With eight movies spanning over a decade, it comes as no surprise that the large and talented cast of the Harry Potter movies went off script now and again. Whether the moment came about through clever improvisation, brilliant comedic timing, or simply forgetting a line, some of the results were far too good to leave on the cutting room floor.
Did you know that all of these, from subtle details to iconic lines, were made up on the fly?
1. Hermione saying “Holy Cricket” to Harry on the train when they meet – Philosopher’s Stone
The scene where the trio first meet on the Hogwarts Express is one of the most iconic in the series. Director Chris Columbus wanted to capture a moment of genuine enthusiasm and surprise, the exciting feeling of “fangirl witch meets famous wizard prodigy.” So, he instructed Emma Watson to say whatever popped into her head when she thought of meeting a celebrity, or the wizarding equivalent—and thank goodness he did, as that gave us Hermione’s distinctive, “Holy Cricket! You’re Harry Potter!” An adorable (and memorable) introduction if there ever was one.
2. Bellatrix jabbing Neville in the ear – Order of the Phoenix
Not all ad libs are cute and silly. In fact, when filming Order of the Phoenix, Matthew Lewis was injured during one of Helena Bonham-Carter’s—though luckily only mildly. While fan-favorite villain Bellatrix was restraining Neville, preventing him from escaping, she was meant to touch him with her wand during a spell. Bonham-Carter thought it would be fun to give the moment a little more character. As she tells it:
“By mistake, I poked him in his ear. I thought I could brandish the wand like a sort of Q-tip, and clean out his ear. Sort of torture it. But unfortunately he moved toward the wand as I was prodding it. And it actually perforated his eardrum. Isn’t that horrific? I damaged him! He’s such a nice young man, he didn’t admit to me that he actually had some internal bleeding about three days later.”
The scene did turn out wonderfully on camera, though, a perfect example of Bellatrix’s creepy madness—so at least poor Lewis’s discomfort wasn’t in vain!
3. Barty Crouch Jr.’s flicky tongue tic – Goblet of Fire
Bellatrix is far from the only cast member who ad libbed eerie, questionably sane character traits to perfection on set. David Tennant, who gave us an uncanny performance as Barty Crouch Jr., worked in a tic that isn’t in the books and wasn’t in the script either: the tongue thing. If you’ve seen it, you definitely know it—the distinctive, nervous tongue flicking and licking of his lips. It works really well in the movie as it’s an elevated version of a tic that Mad Eye Moody has—a clue to his identity later on, of course—making this unscripted character choice something that really added to the plot of the whole movie, not just the scene.
4. Voldemort hugging Draco – Deathly Hallows: Part 2
We’ve all seen the awkward Voldemort hug meme, but did you know that it wasn’t in the script? Tom Felton’s look of uncertainty and discomfort is 100 percent real! (Wouldn’t you be a little unsure if someone dressed in that makeup came at you unprompted?) Ralph Fiennes kept switching up the dramatic scene each take to keep everyone on their toes, but there was nothing close to a hug on the pages. When the camera captured Draco’s uneasy expression, it so perfectly reflected the character in that moment, so reluctant and unsure, that ended up being the take they went with.
5. Harry and Cho’s first kiss is a laughing matter – Order of the Phoenix
In a charming scene that serves to remind us that—wizard wars and epic backdrops aside—the trio really are just teenagers, Harry returns to the dorms after his first kiss with Cho to tell his friends all about it. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson found Hermione’s description of Ron’s emotional range as that “of a teaspoon” so unexpected and odd that it broke all of them into authentic laughter. Instead of cutting the scene, it was kept and used, the genuine reaction coming from the real friendship between the cast working better than anything that could have been scripted.
6. Hermione being tormented by Bellatrix – Deathly Hallows: Part 1
It can only be a credit to Bonham-Carter’s acting ability that Bellatrix turns up again on our list, this time for her torture of Hermione during Deathly Hallows: Part 1. Instead of fully blocking out the whole scene at Malfoy Manor and following a script, Emma Watson worked with Bonham-Carter to make sure that they ended up with a truly heart-wrenching result. Director David Yates has said that Watson prepared for the scene, even researching beforehand. In an exclusive with Fandango when the movie came out, he said:
“I’d asked my assistant to find some documentaries where people talk about what it’s like to be tortured. I didn’t shoot it like a scene where you [say] action [and] cut. I kind of let the camera roll for four or five minutes and I let Helena and Emma improvise to a certain extent those moments, so they could build an intensity together.”
7. What is the function of a rubber duck? – Chamber of Secrets
In a scene that’s now quite famous, Arthur Weasley interrogates Harry on the uses various Muggle items. To keep the scene fresh and funny, Mark Williams came up with a whole list of different questions to ask in each take, including the one we see in the movie itself: “Now Harry, you must know all about Muggles. Tell me, what exactly is the function of a rubber duck?”
The important question—which is sadly never answered in the movies—is, did anyone ever tell poor Mr. Weasley what a rubber duck is for?
8. Draco telling Goyle he didn’t know he could read – Chamber of Secrets
One of the simplest, and yet most memorable, ad-libs of the whole series comes from Tom Felton, when Draco is met with the suspicious sight of Goyle wearing glasses. The bespectacled figure is, of course, not Goyle at all but Harry, dosed with Polyjuice potion and wearing his friend’s face. Trying to maintain his cover, Harry tells Draco that the glasses are for reading, and quickly removes them. During one take, Felton added in a beautiful, deadpan ad lib: a little puzzled but perfectly calm, Draco squints across at Goyle and says, “I didn’t know you could read.” It was so perfectly in character, there was no way it could be left out!
Bonus! “Double Trouble” – Prisoner of Azkaban.
Okay, putting a whole movie on the list is a bit much—but it’s done with nothing but love! (In fact, this movie might even be one of this writer’s favorites!) How can a movie be on a list of ad libs, even tongue in cheek?
Depending on who you ask, Prisoner of Azkaban is either one of the most beloved or most reviled movies in the series. A clue to why that might be could lay in Warner Bros. choice of director.
Alfonso Cuarón was new for the third movie in the franchise, and more importantly, had not read any of the Harry Potter books before being given the job! It’s probably reasonable to say that he was an odd choice for the position given that fact, but a lot of fans loved his style and the new aesthetics he wove into the existing world.
The book itself begins to move into the darker reaches of the overall story arc for the series, and bringing a hint of that darkness to the screen—while still maintaining the magic of the Hogwarts everyone knew and loved—was a different, fresh choice (and one, many fans argued, that needed to be made at that point in the series).
Some of the decisions made were certainly charmingly “unscripted” though, earning the movie as a whole a very affectionate bonus spot on this list. What else can be said about a film that introduced some of our very favorite characters, left out many more, and yet invented an entire choir (a frog choir, at that) that didn’t exist in the books?
It’s hard to be mad about it, though, especially when “Double Trouble” by John Williams is such a delightful, Halloween-y musical interlude.
Whether scripted or unscripted, all eight movies contain unforgettable moments. It’s hard to believe they first graced movie screens 20 years ago. A great excuse for a rewatch, but don’t forget to check out the Return to Hogwarts special too!