Goodbye Harry Potter and friends

As the most successful film franchise of all time draws to a close and the penultimate film hits UAE screens, the three stars talk about saying farewell and what comes next.

Actors, from left, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint attend the premiere of 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1' at Alice Tully Hall on Monday, Nov. 15, 2010 in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini) *** Local Caption ***  NYEA106_Premiere_Harry_Potter_and_the_Deathly_Hallows_Part_1_NY.jpg
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As though signalled by the gloomy clouds gathering over London on a chilly November day, it's the beginning of the end for Harry Potter. With the imminent release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, the film adaptation of the seventh and final book in JK Rowling's magical series, her world-famous boy wizard is close to casting his last cinematic spell. Which means the conclusion to, by far and away, the most successful film franchise of all time. To date, the first six films have collectively grossed $5.4 billion (Dh19.8b) around the globe. Five of those six are among the top 20 money-spinning films of all time.

While the second part of this final adventure won't be hitting screens until next July, the cameras stopped rolling on the series in the summer. Not that its young British stars look like they're in mourning when we meet.

Daniel Radcliffe, 21, bounces in, minus those distinct round spectacles Harry wears. The 22-year-old, red-haired Rupert Grint - aka Harry's friend Ron Weasley - looks even more laid back in his scruffy Converse trainers. While the baby of the trio, 20-year-old Emma Watson - Hermione Granger to her millions of fans - is oh-so-chic in her new fashion-plate style.

They couldn't seem more different to a decade ago when Warner Bros - the studio savvy enough to bankroll the Potter films - unveiled the then shy-looking trio to the world. The intervening years have seen them evolve far beyond expectations. While Radcliffe braved the West End stage naked for a role in Equus, Grint manages a property portfolio worth £10 million and Watson has fronted modelling campaigns for the fashion brand Burberry.

"It's made me a stronger person than I ever could imagine I would be," says the Oxfordshire-raised actress of her time on Potter. "I feel, as though after having done this, I could do anything, really. In terms of acting, in terms of life in general, it's really made me who I am."

Radcliffe, the west London-born son of a literary agent and a casting agent, concurs: "I was fortunate enough to have a very good education, and I went to lots of English private boys' schools," he says. "Very white, middle-class places. And suddenly, being brought on to Potter, I was plunged into a world where you have people from every conceivable background. And I think it just broadened my worldview so much more, having been exposed to that. I think it made me more rounded as a person than I otherwise would've been. And that sets you up for life - not just thinking that everybody you'll ever meet is white and privileged."

As for the Hertfordshire-raised Grint, the quietest and most self-effacing of the trio, he seems simply bemused by the group's rise to global fame. He's just been to Singapore to watch the Grand Prix (his father sells F1 memorabilia for a living) where fans greeted him as Ron. Then there was the time he and the others immortalised their handprints in concrete on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. "That was crazy," he recalls. "It's a really big deal. There were thousands of people outside the Chinese Theatre. The mayor of Hollywood was there. I think our paving slab replaced Kevin Costner's! And they keep your shoes as well. They take them to a museum."

With the David Yates-directed final episode seeing Harry, Hermione and Ron on the run as they seek out a means to bring down the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), it's the darkest of the series since the third instalment, 2004's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Yet it seems entirely apt that Deathly Hallows sends its characters out into the world - including London's busy Piccadilly Circus. For after 10 years of belonging to what has become an institution on the scale of any long-running soap opera, Radcliffe, Grint and Watson are about to fly the Potter nest and strike out on their own.

If you're looking for symbolism, the final shot they filmed together was a stunt in which all three jumped onto a crash mat - later replaced with a burning fireplace by computer wizardry. Talk about taking a leap into the unknown.

"I don't think we were struck by the deep symbolism of it at the time, but I can certainly see how there is a parallel to be drawn there," says Radcliffe. "For me, it was so inevitable it would end on green-screen [the backdrop used to impose digital effects]. I promised myself it wouldn't end as a special-effects shot, but it did. And then we all just sat around crying for a couple of hours."

Like the break-up of a relationship, tears were inevitable.

"I didn't really prepare myself for how emotional it was going to get for all of us," notes Grint of their final day at Leavesden Studios, the former Rolls-Royce factory near Watford that has been the home to Harry Potter since shooting began. "It felt really final and a bit overwhelming. This has been our childhood."

Arguing with the conviction you'd expect from the daughter of two lawyers, Watson notes that "the boys were slightly more in denial" than she was on that last day of shooting. "I wanted closure," she says. "I was worried I'd walk away from the set and think 'Oh yeah, I'll be back again' and then it'd hit me a year later."

For all three, you get a sense that they're ready to move on. Just look at Watson, who immediately cut her hair - she now sports a short crop reminiscent of Mia Farrow, circa Rosemary's Baby - when filming wrapped. "I've wanted to have this done since I was 16," she says, explaining that contractually she's had to keep Hermione's long tresses throughout her adolescence. "Sometimes, as a child, I felt like I was wrapped in cotton wool a little bit," she adds, noting she wasn't even allowed to tan. And none of the cast were permitted to do dangerous sports - even skiing (which may explain why Grint has attached himself to a future project about British Olympic downhill ski-flop Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards).

Yet, what is remarkable about the Potter experience is just how well-balanced these young stars are.

"They're all grounded, intelligent, friendly, charming human beings, which is an amazing achievement," says Jim Broadbent, who plays Professor Slughorn in the series. "And I think in America, the opposite would probably be true."

The question is, where next? All three say they want to carry on acting. Watson, currently studying for a liberal arts degree at Brown University, has just shot a small role in My Week With Marilyn, in which she plays the wardrobe assistant to Marilyn Monroe. And Radcliffe is currently in the throes of filming Susan Hill's Victorian horror The Woman in Black.

Perhaps it's why none of them seem concerned about being typecast as "the kid from Harry Potter".

"It must be much harder for adult actors who play a soap role," says Watson. "I'm not really worried about it. Maybe I should be, but I'm not."

Radcliffe agrees, noting he's up for the challenge of shedding Harry. "To a certain extent, some people will always see me as this character. But the minute you accept that, it frees you slightly."

Making peace with Potter looks to be the way forward. "It's not just going to go away," says Radcliffe.

Given the timeless quality to both the books and the films, he's right. With new generations of fans to come, in some ways their Harry Potter experience is far from over.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 is released in the UAE today