Harry Potter and the Perils of Fame
Nine years isn’t a long time in the grand scheme of things, but for 19-year-old Daniel Radcliffe it’s half a lifetime. He’s done a lot of growing up since Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (filmed in 2000 and released a year later).
Back then he was just about the perfect Potter: he couldn’t act, but he didn’t really have to. Not only did he resemble JK Rowling’s descriptions of Harry, he was also a ringer for the books’ cover illustrations. He was a little boy still, brainy but not obnoxious; earnest, but not yet fully comprehending the seriousness of what’s going on around him. As a performer, rather than an actor, Radcliffe had a kind of sheepish pluck that was exactly right.
He didn’t seem much different in 2002’s The Chamber of Secrets, but by The Prisoner of Azkaban in 2004 he was unmistakably a teenager. Harry was 13, but Daniel was changing faster than fans anticipated. The little boy had lost his cute. The film was darker and scarier too – no longer safe viewing for the smaller kids.
Chris Columbus, who directed the first two films and stayed on as a producer, wondered aloud if Radcliffe and his costars Rupert Grint and Emma Watson wouldn’t be better off retiring and enjoying what was left of their childhood out of the spotlight. In fact all of them have stayed the course – the only major casting adjustment has been Michael Gambon stepping in as Professor Dumbledore after the death of Richard Harris.
It’s a credit to the producers that they have managed to keep the team intact through a period of life that often involves raging hormones, self-consciousness, recklessness and rebelliousness. The youngsters have grown up in the public eye – grown as actors too – but managed to steer clear of the more prurient tabloid attentions that have dogged so many Hollywood kids (you know who I’m talking about).
And so far, from what we have seen, the Hogwarts graduates have thrived on their resolve. They’re obviously richer for making these movies (Radcliffe was named the richest teenager in showbiz by one magazine), but also, it seems, enriched by a wealth of experience that will remain unknown to most of their friends.
Have they been spoiled? From what we can see, they seem eminently sensible and much more focused than most people their age. Daniel Radcliffe has a theory about that: “In America, when you start acting at a young age, you’re treated as a star first, and a child second,” he says. “In England you’re very much treated like a child first and an actor second.”
Mind you, if they’ve got through adolescence without much embarrassment, the worst may be to come. Right now they have every right to feel good about themselves, but if they stick with acting, things are likely to get harder. They can cash in on their stardom for a spell, but sooner rather than later they will have to prove they have what it takes outside JK Rowling’s magical universe. As Mark Hamill found out, even the biggest movie series of all time doesn’t guarantee anything.
Emma Watson, for one, seems sharp enough to know this. “I’ll always be a bit scared of becoming a “former child star,” she says. “I’ll probably never be as famous, or as well paid as I am today. But [whether I am successful] will depend on how I will see my own success…”
She’s absolutely right: fame and fortune aren’t the only parameters to judge success – or even particularly accurate ones. The trick is, surely, not to judge yourself by other people’s standards, and to enjoy the good times while they last.
Tom Charity firstname.lastname@example.org
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