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The 10 most interesting things we learned from HBO Max’s ‘Harry Potter’ reunion special

HBO Max released a nearly two-hour long special that shared insights, behind-the-scenes stories, and touching moments between cast and crew members.
Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe
Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Daniel RadcliffeWarner Media/HBO Max / Warner Media/HBO Max

Over two decades have passed since “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” hit theaters, kick-starting a global phenomenon and eight-movie film series that followed the beloved characters from childhood to adolescence as they watch the world as they know it change.

To celebrate the massive milestone, HBO Max released the “Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts” special on Saturday, January 1, 2022. The nearly two-hour long special reunited Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), and Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) along with other cast members, producers and each film’s director to reflect on their time making the movies.

Here are 10 of the most interesting things we learned during the “Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts" special.

Pictures announced August 21, 2000 that the young actor Daniel Radcliffe, center, has been named as the young actor who will play Harry Potter, in the upcoming film adaptation of the popular books by J.K. Rowling. Newcomers Rupert Grint, right, and Emma W
Pictures announced August 21, 2000 that the young actor Daniel Radcliffe, center, has been named as the young actor who will play Harry Potter, in the upcoming film adaptation of the popular books by J.K. Rowling. Newcomers Rupert Grint, right, and Emma Watson will be taking on the roles of Ron and Hermione, Harry's best friends at Hogwarts.Warner Bros./Newsmakers / Getty Images

Finding Harry Potter was a difficult task

Due to their uncanny similarities to their character, casting Grint and Watson as Ron and Hermione was simple enough, according to Chris Columbus, the director of the first two films of the series. Finding the perfect actor to portray the titular character, however, was a whole other story. 

“The search for Harry Potter was insane,” Columbus said. “I think the biggest pressure at the beginning was who was going to be Harry Potter.”

After months of searching for the perfect Harry, Columbus ended up discovering Radcliffe while watching BBC’s “David Copperfield” at his hotel in London. He recalled that moment distinctly, explaining, “Immediately, a lightbulb went off in my head and I said, ‘This is Harry Potter. This is the kid we’ve been looking for for months.’”

Radcliffe said that it took some convincing to get his parents on board, because they worried taking on the major role would be a “huge disruption to his life." Eventually, the series’ producer David Heyman was able to convince Radcliffe’s father to bring his son in for an audition and the rest is history!

Watson wanted to quit halfway through

At one point during filming, there was a possibility that the latter half of the film series would have needed to be reworked due to Watson’s desire to drop out. During a segment of the special, the actor reflected on her mental state during that period, recalling a diary entry from the time that was questionable.

“I could see that, at times, I was lonely,” she said. 

Speaking with Grint, she explained. “I think I was scared. I don’t know if you ever felt like it got to a tipping point when you were like, ‘This is kind of forever now.’”

Later, Grint revealed that at times, he felt similarly to his co-star. 

“Kind of contemplating what life would be like if I called it a day, but we never really spoke about it,” he said. “I guess we were just kind of going through it at our own pace. We were kind of in the moment. At the time, it just didn’t really occur to us that we were all kind of having similar feelings.”

Alan Rickman knew secret details about the story's twists

The late Alan Rickman, who portrayed Professor Snape throughout the series, had a leg up above his other castmates the entire time. Radcliffe spilled the secret to Gary Oldman (Sirius Black) while they reunited after the actor expressed that he wished he had known his character’s full story from the start because they found out plot points as each book released.

“I don’t know whether you were because you were Harry Potter,” Oldman said, but Radcliffe interjected and said he did not have any insight into the future of the characters. There was only one cast member who did, and that was Rickman.

“He had the inside line,” Radcliffe said. “He very, very early said to Jo (J.K. Rowling), he was like, ‘I think I need to know what happens.’ And he never told Chris [Columbus], never told anyone. Chris would literally say to him, ‘Why are you doing that like that?’ He’d say, ‘I’ll tell you later.’”

Rowling had hinted at this fun fact following the actor's death in January 2016, revealing in a tweet that she had told him the meaning behind his simple, but iconic line, "Always."

Watson and Tom Felton’s mutual love for one another

In the past, both Watson and Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) have opened up about their crushes on one another, especially while filming the first two movies. During the reunion special, however, the two rehashed their childhood crushes on camera. Watson even remembered the moment when she first saw Felton on set, explaining that she had spotted him in the tutoring room.

“The assignment that had been given was to draw what you thought God looked like. And Tom had drawn a girl with a backward cap on a skateboard,” she said. “And I just don’t know how to say it. I just fell in love with him.”

