The Adults of Harry Potter

It’s to Alan Rickman’s credit that I became a huge fan of Harry Potter. Really. Oh, I’d been mildly curious about the phenomenon of the books about the boy wizard. But it wasn’t until I read that Alan Rickman was going to be in the first movie that I actually picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and read it. Well, it was love from the start, and I loved every new book more than the last.

Of course, Rickman wasn’t the only actor who drew me to the movies. I was quite a fan of Maggie Smith and Robbie Coltrane and was very familiar with their movies and television series. I’d seen Richard Harris in many movies and even knew who Warwick Davis was, and I always enjoyed their works. Michael Gambon was more of an unknown to me when he joined the cast, replacing Harris in the role of Dumbledore. But since then, I’ve seen much more of Gambon’s work in movies and TV and look forward to his performances.

The trio of young stars of the Harry Potter films – Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson – have been receiving much of the attention throughout the series, and rightfully so. They’re talented, serious actors and it’s been a treat to watch them grow along with their characters. But with the penultimate movie coming out, I thought I’d take this opportunity to bring attention to the adult stars of Harry Potter. While the cast has been full of incredibly talented people, I’m concentrating right now on those who portray the teachers at Hogwarts. These actors have played leads and supporting roles in various movies. And now they act opposite giants, hippogriffs, goblins – and gifted young actors.


Richard Harris was the first actor to play Headmaster Albus Dumbledore. Harris played an incredible variety of roles throughout his career: Biblical patriarch Abraham; King Arthur in the musical Camelot; an Englishman held captive by the Sioux in A Man Called Horse; bounty hunter English Bob in Unforgiven. Harris’s portrayal of Dumbledore endeared him to a new generation of fans, and it was very sad when we lost this fine actor.

Michael Gambon – like Harris, an Irish actor – took over the role of Dumbledore and has proved more than worthy of the part. Gambon is an actor who can take on any kind of role: a hospitalized writer with an active imagination in The Singing Detective; immoral estate owner in Gosford Park; a man hoping to rekindle a romance in Cranford; dotty father to Jane Austen’s Emma; President Lyndon Johnson in Path to War. His Dumbledore matches Harris’s in mystery and magic.

Maggie Smith first came to my attention when she won the Best Actress Oscar for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. She has become one of the best loved actresses in England and has a loyal following in America – and not just because of the Harry Potter films. Smith has worked in the U.S. in movies: California Suite, for which she won a Supporting Actress Oscar; Hook as elderly Wendy to Robin Williams’s grown-up Peter Pan; Sister Act, playing stern Mother Superior opposite Whoopi Goldberg. And then there are her appearances in British movies such as Gosford Park, Ladies in Lavender, and A Room with a View. She also worked with Daniel Radcliffe before Harry Potter when Radcliffe played the title role of David Copperfield and Smith portrayed his Aunt Bessie, just a year or so before becoming Minerva McGonagall, Transfiguration professor and head of Gryffindor House.

Robbie Coltrane made a name for himself in British television. Among his roles was the lead in the series Cracker, in which he was a psychologist in need of some counseling for his own problems. (When that series was shown on A&E years ago, a friend told me I had to watch. Very glad I followed her advice.) Even before that series, Coltrane had been in Henry V as Falstaff; Blackadder’s Christmas Carol as the Spirit of Christmas; and the Bond movie GoldenEye. He made another appearance in the Bond film The World is Not Enough. But I’ll forever love his portrayal of kind, generous, half-giant Rubeus Hagrid, Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts and Care of Magical Creatures teacher.

Warwick Davis made his movie debut in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. At the age of 13, he won the role of Wicket, the head Ewok, and he’s never stopped working, from the title role in Willow to supporting roles in Ray and two different versions of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. In the Harry Potter movies, Davis plays Professor Filius Flitwick, who teaches Charms and is the head of Ravenclaw House. In the new movie, he also plays the goblin Griphook.

Alan Rickman had been on British television – as Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet and as Rev. Obadiah Slope in The Barchester Chronicles -- before becoming an “overnight” sensation as Hans Gruber in the action film Die Hard. (I was one of those who walked out of the theater at the end of the movie saying, “Who was that guy? He was great!”) Since then he’s been a favorite of mine. Rickman has gone back and forth between good guy and villain in several movies. He played the romantic lead in Truly Madly Deeply and was especially moving as lovelorn Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility. He was vicious and villainous and over-the-top in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, neatly stealing the movie from Kevin Costner. And he was cruel and despicable in Quigley Down Under and Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. He was hilarious in Galaxy Quest. And in movies like Love Actually and Snow Cake, Rickman shows a vulnerable side to his characters. As Professor Severus Snape, Potions Master and head of Slytherin House, he has brought to life one of J.K. Rowling’s most complex characters.

So in case you’re not familiar with the work of the adults of the Harry Potter movies, check out some of movies listed. Or explore the catalog for any other films and TV series we have featuring these actors. Perhaps you have a favorite I’ve not listed. Please share!


Ah, another topic I can't get

Ah, another topic I can't get enough of. It's common enough that great stage actors win worldwide fame by playing a wizard or a hobbit or similar (Ian McKellen and Ian Holm, call your offices!) before movie audiences who wouldn't know King Lear from King Kong. But the Harry Potter series offers an embarrassment of riches in that regard, with even the supporting roles filled by accomplished actors. The film critic Ann Hornday recently referred to the series as "something of a permanent jobs program for Britain's finest actors." I love many of the films you've cited -- A Room with a View, Sense and Sensibility, Henry V, and I did a search on the website to see if your collection included the CD When Love Speaks, which features Shakespearean poetry read by an assortment of British actors, including some of the Harry Potter cast, but didn't see it. Snape reciting sonnets! Now there's an interesting concept...

I love that quote you cited:

I love that quote you cited: "a permanent jobs program for Britain's finest actors." So true! It's fun to see how many faces I know from other British movies and TV series -- and how many times the actors have worked together before. And it's so good that these fine actors are being introduced to audiences all over the world. Another thing to thank J.K. Rowling for! It's interesting to note that she said she pretty much had her dream cast for the first movie.

In a future blog, I plan to focus on the villains of Harry Potter. In the meantime, I do wish we had When Love Speaks. I have my own copy. Always lovely to hear Alan Rickman's voice -- even if it's as Snape sneering at Harry.

Thanks for commenting!