The ‘Harry Potter’ Actor Responsible for Getting Daniel Radcliffe the Lead Role

It’s hard to imagine another actor in the role of Harry Potter. Daniel Radcliffe will forever be “the boy who lived.” But it wasn’t obvious right away to the Harry Potter casting directors. In an interview with Stephen Colbert, Radcliffe spoke about the co-star who recommended him for the part. Here’s what casting thought when they brought him in.

Daniel Radcliffe poses at the premiere of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1" at Alice Tully Hall on November 15, 2010 in New York City.
Daniel Radcliffe at the premiere of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1” | Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic

Daniel Radcliffe says Maggie Smith is responsible for him getting cast in ‘Harry Potter’

When Radcliffe was interviewed by Colbert in Aug. 2021, the actor was, of course, asked a bit about his Harry Potter days. He explained how Maggie Smith (Professor McGonagall) helped him get the role of a lifetime.

“I met Maggie Smith when I was 9 for the first time,” he said. “I did a thing before Potter called David Copperfield, a BBC adaptation… Maggie was the person that recommended me for Potter. So she’s the reason I ended up doing that. I met her when I was 9 for the first time. I didn’t know who she was. My parents were like, ‘Oh my god, you’re working with Maggie Smith, that’s huge.’ But I was not like a Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie fan, so I didn’t know who that was!”

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Radcliffe eventually learned the magnitude of Smith’s stardom. But, when he was 9, she was just the woman he knew from David Copperfield.

The Harry Potter casting rules

Casting the role of Harry Potter was not an easy task. In an interview with HuffPost, casting director Janet Hirshenson named all of the considerations that went into finding the perfect Harry.

First, it was decided that the main characters all had to be British. So that canceled out any American actors (like Robin Williams, who wanted to play Hagrid). Next, the boy who played Harry had to be the correct age.

“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,” said Hirshenson. “They had to be at least the proper age of the character.”

And, third, the eye color had to be right.

“And for Harry, to complicate things, I needed a blue-or-green-eyed kid because part of Harry is his green eyes or blue-green, but they couldn’t be brown eyes, so that was another elimination thing. We said, ‘Oh, drat! He’s great, but he has brown eyes.’”

Why Daniel Radcliffe got the part

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Hirshenson said, throughout casting, director Chris Columbus had his eye on Radcliffe from his work in David Copperfield (the project he met Smith doing). They asked him to come in and audition and he said ‘OK.’

Eventually, it was between Radcliffe and one other young actor. But Radcliffe had something the other boy didn’t.

“The other kid was terrific and very vulnerable and very Harry-looking, but besides that, Harry was going to become a very powerful kid, too,” she said. “And Daniel had both sides. He was very vulnerable, but the other kid ― it was like, he [was] not going to have the balls that Daniel has, to put it that way.”