Casting novels is one of my favorite habits. I’ve done it since I was a kid, fan-casting my head-movie version of my favorite books. It developed into the way I visualize most stories I read. While I try to cast real actors in the character roles, sometimes no one really fits the version of the character in my head. Sometimes a younger or older version of an actor will suffice. Sometimes fan art I find online sticks in my head and never leaves.
Every couple years, I reread the Harry Potter series, revisiting Privet Drive and retracing my steps through the hallowed halls of Hogwarts, and every single time I go through a total recasting of the series. Before the movies it was a lot easier because pitch-perfect performances by Alan Rickman and Imalda Staunton didn’t color my casting choices like they do now.
I still remember the first (dozen) times I read the first three books, before any casting choices had been announced for the films – and that first time I rode the Hogwarts Express, my god! It was so exciting and new and magical. My own personal casting was a mix of real actors and cartoon characters. For example, my Dumbledore was Merlin from the cartoon Sword and the Stone while Alan Cumming was my Snape. Danny DeVito as Matilda’s dad was my Vernon Dursley and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine was my Sirius Black, while the Ghost of Christmas Present from the Muppet Christmas Carol was my Hagrid. Some characters remained strictly uncast, such as Voldemort, and the Trio.
I thought it would be fun to document my fan-casting as I make my way through the wizarding world from Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade to Hogwarts and Godric’s Hollow once more. Some of my choices, I’m still testing out. I’m only on book 2 so some of my actors are still auditioning for their roles. Others, I have several options that I’m playing around with. Some characters are still uncast because I haven’t spent enough time with them this go-round.
I welcome suggestions, debates and ideas!
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Stone and Chamber
Played by: Patrick Stewart // Understudy: Ian McKellan as Gandalph
Ever since Richard Harris was (poorly) cast as Dumbledore, I’ve wanted more from the film versions of this character. Michael Gambon was fine but did not capture any of the things I love about him. For years, I’ve alternated between Ian McKellan, as Gandalf, and Patrick Stewart playing Big D, and for this re-read Patrick Stewart is hitting all the right notes. He brings that twinkle to Dumbledore that neither Harris or Gambon ever did.
Played by: Helen Mirren // Understudy: Gillian Anderson & Cate Blanchett
I am all over the place with McGonagall this time around. The book description puts her significantly younger than Maggie Smith – in her 50s, with black hair. Helen Mirren would capture that disciplinarian severity underlined with the genuine affection she has for her school and her students. She won’t take any guff from anyone, but would also offer someone a cookie for standing up to a government employee on a power trip. While Mirren worked well in book 1, I wanted to try someone younger in book 2. Since we finished watching The Fall last year, I haven’t been able to get Gillian Anderson’s performance out of my head (about the only redeeming part of that show in the end). The trailer for the new Thor movie reminded me how bad ass Cate Blanchett could be and McGonagall is a bad ass witch. Both are formidable actresses whose interpretations of the role could be refreshing. We’ll see which one makes it to book 3, but so far good ole Agent Scully is in the lead.
Played by: Benedict Cumberbatch // Understudy: Riz Ahmed & Adam Driver
Let’s all just pretend we live in an alternate universe where we never got to witness Alan Rickman’s career-defining performance as the star-crossed potions teacher. This character is so complex and one of my favorites in any book ever. We need someone who makes us think he’s a bad guy from day 1 and then slowly peel back layers of Snape to slowly reveal a heart-broken outcast paying penance. We need someone who can deliver searing one-liners, communicate pure loathing or contempt with just one glance, and who won’t get lost in the darkness. I think Cumberbatch, with his penchant for playing tortured geniuses or villains, could do right by this character. I’m also intrigued by Riz Ahmed’s performances in Nightcrawler and the OA, and though they are not at all in the vein of Snape, he has a quiet intensity that could be perfect for the role. Adam Driver might be too obvious of a pick because of his recent turn as Kylo Ren, his brooding demeanor and his deep voice, but I think he could walk that line between is-he-or-isn’t-he and keep audiences guessing right until the end. (Totally called it at the end of book 4, though. Just sayin’.) Lastly, we need someone who is early-mid 30s when he meets Harry; Snape was just one of the MANY MANY MANY characters who were cast way too old for their roles. But I digress.
