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Harry Potter: The search is finally over
One of the most keenly awaited casting decisions since David O. Selznick was auditioning for the role of Scarlett O'Hara was finally made on Monday when an 11-year old British boy, Daniel Radcliffe, was chosen to play the part of Harry Potter.
Since he first appeared in 1997, author J.K. (Joanna Kathleen) Rowling's teenage wizard has become a literary phenomenon.
The first book in the Potter series -- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (retitled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in the U.S.) -- was an overnight bestseller.
Its sequels - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999), and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000) -- sold millions worldwide, and last year earned Rowling an estimated £20.5 million ($30.6 million), making her the highest-paid woman in Britain.
Most talked-about film for years
Warner Brothers, owned by Time Warner, the parent company of CNN, snapped up film rights on all four books -- as well as an option on the next three -- and the first Harry Potter movie became one of the most talked about projects in Hollywood.
Chris Columbus, director of Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire, was signed up as director -Steven Spielberg backed off after creative differences with Rowling -- and Dame Maggie Smith and Robbie Coltrane came on board to play, respectively, the roles of Professor Minerva McGonagall and Hagrid the Gamekeeper.
Finding the right person to play Harry, however, proved more difficult. More than 300 screen tests were held, with an Internet casting call for the role attracting more than 40,000 responses.
Americans Haley Joel Osment, 12, the Oscar-nominated actor from The Sixth Sense, nine-year-old Eric Sullivan, who appeared in Jerry Maguire, and Liam Aitken from Stepmom, all expressed an interest in the part. Rowling, however, was adamant that the role should be played by an English actor.
"The process was very intense," admitted Columbus, "There were times when we felt we would never find an individual who embodied the complex spirit and depth of Harry Potter."
Finally, however, after almost a year of auditioning, 11-year old Daniel Radcliffe was found and the search was at an end.
"The moment he walked into the room we knew we'd found Harry," said Columbus.
Rowling was equally enthusiastic: "Having seen Dan Radcliffe's screen test I don't think Chris Columbus could have found a better Harry," she said.
Radcliffe, of Fulham, west London, is the son of Marcia Gresham, a casting agent, and Alan Radcliffe, a literary agent with International Creative Management (ICM).
He has just finished making a film, The Tailor of Panama, with veteran director John Boorman. Before that, his only professional acting experience was as the young David Copperfield in the recent BBC production of Charles Dickens' popular novel.
Those who have worked with him believe he is a natural screen actor, and perfect for the role of Harry.
Kate Harwood, who produced David Copperfield and gave Daniel his first big break, said: "He has a particular quality of naturalness and innocence. The camera really loves him, and other children don't feel threatened by him.
"One normally dreads working with child actors, but in his case he was wonderful. I think he'll make a splendid Harry Potter."
Actor Ian McNeice, who worked alongside Radcliffe in David Copperfield, and is in contention for the role of Harry's dreadful uncle Vernon in the first Potter film, agreed: "He has a magical quality about him. He takes direction very well, and is very expressive with his eyes. The scenes I had with him were a joy.
"Every now and then you find someone who is completely natural, and he is one of those. I wasn't at all surprised when he got the job, and am absolutely thrilled to bits for him."
A special press conference will be held in London on Wednesday at 5 p.m. local time (1600 GMT) to officially announce the casting.
Radcliffe's, however, is not the only name that will be announced. He will be joined by fellow English actors Emma Watson, 10, and Rupert Grint, 11, who have been chosen to fill the pivotal roles of Harry's best friends, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley.
"These are tremendously talented kids who will bring so much to the film," commented producer David Heyman. "We have always been and continue to be devoted to remaining true and faithful to the book."
CNN.com can also confirm that actors Richard Harris and Alan Rickman, long rumoured to be about to join the project, have signed to play the parts of, respectively, Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and Severus Snape, Hogwarts' malevolent potions master.
Filming is due to start at the beginning of October, and will last until the spring of 2001. Warner Brothers will not reveal the film's budget, although it is estimated by industry insiders to be in the region of $100 million.
The special effects will by all accounts be breathtaking.
"When I was testing for the role of Vernon Dursley I met Chris Columbus," said Ian McNeice, "And he told me there will be more special effects in this film than anything he has ever done before. He said it would be 500 times bigger than the effects used on the Home Alone series."
The film is due for release in November 2001 and expectation is already building.
"Our intention is to make movies of all the Harry Potter books," said Barbara Brogliatti, Senior Vice-President of Warner Brothers' Corporate Communication Department. "We're obviously very excited about the whole project."
Daniel Radcliffe, 11, snags Harry Potter role
Warner Bros Harry Potter site
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