The same chaplain explained to the BBC that the large hall that would be used for the film was also used for meetings and markets. In other words, the rest of Britain was just fine, and that guy was likely just a crank. Besides, scenes like the one showing a snowy courtyard were filmed at places like Durham Cathedral, proving that not every Anglican had a problem with movie crews milling about a House of God. They probably just wanted a chance at the craft services table. Butterbeer!
One actor was so funny, the kids couldn’t stop laughing enough to say their lines
During the filming of Sorcerer’s Stone, one actor’s performance was so hilarious, the kids on the set couldn’t stop giggling, which was a problem in keeping to the production schedule.
Peeves, the poltergeist of Hogwarts, was a staple throughout the books, and Rik Mayall (of Drop Dead Fred fame, and something about the Young Ones too, we guess) was cast for the part. He was so funny, however, that the kids kept laughing. So Mayall was asked to do his lines with his back to the kids. Still giggles. Then from across the room. Still more giggles.
The kicker? The character, and thus the actor’s rib-busting performance, never made it to the final cut. But Peeves wasn’t cut over the gigglefest. Apparently, Chris Columbus didn’t like the way the character looked, and cut him out. Mayall later said it was the best film he was ever in, and the money was good, but ultimately it was crap because he wasn’t actually in it. However, he said that he didn’t have the heart to tell his kids he’d been cut, so when they went to see the film, they came home and said "bloody good makeup, Dad." They apparently thought their father had played Hagrid.
And Robbie Coltrane wept.
The director for the third film forced the main actors to write essays about the characters they’d been playing for years
The first two Potter movies were directed by Chris Columbus, while Alfonso Cuarón took the helm for Prisoner of Azkaban. Even though Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint had played Harry, Hermione and Ron for two movies already, Cuarón had them write essays as their characters. As the story goes, Radcliffe wrote one page, Watson wrote 16, and Grint, well, didn’t turn his in. In his defence, he was preparing to take his General Certificate of Secondary Education exams and was busy. Also in his defense: really, Al?
Cuarón claimed this exercise was a way to immerse the actors in their own emotions and experiences, while digging deeper into the characters they play. He said that their essays were "really beautiful, very honest, very bare and very courageous." Apparently, he forgot that there was no essay from Ron.
Either way, Radcliffe says that they ended up being "freakishly" like their characters. In fact, that might have been the reason Emma Watson decided to embrace her inner Hermione, and celebrate the reasons she’s like her character. While the essay she wrote is unavailable online (damn you, Internet!), we can only assume that Watson shares Hermione’s book smarts, common sense and strong sense of social justice. Socks for all the house elves!
Emma Watson thinks a slap is actually a punch
In the scene from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban where Hermione calls Draco a "foul, loathsome, evil little cockroach," she was scripted to, according to Tom Felton, slap him. But apparently, Watson got carried away and punched her co-star instead. Felton says she has a "mean hook," and that he walked away from the incident with his tail tucked between his legs, and his hearing sort of impaired.
Things weren’t so bad for Felton on the set of the films. He met himself a girlfriend, an extra, in the Great Hall of Hogwarts. The lucky girl, Jade Olivia, later became a stunt coordinator’s assistant for the film franchise, and played Draco Malfoy’s wife in the epilogue to the final film. Though they’re not together anymore, it was a solid long-term relationship, and Felton was pretty crazy about Olivia. He has said that she was his best friend — as he put it when they were together, most conversations "can be held with just a look." Maybe his telepathic abilities were unleashed when Watson clocked him in the head.
Years of love and happiness in exchange for one punch? Sounds like a good deal. What do we say, Tom? "Thanks, Emma!"
Falling floating candles
Everyone remembers that moment in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when the kids walk into the Great Hall for the first time, and we look up and see hundreds of candles floating over their heads. It’s our big introduction to Hogwarts, so moviemakers were under a lot of pressure to make the whole scene as impressive as possible. According to The Amazing Book of Movie Trivia, the special effects team used real candles, which they suspended from the ceiling with thin wire.
The plan was to remove the wire in post-production (which sounds really tedious but okay), and … movie magic! The problem, though, was that the candles kept burning through the wires, and then the candles would fall onto the actors’ heads, which also sounds tedious, as well as potentially dangerous.
