“Harry Potter” Stunt Team Member Looks Back at Time on Set

When Nicholas Daines read the Harry Potter books two decades ago, he knew he had to find a way to be a part of the magic. The stunt performer has had a successful career, with 111 credits listed on IMDb, but he says the Potter films are a project he’ll never forget.

Chatting with MuggleNet via Zoom, Daines says a lot of his current jobs are on hold due to COVID-19, but during this downtime, he’s been reflecting a lot on his time on the Potter film sets. It’s a project he calls “amazing” and “one of the major highlights of a stunt career.”

“I wanted to be part of the Harry Potter franchise from the word ‘go,'” Daines remembers. “But getting in is a different story.”

Daines first auditioned to be a member of the Quidditch team for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. However, then 28 years old, Daines was told he looked too old to pass as a student at Hogwarts. He didn’t give up. Daines finally got his break six years later, when he was cast in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix as the double for actor Arben Bajraktaraj, who portrayed Death Eater Antonin Dolohov.

In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, he finally made the roster and joined other stunt performers on the Quidditch team. Daines, a former internationally competitive gymnast and high diver, says most of the Quidditch players had a similar background to his.

“So it’s perfect for spatial awareness, and I’ve been jumping off things for as long as I can remember. This is real natural progression for me, falling off broomsticks mid-air, flights, and falls,” says Daines.

 

Nicholas Daines first auditioned for a spot on the Quidditch team for “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” before ultimately making the squad in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”.

 

Daines says a lot of research went into finding ways to make free falls and mid-air collisions look natural. The stunt team ended up using Russian swings, which have a suspended platform that moves freely around an axis. One person stands on the back of the platform, pushing the swing back and forth, while the team member at the front of the swing launches themselves off.

“To do [the] landing in the mud that you see in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, we were actually launched off the front of a quad bike, deliberately, driven by the coordinator,” says Daines, laughing at the memory.

 

Stunt team members were launched off of swinging platforms to achieve collisions like the one Nicholas Daines is performing in this picture.

 

When asked what his favorite memory from the set is, Daines says standing in for Daniel Radcliffe is something he’ll never forget.

Radcliffe had four stunt doubles. One day, none of them were available, but Daines was. He hopped on a broomstick with two other members of the stunt team to set up a shot of the characters Harry Potter, Ginny Weasley, and Cormac McLaggen hovering on brooms during tryouts. It wasn’t a fancy bit of stunt work, but for Daines, a genuine fan of the series, it was something he’ll never forget. After all, not everyone gets to be the Chosen One.

It was all pretty great and the stuff that dreams are made of, especially if you are a fan of the books. It was getting to live everything that was in those pages and bringing it to life. It was just a very, very special experience.

 

The top image shows Nicholas Daines standing in for Daniel Radcliffe. The bottom image shows the same scene being shot with the actors.

 

Daines has gone on to work on projects like Wonder Woman and the Star Wars films, as well as both Fantastic Beasts films, but he says Potter holds a special place in his heart.

I wanted to be part of it so much that I chased that dream and I actually did then become a part of it. And I think what’s great about those Harry Potter films and the books and the messages through it, although it is in the wizarding realm, I related it to my own life and, I think anything is possible if you really go for it. You can create your own magic.

You can watch our interview with Daines below or read the full transcript.

 

 

Full Transcript with Nicholas Daines, Sunday, July 19, 2020

Transcribed by Marissa Osman

Amy Hogan: Hi guys, I'm Amy, the Creative Media Manager with MuggleNet.com and I'm joined now by a special guest, Nicholas Daines who worked on the Potter stunt teams on the Potter films. Nicholas, thanks so much for joining us.

Nicholas Daines: Thank you for having me! It's a pleasure.

Amy: I'm excited to talk to you. It looks like you did some really cool stuff, so can you start off and tell us a little bit about the roles you played in the Potter films?

Nicholas: From the word "go," when I read the Harry Potter books, I wanted to be part of the Harry Potter franchise from the word "go." But getting in is a different story, and the first audition that I ever had was for one of the Quidditch team members - and that was on Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - but I didn't get that. I was a little bit old. I read for the director, Christopher Columbus, which was fantastic. But they said that I was a little bit too old. [laughs] for the Quidditch team at that point. But in later years I did actually then become part of the Quidditch team. So yes, I've done throughout the movies and once I eventually got in through the door with Stunt Coordinator Greg Powell who has arranged and coordinated all of the Harry Potter films, I did a number of roles. I was a Quidditch player; I actually was on the Quidditch team. I eventually made it onto the squad in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince which was fantastic. I played a Death Eater in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I played myself at the Weasley wedding in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and I was a snatcher as well in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2. so a wide range. And I was a Ravenclaw pupil in the final big battle against Lord Voldemort which was fantastic to be part of. And that's when the whole set caught fire and burnt down for real. [laughs] While we were all having our wizarding wand fight. So yes, a broad spectrum of roles, and it was a fantastic experience from start to finish to be part of the movies. When I look back now, it's still one of the major highlights of a stunt career, to be part of such a phenomenally successful franchise.

