Nov. 20, 2013 at 6:10 PM ET
Commuters recently encountered an unusual character bumbling around New York City's Penn Station: an owl-toting, bespectacled boy in search of the legendary Platform 9 ¾.
Could it be — the famous boy wizard Harry Potter come to life?
Well, not exactly. The Potter look-alike was actually an 11-year-old actor pranking travelers as part of Improv Everywhere's fall series Movies in Real Life, which recreates iconic movie moments in the real world.
On Tuesday, the prank collective posted a video of the footage they collected in Penn Station, which turned out to be nothing short of magical (in the nonfictional sort of way).
"Harry Potter has a huge fan base, and the idea was to recreate the scene where Harry is first heading to Hogwarts and searching for Platform 9 3/4 at the King's Cross Station," Improv Everywhere's founder Charlie Todd told TODAY.com.
In the group's video, actor Sebastian Thomas, joined by a realistic stuffed owl and an old-fashioned trunk (engraved with the initials "HP"), ambles through the terminal asking people in a polite British accent for help finding the platform that will take him to Hogwarts.
He confuses the ladies at the ticket counter, who laugh and tell him "you've got to find somebody else." He then moves on to amused travelers, one of whom plays along and claims to be Potter's sidekick Ron Weasley. Naturally, people start taking out their cell phones to snap the action.
While plenty of those approached seem to be Harry Potter fans who understand the joke, some are a little slower to comprehend the situation, like a concerned conductor who asks him if he has permission to be wandering around platforms nine and 10. A worker manning the Amtrak help desk has to tell the Potter doppelgänger that their trains don't go to Hogwarts, and informs him that he's in New York, not England.
"I'm even more lost than I think I am," Thomas replies. The worker grows progressively more concerned until a cameraman hidden nearby reveals himself.
Improv Everywhere pulled off the prank with the help of tiny GoPro cameras and a few cameramen who stealthily followed Thomas around the station for an hour. You might think it'd be difficult to carry on the charade with a straight face, but Thomas is no amateur: He's a trained actor currently performing in the Broadway production of Kinky Boots.
"Everybody really loved him," Todd said. "People who were not Harry Potter fans didn't know who he was, but it was still striking to see someone with cool luggage and an owl that looks pretty real."
The wizard's fans "got very excited," and in the end, everyone Thomas encountered had a story to bring home.
"People were laughing and smiling," Todd said. "One of the goals of Improv Everywhere is to create great moments and give random people a really exciting story to tell."
The group has already recreated snippets from beloved classics like When Harry Met Sally, Indiana Jones and Rocky. Next week they'll feature a real world scene inspired by the Stanley Kubrick-directed epic Spartacus.