It seems like every famous living British actor managed to nab a part in the Harry Potter movies somewhere. But there have been some notable exceptions. Words by Jayne Nelson
For an entire decade the Harry Potter movies have seen the biggest and brightest names in the British acting pool pulling on wizard hats, waving wands and magicking their way into our hearts (and magicking pounds out of our wallets). But we can’t help thinking that it all could have looked so different. What if an array of other much-loved Brit thesps had joined the franchise? Because – gasp – there still are a few British actors who haven’t got to ride a broom or get their tongues round Rowling’s cod-Latin spells.
Of course, we’re not implying in any way that we don’t like the actors who already portray these characters. Indeed, some of them are so perfect we can barely imagine any else stepping into their shoes. So think of this as a parallel Potterverse, a world in which everything is the same as the one we know, but ever-so-slightly different...
1 Lord Voldemort
Currently played by: Ralph Fiennes
Could have been played by: Terence Stamp
Thanks to years of quality thesping we know that Stamp is magnetic on screen; chances are, if he’s in a scene, you’ll be staring at him instead of his co-stars (handy when he’s playing Chancellor Valorum and Jar-Jar Binks is in the same shot). And Stamp can ooze Zod-like menace from his every pore, with a steely gaze that could turn water to ice and freeze up every globally-warmed glacier on the planet. Perfect for Voldie!
We’re not sure how he’d look with no nose – flatter, probably – but we do think he’d make a great Dark Lord, using his well-honed theatrics to emphasise his nastiness and scaring the wizard-wee out of little Harry during their every confrontation. A little too old, perhaps? Well, he is compared to Fiennes, but it can be explained away. Being mostly dead and brought back to life by your rat-like henchman can age a guy.
2 Professor Minerva McGonagall
Currently played by: Maggie Smith
Could have been played by: Judi Dench
Professor McGonagall is a delightful mixture of stern authoritarian and mother hen, the kind of teacher you’d be terrified of telling that you’d forgotten your homework, but you’d seek her out for comfort if you grazed your knee.
And this also sums up the magnificent Judi Dench, an actress who’s made a career out of playing powerful women even though underneath you suspect she’s a bit of a softie. We can picture her in the pointy hat with her lips pulled into a, “What’s young Potter done now ?” pout, but have to admit we can’t imagine her following Dumbledore’s orders. She’s M, for crying out loud: she gives them!
(Also, it would be seriously cool to see M turn into a cat. Can you imagine James Bond’s face? “Great gadget, Q!” “Er, that wasn’t me, sir…” Just as long as she doesn’t encourage the other teachers to pose naked for a calendar.)
3 Gilderoy Lockhart
Currently played by: Kenneth Branagh
Could have been played by: Hugh Grant
Let’s face it: Branagh made a fabulous Lockhart, gleefully sending up his (false) public image as a self-aggrandising twit. But if anyone was going to play the role instead of him, we can’t think of anybody better than Hugh Grant to preen and pose among the students of Hogwarts.
After all, Grant made his name playing foppish, goofy characters filled with loveable charm ( Four Weddings And A Funeral ) before moving onto playing overbearing lotharios full of their own self-importance ( Bridget Jones’s Diary ). We suspect he would’ve had the time of his life as the over-confident, narcissistic Lockhart, who’s a joyous mix of both character types. And he’d use that iconic floppy fringe of his for all its worth, wouldn’t he?
He’d be suitably crap at casting spells, too. “Wyn-uh, um, er, gardium , er, oh dear, this is frightfully embarrassing… um, crikey. Leviosa! There you go.”
4 Argus Filch
Currently played by: David Bradley
Could have been played by: Christopher Lee
You’re probably thinking of Lee in his flowing Saruman beard and wondering why we haven’t suggested him to play Dumbledore. So why haven’t we? It’s because we think Lee has so much baggage from his 70-year career, baggage that contains an awful lot of villainy, that it would overshadow any attempt he’d make at being twinkly, adorable and grandfatherly. Not his fault, alas, but them’s the breaks.
