Harry Potter’s stunt double: ‘Breaking my neck made a man of me’ | Harry Potter

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The routine had already been rehearsed. A battle with the snake Nagini was presupposed to ship Harry Potter flying. And it definitely did that. David Holmes, Daniel Radcliffe’s stunt double, felt the impression, and it harm. However that was the character of stunt work. He was all the time taking a knock, and exhibiting off one other bruise.

The subsequent day the staff got here again to good the routine. It nonetheless wasn’t fairly as spectacular as hoped. So that they did what they’d performed a whole lot of occasions earlier than: added extra weight to the pulley system that may launch Harry in order that he would fly by way of the air quicker.

“I knew right away,” Holmes says right now, 14 years later. “I knew I’d damaged my neck. I used to be absolutely aware.” He had hit the wall at tempo and with such brutality that he was left flopping, like a puppet whose strings had been reduce. His boss, the stunt coordinator Greg Powell, requested if he may really feel his legs. He couldn’t. That day not solely modified Holmes’s life for ever, it modified the lives of so many individuals on the set of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Half 1. Powell, who needed to stay with getting it unsuitable; finest pal Marc Mailley, who needed to take over from Holmes because the stunt double; actor Daniel Radcliffe, who had been coached in gymnastics by Holmes and adored him. And on it went.

Later that day, it was reported that there had been an accident in pre-production on the set of Harry Potter. “I bear in mind seeing the information report on TV,” says Dan Hartley, then a junior member of the crew working because the video playback operator. “I received on the telephone to one of many crew and he informed me he’d heard it was Dave and one thing unhealthy occurred. For the following few days we had been buying and selling messages and we discovered that Dave was paralysed.” Hartley had labored with the staff for nearly a decade. “Inside a month we had been assembly on the set and adjusting to this new norm, and it was horrific. I’d recognized Dave for nearly 10 years and we had been a really tight crew, and now he wasn’t there. But the staff was nonetheless on the manufacturing. We’d misplaced one.”

The Potter crew regarded one another as household. A lot of them had labored collectively since filming started on the primary film within the sequence, Harry Potter and the Thinker’s Stone, in 2000. They meant a lot to one another, and there was one thing additional particular about Holmes, who’d been there from the beginning. He was tiny, at 5ft 1in, cheeky, irrepressible and exceptionally proficient.

“He was like our mascot,” Hartley says. “He was 17 on the primary movie. Very cheeky, very assured. All people was rising up on set actually – the children had been 11 or 12 when it began, Dave was 17, I used to be solely 25. As a result of he’s bigger than life but additionally small, Dave attracted a number of consideration and affection. Everybody knew him and liked him. He wasn’t the soulful particular person we now see. He was the younger lad from Essex who’d made good.”

After the preliminary studies in regards to the accident, little was heard about David Holmes. There have been no dramatic fallouts, public recriminations, high-profile authorized battles. Holmes quietly – and typically not so quietly – tried to rebuild his life. Right now, the 40-year-old is paralysed from the chest down and lives with 4 full-time carers. He’s wiser and calmer, however in different methods he’s little modified. In the meantime, Mailley has gone on to be one of many world’s most outstanding stunt coordinators, and Radcliffe is without doubt one of the few famous person youngster actors who has gone on to succeed as an grownup. As for Hartley, he’s now a movie director, and has simply made a documentary about Holmes known as, appropriately, The Boy Who Lived.

I meet Holmes at his house in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex. The home would make the right setting for a futuristic sci-fi film. Doorways open and shut, lights change on and off, a raise rises and descends at his command. “I designed the home in my head after I was on the spinal ward,” he says. “The know-how I’ve put in place offers me as a lot independence as potential.”

Holmes grew up in Essex, the center of three boys. His father is a deacon on the native Baptist church, his mom labored with disabled youngsters for many years. He smiles. “Then her son goes and breaks his neck!” All three boys had been tremendous energetic – nice enjoyable, however exhausting work. On the age of 5, an outreach staff from British Gymnastics visited his faculty to take a look at the youngsters’s potential. The three Holmes boys had been supple and succesful. “My mum took us to Havering Gymnastics Membership and he or she found that not solely was it the world’s finest babysitter, it removed the surplus vitality we had.”

