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How Daniel Radcliffe and his “Harry Potter ”stunt double teamed up for an emotional new documentary

The HBO doc 'David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived' explores Radcliffe’s friendship with his longtime stunt double, who was paralyzed after a 2009 accident on set.

Daniel Radcliffe may be best known as the face of Harry Potter, but David Holmes made Harry fly.

Holmes was Radcliffe’s longtime stunt double on the Harry Potter films, beginning with 2001’s Sorcerer’s Stone and stretching almost a decade. Not only did Holmes perfect every Quidditch move and dangerous dragon chase, but he also forged a close bond with the younger Radcliffe, and on set, the pair became inseparable, with Radcliffe describing him as the cool, back-flipping older brother he never had. The two worked together on every Potter film up until 2009, when Holmes was paralyzed while rehearsing a stunt for Deathly Hallows. Not only did the accident land Holmes in the emergency room, but it effectively killed his promising stunt career.

Now, Holmes is back in the spotlight with the new HBO documentary David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived (out Nov. 15). Produced by Radcliffe and directed by former Harry Potter crew member Dan Hartley, the documentary is a candid and emotional coming-of-age story, chronicling Holmes’ early career and his life since the accident. It’s also a tribute to Holmes and Radcliffe’s enduring friendship, and is packed with behind-the-scenes footage and insightful interviews from the Potter set.

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Ahead of the documentary’s release, EW spoke to Holmes, Radcliffe, and Hartley via Zoom, where they opened up about depicting Holmes’ disability on screen. Decades later, Radcliffe and Holmes still have an obvious camaraderie, and at one point, Holmes proudly explains that he just got to see his former pupil perform on Broadway, showing off his athleticism in Merrily We Roll Along.

“The tuck jump is pretty good, isn’t it?” Radcliffe says with a grin.

“The tuck jump is very good,” Holmes replies with pride.

Here, Holmes, Radcliffe, and Hartley explain how they brought Holmes’ story to the screen.

<p>HBO</p> Daniel Radcliffe and David Holmes in their documentary 'David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived'

HBO

Daniel Radcliffe and David Holmes in their documentary 'David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived'

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: David, what was your reaction when you sat down to watch the documentary?

DAVID HOLMES: Everyone’s asked me this question! I haven’t done it yet. With my journey with my disability, it’s going to be very hard to look back at myself in a manual wheelchair, or even see myself six months ago with more arm function than what I’m currently living with now. There is a time in my life that I’ll get in a bed and won’t get out of it. To have the safety net of an HBO documentary to look back at yourself, not many people have that luxury. And I know because I worked with people who I love and trust, my legacy now on film is not me hitting that wall 14 years ago. So, when I’m ready, I’ll watch it.

DANIEL RADCLIFFE: Obviously, Dan and I both know Dave very well, so we were a good set of eyes on it. Amy Stares, who’s one of our producers, has also been one of Dave’s best friends since the fourth Potter film. We showed it to a bunch of Dave’s friends because we were like, “Dave’s not going to watch it, so we need to have as many eyes on it as possible.” Are there moments that he would not like? Are there moments we should take out? We were all very conscious of that, and we knew going in that he probably wouldn’t watch it immediately.

HOLMES: I also have a large group of disabled people who are part of my peer support network. I’ve got an Avengers team of disabled people who have come and told me that it’s really important that we represent disability in the right way. And they’ve said that it’s nothing but empowering and a real human story and that I’m not just coming across as a disability. I’m coming across as a man and a person. So, those are the opinions that matter to me.

Dan, I was surprised by how much archival Potter footage you have in this documentary. I know you worked on the Potter films, but what was it like to sift through years of that behind-the-scenes footage from set?

DAN HARTLEY: Well, I was basically employed on Harry Potter 1 to be the video assist operator. So, for 10 years, I was hitting record and playback for the director, and then when we did the action sequences, I’d be editing them on set. So I knew the footage, but getting access to it again was such a gift. Fifteen years later, I’d forgotten just how incredible a performer Dave was. It was such a joy to unearth that footage. But it’s also kind of cool to give the Harry Potter fans something that they’ve never seen before.

RADCLIFFE: Obviously, we did the Potter reunion a couple years ago, and that was lovely and really cool. But I think that is a very particular version of those films and that relationship. I was so close to the crew, as much as I was close to the cast. In fact, to be honest, I was much more so with the crew. Even with Emma [Watson] and Rupert [Grint], they were obviously there for huge amounts of time, but I was there all day, every day with the crew. So, those became some of the most constant people in my life, of which Dave was absolutely one. There’s something lovely about getting to tell Dave’s story now. It feels to me like it’s a lens of the behind-the-scenes stuff that hasn’t been touched on.

HOLMES: I think this film hopefully does a good job of showing why we were all so close on those films and what was the vibe like between all the young people growing up on those sets. We were all young. I was 17. [Turns to Radcliffe] You were 11. [Turns to Hartley] And you were 26. So, we spent a decade growing up together with the character of Harry. And it was really nice that our old family could come back together and tell my story.

There’s a moving scene in the documentary where you sit down with some of the other young stunt performers who played Harry: Marc Mailley and Tolga Kenan. What was it like to reunite with them and reminisce about Potter?

