Stars Who Were Almost Cast In Harry Potter

From the moment Bloomsbury released J.K. Rowling's first book in 1997, the world knew "Harry Potter" was going to be something special. After "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" came six more books and a global film franchise that began in 2001. Each film was more successful than the last, until they eventually ended with "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," which premiered in 2011.

The "Harry Potter" film franchise grossed $5.6 billion at the worldwide box office and has since spawned multiple spinoffs, theme parks, and merchandise fans didn't even know they needed, per Entertainment Weekly. However, the "Harry Potter" films that fans across the world have come to know and love could easily have been very different. It's hard to imagine other actors playing these now-iconic characters, but there were actually several different actors who were really close to getting roles in the franchise but just didn't make the cut. Other stars, like Ralph Fiennes, turned down parts in the movies altogether. "Quite stupidly I resisted, I was hesitant," he said on "The Jonathan Ross Show" (via Metro). While Fiennes thankfully reconsidered his rash decision, there are plenty of other actors who didn't recognize the error of their ways and now regret not taking a part in "Harry Potter".

In celebration of the iconic film franchise, which turned 20 on November, 16 2021, here are the stars who were almost cast in "Harry Potter" — or at the very least, were at the center of "Harry Potter" casting gossip.

Liam Aiken as Harry Potter

"Hundreds of actors" auditioned for the role of Harry Potter before Daniel Radcliffe finally landed the part, according to director Chris Columbus, per Closer Weekly. One who really stood out to the director was American actor Liam Aiken. Aiken had previously worked with Columbus on the 1998 film "Stepmom" and his performance put him in the running for "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," The Guardian reported in July 2000. However, when Radcliffe was cast a month later, it became clear Aiken had fallen short. 

One of the reasons he didn't land the gig? His nationality. As Columbus recalled to Independent, he and J.K. Rowling agreed that the films would have "all-British actors," which meant the American star definitely couldn't be cast as the lead. While he missed out on playing Harry, Aiken continued acting and starred in "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events," shortly after his failed audition.

"I think I had this feeling that it wouldn't work out," Aiken later recalled to New York Magazine. "But it was fine. I hadn't done much before, and I would have just been Harry Potter from then on."

Robin Williams as Hagrid and Remus Lupin

J.K. Rowling's "all-British" rule also plagued Robin Williams. The American actor and comedian, whose long list of credits includes "Mrs. Doubtfire" and "Jumanji," was keen to play Hagrid in the "Harry Potter" film franchise. During casting for "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," Williams called the director Chris Columbus "because he really wanted to be in the movie," casting director Janet Hirshenson revealed to HuffPost. Williams was turned down at the time and the part of Hagrid went to Scottish star Robbie Coltrane.

However, this wasn't the end for the long-time Potter fan, so Williams, who was determined to be involved in the series, tried again. This time, he hoped to nab the part of Hogwarts professor — and werewolf — Remus Lupin in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," Chris Columbus revealed to Total Film (via GamesRadar). However, the American star was again turned down because of the Brits-only edict, but he remained hopeful that he might be able to score a part in a future spinoff. "Maybe one day," he said in the New York Post (via The Independent). "Say if [Harry] goes to Yale and becomes president."

Sadly, Williams died before the first US-based "Harry Potter" spinoff, "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," arrived.

Christopher Lee as Albus Dumbledore

Sir Christopher Lee was up for the role of Professor Albus Dumbledore when initial casting for "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" took place, according to Hello! magazine. However, the actor had to turn it down because of "other commitments," namely starring in "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring."

The part went to Richard Harris, who played Dumbledore until his death in 2002. The role was recast for the third film, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." In 2002, Hello! reported that Lee was being considered for the role again. However, "The Man With the Golden Gun" star said even if he was offered the role, there was no possibility of him taking it. "I consider this matter in very bad taste," he said about the rumors circulating, per Irish Examiner. "The man had only been dead for about 10 days when this gossip started to go round," he added.

Maybe Lee really had no interest in joining the "Harry Potter" franchise, or maybe he simply chose not to seek the role out of respect for his fellow actor. Whatever his reasons, Lee's decision certainly didn't hurt his career. Instead of joining the wizarding world, Lee joined another billion dollar franchise. He appeared as Count Dooku in "Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones" and "Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith." Lee also reprised the role Saruman, his character in "The Lord of the Rings," in "The Hobbit" prequel trilogy.