Younger David was significantly proficient, and liked gymnastics: “The best sport on this planet.” By 13, he was performing in nationwide competitions and hoped to signify Britain on the Olympics. However in school he was bullied for his measurement: “It’s exhausting rising up a small bloke. You’re a straightforward goal. I used to be known as ‘titch’ and ‘pipsqueak’, and stuffed in lockers. Gymnastics was my protected area as a result of I used to be round different gymnasts who had been additionally small.”

A 12 months later he was noticed by Powell, a legend within the stunt enterprise, who employed him to work on Holmes’s first movie, Misplaced in Area, starring family names comparable to Gary Oldman, William Damage and Heather Graham. He was signed up on a toddler performer’s contract and, as a stunt double for the character Will Robinson, he needed to dive out of the way in which of exploding pyrotechnics in a rubber “cryogenics go well with”. He had found one thing even higher than gymnastics. “Think about – I used to be 14, with all of my vitality, allowed a free-for-all at Shepperton Studios for a summer season. It was superb. And what I observed was as quickly as you go on to a movie set as a toddler performer, all people treats you as an grownup. I knew this was what I wished to do; I wished to be a stuntman.”

Daniel Radcliffe (right) with his stunt double David Holmes (left) on the set of a Harry Potter film
Holmes (left) and Radcliffe (proper) on set. {Photograph}: Warner En Casa/YouTube

Three years later, in 2000, he had turned skilled and was working as Radcliffe’s stunt double in Harry Potter. For Holmes, it even beat Radcliffe’s job. “You get to be a personality with out the pressures the actors have. I get to inhabit that character and use my expertise as a gymnast to reinforce the story.” He was properly paid for a glamorous job he liked, a star in his personal subject, but he may retain his anonymity. Win-win.

Then there was the Potter household. “Greg was my movie father from after I was 14. I used to be a member of his prolonged household.” Holmes and Mailley had been inseparable, and he quickly turned near Radcliffe “Initially, I used to be Dan’s PE coach. He’d come into the stunt workplace, we’d shut the door, and I’d let him be a child. He’d be leaping off Portakabins on to trampolines. We’d do judo, boxing, sword preventing, something he wished to try this day. On the primary two movies he was like my little brother, and by the third movie he’d grown into one among my finest pals and nonetheless is to this present day.” Then all of it got here crashing down.

Holmes knew there hadn’t been one thing fairly proper in regards to the rehearsal the day earlier than. Mailley instructed he ought to take Holmes’s place the next day. Holmes wouldn’t hear of it – it was his stunt and he could be doing it even when it meant taking one other whack. A minimum of it shouldn’t be as unhealthy as yesterday, Mailley informed him. “It was an outdated manner of doing flight on a wire with weights that’s not performed any extra. It’s banned within the movie business on account of his accident throughout all main studios,” Holmes says. “The rehearsal the day earlier than was violent and quick, however we went for one thing a bit quicker and a bit extra violent the second day. In stunt rehearsals we had been consistently attempting to push the boundaries of what stunt motion may very well be, whether or not that’s flying by way of the air or a 15-minute battle routine.”

So stunt coordinators simply added weights on the pulley system to reinforce the motion? “Sure. I’m not going to enter any extra element. The repercussions from my accident imply no one will probably be put in that state of affairs once more. And that’s sufficient for me. It’s way more refined and managed now.”

Did he sense it was harmful on the time? “I hope you don’t thoughts, however I don’t wish to relive essentially the most horrific day of my life once more. Is that each one proper?” he says gently. “Hear, fortunately for me, due to this movie, my legacy on digital camera isn’t now me simply hitting that wall 14 years in the past. Perhaps individuals will take some positives from the way in which I dealt with it, hopefully with a little bit of dignity – regardless that all of the dignity is taken away.” Amongst different issues, the accident left him with horrible PTSD. “I’d hear the noise in my head of the crunching of my spinal wire. That may occur as I used to be falling asleep.”

When issues get too upsetting, Holmes seeks refuge in humour. “There’s a number of jokes I wish to inform you, however I received’t.” Go on, I say. “Voldemort hit me with a spell –Wingardiumquadriplegia.” He laughs. “That’s a cracking joke. A part of me would like to do the Edinburgh competition.”

