Daniel Radcliffe pays tribute to paralysed ‘Harry Potter’ stunt double

“I wanted to make something about Dave for years because he’s extraordinary and I wanted to share that with the world,” Daniel Radcliffe said on making ‘David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived’

November 16, 2023 01:59 pm | Updated 02:00 pm IST

Daniel Radcliffe and David Holmes

Daniel Radcliffe and David Holmes

Actor Daniel Radcliffe shared a behind-the-scenes story of his Harry Potter stunt double David Holmes, who performed the franchise's stunts until an on-set spinal injury left him paralysed from the chest down. Holmes is the subject of a new HBO documentary produced by longtime friend Radcliffe, reported People.

The documentary 'David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived' begins with a clip of the stunt performer, who is now 42 years old, avoiding exploding dragon fire and whirling in midair on Harry's broomstick. "I used to fly," said Holmes in the documentary's first moments. "Not so much anymore."

"I wanted to make something about Dave for years because he's extraordinary and I wanted to share that with the world," Radcliffe, 34, told People.

"I was trying to do it myself," the actor adds with a sheepish grin. "We shot some stuff and I didn't really know what I was doing... For some reason, I thought I might know how to direct a documentary. I absolutely didn't."

Radcliffe and Holmes then turned to Dan Hartley, who worked as the video operator on the Harry Potter films, "because Dan's an actual director," says Radcliffe. With Hartley on board, they shifted the project's focus from a broad look at stunt performers to just Holmes' life before and after his accident.

"We all met each other 23 years ago and that bond, that family that we had on Harry Potter, really cemented over the decade that we filmed together," Hartley says. For Holmes, 'The Boy Who Lived' provided an opportunity to work with "some members" of that clan again, including producers Vanessa Davies and Amy Stares, who were formerly the Potter films' publicist and assistant director, respectively.

"On this project, the family has been able to come back together again," Holmes says, "to tell my story." That story revolves around the January 2009 accident in which the stunt performer injured his neck while being pushed backward into a wall while test filming for the franchise's last two sequels.

Now a wheelchair user, and host of the Cunning Stunts podcast, Holmes told People he's "really honoured that my legacy on film is not just me hitting that wall 14 years ago. And I'm understanding the responsibility that lies with not just representing [not just] myself, but a wider community of all the disabled people that will be absolutely finding parallels with their own life with my story."

He added, however, that he has yet to see 'The Boy Who Lived' himself. "I am not ready to watch it yet," he explained, nodding to Radcliffe and Hartley. "I know that these guys have done an amazing job. I know that it was made with love and sensitivity, and that's enough for me right now."

Since his injury, Holmes has been on a "neurological journey," in and out of hospitals and physical therapy for problems from his original spine surgery. "I've been using film and TV and storytelling to get me through it," he said. "I know in my life there'll be a time I'll get into bed and I won't get out of it.", When that day comes, Holmes said, he'll be ready to see the era of his life depicted in the documentary. "I'd like to look back on myself with all the hope and optimism that I live with now," he shared.

Radcliffe said that the filmmaking team has "shown it to as many of Dave's friends and family as we possibly can... I'm fairly confident we've done him proud."

“Quite a lot of people that were high on that list were the people in my peer support group in the disabled community,” adds Holmes. “It was very important to me that disability is represented right along this journey. And knowing that I have a team of Avengers that are wheelchair users or people from all different aspects of the disability spectrum that have seen this thing and said, ‘No, it’s really empowering and it’s really positive and you’re going to do a good thing for the world,’ those opinions are the ones that matter to me.”

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