Features

Harry Potter book character descriptions versus how they looked in the films

In the Harry Potter films, we loved seeing the different interpretations of how we imagined the characters on the page. Here are some of the most striking adaptations – and how they were described in the books.

Narcissa at Spinners End
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

From Harry’s famous green eyes being changed to blue to Narcissa Malfoy’s unique two-tone ’do, here’s how the Harry Potter characters transformed from page to screen, and why they were reimagined for the films.

HARRY POTTER

How he’s described in the books…

Harry had a thin face, knobbly knees, black hair and bright-green eyes. He wore round glasses held together with a lot of Sellotape because of all the times Dudley had punched him on the nose. The only thing Harry liked about his own appearance was a very thin scar on his forehead which was shaped like a bolt of lightning. He had had it as long as he could remember and the first question he could ever remember asking his Aunt Petunia was how he had got it.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone


How he looks in the films

Harry looking serious in his glasses from the Goblet of Fire
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Daniel Radcliffe certainly looks the part of Harry – with one minor exception. His Harry has blue eyes, while the books tell us time and time again of Harry’s green eyes – just like his mother’s. There’s a pretty simple reason for this, though. Radcliffe, who has blue eyes, couldn’t wear green contact lenses, as he was allergic.

Another detail that a lot of fans wondered about was the placement of the lightning bolt scar. Although the books never specify exactly where on the forehead Harry’s is – we all surely pictured it being in the centre – Daniel Radcliffe’s scar was placed to the side. But don’t worry, this was all J.K. Rowling’s decision, who told director Christopher Columbus to make it ‘razor sharp, just off centre’.

KINGSLEY SHACKLEBOLT

How he’s described in the books…

Kingsley Shacklebolt swooped around him, bald pate and earring gleaming slightly in the moonlight ...
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows


How he looks in the films

Kingsley Shacklebolt in some colourful robes from the Order of the Pheonix
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

In the books, we don’t learn much about this stoic Auror’s appearance at all. We know he’s tall, black, bald and wears an earring – and the rest is left to our imagination. In the movies, actor George Harris decided to add some African flair to Kingsley’s outfit.

‘I came down to a fitting,’ Harris said, ‘and I was wearing an Agbada, which is a Nigerian ceremonial gown. Underneath that, I had on a pair of Kota trousers, like Indian pyjamas.’

Costume designer Jany Temime was inspired by Harris’s outfit, and decided to incorporate it into Kingsley’s look. Harris/Shacklebolt was also given a specially made Nigerian-style cap, which reflected light from different angles.

Harris said that he felt the hat would ‘keep Shacklebolt’s power from escaping. He has a quiet strength and wants to keep a lid on it.’

You’ve got to hand it to Kingsley Shacklebolt. He’s got style.

HERMIONE GRANGER

How she’s described in the books…

She had a bossy sort of voice, lots of bushy brown hair and rather large front teeth.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone


How she looks in the films

Hermione in Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Before getting her teeth shortened by Madam Pomfrey and discovering Sleekeazy’s Hair Potion, Hermione was known in the earlier Harry Potter books for having bushy hair and big teeth. In the films, Emma Watson’s Hermione has a slightly different spin: her hair is more wavy than bushy, and her teeth are normal-sized – for the most part. Christopher Columbus and Watson did indeed try out fake teeth in the first film, but the director quickly realised this was impractical.

NARCISSA MALFOY

How she’s described in the books…

Narcissa gave a little scream of despair and clutched at her long blonde hair.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince


How she looks in the films

Narcissa with her hands on her hips from the Half Blood Prince
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Like the rest of the Malfoys, Draco’s mother Narcissa is described as having blonde hair. She’s also described as looking like she constantly has dung under her nose, but that might just be Harry’s, um, unique interpretation. Nonetheless, in the film, Helen McCrory’s hair was presented in an unusual two-tone style – partly blonde, partly black.

The idea for this was to give Narcissa a little bit of her sister’s look – Bellatrix Lestrange, played by Helena Bonham Carter, has dark hair.

‘We tried different types of blonde hair, and different configurations, and finally, we came up with this,’ said Lisa Tomblin, hair designer for the Harry Potter films.

Helen McCrory also thought the hair suited Narcissa, seeing her as a highly fashionable witch who was ‘recognisably chic’.

NYMPHADORA TONKS

How she’s described in the Harry Potter books…

She looked the youngest there; she had a pale heart-shaped face, dark twinkling eyes, and short spiky hair that was a violent shade of violet. ‘Wotcher, Harry!’
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix


How she looks in the films

Tonks with pink hair and her wand from the Order of the Pheonix
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Well, obviously Tonks is a tricky one, due to her being a Metamorphmagus… Nonetheless, Nymphadora Tonks, as played by Natalia Tena in the films, did have a distinct look that complemented her book counterpart – and she also kept the wild, purple hair.

Costume designer Jany Temime honoured Tonks’s punky look, and added a few extras for good measure, as if to properly showcase Tonks’s personality. For example, Natalia Tena was given boots to wear to ‘trip her up’ – a homage to Tonks’s clumsiness in the books. But her outfits also reflected her role as a fierce Auror. During the battle at the Department of the Mysteries, for example, she is dressed in a long red coat with military tailoring. ‘She’s ready for battle,’ Tena said of the look, ‘but she still looks cool.’