From then on, Watson said she used to come onto set every day and look for his number, which was seven, on the call sheet every morning. If she saw seven on the sheet, well, “it was an extra exciting day,” she said.

“Emma and I have always loved each other, really,” Felton said, later adding, “I became very protective over her. I’ve always had a soft spot for her, and that continues to the day.”

Despite this, Watson made it clear that nothing between them romantically has ever happened over the course of the last 20 years and left it at that.

Richard Harris believed Fawkes the Phoenix was real

In one of the funnier moments of the special, it was shared that the late Richard Harris, who originated the character of Albus Dumbledore in the first two films before he died in 2002, wasn’t aware of some of the animatronics on set.

“You and I had one of our greatest laughs together with Richard Harris, and we had an animatronic version of Fawkes the Phoenix,” Columbus recalled with Radcliffe. “It was this big, red bird that doesn't exist in real life ... Richard came in and looked at the phoenix and said, ‘Wow, they train these animals marvelously these days.”

Radcliffe confirmed that nobody had ever told Harris that in fact, Fawkes was not a real bird and in reality was just a robot.

Radcliffe revealed his crush on a cast member

Speaking of cast members having crushes on one another, it was revealed during the special who Radcliffe fancied during filming. During a sitdown between the actor and Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange) resurfaced an old note Radcliffe had written her years prior when she asked him for his autograph. 

“Dear HBC, it was a pleasure being your co-star and coaster in the sense that I always ended up holding your coffee,” Radcliffe read aloud from her phone. “I do love you and I just wish I’d been born 10 years earlier. I might’ve been in with a chance. Lots of love and thanks for being cool.”

James Phelps accidentally broke the director’s ribs during rehearsal

During the filming of the fourth film, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” there is a famous scene between Fred and George Weasley, portrayed by real life twins James and Oliver Phelps, where they wrestle each other to the floor. However, the film’s director Mike Newell didn’t find their fighting to be convincing enough, so he tried to demonstrate how he wanted the scene to look with James.

“I was a tubby, 60-year-old gent at that stage. I really shouldn’t have done it,” Newell said of the moment in retrospect. “I remember gripping him around the waist and trying to fling him about and so forth and cracked a couple of ribs. So I was in absolute agony from then on.”

Grint and Watson's kiss was “horrifying”

After the tension between Ron and Hermione was built up for the entire series, Grint and Watson finally exchanged a kiss in the final installment of the series. However, it wasn’t the romantic moment that fans might have thought it would be. In fact, Watson said it was “the most horrifying thing either of us has ever had to go through.”

“Kissing Rupert was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” Watson said of the moment. “It just felt wrong, so wrong on any level because Dan, Rupert and I are so much siblings.”

Grint joked that he had “blacked out” during the moment, while Watson interjected, “Every time you talk about this you make it sound like an actual horror show in your head.”

“It wasn’t that bad, I know,” Grint said.

Remembering Rickman, Helen McCrory, and more

There was a moment carved out in the special to honor the cast members and crew who had passed in the years since the film’s released. The actors and creatives on the films paid tribute to Harris, Richard Griffiths (Vernon Dursley), and John Hurt (Garrick Ollivander). They also honored Helen McCrory (Narcissa Malfoy) and Rickman, who both passed away in recent years from cancer.

Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy) looked back on his time working with McCrory, his on-screen wife, explaining, “I just met the best actress of my life.”

Felton, who portrayed her son, got choked up when he remembered his time with McCrory. 

“She had taught me a lot,” he said. “She had this ability just to show such empathy in her eyes. It was a real treat to work with her.”

Watson remembered Rickman sweetly, recalling that he had never treated or talked to her like she was a kid, explaining, “He always took my thoughts and opinions very seriously, which I was always very touched by.”

Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe
Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe reunite during HBO Max's “Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts" special.Warner Media/HBO Max / Warner Media/HBO Max

Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson’s sentimental moment

At the very end of the special, the three lead actors reflected on their enduring relationship over the last two decades of their lives. Grint and Watson sat together as they shared how much they meant to one another.

“The way it feels for me now, seeing you here, having had time apart — I’m trying not to get emotional,” Watson said. “It feels like you’re a pillar of my life.”

Before pulling her in for a hug, Grint added, “Even though we don’t see each other all the time, it’s a strong bond that we’ll always have. I love you.”

In a separate clip, Radcliffe expressed a similar sentiment to all those involved in the filming of the “Harry Potter” series over the course of ten years of his life. 

"There are people on these films that are foundational to who I am, as a person, as an actor,” he said. “I feel so lucky to be where I am and to have the life that I have and be able to work with people I work with now. But none of it is possible without this. So yeah, it was a very good 10 years.”