Amy: It sounds like you were a fan of the series before you got involved, so how was that? Walking onto these sets?

Nicholas: I remember the first day that I walked out onto the set when I was going for an audition for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. And to be surrounded by the Great Hall, and that set, and the moving staircase at that time they had a set for that. It was like everything you imagined in the book coming to life and just to see it for real... I mean, those books were so vivid and with the imagination reading them you could almost believe it actually happened, and then to be on set it was like, "It's real!" [laughs] "I'm at Hogwarts!" It was a real dream come true for me.

Amy: Wow, that's awesome. Obviously, we see a lot of behind-the-scenes of how actors film their scenes and reading off lines and things, but I feel like we don't get to see a lot of the stunts stuff a lot. So can you explain what a day on the set looked like for you and your team?

Nicholas: Okay, so a day on the set of Harry Potter. It usually starts way before that. There's a lot of research and development that go into making the stunts. What you see on the screen - that final polished image - is not what it was originally. There's so much that goes on before-hand in research and development. For example, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, we researched ways of flying through the air on broomsticks and jumping over things. We used these Russian swings in the end [that] launched us into the air, and we would collide into each other for the mid-air collisions that they wanted during the Quidditch auditions within the movie. And people falling out of the sky. So we had a lot of research to find out the best ways of doing that, the safest ways of doing that. And then within the match, it wasn't sure what players could do, so we used the Russian swings to be launched onto vertical walls, perch on the walls for a second, and then launch off with our broomsticks and fall out of shot. So there's a lot that goes into it. So by the time that we actually come to film it, you've narrowed it down to exactly what works on camera, what's going to look good, and making the most of the broomsticks and also the mid-air stuff. So we used a lot of wires to collide us in mid-air, which was great. So we'd have a harness on, and they'd jerk us into each other, and we'd smash in mid-air. And then, again, we did use the Russian swings to launch off and collide into each other. And then to do [the] landing in the mud that you see in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, we were actually launched off the front of a quad bike, deliberately, driven by the coordinator, and then he would fling us off and we'd land headfirst in the mud for those landings.

[Amy and Nicholas laugh]

Nicholas: So there's a lot that goes into it and it's a strange life. The day-in-the-life of a stunt man on set is never the same. Especially on Harry Potter because we were just changing and evolving things. It starts out with one idea and then it evolves into something else.

Amy: Wow. Are there any particular stunts... you say not everything makes it onto the final version, but is there something that maybe fans would recognize?

Nicholas: Absolutely. During the process of developing the stunts for the movie, there was the idea that one of the Quidditch players would collide into the goal post and then clip it and then spin off. That actually did make it into the movie. In the videos that I've made to show the behind-the-scenes footage, you can actually see where I launch off the Russian swing, I collide into a vertical wall and clip it at just the right point so that it flips me and spins me out, which is what they wanted. In the movie, you can actually see that in its entirety - and they used two people to actually, again, clip the goal post and fly off after colliding with it in the Quidditch match - and you can see how the development of the stunt evolves so that it eventually arrives not eh silver screen looking immaculate and polished and just incredible for the viewers.

Amy: Wow. And watching some of your stuff, the safety girl in me was going, "Oh my God." [laughs] How do you not get seriously injured? You must be all padded up?

Nicholas: Yeah, we're all padded. Especially with the Quidditch stuff, it was built into the costume as well. But you had got your pads on underneath and you take as many precautions as you can to keep yourself as safe as possible. But it just comes with the job, it comes with the territory. And yes, you do take your fair share of smacks and crashes. On the mid-air collisions that we used with the wires, I was smashed into another stunt performer at speed and I was actually knocked out for a few seconds after we were lowered to the ground. So yeah, you do take your fair share of whacks and knocks. You just have to be prepared for that. And that's the life of a stunt man. Nothing is without risk. Even the simplest, simplest stunt can go wrong, so you really do have to take every precaution to try and eliminate as many of those risks as possible.

Amy: How do you train for something like this? What is your background?

Nicholas: Well, my background is an international gymnast. I was also a high diver. So it's perfect for spatial awareness, and I've been jumping off things for as long as I can remember. This is real natural progression for me, falling off broomsticks midair, flights, and falls. It helps to have that gymnastic background and spatial awareness for this particular sort of stunt. Actually, most of the Quidditch team were ex-gymnast and acrobatic-types.

Amy: Okay. How big was the stunt team/ How many stunt actors were involved?