Look, he says, he was a stuntman – after all, he knew he was being paid to take probabilities. In hospital, regardless of being paralysed, he once more started to really feel he was fortunate. “I used to be a stuntman, I did a dangerous job, and I used to be put in a ward with two boys who had been there due to hate. One was caught up within the Mumbai terrorist assault – he’s now one among my finest pals, Will Pike. The opposite boy, Oliver Hemsley, was strolling on the street in Whitechapel and he was stabbed within the neck and the chest as a result of he’s homosexual. Then they kicked a bottle of gin into his chest and he needed to have his coronary heart taken out [temporarily, and massaged]. They urinated on him as properly. So I met actual victims. Granted, it was not my fault, nevertheless it was a stunt accident and I did that job and I needed to settle for the dangers. No stuntman ought to ever be doing that job except you absolutely settle for the dangers.”

Holmes tells me how fortunate he’s in different methods – to personal the home, to have ample cash by way of the insurance coverage settlement, to have nice pals and assist. However he is aware of within the better scheme he’s something however fortunate. He has hardly ever talked publicly about what occurred to him, and the way it has modified his life, however right now he makes it clear he doesn’t wish to sanitise something. He campaigns for individuals who have suffered spinal wire accidents and a part of being a campaigner is exhibiting the world what it means to stay with such an damage.

“D’you wish to hear a narrative about all-time low?” he asks with a mischievous grin. I don’t suppose I’ve received a alternative, I say. “It’s an excellent story!” he guarantees. He begins with an explainer – some individuals with spinal wire accidents endure from involuntary priapism (extended erections). “I had a suprapubic catheter which suggests they reduce a gap in your stomach and it goes straight into your bladder. My mum and pop had discovered how one can get me out and in of mattress with a switch board. My mum transfers me into mattress and I say, ‘Mum, can you alter the dressing on my catheter?’ So now think about I’m in a hospital mattress trying on the ceiling, I can’t look down, and my mum and pop are taking ages to alter this dressing, so I get the mattress distant and alter the angle of the mattress to look down, and see my mum backhanding my boner out of the way in which whereas my dad fumbles with my dressing across the catheter. It was then I pronounced to the world I’d formally hit all-time low! I get them for hours at a time they usually pop up on the most inappropriate occasions. My file is eight hours.”

He says it’s uncomfortable, in each sense. “In the event that they keep up too lengthy it’s a must to go to hospital as a result of they may give you a deep vein thrombosis. So that they put an injection on the base of your outdated chap to place it down.”

I sense it’s necessary for him to inform me this story – to not make me chuckle, however to indicate me the indignity of life along with his damage. Some time in the past he met Margot Robbie on the set of Barbie. And he actually tells this one with relish. “It was the unsuitable day to put on matching cashmere bottoms. I used to be so paranoid! I used to be like, please don’t, please don’t … I used my unhealthy arm to cowl my lap simply in case.”

Initially, after the accident, he may use each arms to an extent. Now solely his left works in any respect, and there’s a hazard he could lose use of that, too. Holmes’s neck break was difficult when he developed a cyst in his spinal wire, leading to ongoing deterioration.

In a technique, Holmes tailored astonishingly properly to his incapacity – designing his new house from the hospital mattress, comforting family members, telling his mom there was no level in being offended or bitter. He says Warner Bros, the studio that made the Potter movies, acted admirably. “Roy Button, who was head of bodily manufacturing and had given me many bollockings earlier than, got here to my bedside and stated, ‘Don’t fear, there’s going to be a course of, you’re going to be all proper.’ I wanted that voice of authority they usually’ve all the time been supportive.”

Daniel Radcliffe (left) with David Holmes (right), the man who was his stunt double on the Harry Potter films until an accident paralysed him, in new documentary The Boy Who Lived about Holmes’s life
‘He’s my boy, isn’t he? I like him’: with Radcliffe in new documentary The Boy Who Lived. {Photograph}: John Wilson/HBO

Was he already worrying in regards to the future financially? “Properly, I’d simply signed the mortgage. I used to be beginning to personal a house. Life was taking place.” He had moved into the home along with his then girlfriend. However the relationship didn’t final. “All the things modified. There may be not one facet of your life that’s not affected by spinal damage. Nothing is identical.” He pauses. “Other than one factor – watching a movie. That’s the identical, so I watch movies.”

