Harry Potter and the Pressures of Fame

Story by Heather Metherell

THERE is always a fear, with child stars, that their fame and success will deny them a real childhood. This was certainly the subject on everyone's minds at the international press conference for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, held at London's Guildhall on October 25 (2002).

All of the world's entertainment journalists were gathered for the lavish affair, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the world's most famous children; Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emily Watson, or as we know them, Harry, Ron and Hermione.

The young actors still seem reasonably unaffected by their sudden rise to fame, in fact they appear like any 13 or 14-year-olds; obsessed with the word 'cool', which they apply to everything from giant spiders, to flying cars and naked stalkers. There is nothing pretentious about the adolescent stars, and, if anything, they seem overwhelmed by it all - self-consciously skirting around issues like fan clubs and fame.

Their humility is no doubt down to some sensible parenting; Radcliffe's parents are both in the entertainment business. What is apparent, however, is how much of an effect Christopher Columbus has had. When discussing the film, all of the actors had nothing but the highest regard for the director of popular children's films such as Gremlins, Mrs Doubtfire and Home Alone.

Columbus has obviously had much experience of working with children, and has seen the negative effects fame can have on them - the star of his Home Alone film, Macaulay Culkin for instance, formed a drug habit after his rapid rise to fame in the early 90s. Columbus is therefore keen to ensure that the three stars of the Harry Potter series don't go down the path so often trodden by former child celebrities.

"For these kids, I suggest that they look at the lives of all the child actors that preceded them, where in terms of where it didn't work out, and say to themselves, OK, what didn't work that time?" he explained. "Why did these kids have problems, as they got older? What went wrong?

"My advice to these kids is, when you reach a certain point where it's not fun anymore, where you feel like you're doing it as a job, or someone older than you is saying you have to do it, walk away, quit, because it's not important. The only thing that matters is your friends and family."

This is certainly a message that Daniel Radcliffe, 13, has taken to heart, and though he undoubtedly loved making both of the films, he's taking everything one step at a time. When asked if he would be acting in all of the Harry Potter films he replied: "I don't know. It depends. Basically, I want to take it one film at a time, depict Harry as best as I can, one film at a time."

He added: "Chris Columbus has given me a real love of film, so I might want to be a director or a writer. I might want to be in the film industry in some way, but I don't know whether I want to be an actor or not."

The same goes for his fellow actors, Emily and Rupert, who are equally as stunned, and somewhat embarrassed, by their sudden, worldwide fame. If anything, Emily seems quite eager to separate herself from her on-screen character.

When asked if there were any similarities between them, she snapped back: "I'm not obsessed with books, I'm not obsessed with school and homework and I'm not obsessed with not getting into trouble. I'm not obsessed with wooly grandma knitted jumpers and I hope I've got a better sense of fashion. So no, I'm not like her."

The opposite is true of the affable Rupert, however, who seems to relate well to the character of Ron, saying: "I have red hair, I like sweets and I have a big family. Oh, and I also have to wear hand-me-downs, so I suppose I'm quite a lot like Ron. And don't forget that we're both scared of spiders!"

I was very surprised to see that their adult co-stars, Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid) and Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy), both famous, heavyweight actors, were completely ignored by the majority of the press conference journalists, with attention being focused wholly on the three children.

At one point, the two actors drew out their wallets and compared family photos to keep themselves amused.

Yet this merely serves to prove just how popular the Harry Potter children are; reporters from as far afield as Japan, Israel and Malaysia expressed to the young actors how well admired they are in their respective countries, a concept that must be hard to entertain for kids who've not yet taken their GCSEs.

Hopefully, with solid family support, and guidance from others in the film industry, they will grow and mature with the films. After all, there are some success stories, as Columbus explained: "Look at the people who are successful, people like Jodie Foster, people like Ron Howard, who took what they learned from this experience and went on to make not only great lives, but great careers for themselves."

Perhaps then, with a little bit of luck, a dash of sensibility and a good helping of determination, Harry and friends will survive the trauma of adolescence in the spotlight; I certainly hope so.

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