Daniel Radcliffe’s New Film ‘David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived’ Is A Tear Jerker
For many of us, the Harry Potter books and films were a major part of our lives. We grew up alongside Harry, Ron and Hermione, and it’s a huge moment in pop culture. The legacy has been tarnished somewhat by J.K. Rowling’s crusade against the transgender community, but there’s another, more touching Harry Potter story that hasn’t been told – until now.
In 2009, Daniel Radcliffe’s stunt double David Holmes suffered a horrific injury while working on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It left the stunt double paralysed, with his condition slowly worsening over time. The stunt in question was for the scene where Harry fought the snake Nagini, and David was rigged up to fly backwards and hit a fake wall.
In a new BINGE documentary called David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived, director Dan Hartley and executive producer Daniel finally allow David to tell his story, on his terms. As he says at the beginning of the film, “I used to fly. Not so much, anymore.”
The snapshot of David’s life over the past 14 years is remarkable, and while I shed a few tears during the film, the message is clear: he’s not a victim, but a survivor. He hasn’t lost his classic British banter either, with sharp wit coming through during interviews and observational scenes. In one lighthearted moment, Daniel made an offhand remark that he seemed to be having a good day, so David threatened to “shit his pants” to turn it around.
It’s odd that David’s accident on the set of one of the biggest films in the world at that time didn’t get much media attention. He didn’t take producers to court, either. Instead, he quietly got on with his new normal, which now involves four full-time carers. His mum was extremely angry after David’s accident and asked him if he’d lay a complaint or take further action. In what seems to sum up his entire character, he gently told her that he didn’t want to ruin anybody else’s life or get them sacked. I can’t help but wonder whether, if social media had been further along at that time, the freak accident would’ve caused a much bigger splash in the media.
It’s unclear exactly who caused the stunt to go wrong, but it seems like a combination of small errors. Extra weights were added to the pulley system that sent David flying through the air, launching him across the room harder and faster. The stunt coordinator, Greg Powell, still blames himself to this day. Fellow stunt performer Marc Mailley also harbours guilt over the accident, as he’d offered to do the stunt that day, but David was adamant that it was his to complete. This particular pulley system has now been banned in the film industry.
For Daniel Radcliffe, David was like a cooler older brother who seemed invincible. Daniel was 11 when they started working together and David was 17. They’ve stayed incredibly close over the years and began filming a documentary about stunt performers in 2015.
In 2019, the pair brought director Dan Hartley into the mix. He worked as a videotape operator on the Harry Potter films, so he knew them both well. With Dan’s guidance, the documentary turned from being about stunt performers to being about David’s life. It was a good move, because David’s personality makes this film shine.
I spoke to director Dan Hartley about making David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived, how difficult David Holmes’ accident was for the crew, and why Daniel Radcliffe was so committed to this project.
Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Punkee: It’s a very emotional film but there’s an element of positivity and hope. Is that something you were conscious about when making it?
Dan Hartley: The positivity was going to be there because Dave is positive. That’s why we turned the camera on him because we all look at that scenario and go, ‘I’m sure I wouldn’t have reacted positively’ or ‘I’m sure I couldn’t be that person’. And he has been.
He’s a very unique and special person to be able to come through that injury (and it’s getting worse, he’s losing further mobility) yet to still have that core positivity is unique. One of his strong messages is that – not for everyone, there are genuine victims – he chose not to be a victim, but to be a survivor. It’s an emotional watch, but one that isn’t bleak. And I think that’s the key.
Were there any moments that were really difficult during filming?
I was in the interviews. Particularly with Marc, his best friend who took over the stunt role after David was injured, I was crying. You can’t help but be impacted by what Marc is expressing. But also, I think it was incredibly cathartic and useful, and I think the contributors really gained from having the opportunity to talk about it. So it wasn’t difficult in that regard. It was just very raw.
How did you hear about David’s accident in 2009?
The accident happened in pre-production, so the main crew weren’t in the studio at that time. The stunt crew had gone in early to start practising the stunts and I was due to start work as a videotape operator in a couple of weeks.
I was in a hairdresser, and I can picture it so clearly. On the screen up above the mirror was a news report that taking place at the studios, where we’d been going to work for 10 years. So clearly something serious had happened. I immediately called one of my friends and he knew really quickly that it was David Holmes and it was serious. So we found out before we went into production, and when we went into production, he wasn’t there.
How did David’s accident affect the Harry Potter cast and crew?
It was really difficult. One of the hardest things about it was wanting to ask the people closest to Dave – the stunt team – how he was doing, but also knowing that every time you asked, it was incredibly painful for them. There was no way for anyone to process what had just happened. So we just focused on the shooting.
Dave was in the hospital, he was recovering and all his close friends were visiting him. But I think with any significant trauma, in the film, it’s 14 years later where they’re really talking about the accident for the first time, how they felt and how they dealt with it. I think time just has to pass in these situations.
Did anything change in the stunt industry after what happened to David?
Quite a lot. Much more reliance on air ramps and things that can be controlled in a mathematical and physical way, versus, there were a lot more people jumping off things in a less controlled way. Marc Mailley, Dave’s very close friend who was there on the day of the accident, was really instrumental in trying to develop alternative ways to do stunts. This doesn’t mean that anyone was reckless on set – they were always safety conscious and had safety stunt performers – but certain practices after that point were deemed as not appropriate.
Why was Daniel Radcliffe so determined to get this project off the ground?
Daniel was there from the beginning, and he committed to this project and gave up his time, over and over again. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for it, so as an individual that’s incredibly well known, clearly that means that there’s going to be a much greater audience.
He wanted to shine the light on his friend and he was gonna do whatever it took to help us do that. I think the world knows Daniel is a really decent guy, but in this case, I’ve been at the forefront of experiencing that for the last four years. It’s about us all coming together to help tell Dave’s story.
What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
Dave has a really profound outlook on life. He shows us that we can all be accountable for our own actions, and I think that’s incredibly powerful on its own. I also think there’s a poignant element, this friendship group and to see these men, the stunt performers who grew up together, talking with such honesty and intimacy and sensitivity.
I think that’s something we can all look to and aspire to. For me, it was a real sign that there’s a new generation of men that are coming onto the scene and that’s to be applauded.
David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived will be available to stream on BINGE from 10pm, November 16, 2023.
Image credits: HBO, The Boy Who Lived, Warner Bros, Harry Potter Series, Instagram/@ripple_productions