By Jake Coyle
NEW YORK — When the “Harry Potter” film series is completed, its three young stars — Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint — will have inhabited their roles longer than Sean Connery played James Bond, Christopher Reeve was Superman or Jerry Seinfeld played himself on “Seinfeld.”
Radcliffe, Watson and Grint have already effectively spent half of their lives in J.K. Rowling’s universe. Radcliffe, who is now 19, was 11 when he was cast as the boy wizard for the series’ 2001 debut. Watson, now 19, was 10 when she auditioned for the whip-smart Hermione Granger. Grint, the eldest of the trio, is 20.
“I’ve probably been Ron as long as I’ve been Rupert,” says Grint, who plays Ron Weasley, the ginger-haired, perpetually hungry friend of Harry’s and Hermione’s.
The cast and crew have taken a break from filming Rowling’s last “Potter” book — to be spread out in two films — to publicize the series’ sixth installment, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” — which arrives in theaters Wednesday.
Early reviews of the film — the second one directed by David Yates — have been positive; both Variety and The Associated Press suggested it was the best “Potter” film yet. The movies have gotten progressively more complex, darker and realistic — even amid the fantasy world of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
As the films have matured, so has the cast.
More so than any other installment, “The Half-Blood Prince,” shows that Radcliffe, Watson and Grint have gone from children to young adults. To watch the first “Potter” film is to be reminded how young the actors were when they began.
With the end of the films looming, its young stars appear to have emerged from the most treacherous of adventures — child actor stardom — as remarkably grounded people and increasingly talented actors.
“For me to look back on the old films is an almost entirely destructive thing to do,” says Radcliffe. “I just torture myself over it. I mean, I was young. I can’t be held accountable for the performance I gave in the first two films: I was 11 and 12. It was very much a child’s performance.”
Such awareness is common for Radcliffe, who goes by “Dan.” Shy as a child, Radcliffe has grown into a quick-witted, animated 19-year-old who relishes chatter about indie music, the behind-the-scenes aspects of filmmaking and his love of acting. Michael Gambon, the esteemed veteran actor who plays Hogwarts headmaster Dumbledore, says: “He’s not a boy anymore. ... You can see it in his face.”
The many lauded Brit actors of the “Potter” films have had influence on Radcliffe — perhaps none more than Gary Oldman, who played Sirius Black in several of the films, most notably the third: 2004’s “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” Interestingly, Radcliffe pegs that film as the moment he realized he loved acting.
Since then, his progress has been apparent with each new “Potter” film — “a biannual review,” Radcliffe calls it. He has begun transitioning away from Harry Potter, including a cameo in Ricky Gervais’ TV series “Extras,” and a well-reviewed performance in a revival of the play “Equus” in London in 2007 and on Broadway in 2008.
Watson has a hard time recalling the beginning.
“This all happened to me so young,” she says. “It’s very hard to go back to that time and be like, ‘Did I want to do this?’ It feels very foggy — it all feels very blurry.”
Watson has acted in a few other films (a voiceover in 2008’s “The Tale of Despereaux” and the 2007 BBC film “Ballet Shoes”) but she has spent most of her spare time throughout “Potter” studying. This fall, she’ll attend Brown University, says producer David Heyman.