What was hardest to simply accept? “It’s all exhausting. It killed me that I couldn’t return to work on Harry Potter. I wished to see Harry by way of to the top. I’d learn all of these books, picturing these motion sequences. It killed me. The ebook behind you has even received my Put up-it notes from the place I learn it and went, ‘There’s a stunt I is perhaps doing.’ I may learn the character and film the stunts I used to be going to do. Nobody on this planet had that, besides me. Truthfully, all I wished to do was return to work.”

Although he knew he couldn’t return to work, he refused to simply accept that he needed to change his life-style after the accident. He talks a couple of misplaced decade, then decides “misplaced” isn’t fairly the proper phrase. “It was a decade of decadence and enjoyable. I’d say I wasn’t grown up sufficient. The thrills I used to get setting myself on fireplace and leaping off buildings, I used to be simply looking for that in the way in which I may.” Resembling? “I’d take teams of individuals to Ibiza and blow 1000’s of kilos.” He travelled the world, drove ridiculously quick customised automobiles he may management along with his palms, partied, drank and took medication. “I used to be lucky to have these experiences, however I wasn’t actually coping with this. I used to be placing it on the again burner and never accepting my incapacity for what it’s, which is a life-changing factor.”

The Boy Who Lived is not only a shifting examination of the devastation wreaked on Holmes’s life, but additionally the profound impression the accident had on others. Greg Powell was on the prime of his sport when it occurred. He’s a troublesome, charismatic, cigar-chomping man who comes from a line of boxers and stuntmen (his father and uncle had been Nosher and Dinny Powell respectively). In one of many movie’s strongest moments, he breaks down. “I used to be the final one to the touch him, when he may stroll, and the primary one to the touch him when he couldn’t stroll, and that’s an terrible feeling. I really feel choked up there correct. It hurts, cos I fucked his life proper up. He’d have been doing something he preferred now,” he tells Hartley within the movie.

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Had Holmes been aware of the effect the accident had on Powell? “Yeah, he carries that scar on him every day.” He talks of his mentor with affection. “Greg’s legacy should not just be the stunt accident he was connected to through me. The legacy should be every working-class stuntman he opened the door for, all the action sequences he’s brought to the world, whether that’s Tom Cruise floating with the sweat dripping in the first Mission: Impossible or us making the first broomstick flight.” And has he become known for the accident? “Of course. Death by association. But you know he still goes to work, he takes great precautions with safety – double, triple, quadruple checking, not over-rehearsing stunts any more, not letting the director do too many takes when someone’s taking a whack.”

David Holmes, who was Daniel Radcliffe’s stunt double on the Harry Potter films until an accident paralysed him, in his wheelchair at home in Essex
Holmes at home: ‘I designed the house in my head when I was on the spinal ward.’ Photograph: Suki Dhanda/The Guardian

Is he still close to Powell? “Yes, I talk to him all the time. Not as close as we were, though.” As he talks, the water bottle he’s holding pops out of his hand and falls to the floor. “I am aware him seeing me struggle like this with a bottle of water would be a trigger for him.” Because Powell has told him or because he’s seen it? “I’ve seen it. I see it in his eyes when he sees me.”

Dan Hartley tells me that what struck him when interviewing people such as Powell and Mailley is how raw they still were. “There was clearly a sense that they hadn’t processed it. What I found remarkable was their emotional honesty and sensitivity. It was so far removed from that cliche of what male machismo is.”

Back at his house in Essex, Holmes tells me Marc Mailley has just arrived and he’ll open the door for him. I’ve begun to suspect Holmes has superpowers. How do you know, I ask? There’s been no knock on the door or bell rung. He bursts out laughing. “Because I can see him through the window.” Holmes tells me how proud he is of Mailley. “As an action coordinator he’s one of the best in the world. He’s currently working with Tony Gilroy on [Star Wars TV series] Andor.”

