The Harry Potter movies are full of magic and mind-blowing special effects. In fact, the visuals of the fantasy movies are so believable that even one of the actors on set was fooled during filming. Chris Columbus, the director of the franchise’s first two films, has revealed that Richard Harris, who was the first actor to play the character Dumbledore in the wizarding world, believed that the animatronic phoenix (named Fawkes) was a real bird.
Fawkes is Dumbledore’s pet phoenix who first appears in the 2002 movie Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – the last of the films that Harris would star in before his passing. Fans may remember the bird bursting into flames in the flick and being reborn from the ashes. But that otherworldly scene didn’t stop Harris from deducing that the large, red mythical prop was actually a living creature.
During the Harry Potter” 20th anniversary special on HBO Max, Columbus and actor Daniel Radcliffe discussed filming with the star and this ‘bird’. “We had an animatronic version of Fawkes the phoenix, and it was this big red bird that doesn’t exist in real life,” Columbus explained. “Richard came in, looked at the phoenix, and said, ‘Wow, they train these animals marvellously these days’.”
Daniel Radcliffe went on to add that the crew who controlled the bird were unwilling to correct Harris, and instead let him revel in the magic. They even went as far as to make the animatronic phoenix react to the actor’s movements and voice.
“That, of course, got into a cycle where Richard was like, ‘The bird is responding to me,'” Radcliffe said. “We never told him.” Columbus confirmed Radcliffe’s statement, and added that Harris never knew the truth of the animatronic nature of Fawkes, saying: “he just thought it was a real bird.”
Harris passed away at the age of 72 of Hodgkin’s disease, a month before the premiere of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. After his death, the character of the Hogwarts headmaster would be given to Michael Gambon. During the reunion special, Columbus went on to open up on how devasting it was to lose Harris and how hard it was to replace him.
“Richard was classic, probably one of the funniest men I’ve ever met,” Columbus said. “He was this devilish 11-year-old trapped in a 70-plus-year-old man’s body. He just had that glint in his eye, which made him the perfect Dumbledore, by the way. He was brutally hilarious.”