Wizards no more
The poster says it all. Beneath a picture of Harry, flanked by close friends Hermione and Ron, read the words: 'It all ends'. Fourteen years after producer David Heyman first discovered a book by J.K. Rowling about a boy wizard, the Harry Potter juggernaut is about to make its final stop. With the eighth and final film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, about to be released, it means the end for Harry as he faces nemesis Lord Voldemort in a battle to the death.
If that's likely to get fans choked up, spare a thought for its young stars. The end to a decade-long odyssey that has come to define and dominate their adolescence, they're now Potter refugees. 'We've been in this bubble,' admits Rupert Grint, who plays Ron. 'We've always had the safety net of the next film around the corner. But we're in the real world now.' If their time on Potter was like a university education, 'this is graduation', adds the 22 year-old. 'Except we've got no degree to come away with.'
There may be no degree but they did hit the jackpot. Grint and 21-year-old Emma Watson (who plays Hermione), are estimated to have made GBP24 million (HK$1.5 billion) each, while Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe - who turns 22 this month - is said to be worth GBP48 million. The question remains: what happens next? Will they capitalise on their success or simply slink away to count their fortunes? Entering into your early 20s is daunting for anyone - doing it while the world is watching is even harder.
'In a way, they could have perfect careers,' says David Yates, who directed the final four films. 'You start off with this big popular universally enjoyed movie series, and then you go and do some interesting work [on smaller films]. And they're capable, all three of them, of doing that.'
As he points out, their confidence is sky-high now. Watson has already fronted modelling campaigns for fashion brand Burberry, and has two films in the can (including My Week With Marilyn, co-starring Michelle Williams). Grint, the most self-effacing of the three, has just completed second world war tale Comrade. But it's Radcliffe who has most proved his capabilities - from going naked every night in the 2007 West End production of Equus to his current all-singing, all-dancing stint on Broadway in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
'When people say 'Are you worried about being typecast?' - well, I haven't been so far,' says Radcliffe. 'I think one of the challenges will be to get people to see me as an actor rather than just one character. As long as the people that see me forever as Harry aren't casting directors, other actors and directors, I should be fine in getting other different jobs.'
Even so, saying goodbye to Potter has not been easy. 'After this last film finished filming I started to get this itch and I felt 'OK, I'm ready to go back now' and then I realised that I wasn't going to go back,' says Watson.
Grint concurs: 'It's difficult to process. After a few weeks of enjoying the freedom, I suddenly was overcome with this lost feeling - of not knowing what to do with myself. And I did miss it. I even date my life using these films.'
Until re-shoots of the film's final scene (set 19 years on), the last shot all three main actors filmed together involved them jumping into a fire (a crash mat, in reality). 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 see how there is a parallel to be drawn there,' Radcliffe muses. So what happened when they got the shot in the can? 'We all just sat around crying for a couple of hours.'
Of course, Radcliffe and Co are not the only young Potter stars about to say their goodbyes to the series. Tom Felton, who plays Harry's rival Hogwarts pupil, Draco Malfoy, has been in every film too. Leavesden Studios, the Watford-based facility where all of the films were made, became like 'a second home', Felton says: 'I really feel like I've grown up there.' So how did it feel when 'cut' was finally called? 'To be completely honest, I was terrified. The first emotion when it finished was 'Now what?''
The way Felton sees it, the actors who forged their fledgling careers on Potter are in for a shock. 'We've never really been on the shelf before as actors. The last time I was available for other jobs, I was 11!' He's already done the rounds in Los Angeles, and will be seen later in the summer in a major role in prequel Rise of the Planet of the Apes - but it's been a culture shock. While life on Potter was guaranteed work, each year for a decade, Felton now has to start auditioning. 'It was a kick up the backside,' he admits.
Yet Felton is not the only one. If insecurity is an actor's lot, then it's little wonder so many established British thespians jumped on board the train to Hogwarts. 'I spend most of my life on film sets where there's a constant throb of terror,' says Jason Isaacs, who plays Draco's evil father, Lucius Malfoy. 'Is everybody going to lose their money? Is anyone going to buy a ticket? Are any of us ever going to work again?'
But Potter was different, he says. 'Every year or two, I could go back and there would be this extraordinary oasis of confidence.'
It wasn't just about regular work, either. Family is an overused word when it comes to filmmaking - but on Potter it applied like no other film. 'It really was a happy tribe,' says Helena Bonham Carter, wonderful as the unhinged witch Bellatrix Lestrange. 'There's so little continuity in this business. So it was great to go back year after year and see the same people.' With everyone from Ralph Fiennes to Gary Oldman, Michael Gambon to Maggie Smith signing on, being on Potter became something of a badge of honour in the acting community. Restoring pride to the British film industry there was a genuine feeling that Potter was a very home-grown production (even if the backing came from US studio Warner Brothers) - one that remained true to the spirit of Rowling's books.
What's even more impressive is how the series never dipped in quality - something that few franchises have managed. Having comfortably ousted James Bond to become the most successful film series ever (more than US$6 billion and counting in global box office), Harry Potter will be with us for generations to come. 'Someone was asking me what the films will go down in history for,' says Felton. 'Hopefully they are the modern cinema classics that don't get remade in five years.'
'It's not just going to go away,' Radcliffe says. 'Because the age range of fans is so huge, we'll always be coming back to the films. I don't think there's going to be any reduction in the amount of people that love the films or the books.'
He's right, of course. The endless Christmas-time repeats, the DVD re-issues, marathon screenings ... it all starts here.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 opens on July 14