However... he would make a thoroughly hateful Filch, wouldn’t he? Ratting out our heroes on their adventures, roaming the halls of Hogwarts like a sneak, communing with his cat and generally exuding an air of malevolence... oh yes. Perfect. But given that he’s 20 years older than Bradley is, would he be a little too old to be cleaning out toilets? Then again, looking at some of those teachers, the Ministry For Magic seems to have raised the retirement age in the magic world a long. long time ago…
5 Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody
Currently played by: Brendan Gleeson
Could have been played by: Bob Hoskins
Old Mad-Eye has the potential to be a terrifying character, equipped as he is with a false eye that swivels to look wherever it wants, a brusque personality and all the personal grooming of the Dulux dog after a long run in the woods. Gleeson did a great job with the old duffer, but we can’t help wondering what Hoskins’s take on him would’ve been.
Mad-Eye would’ve been madder, we suspect, and more intimidating (remember Hoskins as the sweary Harold Shand in The Long Good Friday ?). But he’d also have more of a fatherly feel once he smiled – there’s a friendly gleam in Hoskins’ eyes that Gleeson never managed to summon. We’re not sure he’d sound quite right as a Cockney geezer, though.
6 Mr Ollivander
Currently played by: John Hurt
Could have been played by: Peter O’Toole
Ollivander isn’t a big character in the Potter franchise, but he’s still played by a big name – and very well too, if you excuse the fact Hurt’s voice is more familiar to us these days as the Dragon from Merlin (we keep expecting him to tell Harry to save Prince Arthur).
But imagine if he’d been O’Toole, all knees and elbows and old man creakiness, with those electric-blue eyes dimmed by age but still frighteningly intense when they want to be. He’d have handed Harry wand after wand and smiled a little O’Toole smile with each one; friendly, conspiratorial and sinister all at once.
7 Professor Delores Umbridge
Currently played by: Imelda Staunton
Could have been played by: Helen Mirren
Picture the delectable Mirren wearing a pink woolly suit, her hair in a sweeping bouffant, a sarcastic smile on her lips and pure wickedness in her heart. She may need a bit of padding to reproduce Umbridge’s plump-matron look and, of course, she’d have to tone down her attractiveness, but we think she’d make a chillingly memorable Professor.
Sugar and sprinkles on top; icy hatefulness beneath. Brilliant.
8 Rubeus Hagrid
Currently played by: Robbie Coltrane
Could have been played by: Brian Blessed
“YOU ALRIGHT THERE, ’ARRY?”
Hey, he’s already got the beard.
9 The Sorting Hat
Currently played by: Leslie Phillips
Could have been played by: Stephen Fry
Okay, when it comes down to it we must say that we can’t imagine anybody voicing the Sorting Hat except for the superbly saucy Leslie Phillips. However, there’s a terrible oversight in the Harry Potter franchise which needs to be rectified, and that’s the sad lack of Master Fry.
He’s popped up as narrator on the video games, sure, and he’s read all the Potter novels for the audiobook series. And yet he’s never managed to make it onscreen in the Potterverse. We doubt he ever would, as we can’t quite think of a character he could play (can you? Tell us below) but he could at least put those frightfully British vocals of his to work as the pompous Hat. We can almost hear the sly smirk in his voice as he sorts some poor, terrified kid into Slytherin…
10 Professor Albus Dumbledore
Currently played by: Michael Gambon
Could have been played by: Ian McKellen
How terribly predictable of us, yes. But you must see our point: with the franchise starting in 2001 and the first Rings movie also hitting cinemas that year, in some alternate universe a coin could have been flipped the wrong way and McKellen could have been Dumbledore instead of Gandalf.
And because we’ve seen his Gandalf, we already know that he would’ve brought all of that charm, warmth and energy to Albus. We can picture him dispensing wisdom to Harry with a cheery wink and the rustle of a sherbet lemon wrapper, in much the same way he’d inform Frodo of an important fact with a cheery wink and a puff on his pipe.
McKellen, it seems was born to play a wizard, and only Fate decreed he ended up in Middle-earth instead of Hogwarts.