Twenty years later, the intense fury around the Harry Potter cast itself is sometimes forgotten – a sort of scrutiny usually reserved for a new James Bond. Other American actors were linked to Harry, including Jake Lloyd who had already fallen under the spell of Star Wars fans as a young Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace.
Ten-year-old actor Liam Aiken – who later appeared in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events – appeared to be the frontrunner at one point. The rumors about Liam Aiken were so convincing that Rowling called Chris Columbus to make sure Aiken had not been chosen as Harry.
Columbus wanted Daniel Radcliffe for the role early on, after seeing him in the 1999 BBC adaptation of David Copperfield. But Radcliffe’s parents weren’t sure at first.
After a call on the BBC’s Newsround, they saw 40,000 children. Casting director Susie Figgis has reportedly resigned due to frustrations with Columbus and a US casting director on board to expand research in the United States.
“I feel like I did my best to find a child and during our search we met some great kids,” Figgis told the Daily Mail. “At the end of the day, it’s the director’s point of view and vision.”
A source from the production called the story a tabloid hysteria. “It will be a British Harry,” they told ABC News. “Not a single person in this film will be other than British.”
Columbus recalled his commitment to a British casting from the start. “Jo Rowling and I were like when we first met, ‘Look, we want this cast to be 100% British,’ said Columbus. “And by the way, I stuck to that.”
When Daniel Radcliffe was finally chosen – joining Rupert Grint as Ron and Emma Watson as Hermione – JK Rowling approved. “After seeing Dan Radcliffe’s screen test, I don’t think Chris Columbus could have found a better Harry,” she said.
The “British only” rule was so steadfast that Columbus turned down big Hollywood stars. Robin Williams – an avowed Potter fan – called out Columbus and lobbied to play Hagrid. Williams was turned down. “There were a few roles that I wanted to play, but there was a ban on American actors,” Williams told The New York Post. “Maybe someday. Say if [Harry] goes to Yale and becomes president.