Harry Potter at 20: How film series cast a spell on Norfolk star's life
- Credit: Archant
A Harry Potter star who grew up in Norfolk has lifted the lid on what it was like to be part of the world-renowned film series as it turns 20 years old.
Chris Rankin, who lived and went to school in the Dereham area, played Percy Weasley - older brother of Ron - in the famous franchise.
Following an audition he was offered the role aged 16 and, before he knew it, was rubbing shoulders with legends of the acting world including Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith and Richard Harris.
Having appeared in six of the eight movies, Mr Rankin has gone on to forge a successful career in acting and production, and is six weeks into an 18-month tour of concert series 'The Magical Music of Harry Potter'.
As the first film, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, celebrates its 20th anniversary, he looks back on his early days in the wizarding world with immense satisfaction.
"We were basically locked away for a whole year filming the thing, but it was absolutely terrific," he said.
"I was, and still am, quite a reserved and shy person. At times I would sit in a quiet corner and soak it all up, but really all the cast and crew were delightful.
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"The big names, with all the awards they had won, were fabulous to work with. You are talking heroes of the stage and screen, but every last one had the utmost patience with us kids - who really didn't know what we were doing."
After moving from New Zealand to Norfolk when he was six (his parents are British but had emigrated), Mr Rankin discovered a love for drama during his time at Thomas Bullock Primary School, in Shipdham.
Starting up at Northgate High, he decided to pursue the arts and also joined Dereham Operatic Society Youth Theatre Company.
But it was one day in April 2000 - while he was supposed to be studying for his A-Levels at Dereham Sixth Form - that Mr Rankin saw an item on Newsround about Warner Bros looking for child actors for the Potter series.
"They wanted normal kids from normal backgrounds who loved Harry Potter," he added.
"That was very much Chris Columbus' (director of the first two films) style, if you look at his other films."
Knowing his ginger hair could stand him in good stead for landing a role as one of the Weasley brother, Mr Rankin wrote in to the show explaining why he should play Percy.
"I thought my friend is applying for Ron so I can't do that; there is only one of me so I can't do the twins," he said.
"I was 16 with ginger hair and I was a prefect at school, so realistically I only ticked all the boxes for Percy."
A few months later he was invited for an audition and, within another 10 days, Mr Rankin was a fully-fledged part of the Potterverse.
Despite being part of a multi-million dollar franchise, he still had his studies to consider which, of course, made for a unique education.
"I was the only actor in compulsory education, which meant I was pretty much left to my own devices," he added.
"But because there were so many kids, there was this whole school at the studios. I actually sat an exam at Hogwarts and I was the first to do that."
In 2001, The Philosopher's Stone was released and became a commercial success across the globe - and a sensation that perhaps no-one could have predicted.
"I'm pretty sure we knew it was a big deal because we were working with all these stars we had grown up watching," he added.
"But I don't think we clocked that it was going to be quite as enormous as it became."
Two decades on from the first movie and 10 from the last, Mr Rankin says Harry Potter is still the thing he gets asked about most.
The 38-year-old does not begrudge it, and admits it has probably got him through a few doors.
He simply looks back with pride at having been part of a triumph that will be adored for generations to come.
"I get asked a lot 'did Harry Potter change your life?' and I guess it did," he said.
"I always think that makes it sound like I have won the lottery, and in some respects I have.
"What it certainly has done is changed the course of my life, and the initial direction my life would have gone in. I was only 16, but I knew for one thing that I wanted to do something stage-related.
"Overall, it has been a blessing and I am very grateful for it."