(CBS/AP) LOS ANGELES - After eight "Harry Potter" films (the last of which, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," opens today), it's hard to imagine anyone besides Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Tom Felton playing Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley and Draco Malfoy.
But what if "Potter" hadn't come calling?
In some fantasy world, Radcliffe might be a low-level go-fer on movie sets. Watson could be a nobody auditioning for stage plays. Tom Felton might be noodling around as a musician. And Rupert Grint might be selling ice cream on the street.
With one of Hollywood's biggest film franchises now behind them, the young stars pondered what they might be doing if the acting thing hadn't worked out.
An 11-year-old when picked for the title role of the "Harry Potter" franchise, Radcliffe figures that since his parents worked in the arts - his mother as a casting director, his father as a literary agent - he would have ended up in show business. But not as an actor, probably as an assistant director.
"What probably would have happened, when I got to about 17, 18, and it became apparent, as it would have done, to my parents that I wasn't going to be going to university, I'm sure they probably would have tried to get me, like, an internship on a film as a runner. And then I'd just try to work my way up the A.D. ladder from there," said Radcliffe, whose pre-"Harry Potter" acting work included the title role in a British television production of "David Copperfield."
"To this day, I still fancy myself as a bit of an A.D. Anyone who works with me will tell you if they give me a radio, I constantly kind of try to run messages between people, that I always like to know exactly what's going on around the set. So if somebody's saying, 'Where's so and so? We need them now,' I can go, 'They're there. That person's coming back. They've just gone to the toilet.' I really like to know exactly what's going on at all times on set, because I like to feel that's another way in which I can make myself useful."
Just 10 when she was cast as bookish Hermione Granger, Watson had no previous professional acting experience. Yet she's convinced that no matter how she would have gone on to make a living, acting still would have been part of her life.
"I would have found some way to end up acting, performing. I mean, obviously, not on this scale, but I would have been doing it, I'm sure," she said. "I would have been doing plays. I'm almost a hundred percent sure I would be doing plays, I would be acting. I mean, that would be a sideline thing for me. I would be focusing toward some kind of career that I'm not really sure of now, but I definitely would have been performing, some way or another."
Also a screen newcomer when chosen at 11 to play jittery but stalwart sidekick Ron Weasley, Grint finds it daunting to imagine a life in which he never landed among the "Harry Potter" clan.
"I don't know. It's quite a scary thought. I saw recently, they put on one of the DVDs, footage from our screen tests when we were first kind of auditioning. In one of them, there was a test with Emma and Dan with a different Ron, another kid who was auditioning at the same time. That was very weird to see that, because he was good. I probably would have picked him.
"It was weird to think what I'd be doing now. ... I'd have probably gone down the art route. I wanted to design hats for a while when I was really young. And being an ice cream man was another dream, but I've kind of let go of that now. I bought an ice cream van and brought it up, actually, on the last day and served ice cream to the crew. I don't really drive it too much now, because you get people queuing up on the street."
Like Radcliffe and Watson, the guy who co-starred as bullying Draco Malfoy expects he would have wound up doing some sort of creative work. Also like Radcliffe, Felton had previous acting experience before "Harry Potter," appearing in the fantasy film "The Borrowers" and Jodie Foster's "Anna and the King."
"My brother and I often talk about it. Where would I be and what would I be doing? I like to think something creative. I've always been fairly minded that way, certainly with music and fooling around as a kid with a video camera," said Felton, who was 12 when cast in "Harry Potter." "I'd like to think it would be something in that realm.
"It certainly was not going to be sitting behind an office. If I did, I wouldn't be happy doing it. So I've been very lucky that I've been able to follow a passion of mine from a very young age. A lot of people aren't so fortunate. A lot of friends now are working jobs they can't stand just so they can get enough money to go traveling or to start their own business or to do whatever they want. I've just been blessed to start in the industry that I want to continue with."