Tim Roth as Severus Snape

Professor Severus Snape is arguably one of the most important characters in the "Harry Potter" franchise. Played by "Love Actually" star Alan Rickman, Snape appears in all eight of the films and acts as one of Harry's main nemeses (besides Lord Voldemort and Draco Malfoy, of course) for much of that time. No one can argue that the casting of Rickman in the role of the greasy-haired potions master wasn't the perfect choice. However, it is easy to wonder what might have been if another actor had ended up playing the character.

"The Incredible Hulk" star Tim Roth was up for the role, but he ultimately turned it down to work on "Planet of the Apes." Naturally, his kids have commented on his choice to opt out of "Harry Potter." As Roth said on "There's Something About Movies," "They were alright about it ... but they do bring it up."

Though he's content with his decision to bow out, he does sometimes wonder what could have been. "Do I regret it? I don't know if I ever think about things that way. If I had done it, everything would have changed," he said in a Reddit AMA. However, Roth conceded that "the better man for the job did the job ... Alan took it and ran with it and that was that," he said. However, he did also note that Rickman's interpretation of the character was "very different" from what he was planning to do with the role.

J.K. Rowling as Lily Potter

Though she's not an actor, as the creator of all things "Harry Potter" it seems only fair for J.K. Rowling to have been offered a part in the films. As she shared on her website, Rowling was asked to play the part of Harry's mother, Lily Potter, in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," who appears to him through the Mirror of Erised.

Rowling's cameo could have been the ultimate Easter egg for fans of the "Harry Potter" books. However, the author has no interest in acting and rejected the offer. "I am not cut out to be an actress, even one who just has to stand there and wave," she wrote. "I would have messed it up somehow." Of course, Rowling would have known all along that the role of Lily Potter was hardly going to be a one-time appearance, so she probably thought the part was better in the hands of a professional actor. In the end, "Gosford Park" star Geraldine Somerville took on the role, which she reprised (however briefly) in all eight of the "Harry Potter" films.

"I was literally having [children], then doing another little bit of filming for these tiny roles that are, 'Oops, dropped the popcorn, I missed you Geraldine,'" Somerville said to The Scotsman. "But [playing Lily Potter was] a great job, and they do talk about my character all the time."

Hugh Grant as Gilderoy Lockhart

It's hard to imagine anyone other than Sir Kenneth Branagh playing Gilderoy Lockhart in "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," and yet, it sounds like he wasn't the only choice for the role. According to Teletext (via The Guardian), there were rumblings that "Notting Hill" star Hugh Grant would possibly play the vain — and fraudulent — wizard.

According to the outlet, Grant had already begun preparing for the role, even dyeing his hair blond for the part, but it wasn't meant to be. "Sadly Hugh had to turn down the part because he's committed to doing a movie with Sandra Bullock next February," his agent Karin Smith revealed at the time. This role turned out to be the romantic comedy "Two Weeks Notice" which was released in December 2002, just over a month after "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" premiered.

The "Love Actually" star has never commented on this role, and Columbus suggested to Empire (via The Guardian) that this casting rumor didn't hold as much water as one might assume. 

Eddie Redmayne as Tom Riddle

The wizarding world of "Harry Potter" is not going anywhere thanks to endless spinoffs, like the "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" play and the "Fantastic Beasts" film franchise. If you've seen any of the "Fantastic Beasts" films, you'll surely recognize Edward "Eddie" Redmayne who plays the lead character, Newt Scamander, in the franchise.

However, "The Theory of Everything" star actually tried to get a spot in the magical series years before "Fantastic Beasts" was on the cards. "I actually auditioned to play Tom Riddle when I was back at university," Redmayne revealed to Empire. Though he "properly failed" to get the role, Redmayne held out for a spot in the franchise. "Over the years, I always hoped I might be cast as a member of the Weasley family, but unfortunately not," he said.

Christian Coulson took the role of Tom Riddle in 2002 and sadly, no spot opened up in the Weasley family for Redmayne. This may have meant he had to wait a few extra years for a part in "Harry Potter," but he eventually scored the lead in the 2016 spinoff "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them." Redmayne reprised his role in the 2018 sequel and set to return to the screen as Newt Scamander in a further three installments. Opening up to The Guardian about the "pressure" that comes with joining such a beloved franchise, he said, "If you've enjoyed something, you don't want to be the one who comes in and screws it up."