RADCLIFFE: I mean, we’ve seen each other a lot and hung out as adults, and at some point in the night, we always get nostalgic about some day or something that happened on the set. But I realized we’d never really spoken about Dave’s accident and had never really talked to each other about how we all were doing at the time. Obviously, the focus at that point was: How’s Dave doing? It doesn’t matter how any of us are doing. But looking back now, Marc had to step in and take over from Dave as my stunt double. They were best friends, and obviously, Dave asked him to do it. But to step into your best friend’s job after that happened to them, it had never occurred to me that that might be a very intense thing to happen to a young man. So, there was definitely some real catharsis in getting to make this and finally talk about it.

HOLMES: In today’s society, it’s rare to have four men just talk, isn’t it? I’m lucky that I’ve got four good friends who are emotionally intelligent enough to go there and bare their souls. But that was really the first time that the four Harrys had gotten together and spoken about that incident and our lives together on those films. One of my greatest pleasures is that I still have all those boys in my life, and I’ve gotten to see them grow as men. I always say that me breaking my neck made a man out of me, but after meeting that day, I’d say it made a man out of all of us.  It was a big thing to deal with, and it really made all of us step up. It prompted Marc to pursue a career as a stunt coordinator and help enhance stunt action in front of and behind the camera.

RADCLIFFE: And safety. Marc in particular has dedicated himself to safety. He’s one of the best at rigging and wire work that is currently working, and I think no small part of that is making sure that things like this never happen again.

HOLMES: Yes, just Google Marc’s credit list, and you can see what he’s been involved in. He’s gone on to be one of the best stunt coordinators and hopefully one of the best action directors in the British film industry.

I’ve just loved watching their successes in front of and behind the camera. Dan, as well. I was like Dan’s P.E. teacher when he was a kid. He would come into the stunt stores, and we would play and jump off things and throw around swords — all the stuff that would make all the insurance companies and the execs have a heart attack. [Laughs] But I got to see Dan’s physicality on stage the other day [in Merrily We Roll Along]. It was such an honor to know that I was a small part of that contribution.  

There’s another great moment in the documentary where you go back to the studio where you filmed all the Potter films and get to see all the old costumes and props. What do you remember most about that day?

HARTLEY: Whenever they hang out, it’s a riot. So, to go in there and genuinely uncover things… We didn’t stage anything. We just walked the aisles and they found old stuff.

RADCLIFFE: I loved seeing Heath Ledger’s costume from The Dark Knight.

HOLMES: And you broke the Batmobile. [Laughs]

RADCLIFFE: Yeah, that’s in the credits [of the documentary]. We went into one room, and they had the Batmobile in there. I don’t know, did I press a button on it?

HOLMES: I was like, “Go! Press the button!”

RADCLIFFE: What a stupid thing to do. [Laughs] Why was I just randomly pressing buttons that aren’t mine to press? But yeah, someone showed me how the window goes up and down, and when I did it, it stopped going up and down. I was like, “Ah. Somebody should probably come and have a look at that.”

HARTLEY: I don’t want to give anything away about the film, but Dave said something super profound on that day, which was how we all came together to be involved in Harry Potter, which was an incredible film. But we came together because we love films, and we love storytelling.

HOLMES: It’s the power of storytelling. I’ve spent one of the last 14 years in bed. I know what it means to use films and TV to get through some tough times. We are all associated with a franchise that does that for a lot of people around the world, every day. That is their safe space. The fact that I was able to secure my onscreen immortality associated with the character of Harry, I find so much comfort in that. Still to this day, I do the same thing. If I’m having a bad one, I put on a film and let a good film get me through some tough times. So, I love the fact that Harry does that for a lot of people.

I also want to highlight the fact that stunt performers do go above and beyond to risk their lives for the sake of storytelling, yet we are very much an unappreciated category in the award season. I hope we spark a wider conversation about that. And I hope we spark a wider conversation on what it’s like to have a disability represented on camera.

HBO
HBO

David, you’ve become an advocate for stunt performers and the stunt industry in general. What do you wish people knew about the world of stunts?

HOLMES: The fact that we still put bums on seats in theaters! There’s always going to be the human element in stunt work.  When someone gets hit by a car, they get hit by a car. When someone falls down the stairs, they fall down the stairs. You can pad up as much as you want, but if you’re doing a John Wick film where you’ve got 300 steps in one take, you’re going to take some bumps and bruises.

RADCLIFFE: I do think there’s a perception among the public and in some directors that stunt men are somehow superhuman. I remember I was doing something once on a job in Canada, and it was a wire gag where someone was standing still, and they got pulled backwards and spun into a tree, and then they bounced off the tree. And there’s not a trick to that. You’re just doing it. It’s like car knockdowns. You just get hit by a car. It’s a slower speed than most car crashes, but still. What speed do you do a car crash?

HOLMES: Probably 14 to 17 miles an hour.

RADCLIFFE: 14 to 17 miles an hour is still rough!  There’s a belief that a certain amount of pads or a certain amount of trickery can protect the human body, but no, what you’ve actually got is somebody willing to lay their body on the line for a film.

HARTLEY: [Turns to Holmes] You said something really interesting before about the community of stunt performers and how they’ve got each other’s back.

HOLMES: We have to trust each other with our lives. You really have to build up a camaraderie and a trust because ultimately, your life is in those other people’s hands. When I had my accident, everybody rallied together. Even though we’re not represented by the Oscars or the BAFTAS, we do have something called the Taurus World Stunt Awards, sponsored by Red Bull. As soon as my accident happened, the Taurus Foundation sent me a big check, and I was able to buy an electric wheelchair and make adaptations to my home, even before I went through the process with the insurance companies. So, straight away, the stunt community had my back, and they have done ever since. So, it’s really nice now in telling my story to be able to do the same back for them.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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