Daniel Radcliffe interview: from Hogwarts to Inishmaan, 2013
23rd May 2013
Daniel Radcliffe interview: ‘I’ve never done something nasty… until now’. May, 2013.
A couple of years ago, the British theatre director Michael Grandage was dining with Daniel Radcliffe in New York when, across the restaurant, a young girl recognised Radcliffe as the star of the Harry Potter films. “She kind of went into trauma – that’s the only way I can describe it,” Grandage tells me. “She just stood there, breathless, pointing. I’ve never seen anything like it, but Daniel managed to calm her down. He signed something and off she went. He said that happens to him a fair bit.”
One of the curious things about Radcliffe, whom I met recently in Grandage’s Shaftesbury Avenue offices, is his refusal to moan about the price of fame. At 23 years old, he is extremely rich (his fortune has been estimated at £60million), but money is not, he says, the motivating factor in his life. To have grown up in the public eye, in the highest-grossing film franchise of all time, has carried barely imaginable psychological pressures. “There are moments when you have an awareness there are very few other people in the world who understand the position you’re in from your point of view,” he says, but that’s about as far as he’ll go in circumnavigating the strangeness of his life.
“The most wonderful thing I hear is people coming up and saying ‘Thank you for my childhood’, which still blows my mind but is very sweet. When people say ‘What’s it like to be associated with such a big franchise?’ I say ‘It’s very easy when your franchise is something that is so loved.’”
He’s approached, too, as something of a confessor figure. “I’ve become people’s confidant in pubs. Somebody will be drunk and start telling you something about their relationship with their parents. You can end up provoking a huge range of reactions.”
Radcliffe is in the early stages of rehearsing Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan, an uproariously funny, dazzlingly intelligent modern classic, set on the Aran Island of Inishmaan off the west coast of Ireland, and not seen in London since its 1996 National Theatre premiere. It is his first appearance in the West End since his triumphant 2007 debut in Peter Shaffer’s Equus.
Just to hear him enthuse about playing “Cripple Billy” – another orphan hero, derided by those around him, who dreams of Hollywood stardom circa 1934, and the filming of Robert J Flaherty’s enduring documentary Man of Aran – is to receive a powerful adrenalin rush by osmosis.
Despite looking wholly down to earth in a white T-shirt and jeans, he exudes star quality. He’s also savvy enough to sense what not to divulge. When I try to coax him into talking about his love life, he replies with a smile: “I’ve learnt that no matter what I say or don’t say, people form their opinions anyway, so I’m now going to let everyone guess and leave it there.” But he’s also chatty, self-deprecating, articulate, focused – all of the things many young men would like to be at his age but often aren’t.
You might expect an overgrown brat – well, at least a brat of 5ft 5in. Certainly being who he is, he finds “you affect the room you’re in and people will turn around and have certain perceptions of what your life must be like. I feel like ‘child-star prick’ is the image many people have of actors who started young; that’s the stereotype you’re coming up against.” That could easily sound aggrieved, but he says it with a laugh.
It’s only when I try to revisit the subject of his boozing that he clams up. He quit drinking in 2010 but only after going through a bad binge period when he was 18 and filming The Half-Blood Prince, which resulted in him turning up on set “dead behind the eyes”. He trails off when I ask him why that happened, and fixes me with a look of determined resolve that recalls young Harry facing down an assault by Dementors. So we move on.
His unhappy skirmish with drink – which in the past he has attributed to anxiety about his post-Potter career, and a romanticised idea of self-destructive living – has been replaced, in any event, by self-acknowledged workaholism.
That’s not a bad word in his vocabulary. He regards his late pal Richard Griffiths as a model of contentment, curiosity and ceaseless industry. “I didn’t know many actors who were as consistently working as Richard was,” he says. It has been tough going into rehearsals for The Cripple of Inishmaan not long after Griffiths’s death in March following heart surgery. The actor was like a father to him during the early Potter films, in which he played nasty Uncle Vernon, and was also a big support as his co-star during his rites-of-passage debut in Equus (“I was so nervous before we did that show, he made it all seem far less intimidating”).
Radcliffe wept at the funeral and felt a pang to find himself back in the same rehearsal space they had worked in. But there’s no time for staying in mourning: “He wouldn’t be wanting me to slow down.” Going slow isn’t in Radcliffe’s nature. “Hyper” is how those who know him would describe him, he reckons. We need to catch him live while we can in the gilded Michael Grandage Company season, because following the success of The Woman in Black last year – the highest-grossing British horror film in 20 years, and a crucial post-Potter excursion that showed him facing supernatural threats without a wand or sidekicks to assist him – it’s all systems go. “The weight of expectation is a lot less now that that film has come out and done well,” he admits – but even so, the challenge is to see whether he can achieve the versatility he obviously craves.