Producer Chris Columbus later told Entertainment Weekly that they were able to use the first take of the kids entering the Great Hall, with the camera panning up toward the floating candles. After that shot, though, it was all over. The special effects team decided it was too much trouble (and probably also too dangerous) to use real candles, and subsequent takes are done with CGI.
Jason Isaacs and Alan Rickman were getting into character by stealing stuff
Jason Isaacs played the despicable Lucius Malfoy, who was both super-blonde and super-evil. The real Jason Isaacs is nothing like his alter-ego, though, so perhaps he felt that he needed to do a little method acting in order to really get into the evil spirit. And what do evil people sometimes do when they are trying to get into the evil spirit? They steal stuff.
"I once tried to take a copy of the Daily Prophet because there were thousands of them," Isaacs said in an interview with Bang Showbiz. To his credit, the director, David Yates, had given him the impression that he was actually allowed to have the prop, but he was later thwarted by security people who told him Yates wanted it back. "It was so embarrassing," Isaacs said. "So I got nothing."
According to CinemaBlend, though, Isaacs wasn’t the only one nicking props from the set — the late Alan Rickman, who you’ll recall played Severus Snape (unless you are one of the only three remaining humans who has never seen a Harry Potter movie) stole all of the gold Gringotts on one of the first days of shooting. That both set a precedent for evil method acting and put security on high alert for prop theft.
Just like every kid, Rupert Grint (who played Ron Weasley, which is something else you already know unless you are one of the three remaining humans who hasn’t seen any of the Harry Potter movies) always wanted to own an ice cream truck. Well, maybe not every kid wants to own an ice cream truck, but it’s easy to see the appeal of having ready access to an endless supply of ice cream. Anyway Grint evidently did not outgrow his childhood dream of owning an ice cream truck, and when you become the star of one of the biggest movie franchises of all time, you can afford to buy 20 ice cream trucks and a whole ice cream factory if that’s what you feel like doing.
Grint just stuck with the one truck, though. According to Rupert Grint Press (the foremost authority on Rupert Grint?), one of his first purchases as an uber-loaded superstar was a 1974 Mr. Whippy Bedford van, which he keeps "well stocked." "It’s got a proper machine that dispenses Mr. Whippy ice cream and I buy my lollies wholesale … so I never run short," Grint said in an interview.
Grint doesn’t sell ice cream (he’s unlicensed), but he has fun passing it out to kids in the summer. And on the last day of shooting, he drove the van onto the Harry Potter set. "The cast and crew were having a barbecue and I supplied the lollies and ice creams," he said. Adorable.
The actors who play evil characters in the Harry Potter universe seem to be prone to "accidentally" doing evil things in real life. We’re sure it’s all just a coincidence that it’s only the evil characters who steal from the set and rupture the eardrums of other actors, but we’ll let you decide.
In her role as Bellatrix Lestrange, Helena Bonham Carter had to do a lot of evil things, and one of the most evil was perpetrated on Matthew Lewis’ eardrum. Carter was menacing Lewis’ character, Neville Longbottom, with her wand when she decided that she needed to try on an especially sadistic brand of menacing. "I thought I could brandish the wand like a sort of Q-tip and clean out his ear," she said. "Sort of torture it." Evidently, no one ever told Carter that you’re not even supposed to put Q-tips in your ear, but anyway. Lewis moved in exactly the wrong direction while Carter’s wand was in his ear, and she ended up perforating his eardrum. "He didn’t admit to me that he actually had some internal bleeding about three days later," she said.
Happily, the damage wasn’t permanent. "Oops!" Carter told Entertainment Weekly. "I think I took my sadism a bit too literally."
Professor Snape was secretly cool
Children aren’t exactly known for professional discretion, even children who are Harry Potter actors. Even British Harry Potter actors.
If you ever drew an unflattering picture of an authority figure when you were a kid, you’ll be able to relate to this one — on the set of one of the early films, Rupert Grint recalled drawing an "unpretty" picture of Alan Rickman as Professor Snape, "and as I was drawing it, Alan Rickman was standing right behind me and I was so scared."
