It's been a bittersweet couple of days for the stars of the Harry Potter films. Having just completed filming on the second half of ...Deathly Hallows last Saturday, they were whisked away to Florida in order to celebrate the grand opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for the rest of the week.
Wednesday marked a formal nighttime celebration, complete with John Williams conducting the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra and J.K. Rowling making the most fleeting of appearances, while Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Tom Felton, Michael Gambon, Warwick Davis, Matthew Lewis, Bonnie Wright and the Phelps twins stuck around for Thursday's interviews and Friday's very public Grand Opening.
For the nighttime unveiling, Davis led the Frog Choir just as his Professor Flitwick would before Williams took the stage. Soon thereafter, that purple triple-decker known as the Knight Bus pulled up in front of Hogwarts to much uproar and with most of the cast; Radcliffe and Grint fittingly followed in a Ford Anglia that kept very much to the ground. After the expected corporate back-patting, Radcliffe asked all attendees to pull out wands that had been handed out during the event and collectively cast a spell that lit up not just the tip of every wand but also the entire castle. The projected light show then ended, as all attractions in Orlando do, with fireworks galore.
Friday morning was of course a much hotter affair. That didn't stop Muggles from camping out at the earliest morning hours and lines from stretching through the whole of Islands of Adventures and out towards the front of Universal Studios, all waiting for the above-pictured envelope banner to drop. Sure enough, a train conductor announced everyone's arrival by Hogwarts Express, and the cheering masses were greeted by an especially excited Radcliffe and friends. In honor of the celebration, James and Oliver Phelps (best known as the mischief-prone Weasley twins) succeeding in setting off one of their fireworks, despite the appearance of a dud fuse (wink, wink). After that, the fans flooded in and TWWOHP was formally open for business.
In the midst of all these festivities, the cast behind the movies and the creative team behind the attraction sat down with the press and fielded a few of our questions. With regards to why Hogsmeade became the focus as opposed to Diagon Alley and Nockturn Alley. Mark Woodbury, president of Universal Creative, insists that "it was very much a decision of what would make the best experience." Between that and the new ride, "we wanted to capture the most dynamic parts of the fiction. What makes for a great attraction is the same thing that makes for a great movie - wonderful characters, magical places and really spellbinding action..."
As far as the cast was concerned, TWWOHP carries a weight that the film sets never could. "This is even more complete," said Daniel Radcliffe, "because on the back of sets, it's all held together by scaffolds and plaster, and there's none of that here." "We're still waiting to see a green screen," chimed in Tom Felton. "You guys don't do anything halfway in this town, which we love." It isn't exactly a substitute, though: "You would need far more rain and cold, bleak weather than you got here...," replied Radcliffe.
They filmed the footage for the ride about two years ago, on the tail end of filming the sixth film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. "It was strange to be talking to the camera, which we're generally encouraged not to do," said Radcliffe. "I'd also like to point out the irony of having Michael Gambon do any of the safety instructions" as Dumbledore does on the ride. "I don't abide by them myself," said Gambon. "I just say what they tell me to say." Gambon had yet to ride Forbidden Journey, but he did find the Dragon Challenge coaster to be "terrifying. Once I got on, I knew I had made a mistake."
The stars seemed satisfied with the effect the attraction has on younger fans. Said Felton: "It's great to see the youngsters' faces when they take it all in." Added Radcliffe: "It's that little noise they make, that 'Ahhh...' If you could just bottle that up, that's the reason this park exists." Being the main baddie, though, Felton doesn't earn quite the same affection as Radcliffe and Grint. "I had a child come up to me yesterday and say, 'I hate you.' And I said, 'Thank you very much.' I mean, it's great for me to play someone hopefully very different from my everyday person, but it's painful because they always come for hugs and kisses for these two."
As for recently wrapping photography of the final film, Radcliffe was admittedly emotional at the time. "I'm not ashamed to say that we both cried like children," he said. Felton might have the right idea, though. "I always said that, if I get withdrawal symptoms from the castle, I can just come here."
NOTE: Universal accommodated Cinematical for the extent of its stay.