Mailley is brief, slight and supremely match trying. He has a black eye from a rugby damage he obtained on the weekend that wanted stitches. The pair met after they had been 17 and out clubbing. Each had been eager dancers. “I met Dave at this Sliding Doorways second in my life, after I’d performed one thing I shouldn’t have performed and I’d moved out of house,” Mailley says. “Dave helped me flip my life round at a time after I was making all of the unsuitable selections. He put me again on the straight and slender.” They moved right into a flat collectively; Holmes skilled him to be a stuntman and received him work on Potter. “We drove to work collectively, we labored collectively, we’d go house collectively, we’d go clubbing collectively, we had been inseparable for seven years.” Within the movie, Mailley’s tears break your coronary heart when he talks in regards to the accident.

Right now, he tells me he’s been in remedy since. “Once I informed the therapist about every little thing, she bawled her eyes out. She stated, ‘I’m actually sorry, I by no means do that, it’s actually unprofessional of me.’ I’d simply informed her about Dave’s accident and the way it had modified our lives. My dad was dying of most cancers on the time, then my finest pal breaks his neck … ” Mailley trails off. He tells me he wished to stroll out on the Potter movie, however Holmes requested him if he would change him. “I solely did it as a result of Dave requested me to. I used to be presupposed to be doing one other job. Robin Hood, with Russell Crowe. I needed to flip that down.”

Was it simple to proceed after the accident? “No. I resented the job, the movie business, every little thing actually.” How lengthy for? “A really, very very long time. Generally even now. I don’t suppose it’ll ever be one thing I completely come to phrases with.” Why did he blame the movie business? “I used to be simply in search of one thing in charge.” Going to work upset him? “There have been simply too many issues that jogged my memory. We went from seven years of bliss, having the time of our lives and top-of-the-line jobs on this planet, to going to the unhappiest you would be at work after Dave’s accident.”

Holmes is aware of simply how powerful it was for Mailley. “He needed to dye his hair and put the costume on and do the stunt I had my accident rehearsing. My finest mate needed to step up because the stuntman. That’s the truth of it.”

Mailley continued working as a stuntman for round three years after Holmes broke his neck. However his focus was altering. He turned extra concerned about stunt coordination and attempting to make sure the same accident by no means occurred once more. He helped devise the brand new approach that didn’t merely depend on weights to create the impact of characters flying by way of the air. “To remain within the business after Dave’s accident, there needed to be some reward. And the reward for me was to make issues safer, particularly on that type of stunt.”

Has there been one other accident on such a scale since then? Most likely not, they are saying. However Holmes tells me of a horrifying incident involving his pal Olivia Jackson in 2015, when she was driving a bike on Resident Evil: The Ultimate Chapter in South Africa. Jackson was travelling at pace a technique, whereas a crane-mounted digital camera on a car was heading in direction of her. “There was a miscommunication and he or she went face first into the digital camera at a mixed pace of 60mph. It ‘degloved’ her face – took all of the pores and skin off. It was put all the way down to a street site visitors accident and was not lined by the insurance coverage coverage the movie firm had taken out.” Once more, he tells me how fortunate he’s. “Within the UK, below the banner of the British Stunt Register, Fairness and large manufacturing homes like Warner, it’s all lined by legal responsibility insurance coverage.”

With Radcliffe behind the scenes of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fireplace. {Photograph}: Mirrorpix

Is there something he gained from the accident? “Yeah, vastly. I’ll all the time say breaking my neck made a person of me. For positive, 100%.” However he believes it’s solely over the previous few years that he has really accepted his incapacity.

There have been horrible lows alongside the way in which. In 2019, when he had 4 spinal surgical procedures and a mind drain, his mom thought she was going to lose him. He says he was in such ache, he now not cared. “I requested to not be resuscitated. I informed my surgeon: should you get into issues, let me go. The combination of medicine, ache and irritability all kicked right into a state of hopelessness.” Did he actively wish to die? “No, however I believed if it occurs, I’ll be comfortable to. I’m cool. I’ve had an excellent crack.” How lengthy did the hopelessness final? He grins. “Not lengthy.”

He got here again preventing tougher than ever. Now, he says, there may be a lot he’s doing and nonetheless desires to do. He has recorded 41 episodes of a podcast sequence known as Crafty Stunts, wherein he interviewed stunt performers with the assistance of his outdated pal Radcliffe. There’s a beautiful generosity to Holmes. As with Mailley, he tells me how comfortable he’s to have seen Radcliffe, who is without doubt one of the producers on The Boy Who Lived, evolve and develop. “He’s my boy, isn’t he? I like him. I love him. I’m so pleased with him. You consider what number of youngster stars don’t make it by way of that strain, that whirlwind. Each time I see his physicality, to know I had just a bit enter into that brings me pleasure.” What does he imply? “Have a look at him, he’s ripped!”

