The casting directors of the Harry Potter series definitely had their jobs cut out for them. They were auditioning actors for roles that would span years, and casting children in these roles with no guarantee what these children would look and act like as they grew older. Remember when the movies were first coming out, and people would always talk about recasting? That was the scariest word to me growing up, because I was so attached to the actors already playing the roles. But everyone always had the same concerns: they were getting too old! Or, they didn’t look like the book descriptions any more!
It’s true that some of the actors didn’t resemble their book counterparts as they grew older, while others looked exactly like Rowling’s original descriptions. All in all, though, most of the actors were not recast throughout the series, and their acting chops overcame any concerns about what they looked like. Personally, I was way happier with having the same actor — any moments of recasting were always so jarring (I completely loved Richard Harris). Through the years, a lot of us probably picture the movie actors when we read the books now, but what were the actual original descriptions of our favorite characters? And how do the movie versions match up?
According to the books: In addition to wearing half-moon glasses and giving off "an impression of great energy," (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), Dumbledore is described as "tall, thin, and very old, judging by the silver of his hair and beard, which were both long enough to tuck into his belt... His blue eyes were light, bright, and sparkling behind half-moon spectacles and his nose was very long and crooked, as though it had been broken at least twice." (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)
In the movies: Though Movie Dumbledore (as portrayed by both Richard Harris and Michael Gambon) had half-moon glasses and long hair with a long beard, he 1) did not have light eyes, 2) didn't have a crooked nose, and 3) had more of a white beard than silver. He also didn't stay calm when asking if Harry put his name in the Goblet of Fire. Just saying.
In the books: "She had a bossy sort of voice, lots of bushy brown hair, and rather large front teeth." (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)
"She had done something with her hair; it was no longer bushy but sleek and shiny... She was also smiling — rather nervously, it was true — but the reduction in the size of her front teeth was more noticeable than ever." (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)
In the movies: Emma Watson starts out with bushy brown hair (though she never has very large front teeth), but by the end of the film series her hair is much lighter. Also, she's probably a lot more gorgeous than Hermione was in the books.
According to the books: "He was almost twice as tall as a normal man and at least five times as wide. He looked simply too big to be allowed, and so wild – long tangles of bushy black hair and beard hid most of his face, He had hands the size of trash can lids, and his feet in their leather boots were like baby dolphins." (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)
In the movies: Though Hagrid is a bit smaller than described, in my opinion actor Robbie Coltrane looks pretty darn near perfect as Hagrid.
According to the books: Neville is described in Sorcerer's Stone as "a round-faced boy," and Rowling has stated in an interview that she imagines Neville as "short and plump and blond."
In the movies: Neville starts out round-faced (though not blond), but by the end he's quite tall, not very plump, and, as we all know, ultimately wins puberty.
According to the books: Draco has white-blond hair and "a pale, pointed face." (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)
In the movies: I think casting pretty much nailed it with Tom Felton.
According to the books: "He had a large pink face, not much neck, small, watery blue eyes, and thick blond hair that lay smoothly on his thick, fat head. Aunt Petunia often said that Dudley looked like a baby angel — Harry often said that Dudley looked like a pig in a wig." (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)
In the movies: Dudley has brown hair instead of blond.
According to the books: In addition to his jet black, ever-messy hair, "Harry had always been small and skinny for his age. … Harry had a thin face, knobbly knees, black hair, and bright green eyes. He wore round glasses held together with a lot of Scotch tape .... The only thing Harry liked about his own appearance was a very thin scar on his forehead that was shaped like a bolt of lightning." (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)
In the movies: As we all are aware, Daniel Radcliffe has BLUE EYES. Not green eyes, as Harry is supposed to have. His hair, while black, isn't quite as messy as it seems in the books (save that crazy hair for a spell in year 4). As for the knobbly knees, we didn't exactly get enough close-ups of Radcliffe's knees to judge that. Other than those differences, Movie Harry is very similar to Book Harry.
According to the books: In Sorcerer's Stone, Snape was described as having "greasy black hair, a hooked nose, and sallow skin."
In the movies: Alan Rickman sports greasy black hair, a long (though not really hooked) nose, and looks pretty sallow. However, there's one flaw: in the books, Snape would have been 31 years old when Harry first started at Hogwarts, but Rickman was mid 50s when the first movie premiered. Still, age is but a number, because you really can't deny that Rickman did a fantastic job with the part. You'll hear no complaints from me on his portrayal, age be darned.
