David Holmes was born with a knack for gymnastics and had a dream life as a stunt double for Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry Potter in the effects-driven franchise. Until he didn’t.
Holmes had worked on Potter for a decade when filming began in January 2009 on “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I” and he broke his neck preparing a stunt that left him paralyzed and wheelchair bound.
The HBO’s documentary “David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived” tells his story with extraordinary behind-the-scenes on-set footage, interviews with Radcliffe, his parents and caretakers.
“A tragic and terrible thing happened to David. But he is not a victim. He’s a survivor,” said director Dan Hartley. “I never really worried that it was going to be a bleak film. My outlook is to give people something hopeful.
“At the same time — we were very clear on this — we weren’t going to shy away from showing Dave’s difficulties because he’s a representative of that (disabled) community. He wants that to be known.
“As a viewer you can go to the dark and difficult bits, but then you can rise up again. Fundamentally, that’s what the film is about. Also it’s what Dave’s about as such a positive person. If there’s a message in the film, it’s that life can be beautiful, despite issues.
“One thing that really surprised me is we have this historical view of stunts. It’s a very testosterone, macho industry and there was just this profound sensitivity amongst Dave and Dan and that group of friends.
“What became apparent throughout filming and editing was we show a nuanced portrayal of male friendship. One far removed from these conversations of toxic masculinity.
“That in itself became an important and powerful part of the film beyond what Dave expresses in his day to day life about living in the moment, taking ownership of your problems, being accountable.”
As director, Hartley found his ending at the vast Warner Bros. Potter archive where costumes, props and sets are stored.
“The instant I went there, I knew we had to have David and Dan go there, for them to really step back into their childhood. To walk the aisles and just see what took them.
“Dan and David are tremendous friends. There’s a lot of comedy that goes in their relationship. So it was a fantastic, funny thing to shoot, but also profound. Because I wasn’t sure how you would end the film about a man who’s disabled and got a worsening prognosis.
“But we use that moment and say, ‘This isn’t an ending, it’s a continuation.’ It’s about leaving this thought of what goes next and also encapsulating this love of film that we all share.”
“David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived” streams on HBO MAX Nov. 15