Holmes is speaking to JK Rowling about introducing a wizard in a wheelchair within the forthcoming Harry Potter TV sequence. Then there may be the battle to enhance the standard of life for individuals like him. “What I and the 1000’s of different quadriplegics on this nation want is the power to regain the perform of our bladder. I simply want a product developer to invent a easy system that sits on the surface of a catheter and I can say: ‘Hey Siri, open my catheter’ and two ball bearings open and you’ll wee. And I can say, ‘Hey Siri, shut my catheter.’ Meaning I’d have the ability to regain bladder perform with out having to ask a carer to return and open and shut the catheter. All of the know-how’s there. It might be such a straightforward factor to develop, however I’ve simply not discovered anybody who desires to take that concept and run with it.”

Then there’s his plan to launch a stunt studio to allow working-class youngsters to get a foothold within the business. He was fortunate, he says – Powell gave him his begin. To turn out to be an expert stunt performer in Britain it’s a must to signal as much as the British Stunt Register. To try this, you want distinctive expertise in at the least six sporting disciplines. And it’s virtually unimaginable to accumulate these expertise with out personal teaching. Holmes was one of many few exceptions as a result of he earned sufficient cash as a young person on the Harry Potter movies to pay for his personal teaching. “Proper now we will solely have posh boys coaching for the stunts register. Scamps like me who had been born in Romford couldn’t afford to coach for the stunt register. We shouldn’t be within the state of affairs the place Marc can’t discover black boys to double black actors as a result of the socioeconomic background doesn’t permit for it. In order that’s my huge dream.” One other grin. “It might value 35 million quid. However I’ve received some connections.”

One cause Holmes has renewed hope is {that a} 12 months in the past he started a relationship with Rosie, a lady who was left much more severely disabled than him after a automobile crash on the age of 19. “In the intervening time she has a staff of 14 taking care of her – her wants are extra complicated than mine. She’s lovely. She’s all girl. I fell in love together with her over phrases on e-mail. The best manner. I didn’t even see her face. It was so pure,” he says. “It took 4 individuals to get us shut sufficient for our first kiss, nevertheless it was worthwhile.”

Subsequent week he’s going up to stick with Rosie, who lives in Sheffield. It’s his first relationship in 10 years. “I’d resigned myself to being single, however the universe appears to have related us.” Why was he satisfied he’d be single? “As a result of each able-bodied girl I dated, I by no means felt adequate. I by no means felt wished sufficient. And I really feel sufficient with Rosie. She makes me really feel like a person, and you’ll’t put a value on that.” Although Holmes says he first realised he wished to have youngsters as an 11-year-old teaching youthful youngsters on the gymnasium, he and Rosie have dominated it out. “We’d need to activity different individuals to lift our children for us and that’s simply not going to take a seat with us.”

Regardless of his positivity, Holmes’s long-term prognosis is poor. His life expectancy is 65. “My dad’s 65 now. That’s quite a bit taken off. My surgeon stated to me, ‘Respiratory, speech and swallowing independently, you’ll be fortunate to maintain all three.’ That ain’t simple to face.” As for the ache, he says, it’s fixed. “It looks like I’ve received 10 elephants standing on prime of my head. I’ve received so little muscle construction holding its weight. I’d do 30 years in jail if I may do a handstand once more. There’s no quantity of fuckery in comparison with what I’ve to stay with. That is exhausting. That is the largest take a look at I can consider, significantly for somebody who wanted to maneuver as a lot as I did.”

He hopes the movie will give individuals an correct sense of his life, for good and unhealthy. Is he happy with it? “I haven’t watched it. I’m simply not prepared but. I stay it daily, I don’t have to see it. I do know there will probably be a time in my life after I get in mattress and received’t get out of it, and that’s after I’ll watch the movie.” For now, he says, there’s no want to consider that point. “Why look demise within the face? Push him down the street. Kick him up his arse.”

David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived is on Sky Documentaries and Now from 18 November within the UK and on HBO on 15 November within the US.

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