The Harry Potter movies are filmed primarily at a former airplane factory 20 miles outside London. Inside Leavesden Studios, as it's called, is a dreamlike mishmash of Harry Potter's past: bits and pieces of the Whomping Willow, signs from the stores in Diagon Alley, the smashed-up remains of giant chess pieces from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Honestly, is this any place to raise a child?
But that's what's been going on at Leavesden for the past five years. When Daniel Radcliffe was cast as Harry (after a small part in The Tailor of Panama), he was only 11. Emma Watson (who plays nerd-girl Hermione Granger) was 10; Rupert Grint (Potter pal Ron Weasley), almost 12. Now, with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire set to open in two weeks, they've spent a third of their lives making movies. They've gone from children to teenagers entirely within the weird, closed bubble of the Potterverse.
Radcliffe, now 16, seems to be aware of what a strange childhood fate has consigned him to, but having nothing else to compare it with, he isn't that bothered by it. "I've got quite a surreal mind anyway, so I don't think it's made much difference to how I see everything," he says amiably. "That's what's weird: I don't think of it as being that bizarre."
A lot has changed for him since he first picked up a wand. He has got taller and lost his round little-boy's face. He has gone through puberty, and his voice has broken. He's dealing with some complexion issues, and he's working on some beginner's stubble. For Goblet director Mike Newell, shooting him is like shooting a moving target. "I've just been working on a scene which we shot in our first week, and Dan still looks the little kid that he was in Sorcerer's Stone," says Newell, who's probably best known for Four Weddings and a Funeral. "Now, 11 months later, he doesn't look like that at all. And that scene of him comes two-thirds of the way through the movie. So he starts as a kid of 15, then he gets younger, then he gets older, then he gets younger."
When Warner Bros. set about filming the Harry Potter books, it wasn't exactly uppermost in everyone's mind that the company would essentially be opening a boarding school for child actors (who must spend three hours a day with an on-set tutor). "When you start, you don't really anticipate that it will last seven films," says David Heyman, who has been a producer on all four movies (he calls himself "the longest-standing student at Hogwarts"). "It is its own universe. But we try to maintain a real normalcy about it."
Heyman insists that things have never got out of hand. "It's like school, so you have people getting closer and people growing apart, but we've never had a fight." And what about puberty, a specter almost as unmentionable as He Who Must Not Be Named? "There are crushes and romances here and there, but nothing to do with the central characters," Heyman says. "I've never caught anyone making out behind one of the backings or anything like that. I'm sure it's probably gone on, but I don't want to know about it."