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7 unexpected things we learned from the new ‘Harry Potter’ documentary

‘The Boy Who Lived’ is the moving story of Daniel Radcliffe’s stunt double

Jon Hornbuckle
Written by
Jon Hornbuckle

It seems like every year there’s a new Harry Potter documentary that claims to uncover new stories around one of the most beloved film series of all time. 

While it never makes such a claim, David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived, is more captivating and eye-opening than any other Potter-related doc, thanks mainly to the powerful bond between Holmes and the man he once served as stunt double for, Daniel Radcliffe.

Produced by Radcliffe, the doc tells the story of the friendship that emerged when Holmes suffered a debilitating injury while filming The Deathly Hallows.

It features candid footage filmed over the past decade, behind-the-scenes material from the set of the Harry Potter movies and intimate interviews. There are plenty of on-camera contributions from Holmes and Radcliffe – as well as their friends and family – to showcase the tight-knit camaraderie that helped power one of the biggest film franchises of all time. Here are seven unexpected revelations from the documentary.

David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived
Photograph:David Holmes and Daniel Radcliffe in ‘David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived’

1. Daniel Radcliffe was hopeless at Quidditch

Remember the scene in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when Harry takes to the Quidditch pitch for the first time? When an 11-year-old Radcliffe’s complete lack of coordination (his words, not ours) left him struggling to hit a ball, the production team brought in David Holmes to be Daniel’s ‘PE teacher’ and turn him into a believable Quidditch ace. 

From that moment, the pair became inseparable. Their friendship only strengthened as each movie reached new heights – and with that success came more stunts.

2. Radcliffe (briefly) wanted to become a stuntman 

Holmes made such a big impression on Radcliffe, the young actor briefly considered jacking in his acting career to become a professional stuntman. 

‘I really wanted to be a stuntman, so I was like: “Can you get the list of requirements to be a stuntman,’” says Radcliffe in the documentary. ‘I think I entertained it for a second in the way that you do when you’re an 11-year-old and you’re really into an idea for two weeks. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to backflip like Dave can.’

David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived
Photograph: HBO/SkyDavid Holmes performing a ‘Harry Potter’ stunt

3. The Quidditch scenes still haunt them both

The most popular sport in the Wizarding World was considerably less popular among the actors and stunt doubles on set. ‘I reckon I’ve got more broomstick air miles than any other human being on the planet,’ recalls Holmes in the doc. ‘I was up there for about six hours a day just lining up each shot, strapped on to the broom.’

Radcliffe has similarly painful recollections. ‘Oh my god, what a nightmare that was! Very, very uncomfortable,’ he says. ‘There was a bike saddle on a broom and then if your legs were hanging down it was really quite sore after a while, but Dave was up there much longer than I was.’

4. The accident happened during a fight scene with Nagini

In January 2009, tragedy struck when a stunt rehearsal for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One, resulted in a debilitating spinal injury that would impact the rest of Holmes’s life.

The stuntman had been rigged up on a cable with weight used to jerk him backwards, to mimic Voldemort’s snake Nagini striking Harry Potter and sending the wizard backwards through a wall.

In the doc, Holmes’s colleague and best friend Marc Mailley recalls some questioning on set over whether the right weight bag was being used, but they went ahead with the stunt without reducing the weight load.

Holmes remembers realising that something had gone wrong as soon as he left the floor. ‘I remember hitting the wall, my chest folding into my nose,’ he says. ‘I was fully conscious throughout the whole thing.’

Mailley – who would take over as Radcliffe’s stunt double when filming resumed – describes Holmes as ‘hanging there like a puppet with its strings cut.’ 

Upon reaching the hospital, it was confirmed that Holmes had broken his neck and would need emergency surgery.

5. Radcliffe considered giving up acting after ‘The Deathly Hallows’

After filming wrapped on the last Potter movie, Radcliffe had doubts over his future in the industry. Fans of his diverse filmography, including Swiss Army Man and Kill Your Darlings, can thank David Holmes for his acting career since then.

‘Personally, there was definitely a period where I didn’t know what was important to me,’ says Radcliffe in The Boy Who Lived. ‘Because at that point I was still not convinced of what my life was going to be like after Potter. I’d been doing this thing consistently and it had all that structure, then suddenly that was gone and I very quickly went into freefall.

‘It was something that I’d talked to Dave about and he was a really good guiding star,’ says Radcliffe. ‘He was like: “I’m not going to let you throw the opportunity you’ve got away.” There was something about seeing somebody have their career taken from them involuntarily. I realised that you can’t get complacent. I have Dave as a constant point of comparison to subconsciously know how random and fleeting everything could be.’

Harry Potter
Photograph: Warner Bros.Quidditch: not nearly as fun as it looks

6. Daniel Radcliffe is a secret Disney nerd

One of the documentary’s unexpected treats is a tour of Radcliffe’s London residence. While it’s not a full MTV Cribs walkthrough, it does offer a glimpse at a tonne of Potter memorabilia that includes original scripts for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

The camera picks up on a much more surprising item, too – an autograph book from a holiday to the second most magical place in Radcliffe’s life: Disney World. A quick flick through it reveals autographs from Disney characters as deep-cut as Briar Rabbit from Song of the South. Dan-Rad truly is a hardcore Disney nut. 

7. The Sorting Hat is collecting dust in storage

At the end of the documentary, the two old friends visit a Warner Bros. storage facility crammed with Harry Potter props. 

Reminiscing over their days on set at Hogwarts, the pair discover a box full of wands and costumes before coming across the ultimate prize: the original Sorting Hat. 

They also nearly break the Batmobile from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy before making a speedy getaway.

David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived is on HBO in the US, and Sky and Now TV in the UK on Nov 18.

A first look at the incredibly immersive Harry Potter exhibit coming in 2024.

Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience is coming to Singapore.

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