Played by: Zach Galifianakis // Understudy: Martin Freeman with a mustache in a fat-suit
Vernon Dursley is a ridiculous human being who is offended by people in cloaks and bright clothing, who has no humor, and how takes himself absolutely too seriously. Zach Galifianakis might seem too on-the-nose or too broad, but I think he has the chops to pull this off. He’s been having way too much fun chewing on the scenery in my head. Martin Freeman might seem like an odd choice but I think he’d have fun playing someone laced with malice and absurdity. I want to try him out for Fudge in later books but he could bring a totally different flavor to Mr. Dursley.
Played by: Emily Blunt // Understudy: Lucy Punch
Petunia was Lily’s older sister, and Lily died when she was 21. So 34-year-old Blunt is the perfect age to play this part (which, along with every other adult role in the movies, was cast TOO OLD). Blunt could capture the subtle complexities of Petunia’s character without overacting, and would bring humanity to a person we despise for most of the books. I also think she could sell Petunia’s comedic moments without intentionally playing for laughs. Lucy Punch, on the other hand, could play an inherently more funny Petunia, really capturing her sneering nastiness.
Played by: Simon Pegg // Understudy: Martin Freeman and Chris O’Dowd
The first several times I read this series, Mr. Weasley was played by Hugh Laurie, whom I knew as one of the bumbling bad guys in 101 Dalmations. And do you know who played his co-worker in that movie? Why, none other than Mark Williams….the man who played Arthur Weasley in the Harry Potter films. Weird, huh? In recent years, I’ve recast Arthur often with Martin Freeman, and he does a fine job as the eccentric father of 7. But my love for Simon Pegg and wanting more comedians in these books has made me cast him this time, and let me tell you, he’s killing it. He’s hilarious and warm-hearted and you really believe his baffling interest in all things Muggle. I’m also interested in screen-testing Chris O’Dowd, who can walk that line between funny and sweet, and he can play exhausted and overworked well. But how would he look with red hair?
Played by: Melissa McCarthy as Sookie from Gilmore Girls
Hear me out. I don’t know what her English accent sounds like but let’s assume it’s passable. Remember when she didn’t play characters quite so broadly? She’s the right age, the right physical type, and has the sense of humor that a mother of 7 would need to get through the day. I think she can handle the drama, and would relish the opportunity to kick ass when killing Bellatrix. Just imagine comedic actors playing the Weasleys; I mean, it’s no stretch of the imagination that the parents of Ron and the twins are funny people. Let’s give her a shot.
Played by: Tom Hiddleston
Jason Isaacs performed this role flawlessly and I loved every minute of it, I wanted more of him on screen. But he’s a bit old for the role now, and I thought of Tom Hiddleston a few years ago and haven’t been able to stop thinking about how much mirthful menace he’d bring to the character. He is such a giddie bad guy; Loki is really the best thing about the first Thor movie. Just think what he could do as Draco’s father.
Played by: Kier Gilchrist // Understudies: Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Asa Butterfield
Quirrell is described as young, pale, and nervous. I always imagined him as fresh out of school, on his first teaching job, nervous not only because it’s his first year teaching but also because, ya know, the Dark Lord lives in his turban. My absolute favorite version of Quirrell is in A Very Potter Musical but that version doesn’t necessarily work for the book. Kier Gilchrist was so good on the United States of Tara. He can come off as inherently naive and nervous but have something darker lurking underneath. And let’s all real remember that the Dark Lord is lurking underneath the turban on his head (which is particularly funny in the scene where Fred and George throw snowballs at the back of Quirrell’s head).