Ian McKellen as Albus Dumbledore

After Richard Harris died in 2002, "Harry Potter" executives considered all their options when looking at replacing the actor who brought Albus Dumbledore to life for the first two movies. They even reconsidered past candidates like Christopher Lee (per Hello!). Harris's family also expressed their interest in having his long-time friend Peter O'Toole to take over the role, though this hope never amounted to anything. Instead, it was actually Ian McKellen who was the front-runner to play the silver-haired wizard.

Sir Ian McKellen received a call to be in the Harry Potter films, and although the role wasn't specified, he shared on "HARDTalk" that he "worked out what they were thinking" and realized he was being considered for Harris's role. While he knew it would be cool to play another wizard in a major franchise, McKellen had no intention of ever accepting the gig. This was because of Harris' public criticism of "The Lord of the Rings" star. (According to Slate, Harris said, "I've seen these so-called 'nice' actors. Very able fellows like Ian McKellen and Kenneth Branagh. But they're like bank managers. So sweet and careful. Who needs them?")

"I couldn't take over the part from an actor who I'd known didn't approve of me," he explained on "HARDTalk." To this day McKellen doesn't regret turning it down, but he joked he thinks the posters of Sir Michael Gambon (who went on to play Dumbledore) look a lot like him. 

Sean Connery as Albus Dumbledore

One of the other actors reportedly considered for the role of Albus Dumbledore (before it was offered to Sir Michael Gambon) was "James Bond" actor Sir Sean Connery. Had the late actor opted to play Dumbledore, Connery would have played the professor from "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" onward. However, the Scottish star supposedly rejected the part, reportedly stating that he had zero "interest in joining a children's movie about wizards" (via Screen Rant).

Connery's career was defined by playing the British spy, though he didn't always enjoy the association. He tried to branch out after Bond, appearing in "Murder on the Orient Express" and "A Bridge Too Far," but he ultimately returned to his 007 roots, reprising the part of the British spy in "Never Say Never Again." Some time after he was reportedly asked to be in "Harry Potter," Connery hung up his acting hat. "I have retired for good," he said at the time (via The Guardian). Referencing a tumor on his kidney he'd had removed, he said, "I'm perfectly OK and I feel well. In fact, I'm working on a history book."

On October 31, 2020, Connery died at the age of 90. With or without the role of Dumbledore, he is remembered as a silver screen icon.

Tilda Swinton as Sybil Trelawney

As she shared with Scots Magazine, "Doctor Strange" star Tilda Swinton was tipped to play Hogwarts professor Sybil Trelawney in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." However, Swinton had a peculiar objection to the series, so she took herself out of the running for the eccentric divination professor. The part of the series she objected to was Hogwarts — specifically, the fact that it was a boarding school. Having attended boarding school herself, she told Scots Magazine that it can be "a very cruel setting" which is a "lonely and isolating environment."

Although there's a magical appeal to Hogwarts, Swinton could not be convinced. "[Boarding schools are] why I dislike films like 'Harry Potter' which tend to romanticize such places," she said later, adding that she feels children don't receive enough love from their parents if they attend school away from home. It seems Swinton has no regrets about skipping out on the part and has since joined another billion dollar franchise, playing the Ancient One in "Doctor Strange" and "Avengers: Endgame."

In the end, the part went to Dame Emma Thompson, who evidently didn't have the same reservations about the boarding school setting. Thompson reprised the role in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." And it seems to have worked out well for Thompson (and Thompson's net worth). As her "Late Night" co-star Mindy Kaling said in an interview for Joe, "She's really rich from 'Harry Potter' money."

Ray Winstone as Alastor Moody

In 2008, British actor Ray Winstone revealed to Female First he "nearly did a [Harry Potter] movie." Before he played a Marvel big bad, the "Black Widow" star was offered the part of Professor Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." Winstone was intrigued by the role and keen to join a franchise like "Harry Potter," but he ultimately decided to turn down the role which went to Brendan Gleeson.

Winstone claimed that playing the auror-turned-teacher wasn't a good enough role for him because the pay didn't match the time and effort he'd have to put in. "[The executives] earn fortunes from those films, but for the time that is involved in making one, they don't want to pay you. I'm sorry, but I make movies to get a living," he said in Female First. "Besides, I would have made two films in the time it would have taken to make one Potter movie." In the end, the "Point Break" star appeared in three films in 2005 when "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" was released.

