The cliché is that successful child-actors go into an irreversible decline, or rehab, or even the cold, cold ground not long after puberty kicks in and audiences check out.
But surely no young actor has had to grow up in public quite like Daniel Radcliffe? The star of the eight multi-million grossing Harry Potter films, running from 2001 when he was just 10 years of age up until the final Potter movie a decade later, Radcliffe has been seen by gazillions of people up there on the silver screen and is pursued left and right by the media.
So, has he gone crazy? Far from it. Remarkably, the smart, witty and self-deprecating young man sitting in front of me at London’s uber-trendy Soho Hotel is readily recognizable as the same smart, winning and self-aware boy I first met back when he was introduced to media hordes as the boy who would be playing the boy wizard and, as the Potter operation rolled smoothly along, have checked in with every couple of years since on film sets and hotel rooms around the place.
It’s surely no coincidence that, bucking the trend big-time, Radcliffe’s post-Harry Potter career just keeps getting more interesting and varied.
Film-wise, he was far and away the most interesting thing in the ghostly pot-boiler The Woman in Black, before playing the young Allen Ginsberg in Kill Your Darlings, while the end of October will see him sprouting horns and contending with supernatural forces in Alexandre (Piranha 3D!) Aja’s adaptation of Joe Hill’s novel Horns. He’s also playing Igor in the eagerly-anticipated revamp of Frankenstein and reveals that “my Igor sounds like a rougher version of me. I don’t think of myself as being massively posh, but I know I am a bit. And, yes, prosthetics are involved. I don’t want to say too much but you get what you think of as Igor…”
Nor has he been afraid to bare all – and not just artistically – on stage, starring in Equus in the West End and on Broadway, then singing and dancing in the Broadway revival of How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying before his recent triumph in Martin McDonagh’s hilariously searing The Cripple Of Inishmaan.
From this week he’s showing off another, somewhat unexpected, string to his bow as the lead in a rom-com, What if. And, guess what? He’s really rather good in a very decent film of its sort, playing a distinctly Radcliffe-esque character called Wallace. He’s burned out from a string of failed relationships but forms an instant bond (‘meets cute’ in the parlance) with Chantry (played by Zoey Kazan). The problem is that she lives quite happily with Ben, her long-time and actually not at all shitty boyfriend. Like the decent chap he is, Wallace doesn’t want to be the bloke who breaks them up, particularly after Chantry has become his best friend.
I know, I know – and When Harry Met Sally pretty much wrote the book on that whole ‘can men and women ever really be just friends?’ thing. But What if does actually manage to quite funnily subvert some of the very clichés it could be accused of perpetuating. Revealingly, Radcliffe says the film that really inspired him while he was making it was not one of the more obvious recent rom-coms but Frank Capra’s brilliant 1934 comedy It Happened One Night.
“If you haven’t seen that, or not seen it for a while, you really should,” he urges, and you’ve got to love the idea of a whole generation of Harry Potter fans being introduced to a Depression-era screwball comedy by their favourite wizard.
Meanwhile, back at the business of selling the current film…
“Doing this really wasn’t about doing something in a different ‘genre’ or showing off my versatility or any of that,” he laughs. “I was talking about this with a friend of mine the other day and with actors, the only time you ever talk about ‘genre’ is when you’re talking about a film to journalists. So, doing something different for the sake of it is not something that really factors into my thought processes and ‘only get me rom-coms’ or whatever is certainly not something you’d say to your agent instead of ‘just get me great scripts’. I had actually read a few romantic comedy scripts about this time, and some of them were really good. But this one had a realistic chance of getting into production, so I wanted to be a part of it.
“What I liked about it,” he continues, “was that it felt smart. The dialogue was funny, yes, but it felt like how people actually speak. I also found it very moving, especially at the end of the film, without it trying too hard. It’s just a simple sweet story that is, I think, quite emotionally affecting as well. Not in a big way at all but films like this can often be kind of disposable. We all know they can be very entertaining to watch for a bit but then you forget about them immediately. I hope that this is the kind of film that will stick with people for a bit longer than its running time!”
It’s mostly set in Toronto (for once, not doubling for New York) but Wallace sounds very British and, notably, just like Daniel Radcliffe.
“Absolutely,” he blithely acknowledges. “To be honest, I originally learned the part ‘North American’ and then when I got out there to Canada two days before we started filming they told me I had to do it in my own accent. Basically, they told me I wasn’t marketable in an accent that people wouldn’t recognize as me.
