If you grew up watching or reading Harry Potter, then the series probably holds some nostalgic feelings for you still. A coming-of-age tale about a group of kids taking on a group of evil wizards to protect the school they love and the future of the wizarding world? Talk about an interesting story. But when the first Harry Potter movie came out in 2001, who could have known just how lucrative it would be?
Seriously, with so many Harry Potter films out there, it’s hard to imagine who would ever turn down a role in a franchise so successful. But there are quite a few actors who initially said no to the series or who simply didn’t land the role in the fantasy movies that they wanted. Yes, the list of actors who almost starred in Harry Potter might surprise you, because, if they’d been cast, the movies and their characters might have been totally different!
Ian McKellen was almost this beloved Harry Potter character
In the Harry Potter books and movies, young Harry learns quite a bit about wizarding from a few different mentors. His friends teach him valuable lessons, the adults in his life do as well, and, of course, there’s Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts who really connects with Harry and changes his life. At first, Dumbledore was played by Richard Harris, but when he died in 2002, the casting directors had to find a new actor to fill the role. And they apparently thought they could with the famous British star Sir Ian McKellen. But the actor wasn’t keen on taking the part.
In an interview with BBC World News’ HARDtalk, McKellen explained what really went down when he turned down the iconic and beloved role of Professor Albus Dumbledore. “When they called me up and said would I be interested in the Harry Potter films, they didn’t say what part. I worked out what they were thinking and I couldn’t,” he explained. “I couldn’t take over the part from an actor who I’d known didn’t approve of me.” McKellen went on to joke that he did sometimes see posters with replacement Michael Gambon and that he sometimes got confused because they looked alike!
Kate Winslet didn't want to be involved in the Harry Potter franchise
Kate Winslet is obviously a huge star, and she’s had some pretty impressive roles over the years. From her roles in everything from Titanic to Sense and Sensibility and The Holiday, Winslet has proven herself to be a staple in Hollywood. But there was one role in Harry Potter she never even got the chance to land. Though the role was pretty small, there’s no telling how the movies would be different had she been this character.
According to Insider, Winslet was originally offered the role of Helena Ravenclaw, the daughter of Ravenclaw house founder Rowena. It wasn’t a big part, and perhaps that’s why Winslet’s agent turned it down on her behalf before Winslet could even decide for herself. Per Insider, Winslet’s agent assumed Winslet didn’t want to “follow suit with every other actor in Britain by being a part of Harry Potter.” Whether or not that’s true, Winslet’s career probably wouldn’t have been changed much had she been in Harry Potter. Still, it’s interesting to think about what the movies would have been like with Winslet on screen.
Robin Williams didn't get to play this Harry Potter role for a good reason
It’s no secret that Robin Williams was a beloved actor, and as it turns out, he could have left behind quite a legacy in the Harry Potter films. Specifically, Williams reportedly wanted to play Hagrid, but got rejected.
Casting director Janet Hirshenson told HuffPost that the directors and producers behind the entire Harry Potter franchise really wanted the movie to be as authentic as possible. And as strange as that might sound since the movies were about magic, they were also set in England, which is why the people in charge of casting really wanted British actors only. “Robin [Williams] had called [director Chris Columbus] because he really wanted to be in the movie, but it was a British-only edict, and once he said no to Robin, he wasn’t going to say yes to anybody else, that’s for sure,” Hirshenson explained.
Williams definitely would have made an incredible Hagrid, but as he wasn’t British, it just wasn’t meant to be.
Liam Aiken was almost The Boy Who Lived
It’s almost impossible to imagine anyone other than Daniel Radcliffe playing “The Boy Who Lived” in the Harry Potter films. Radcliffe’s career was essentially launched after appearing in the film franchise, and Radcliffe remains intimately tied to the series for fans. But once upon a time, Radcliffe wasn’t the first actor to be considered for the part of Harry.
According to casting director Janet Hirshenson, Liam Aiken was also strongly considered for the role of Harry Potter, but things didn’t work out since he wasn’t British. Additionally, it seems as though Aiken didn’t fit some of the other criteria either. “It was really specific on ages because there were several movies hopefully, so we could not go for a small 13-year-old to play anybody,” Hirshenson told HuffPost. “They had to be at least the proper age of the character.”
While Aiken didn’t land Harry Potter, he did star in A Series of Unfortunate Events, alongside Jim Carrey, Jude Law, and Meryl Streep, in 2004. So, not bad for a young actor.
It's probably best Tilda Swinton didn't get this Harry Potter role
When you think of Tilda Swinton, you might think of Doctor Strange or The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. But Swinton could have also been a magical being in the Harry Potter films, had she not had a moral objection to them.
According to Newstalk, Swinton didn’t want the role of Professor Sybil Trelawney, who appeared in three films in the Harry Potter franchise. Instead, Emma Thompson landed the part, and she nailed it — so it might have been for the best that Swinton said no. But why did Swinton say no? Well, it turns out that she wasn’t a fan of one particular aspect of Harry Potter: boarding school. “That’s why I dislike films like Harry Potter which tend to romanticize such places,” she told The Scots Magazine. “I think they are a very cruel setting in which to grow up and I don’t feel children benefit from that type of education. Children need their parents and the love parents can provide.”
Clearly, Swinton wasn’t meant to be part of the Harry Potter universe.