Winstone was possibly unaware that the role would turn into a recurring gig or simply resented not earning what he deemed enough for his time. Whatever the case, we think Brendan Gleeson rocked the role.

David Walliams as Barty Crouch Jr.

British actor, comedian, writer, and television personality David Walliams almost scored a role in "Harry Potter." The "Little Britain" star was offered the role of Barty Crouch Jr. in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." Crouch Jr. was a loyal follower of Voldemort and an important character in the fourth "Harry Potter" film, but Walliams reportedly turned down the role because it wasn't big enough. "I was offered a part, [but] not a big part," he told Daily Star.

In the end, the part of Barty Crouch Jr. went to David Tennant who put a dark spin on the character — this surely would have been different had Walliams got the role and given it a comedic tone. However, turning down the role was apparently one of his biggest regrets. "I thought: 'They're going to make another five films, I'll be a teacher,'" he said. But sadly, "they never asked me again," he concluded.

Even so, he's remained a fan. When The Guardian asked Walliams to pick a book he would've loved to have penned, he named the first book in the "Harry Potter" series. "It is rare that an author can create such a complete world," he said. "I always think the Harry Potter universe has at least a hundred great ideas in it, if not more."

Henry Cavill as Cedric Diggory

Though his role was limited to one film, Cedric Diggory was a big part of the "Harry Potter" franchise. Robert Pattinson captured hearts when he played the hunky teenage wizard in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," and it's safe to say playing Diggory launched Pattinson's Hollywood career. Three years after "Harry Potter," Pattinson scored the lead role in the five-part "Twilight" saga and is currently well on his way to becoming the next Batman.

However, there was almost another famous face in the running to play the athletic Hufflepuff. In 2013, "The Witcher" star Henry Cavill revealed he was up for the part of Diggory in the magical franchise. As he told Peter Travers for ABC News, he tried out for the gig. However, he didn't hear back after his audition. In the end, "Robert [Pattinson] got the role, I believe," he conceded. Let us never forget that Stephenie Meyer originally wanted Cavill to play Edward Cullen, but Pattinson got that role, too.

Ultimately, missing out on those two franchises didn't damage Cavill's career. Shortly after his failed audition scored main roles in "The Tudors" and "Stardust" and of course, he has since gone on to play the iconic superhero Clark Kent/Superman.

Rosamund Pike as Rita Skeeter

Before Miranda Richardson took on the role of Rita Skeeter in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," legend has it Rosamund Pike was close to signing on for the role. However, the "Gone Girl" actor was rumored to have turned it down when she realized it was a "minimal" supporting role which would also require her to appear in the fifth film, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," as noted by someone on the Snitch Seeker message boards. In the end, script changes meant Richardson didn't appear in the fifth film, but she later reprised her role in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1." Who knows if this would have made a difference to Pike.

"Goblet of Fire" began filming in the summer of 2004, which happens to be about when Joe Wright's adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice" was underway. And, as Bustle pointed out, there's speculation Pike turned down "Harry Potter" to play Jane in "Pride and Prejudice." However, it turns out that walking away from the part might not have sat well with the actor. "I just regret not doing the movie because I love Mike [Newell] and I owe him a favor," she told fashion channel FTV at the time (via Snitch Seeker).

Rowan Atkinson as Lord Voldemort

It's hard to imagine anyone other than Ralph Fiennes playing the deadly villain Lord Voldemort in the "Harry Potter" film series, but if things had been different, the comedic actor Rowan Atkinson could have nabbed the role. Although he was one of the most unexpected candidates, a 2004 WENN report quoted an insider who said that the "Mr. Bean" star had supposedly signed on to the project (via UPI). "It's a very major career change for Rowan," the source said. "He has been looking to spread his wings and branch out into other roles." However, that career move never happened. Instead, Atkinson stuck to comedy, starring in "Horrible Histories" and "James Bond" spoof trilogy "Johnny English."

While there's no doubt Atkinson would have put his own spin on the role, it's hard to have imagined Mr. Bean playing a character as dark as He Who Must Not Be Named. What's more, Ralph Fiennes ultimately proved to be the perfect actor to play the Dark Lord.

If we existed in a timeline where Atkinson was brought on to play Voldemort, it would be far from the first time the actor played a character multiple times in a franchise. "I mean, I'm someone who tends to return to characters quite a lot," he told IGN in 2003. "Like, you know — I could easily have left 'Mr. Bean' as a TV series, but when the notion of making of a movie was put forward, it kind of interested me."