Played by: Jude Law wearing a ridiculous blonde wig // Understudies: 1990s Hugh Grant & Luke Evans
I absolutely HATED Kenneth Brenagh in the role (too old, not pretty enough) and recast this nearly every time I read it. With Hugh Grant aging out of this role, the responsibility falls to Jude Law, but even he might be starting to get a bit old for the role. (Is Lockhart’s age even mentioned?) Jude Law would have so much fun with it, though, and put enough makeup on him, he’ll be fine for another few years. It’ll work well with Lockhart’s vanity. Though now, having seen the new Beauty and the Beast, I think Luke Evans would relish this role, chomping on his lines a bit, waving his arms about pretending to do magic. Can’t you imagine him wearing a floppy, foppish blond wig, boasting about slaying vampires and werewolves?!
Played by: Sadness from Inside Out played by a teenage Sarah Baker
The woman in the movies was funny but did anyone really believe she was a teenager? I honestly don’t know a real person to cast in this role, but the girl I’m picturing while reading is eerily similar to Sadness from Inside Out but played by a young Sarah Baker. So find me someone young who embodies the spirit of our poor teenage Basilisk victim.
Nearly Headless Nick
Played by: Timothy Omundson
I want someone younger, a dashing knight who died in the middle of his career. Timothy Omundson’s King Richard from Galavant came to mind for his quick tonal switches between menacing and absurd, sad and hilarious, charming and pathetic. I can totally picture him throwing himself a Death Day Party, thrilled that Harry Potter shows up only to be crushed moments later when his the Headless Hunte club shows up mocking his nearly headlessness.
Played by: Robert Carlyle
He’s been my Filch from the beginning and as he’s gotten older, he’s only grown more into the part. His turn as Rumple on Once Upon a Time really solidified him as a squib who gets off on punishing students for stupid infractions.
Played by: Joshua McGuire // Understudy: Jack Black from School of Rock and Patton Oswalt
Jack Black has done just fine in this role for years, and Patton Oswalt played Peeves when I reread the series a few years ago (totally different interpretation, that’s for sure!) but this time, I wanted someone I’d not thought of before. Recently while watching an episode of Lovesick (which you should watch; it’s on Netflix and is delightful), I realized that the very funny Joshua McGuire would thrive in this role. Physically, he doesn’t look the role of Peeves, but he’s this funny little Englishman with a funny voice and funny hair and kind of reminds me of a leprechaun, and in the first episode of season 2, he proves his physical comedy which is necessary for this role.
Emma Watson was never my Hermione, just not even remotely close. A couple years ago, the internet pointed out that there was no reason Hermione has to be white (and for many fans that she was always black), and ever since that realization I’ve been obsessed with the idea of a young Antonia Thomas, from Lovesick, in the role. I’m not familiar with many kid actors these days so no idea of an actual person to cast, so I’m just giving Thomas an reverse aging potion and going from there.
I’ve never been able to cast Ron. He is one of my all time favorite characters. I was madly in love with him when I was a teenager. I’ve tried lots of people on for size but none of them stuck. The closest I ever got was a younger version of a red-headed Paul Bettany playing the character of Biff, from “Lamb” by Christopher Moore in my head…. but unless you’ve seen his performance in my mind, you wouldn’t know how perfect he’d be. My favorite portrayal of Ron is actually from a fan musical by Star Kid potter called A Very Potter Musical (which you need to watch ASAP). A close runner up was Alan Tudyk’s character in A Knight’s Tale only, ya know, 15 years younger.
As usual, there is no actor who truly captures Harry’s essence, in my mind. And as I’m going for a bit more diversity, I wanted to play with the idea that maybe James Potter was of Asian descent, making Harry part Asian. The startling green eyes and unruly black hair would work with Japanese, Korean, Indian, etc. backgrounds, so I’m playing around with all of them. (I’m loving the idea of Dev Patel as James Potter, by the way, so I do keep coming back to an Indian Harry for this read-through.) It’s never really mattered to me, though, who plays Harry. Harry is an everyman, a stand-in for the reader. And though his physical description is probably the most oft-repeated, it’s his heart, his rashness, his humor, and his willingness to do anything for the people he loves that comes through the most. As much as I loved Daniel Radcliffe’s performance, and think that he grew as an great actor, he was never my book Harry. And I’m not sure ANYONE can be.