According to the books: In Prisoner of Azkaban Sirius is described as having "a mass of filthy, matted hair hung to his elbows. If eyes hadn't been shining out of the deep, dark sockets, he might have been a corpse. The waxy skin was stretched so tightly over the bones of his face, it looked like a skull. His yellow teeth were bared in a grin," though when he was young he was "very good-looking; his dark hair fell into his eyes with a sort of casual elegance."
In the movies: Sirius had the filthy, matted hair — but it didn't hang to his elbows. He wasn't quite as gross as he was described post-Azkaban break, but overall he was pretty similar to the book's description (dark hair, casual elegance, etc.). However, once again, the age difference isn't quite right: Gary Oldman was mid-40s when first portraying Sirius, whereas Sirius would have actually been in his early 30s in Prisoner of Azkaban. This could be explained easily in this case, though, because Sirius spent time in Azkaban, which was sure to age him.
According to the books: "He [Harry] thought she looked just like a large, pale toad. She was rather squat with a broad, flabby face, as little neck as Uncle Vernon, and a very wide, slack mouth. Her eyes were large, round, and slightly bulging. Even the little black velvet bow perched on top of her short curly hair put him in mind of a large fly she was about to catch on a long sticky tongue." (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)
In the movies: In my opinion, actress Imelda Staunton is way prettier than the description above. That being said, props to her acting and the costume/makeup department, because she achieved a very toad-like look in the end (and especially dressed in Umbridge-like outfits), even though she doesn't have "large, round, and slightly bulging" eyes. Also: that little bow was missing.
Fred And George
According to the books: In addition to their freckles and trademark Weasley red hair, the twins are "shorter and stockier than Percy and Ron, who were both long and lanky." (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)
In the movies: Though Fred and George have red hair, they're very tall and lanky like their brothers Ron and Percy are supposed to be, instead of short and stocky as they're described in the books.
According to the books: In Sorcerer's Stone Ron is described as "tall, thin and gangling, with freckles, big hands and feet, and a long nose," and by Deathly Hallows he's still "long and lanky," with bright red hair, of course.
In the movies: Ron has bright red hair, but though he's tall, he's not exactly gangling. He has more of a stocky (though tall) build, like the twins and Charlie have in the books.
According to the books: Ginny has "a long mane of red hair" and when her jaw sets, "her resemblance to Fred and George was suddenly striking." (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)
In the movies: Red hair? Check. A set jaw? Check... at least in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when she tells Lucius Malfoy to leave Harry alone. Though Movie Ginny is way quieter than spirited and spunky Book Ginny, actress Bonnie Wright does look the part.
According to the books: Young Tom Riddle has "jet black hair," and is "handsome" with "dark" eyes (Chamber of Secrets). When he's older, his face has become "waxy and oddly distorted, and the whites of the eyes now had a permanently bloody look." (Half Blood Prince). After his rebirth, he becomes "tall and skeletally thin," with a face "whiter than a skull, with wide, livid scarlet eyes and a nose that was as flat as a snake’s with slits for nostrils" and hands like "large, pale spiders" (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire).
In the movies: Young Tom Riddle is pretty accurate, though we never really see him in his 20s when he has lost his good looks. And after his rebirth, Voldemort is thin, with a white face and a flat snake nose. The one thing missing? Those creepy red eyes.
According to the books: "She had straggly, waist-length, dirty blonde hair, very pale eyebrows, and protuberant eyes that gave her a permanently surprised look." (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix).
In the movies: Movie Luna, played by actress Evanna Lynch, is pretty close to this description: her hair's not quite as straggly as it is in the books, but other than that she's practically perfect.
According to the books: Lavender doesn't have much of a description.
In the movies: Lavender is portrayed by several different actresses, which I suppose just shows one thing the books have over the films — as J.K. Rowling said in an interview with NPR, "People bring their own imagination to it. They have to collaborate with the author on creating the world." She spent a lot more time describing the personalities of the characters than the physical descriptions, so in my opinion, that's the important part, anyway. So bring on the fan art with all the characters drawn a thousand different ways, since the true magic of the world lives in all of our imaginations!
Images: Warner bros (16)