Now, if this had been an actual scene shot for any other movie, the authority figure would have snatched up the picture, scowled at its "exaggerated features," and sentenced the offender to detention. But according to the Independent, Rickman did the opposite — he was actually a good sport about it. In fact he was such a good sport that he made Grint sign the drawing and then took it home as a keepsake. "I have it in my possession," Rickman later recalled. "And I’m very fond of it."
Emma and Daniel sitting in a tree
So just in case you needed another reminder that young people are not known for their professional discretion, here’s Unprofessional Behavior Example #2, also involving Rupert Grint, who really seemed to have a hard time abandoning the childish antics even as he got older.
We can sort of understand what was going through his head in this particular incident, though, because when you’re a kid and you’ve grown up on a movie set with a lot of other kids, they become almost like your siblings. And then one day you’re all grown up and oh my god, one of your friends has to kiss the other one! Gag! Barf!
So yeah, that’s totally how it went. According to Digital Spy, Rupert Grint couldn’t stop himself from cracking up while filming Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One as co-stars Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson went in for "a pretty violent kiss." Radcliffe later told WENN that Grint was "laughing so much off camera he was asked to leave the set because we were looking at him with his eyes watering as he was trying not to laugh at us." So that’s pretty juvenile, Rupert. Why don’t you go hang out quietly in your ice cream truck for a while?
Hogwarts teaches its students how to do a lot of useful things, like transfiguration and making charms and potions. Because you never know when you might want to charm someone, give a potion to your least favorite Muggle, or transfigure something. But here’s some advice for the people who design the Hogwarts coursework: How about a "defense against the dark nits" class because that would have been super handy while they were filming Chamber of Secrets.
Yes, just like it is in any place where large groups of children gather, head lice were a constant concern on set. According to Daniel Radcliffe: The Biography, each kid had to undergo a thorough lice-check before any filming could begin so outbreaks could be "dealt with then and there so they don’t get out of hand." Amusingly, a Harry Potter crew member was quoted saying that the producers had to "put their heads together" in order to decide on a proactive head lice control system, which everyone knows is a really terrible idea during a lice outbreak.
At any rate, things could have been a lot worse. There could have been bedbugs in the dormitories or fleas in the Great Hall or a basilisk in the bathroom. Oh, wait.
Harry Potter and the farting sleeping bag
It’s hard to imagine stoic Severus Snape and always-composed Albus Dumbledore pulling pranks, and it’s even harder to imagine Severus Snape and Albus Dumbledore pulling pranks that involve farting, but in the World of Harry Potter pretty much anything is possible.
According to Cosmopolitan, Alan Rickman and Michael Gambon decided to prank Daniel Radcliffe while filming a scene for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. In the scene, pretty much every Hogwarts student is asleep in a sleeping bag in the Great Hall, and Dumbledore is pontificating about some serious thing or another while pressing the remote button for a fart machine he’s put inside Daniel Radcliffe’s sleeping bag. And it’s the Great Hall, of course, so the farts are bouncing off the walls and echoing all over the room, and pretty soon everyone is laughing, even stoic Snape and always-composed Dumbledore. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the most awesome Harry Potter scene you never saw.
Hey, anyone know a puberty spell?
There’s really nothing about puberty that’s fun for anyone going through it. Most kids wish they could just hide in a closet with unlimited chips and a PlayStation until the whole dang messy thing is over. So it is really especially sucky when you not only have to go through puberty in public, but you have to do it in front of a public full of millions of fans and oh, your acne-covered face is ginormous and appears simultaneously on thousands of movie screens all over the world.
That wasn’t Daniel Radcliffe’s puberty-related problem because thankfully the world now has the magic of the Photoshop cloning tool to solve teenage skin problems before they ever appear on the big screen. Radcliffe’s real problem was his voice — according to Daniel Radcliffe: The Biography, producers had to find a voice double to do some of Radcliffe’s lines because his voice kept cracking. Fortunately they did find someone who sounded like Radcliffe — in fact his voice was so similar to Radcliffe’s that he easily passed for Harry Potter in the video games. So a lot of the lines you hear Radcliffe speak during Chamber of Secrets aren’t actually Radcliffe at all, but some kid named Joe Sowerbutts, which let’s face it is like the most Harry Potter-esque name of all time. And the poor kid didn’t even get a starring role.