Characters Still Uncast
This woman is in every book, fixing students and regrowing bones. She always has a snappy retort and is kind of strict but also clearly loves her job as Hogwarts’ in-house nurse. I haven’t thought of anyone to play this role but I wasn’t crazy about the woman cast in the movies.
Her book description makes her seem like an older white witch and it could be fun to bring in some actors from the film adaptations, so letting Julie Walters take a stab at it could be fun, but I can’t help but wonder what it’d be like if we cast someone a bit younger.
Robbie Coltrane killed it in the movies, but I want something new, something fresh. What actor could breathe some life into this role?
James and Lily
Like I said, I’m toying with Dev Patel as James, and I’m thinking of Karen Gillan as Lily (I think she could play off of either Emily Blunt or Lucy Punch well), but I kind of want to hold off on final casting until we get to the book 5 flashbacks.
I’ve never been able to cast this centaur. Help!
I’m going to say something that might be unpopular but I think Christopher Columbus is a mediocre director. His celluloid version of one of my favorite musicals of all time is just…..not good. His framing is uninspired. His approach too literal and square. And the way he did the first two Harry Potter movies was just so….expected. And the tonal shift between the 2nd and 3rd movies just makes no sense.
So we need someone who can set the tone for the WHOLE series, capturing the discovery, the magic, the innocence of the first two books.
I absolutely loved Alfonso Cuaron‘s interpretation of the 3rd book and would enjoy seeing how he handles other stories in the series. He absolutely captured the essence of the books without being a slave to the page, told the story well, directed his actors well, created a stunning atmosphere, got creative with the soundtrack, and brought in both the humor and sense of dread that starts to linger in the air with that book. It’s my favorite, tonally, of the movies and I would love to see what he’d do with books 2, 5 and 7.
Edgar Wright has such a fun, unexpected, what-will-he-do-next style that it might be interesting to see what he can do with the first couple movies before things get too dark – but then his Cornetto Trilogy gets increasingly darker, so maybe he’d be up to the challenge.
The directing style of the first season of Better Call Saul was unique and elicited killer performances from its entire cast, so maybe they could just take a swing at the first couple books.
James Gunn. He handles action and witty banter and weirdo characters really well. What would the Whomping Willow, Triwizard Tournament, showdown at the Ministry and the release of the Gringott’s dragon look like in his hands?
I know a lot of people hated the new Les Mis movie and thought the King’s Speech was boring, but I thought both were beautifully directed, especially the creative cinematography of the latter and the intimate, raw shooting style of the former. A similar flair could come in handy for the later books. I’d love to see how Tom Hooper shoots the battle of Hogwarts. Maybe he’d allow the big climactic scene to actually be dialogue-focused instead of a weird wand duel where they jump of cliffs and fly around.
I’m open though. Haven’t settled on a directorial style yet. Who else should we consider? Give me your ideas! Who else could make the trip to Hogwarts unforgettable and iconic?
Future Casting Possibilities
Yes, I’m already thinking ahead to characters who appear in future books, but I shan’t spoil my choices yet (they haven’t even had a chance to read for the parts just yet). But some people that I’ll be calling in to audition include: Idris Elba, John Boyega, Andrew Garfield, Rosamund Pike, Thandie Newton, Rebecca Hall, John Lynch, Richard Ayoade, Joshua Sasse, Tilda Swinton, Dan Stevens, Jamie Bell, Russell Tovey, and Hugh Jackman.
What book(s) do you like to reread? What fictional locations do you revisit time and again? Do you cast books as you read them? If so, tell me about your favorite fancasts for your favorite books! And if you have any ideas for my Harry Potter 2017 Reread Cast, let me know!