Hugh Grant could have played this professor in the Harry Potter movies
In the second Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry and his friends return to Hogwarts and meet Professor Gilderoy Lockhart. The role was filled by Kenneth Branagh, but it was originally offered to Hugh Grant.
Unfortunately, Grant had to say no. “Sadly Hugh had to turn down the part because he’s committed to doing a movie with Sandra Bullock next February,” his agent, Karin Smith, said, according to The Guardian. The movie was described as a “project [that] will star Bullock as a ditzy lawyer and Grant as her impossibly wealthy, hopelessly charming boss,” so it seems likely that that film turned out to be Two Weeks Notice, which was released in 2002.
Obviously, Two Weeks Notice is a great romantic comedy, so it remains to be seen whether or not Grant regrets not taking the role of Professor Gilderoy Lockhart. But hey, at least the world got a great rom-com out of it.
Eddie Redmayne's Harry Potter career could have started earlier
Even though the Harry Potter films wrapped up in 2011 with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the franchise has continued on since then. Thanks to the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and prequel movies, the wizarding world hasn’t died. In fact, when Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was released in 2016, it got everyone talking.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them‘s lead star Eddie Redmayne actually tried to join the magical universe of Harry Potter years before he landed his eventual role as Newt Scamander. “I actually auditioned to play [Chamber of Secrets villain] Tom Riddle when I was back at university,” Redmayne told Empire. “I properly failed and didn’t get a call back. Over the years I always hoped I might be cast as a member of the Weasley family, but unfortunately not.”
While Redmayne sadly didn’t get to star in any of the Harry Potter films, he did get to play a pretty fun character in the Fantastic Beasts franchise, which is pretty sweet.
Tim Roth passed on this Harry Potter role
It’s almost impossible to imagine a Harry Potter movie without Professor Snape. Snape is both a villain and a hero in the series, and is a huge figure in Harry’s life throughout just about every movie. And though Snape met a tragic end, his story was still super significant. So, what would the movies be like if Tim Roth had played Snape? Well, the world will never know, but Roth himself has indeed thought about it.
In a Reddit thread, Roth was asked if he regretted not taking the role of Professor Snape, and his answer was pretty interesting. “I don’t know if I ever think about things that way,” he answered. “If I had done it, everything would have changed. That’s the nature of the randomness of life. It would have been nice to have a 7-year gig, that’s a nice and comforting space to be in. But no, I think the better man for the job did the job.” Roth was referring to the late Alan Rickman, who famously played Snape in the films.
Helen McCrory was almost this iconic Harry Potter villain
If you watched the Harry Potter movies in their entirety, then you know that, while she might not be the ultimate villain, Bellatrix Lestrange is one of the most annoying and vile characters in the films. She works with Voldemort and is probably the easiest character to hate out of the lot of them other than the Dark Lord himself.
Now, you know Bellatrix Lestrange as being portrayed by Helena Bonham Carter, who totally rocked the role. But before she was cast, Helen McCrory was actually signed on to play the character. However, according to Parade, McCrory got pregnant before she could film, and the role was recast. Later McCrory played Draco Malfoy’s mother, a much smaller role that caused her to be pretty sad when the movies concluded. “But I’m sad it’s coming to an end, especially for people who started right at the beginning,” she told Parade. “Quite frankly, it was their lives, not just a film. It’s a shame that I joined it so late and Narcissa’s part is so fleeting.”
The movies could have been a lot different with McCrory as Bellatrix — that’s for sure.
Rowan Atkinson could have been an interesting bad guy
The big, bad boogeyman in the Harry Potter universe throughout all the films was obviously Lord Voldemort. The man who killed Harry Potter’s parents, countless other wizards, and tried to kill Harry himself was a constant, looming presence in the movies, even when he didn’t actually show up on screen. But when he did, he was scary. And in an alternate universe, Lord Voldemort would have been played by someone super unexpected.
According to The Guardian, back in 2006, comedic actor Rowan Atkinson was actually rumored to have signed on to play none other than Lord Voldemort. Yes, the same man who played Mr. Bean was reportedly ready to “broaden his range and jumped at the chance to play Potter’s shadowy nemesis,” per The Guardian. Of course, that didn’t actually happen as Voldemort was eventually played by Ralph Fiennes, who certainly brought a dark and frightening presence to the big screen in his portrayal of the Dark Lord. Still, it’s pretty entertaining to think about Mr. Bean as a murderous and vengeful wizard.
Saoirse Ronan was sad about not landing this Harry Potter role
One of the sweetest characters in the Harry Potter movies is definitely Luna Lovegood, portrayed by Evanna Lynch. But if things had gone differently, Saoirse Ronan could have landed the role.
In a 2011 interview with a gossip blog, Ronan explained that she actually auditioned to play Luna, a fan-favorite character in the Harry Potter franchise, and she was sad when she didn’t get it. “I was too young,” she explained, “but at the time I thought, ‘I’d love to be in Harry Potter.’ When I was younger, I used to think they had the best job in the world,” Ronan said.
Still, when the final movie was brought up, Ronan appeared to have no ill will toward the franchise. “I’ve basically grown up with Harry Potter, as so many kids my age have. It’s kind of a part of my life. I’ll go see it no matter what,” she responded. Clearly, Ronan was a diehard Potter fan, even though she lost out on her dream role.
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