They've seen him in all the movies. They've watched lots of interviews with him on TV. But when fans finally get to meet Harry Potter in person or at least 17-year-old star Daniel Radcliffe he doesn't always meet their expectations.
''The other day, there were all these guests at the studio,'' says Radcliffe. It's a mid-September day in 2006, and he's in the thick of shooting movie No. 5, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. ''They walked past me, and a friend of mine overheard one of them saying, 'He's much shorter in real life, isn't he?' Then I walked past them again, and another one said, 'God, yeah, you're right. He is shorter.''' Radcliffe grins. ''Oh, shut up!... You have to laugh, really,'' he says. He seems to mention it mainly out of a polite concern that he'd hate to disappoint anyone. ''If you could start your article with the words 'He's much taller in person than I expected' that would be fantastic.''
Sorry, Dan. At 5 foot 6, you are indeed one of the shortest among the main Potter kids although yes, as you note so brightly, you're still bigger than Devon Murray, the 18-year-old who plays Harry's schoolmate Seamus Finnigan.
Here at Leavesden Studios, about an hour's drive outside London, careful choreography and camera angles make Radcliffe look genuinely imposing. Slightly bloodied by makeup artists, he's at work on a climactic good-versus-evil sequence set in the Ministry of Magic. The scene involves a huge ensemble, including Jason Isaacs as long-haired villain Lucius Malfoy (dad to that little brat Draco), a passel of goon-squad ''Death Eaters,'' and Gary Oldman as Harry's heroic but reckless godfather, Sirius Black.
Harry is the center of the action here, abetted by a core group of fellow Hogwarts students desperate to steal a crucial vial containing a prophecy about Harry before Lord Voldemort's hench-stooges can steal it first. But the grown-ups are all angling to make the most of their limited screen time. Today is Helena Bonham Carter's first day playing the evil witch Bellatrix Lestrange, Sirius' warped cousin as well as his mortal enemy. Her costume may be entirely black, but she's counting on her pushed-up bustline to help her stand out. ''It's not a huge part,'' she says, her elocution remarkably clear despite a mouth full of fake teeth. ''So I thought I could have lots of breast, if not lots of lines.''
Meantime, a blond-wigged Isaacs, who jokes that he got his flowing tresses ''on a time-share with Paris Hilton,'' keeps drawing out his shots with extra bits of dialogue and dastardly eyebrow flexing. He wonders how much of it will survive the editing room. ''All of us adult actors come in for two or three weeks,'' he says of the huge Potter guest-star roster. ''We all want to make the most of all our moments. But then you'd have a Harry Potter film that lasts 15 hours.''
For the most rabid Potterphiles, that might sound tempting. But Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix lands in theaters on July 13, only eight days before the arrival of the seventh and final novel in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Previous films were released at least four months away from any of the books. Will the pileup stoke readers and moviegoers alike, or leave them feeling overstuffed and Pottered out come August? And will the bloom fade on the rest of the film series once readers know how Harry's career at Hogwarts finally ends especially if, as has been endlessly conjectured, Harry winds up dead instead of his nemesis, Lord Voldemort?
Let's not get ahead of our spell books, class. Today's lesson is strictly about movie No. 5, Order of the Phoenix. We've distilled everything into seven key talking points. And...action!