“Which is bad news for Horns and all the other stuff I’ve done with an American accent,” he chuckles. “It was one of those ridiculous last-minute panics you get on films, but I wasn’t going to go ‘screw you guys!’ and put 200 people out of work for the sake of an accent. It ended up being fine for the character because there’s nothing inherently Canadian about him. It’s just a bit annoying because I like doing American accents, it’s fun, and the speech patterns might sound a bit like mine because we used a lot of improvisation, so a lot of my own personality probably does come out.
“There isn’t any process to choosing a script beyond reading it and enjoying it – or not. I think I’m really lucky in the sense that I’ve got good instincts. My mum was a casting director, mostly for Peter Kosminsky who tends to do intense and challenging political stuff on TV, and my dad’s whole job as a literary agent was to find new writers. So I like to think that I’ve inherited some of their taste and instincts for scripts.
“But I just like stuff with good dialogue and fully realized characters. If it has some fresh take on something, then that’s great too.”
None of which stops him being sent some stinkers, though.
“Especially action films! People think of romantic comedy as being a genre that’s had a bit of a hard time recently, and I get that, but I don’t think it’s as bad as the action-movie, which nobody cares about at all. There’s never a character involved in any of those films, just the same people thrown into different cities with a different cast. I like action movies and I feel like there used to be witty ones, like Die Hard, where you were invested in those characters and thrilled. But great action movies are few and far between these days.
“To be honest, though, I can’t really picture myself in an action-movie type role. As an actor you have to know what you’re not right for. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I have trouble reading them. My theory is that, if the first half of something is truly terrible, then the second half can never be good enough to warrant that first half, however good the twist is at the end or whatever. So if I’m not loving a script by halfway through, that’s it. I do generally try to finish everything though, just in case you’re meeting directors or something.
“Also I get an unusual amount of action in the other stuff I do. Frankenstein’s got loads, Harry Potter obviously had loads, Horns has got quite a bit. So I get my fill of it without having to do the rest of the terrible action movie around it.”
Which sounds like a result. Nor, he claims, has he ever regretted turning anything down.
“Even though some have been pretty good,” he admits, “just not for me. But that’s bound to happen one day.
“The worst idea that ever came my way was before Potter had finished, when someone suggested that The Wizard of Oz was remade with Emma as Dorothy and Rupert and I as The Cowardly Lion and The Scarecrow. I can remember getting that and thinking ‘that person is the laziest crazy person in the world’.”
As it happens, JK Rowling has recently started tinkering with the Potter mythos and has even wondered in public whether it might not have been a mistake at the end of the series to marry off Hermione to Ron, instead of Harry.
Of course, Radcliffe knows the inevitable question is coming but, good-humouredly enough, he fields it for the umpteenth time.
“You know I’ve always said that I’m proud to be associated with that film series forever, but I think ten years is a long time to spend with one character. So it’s very doubtful that you’ll ever see me as Harry again.
“And, personally, I was perfectly happy with the way everything ended. If anything, I thought that Harry and Hermione would have been a bit of a predictable way to go. But they’re her characters, so she’s perfectly entitled to change her mind.”
A few months ago he was on publicity duties for Horns at Comic-Con and, when he wasn’t working, walked the convention floor in a Spider-Man suit so as not to be recognized. Funny but a bit weird, surely?
“I’m very accepting of what my life is and one of the limitations of my life is that, if I were to just walk on to the Comic-Con floor, it would have very quickly turned into a lot of taking photos with people. It’s absolutely not a frustration, but sometimes it’s nice to be able to interact with people without that change that people have when they see someone they know from films and stuff. Even if it’s only for an hour and means wearing a Spider-Man suit, which wasn’t as comfortable as I’d hoped and got in the way a bit.”
He remains adamant that he did not miss out on a childhood like some other child actors.
“I’ve been given a much better perspective on life by doing Potter,” he says. “The stereotype about child actors is that they’re kind of brattish and lazy. I think when I was younger, because I thought that was what people might think of me, I always wanted to make sure that was never the case. When you are aware of that from a young age, I think it lights a bit of a fire under you, and it makes you want to not ever let these people say they were right.
“You just have to look around when you are working with people like Imelda Staunton, David Thewlis and Gary Oldman to see not just how they are as actors, but how they conduct themselves on set. That is very inspirational. I hope, and I certainly feel like, I learned a lot from them about how to be not just a good actor but a good professional.”
By Kevin Bourke
What if is now on general release