Saoirse Ronan as Luna Lovegood

Evanna Lynch is Luna Lovegood; her high, floaty voice is now synonymous with the character. However, as she told James and Oliver Phelps on their "Normal Not Normal" podcast, she auditioned at the very last minute — meaning there were already other actors in the running for the character.

One of them was "Atonement" star Saoirse Ronan. The Oscar nominee tried out to play Luna in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" but did not get the gig. "I was too young," she said to the Independent a few years later.

Although Ronan was disappointed about not scoring a role in any of the "Harry Potter" movies, it has certainly not harmed her career one bit. In fact, she's even starred alongside several actors from the franchise, including Emma Watson in "Little Women," Jason Isaacs in "Stockholm, Pennsylvania," and Ralph Fiennes in "The Grand Budapest Hotel." "I've basically worked with half the Harry Potter cast now, pretty impressed," Ronan joked during an interview with Hollywire.

Helen McCrory as Bellatrix Lestrange

The late Helen McCrory was originally set to play Bellatrix Lestrange and should have joined the franchise for its fifth installment, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." However, she had to back out of the role because she was pregnant with her second child, per MTV News. The role of Bellatrix was recast and eventually given to "The Crown" star, Helena Bonham Carter.

McCrory was offered another opportunity to join the magical franchise. Just five short months after "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" was released it was announced that the "Peaky Blinders" star would play Bellatrix's sister Narcissa Malfoy in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" and both of the "Deathly Hallows" movies. Narcissa is also the wife of Lucius Malfoy and mother of Harry's school nemesis, Draco Malfoy. While Bellatrix was killed in the Battle of Hogwarts, the Malfoys escaped with their lives — so, perhaps she got the better end of the deal?

While McCrory told Parade she was disappointed that "Narcissa's part [was] so fleeting," she was still thrilled to be part of the "Harry Potter" family. In the end, both McCrory and Bonham Carter were cast in the roles they were meant to have. Playing sisters in the films has ignited their sisterly bond off the screen too. "I sort of knew Helena Bonham Carter before, but I've come away with a best friend in her," McCrory shared.

Naomi Watts as Narcissa Malfoy

Back when it was assumed that Helen McCrory would play Bellatrix Lestrange in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," casting for the role of Narcissa Malfoy in the following film was full steam ahead. In 2007, outlets like Games Radar reported that the part had been snapped up by "Divergent" star Naomi Watts. However, Watts actually didn't know about it at the time and found out about the offer in the most peculiar way — from newspaper headlines. "I didn't even hear about it except through the media," Watts told MTV News. "Not through my agents [or anybody else]. I don't know how that transpired."

Multiple reports from publications like Digital Spy and the Metro claim Watts' agents were behind the mix-up, having rejected the role on her behalf without telling her. However, according to MTV News, Watt's representatives maintained this was absolutely "not true." Whatever the case, the "Mulholland Drive" star was certainly a fan-favorite choice for the part in 2007 and later concurred herself, telling MTV News she would "love" any opportunity to join the franchise. "My son would like that [too], so that would be a good way to impress him," she added in the 2008 interview. Unfortunately Watt's "Harry Potter" role never transpired, but there's always the "Fantastic Beasts" spinoffs.

Alan Cumming as Gilderoy Lockhart

Alan Cumming was evidently in the running to play Gilderoy Lockhart in "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," but Galleons got in the way. "I didn't turn it down," he said in The Telegraph in 2021. "I told them to f*** off! They wanted me and Rupert Everett to do a screen test, and they said they couldn't pay me more than a certain sum, they just didn't have any more money in the budget." Cumming told the outlet that he found out Everett was apparently offered more, and that didn't fly. "Like, if you're going to lie, be clever about it," he continued. "I said, tell them to f*** right off." 

Well, if you've seen the movie, you know the part didn't go to Cumming or Everett. "And then they f****** gave it to Kenneth Branagh, came out of the shadows," Cumming said. As far as Cumming was concerned, this casting choice appeared out of thin air, like a young wizard wearing an invisibility cloak. While Cumming didn't lend his talents to "Harry Potter," he did eventually share the stage with the real-life Harry Potter. In 2020, he and Daniel Radcliffe acted opposite each other in The Old Vic's production of "Endgame."

Becoming a professor at Hogwarts didn't pan out for Cumming, but with credits like "The Good Wife" and "X2," it's clear that career has only continued to flourish.