Nicholas: Well, it depends on which movie. When it came to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 there were probably over seventy stunt people as part of the team, which is pretty big. There were fire and explosions, and then you've got the stunt doubles. But with the Quidditch team, it was about five of us flinging ourselves off the Russian swing and colliding into each other. Five or six, yeah. And we were just rotated in different stunts and for different scenes. And that's how it works. But then you've got people, also, behind the scenes. Not only the ones that are on camera. You've got the people pushing the Russian swing, you've got people driving the quad bikes, and of course the coordinators and the assistant coordinators. So although you will see maybe five or six people on the screen, behind that is probably another five or six people. It's quite a big family.

Amy: Do you have a favorite memory from your time on set?

Nicholas: Oh, gosh. I've got lots. Oh, well, actually stepping in for Daniel Radcliffe was probably a highlight for me. I always really secretly coveted the role of Daniel's stunt double. However, there were three official doubles that did it all the way through. That was David Holmes, Ian Kay, and Marc Mailley. They were the ones. Four! Tolga Kenan did it as well. But for one scene, David Holmes was on another set at the time, and I was setting up a shot for a Quidditch scene in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and they asked me to step in and double-up for Daniel Radcliffe. And that was a real highlight for me. That one really sticks in my head. There were loads! Especially in the Order of the Phoenix, when we were in the Ministry's... what's it called?

Amy: The Department of Mysteries?

Nicholas: The Department of Mysteries, yes! There was a great memory I have in the Department of Mysteries when we were doing the wand battle with Gary Oldman when he goes through the force-field or the gateway. What is it called?

Amy: The vail?

Nicholas: The vail! That's it!

[Amy and Nicholas laugh]

Amy: I'll fill in the blanks. [laughs]

Nicholas: [laughs] I have a great memory of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in the Ministry of Mysteries where we have the massive wand battle with Bellatrix and Gary Oldman, where he actually dies and goes through the vail. That was fantastic, shooting wands all over that rock and doing rolls and jumping off things. It was a great scene to be part of and that took weeks and weeks. That was epic. That was another one. I loved all the Quidditch stuff with the research and development, the acrobatics flying through the air, the smashes into each other for the Half-Blood Prince. Fantastic. And of course, that final battle in Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows; that was amazing. Really fantastic. And being a snatcher in the first part, Part 1 of the Deathly Hallows, that was great. Running through the woods, and tripping over things, and jumping over trees. It was all pretty great and the stuff that dreams are made of, especially if you are a fan of the books. It was getting to live everything that was in those pages and bringing it to life. It was just a very, very special experience.

Amy: When you saw these films finished on the screen, were there any moments or stunts that you saw the whole process of putting it together, you were there for it, you did it. When you saw it on the screen, was there a moment that really gave you chills with how that final version came out?

Nicholas: I loved when you see - especially as I described earlier in the Half-Blood Prince - when you see a stunt that you were developing and then you see the final result and you're like, "Yeah, great. I see it. It all makes sense, and it works, and the result is just fantastic." I'd love to have seen a little bit more action with the Death Eaters and perhaps a bit more action. I doubled Arben Bajraktaraj in the Order of the Phoenix and in the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, and I just wish there had been a bit more action for his character. He was a Death Eater; playing Dolohov. They could have made more of his character and made it had a bit more action. That would have been ideal, I think. When I was looking at it that's what I would have wished for. Yes, I mean it all looks amazing. All the Quidditch stuff, you're just like, "Wow!" You could believe it's real that people actually play this game at the Olympics or something. It is so cool, and everybody is so talented. The crews, the special effects; just making this one vision, all coming together, it's quite special. And that in itself is... You step back and you're like, "Wow. This is amazing and these are incredibly talented people." Everyone plays a part. A big collaboration.

Amy: Yeah, absolutely. There are so many people who put so much work into these films and obviously we recognize it when we see it not eh screen, but I guess we don't always think about a lot of the people who really make it work.

Nicholas: Yeah. And it takes such a long time as well. You can't underestimate how long it takes. I remember being on the Order of the Phoenix for about six weeks or maybe more than that. It was at least two or three months in total. We'd practice things over and over for weeks and weeks, but it would just be maybe one day on camera and that's how long it takes.

Amy: I think that was all of my questions. Was there anything you wanted to add that I haven't asked you about?

Nicholas: No, I don't think so. I just think, obviously, Harry Potter's still going strong and it's handed down from generation to generation, and I really think that my story... I feel like I read the books, I loved it, I wanted to be part of it so much that I chased that dream and I actually did then become a part of it. And I think what's great about those Harry Potter films and the books and the messages through it, although it is in the wizarding realm, I related it to my own life, and I think anything is possible if you really go for it. You can create your own magic in life.

 

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Amy Hogan

I was 9 years old when I discovered the magic that is “Harry Potter.” I am a proud Hufflepuff and exceedingly good at eating, reading, being sarcastic, and over-thinking small tasks. Since I spent too much time worrying about the correct way to write this bio, this is all I was able to come up with before the deadline.

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