TV & Movies

A Harry Potter Set Accident Paralyzed Daniel Radcliffe’s Stunt Double

HBO’s David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived tells his story.

Originally Published: 
Daniel Radcliffe, David Holmes in 'David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived' via HBO's press site
Courtesy of HBO

British gymnast David Holmes was 17 years old when he became Daniel Radcliffe’s stunt double in the first Harry Potter movie. He continued the gig over the next decade, but in January 2009, an accident on the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 set left Holmes paralyzed from the chest down with a debilitating spinal injury.

HBO’s David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived documentary, which Radcliffe executive produced, revisits the tragic incident. The scene involved a battle between Harry and the snake Nagini that required Holmes to fly on a wire in a harness. To enhance the action and speed, stunt coordinators added weights to his pulley system, per The Guardian.

A “Violent & Fast” Rehearsal

“The rehearsal the day before was violent and fast, but we went for something a bit faster and a bit more violent the second day,” Holmes recently told The Guardian, while promoting the doc. “We were constantly trying to push the boundaries of what stunt action could be.”

During the rehearsal, Holmes flew into a wall backward at high speed. “I knew straight away . . . I’d broken my neck,” he recalled, adding that he was “fully conscious” at the time and couldn’t feel his legs.

Courtesy of HBO

As a result, the practice of “doing flight on a wire with weights” is now banned in the film industry. “The repercussions from my accident mean nobody will be put in that situation again. And that’s enough for me,” he said.

A Legacy Of Resilience

Directed by Harry Potter video operator Dan Hartley, The Boy Who Lived focuses less on the accident and more on Holmes’ spirit of resilience. As Radcliffe, who’s also his longtime friend, and their colleagues rallied to support him and his family, Holmes ended up being their greatest source of strength and inspiration.

Radcliffe told People he wanted to make a film about him for years “because he’s extraordinary and I wanted to share that with the world.”

Courtesy of HBO

Holmes, who’s now 40 and hosts the Cunning Stunts podcast, added that he’s “understanding the responsibility that lies with not just representing [not just] myself, but a wider community of all the disabled people that will be absolutely finding parallels with their own life with my story.”

Revealing he’s yet to watch the doc, Holmes continued, “I know in my life there'll be a time I’ll get into bed and I won't get out of it. . . . I’d like to look back on myself with all the hope and optimism that I live with now.”

An Enduring Friendship

The HBO doc also focuses on Radcliffe and Holmes’ close bond. In fact, Radcliffe told the BBC that Holmes has been “one of the most important people” in his life for the past 20 years.

Courtesy of HBO

“He was somebody that was so incredibly fun to hang out with when I was young,” the actor said. “But then as I grew up he became a real guide to me, and kind of a mentor and someone who really looked out for me, and that really has just continued as we've grown.”

Holmes agreed, adding, “He was like my little brother on the films, and then grew to be one of my best friends. He’s always been there for me.”

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