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We are coming to the end of one of the most successful film series in history. Many talented people were attached, rumored or linked to the series from at some point including Peter Weir, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and M. Night Shyamlan (the twist would have been that Harry Potter was a 26-year-old schizophrenic). So let’s use a little bit of hypothetical magic and look back at what could have happened if these one-time rumors ever came true.
One of the first directors to be attached to Harry Potter was one of the biggest names around. With Spielberg’s knowledge and experience, a Harry Potter by him would have been a surefire hit. But there were some catches: first, he wanted to make Harry Potter an animated film; second he wanted to cast American Haley Joel Osment, then the most in-demand child actor around. This despite J.K. Rowling wanting a British cast. As much as I love many Spielberg films, it was a wise decision that he did not direct this series: his idea would have been a dramatic disaster. He was right that the series was going to be a sure fire hit, with or without him.
Mr. Gilliam was one of J.K. Rowling’s preferred directors for tackling the saga of the boy wizard. Gilliam is known making dark fantasy adventures with a comic edge and understands British culture — a perfect fit for Harry Potter. But Gilliam is a director who clashes with producers on a regular basis and his films were often over budget: his production of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is considered one of the unluckiest films in history and was never completed. When he first travelled to America for an interview he knew he was not going to get the job but fell in love with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on the plane. He was critical of Chris Columbus’ version and refused to do a Harry Potter film when he it was rumored as a possible director for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Gilliam would have given Harry Potter real heart. Imagine what his magical realism approach could have done to Harry Potter: mouthwatering.
Guillermo Del Toro
Guillermo Del Toro is a director with a great imagination, knowing his craft and art. Pan’s Labyrinth was one of the best fantasy films made, with an excellent story and a wild, creative world and creatures yet he’s also adapted others’ work. He was rumored to direct a Harry Potter film twice, “Prisoner of Azakban” and “Half-Blood Prince.” He rejected directing both films because he wanted to direct his dream projects: Hellboy and Hellboy: The Golden Army. Del Toro did want to direct Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows, but of course Warner Brothers wanted to keep the continuity and remain loyal to David Yates (which was of course really good for Mr. Yates). Del Toro would have been a perfect for a Harry Potter film. He would have been able to mix darkness and comedy, he understands literature and would have created some wondrous set and creature designs.
The other Harrys: Liam Aiken and Gabriel Thomson
Before Daniel Radcliffe won the prized role, two other actors were linked. Liam Aiken was the first actor to be offered the role and he was a talented child actor in Road to Perdition and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events:, but the offer was withdrawn when it was discovered he was not British. A little unfair really and if he could do an English accent then he would have been fine. Gabriel Thomson was the other actor to be considered: to international audiences he is know for his role in Enemy at the Gates, but he has been stuck in the British sitcom My Family for 10 years and as that has declined in quality, so has his acting ability. Though he did look the part when he was younger, in the end Daniel Radcliffe was the right choice.
Tim Roth as Severus Snape
Alan Rickman was perfectly cast as Snape, so it is hard to imagine that he was not the first choice. Tim Roth was the original choice. He is a very talented actor as shown in Made in Britain, Reservoir Dogs and The Incredible Hulk. Roth would have done a good job and put his all as Snape, but come on, Rickman was made for the role. Roth instead choose to be General Thade in Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes and well, he was the best thing in that film.