This year alone, we will see him in an indie romantic comedy, The F Word, from Canadian director Michael Dowse, in which he says, “essentially I play myself – in a fun way – and I didn’t have to get covered in blood or mud”. We can also see him in Horns, a “fantasy thriller” based on a Joe Hill novel by French director Alexandre Aja, in which he stars as a young man accused of the rape and murder of his girlfriend, who wakes to find that he has sprouted special devil horns that allow him to glean people’s inmost secrets. “I don’t think I’ve ever done something bad on screen – and he does some very nasty things to people. It’s a weird, dark movie and I’m thrilled with it.”
He’s equally thrilled with the finished result of Kill Your Darlings, from New York director John Krokidas, in which he plays Allen Ginsberg in 1944 – a point at which the young Ginsberg was discovering his homosexuality, his vocation as a poet and meeting fellow “Beats” William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac.
There are some wildly passionate scenes with co-star Dane DeHaan. Describing the fast, unsparing experience of those shots, he has joked that Krokidas gave him his best-ever director’s note: “When we started kissing, I was too hesitant, and John went, ‘No! Kiss him! F—ing sex kissing!’ The things directors have shouted to me in the past usually involve which way I have to look to see the dragon.”
As soon as the run of The Cripple of Inishmaan ends, he’ll play a hunchback: Igor, the servant to Frankenstein, in a remake by Max Landis that Radcliffe describes as “the most exciting script coming out of the big studios I have read”. Straight after that, he’ll be off to Japan to shoot another film, Tokyo Vice, in which he stars as an American crime reporter called Jake Adelstein who risked life and limb investigating the Japanese underworld.
“He never stops,” Grandage tells me, in awe. For Inishmaan, “Dan”, as he likes to be called, has arrived at rehearsals not only with all the lines learnt, but physically and vocally ready for the part. He has a personal trainer to ensure that his body can take the stress of Cripple Billy’s shufflings and contortions. He has consulted a voice coach with cerebral palsy to see to it that he can bring that to the role, too. And though he boasts Irish ancestry of a sort – his father, who effectively became his manager when the Potter series began filming, hails from Belfast – he has studiously immersed himself in recordings of the Aran islanders.
In a sense, it’s obvious what Radcliffe is up to right now. Having succeeded in show business without really trying, he now has to consolidate childhood’s achievements in adulthood. “I don’t want anyone to ever say that I don’t belong where I am,” he admits.
“That’s a very easy thing for people to say when you fall into something very young, something so huge, and you are wildly lucky to have ever got it in the first place. I want to earn my right to be doing these jobs. It’s a case of don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” He might have ended up like Cripple Billy, yearning for that elusive dream of Hollywood stardom, maybe even a figure of fun. Was that a reason he jumped at the chance to play him? “I definitely saw something in that that was very appealing to me, yes.” He recognises that he’s a character actor, not a conventional leading man – “Because I’m short and slim, I can identify with somebody who’s an unlikely fit for something and desperately wants to be part of it.” And it was a bit of a fluke really, his getting the Potter gig in the first place – thanks in large part to having wound up starring as David Copperfield for the BBC aged 10.
At the time, he wasn’t enjoying private school in London and felt like an underachiever, and “it was like ‘Why don’t you go up for that?’ So I went for it, got it, which came as a surprise to everyone, because I’d been a monkey in a school play when I was six, and that was it. I’d never done any other acting. I enjoyed it, so when chances to audition for other things came up I said yes, not because I thought ‘I love acting’ but because I loved being on a set and working.”
His parents – his father, Alan, a literary agent, and his mother, Marcia, a casting director – famously hesitated before putting him through Potter. “I do sometimes wonder where I would have ended up had my parents said ‘No, you can’t audition,’” he reflects. “It doesn’t really bear thinking about, though,” he adds with another laugh.
Perhaps he will drive himself to some kind of breakdown, pushing away at proving himself to the exclusion of anything one could call a normal life. And yet he seems, as has often been said, wise beyond his years. He knows what he’s up against – “there are many corners to turn” – and counts his lucky stars that it hasn’t gone belly-up so far. He won’t be hobbled by Harry Potter. “It was such a fantastic opportunity, some people can’t believe it could be entirely a good thing. When there were no problems during the series and none of [the young stars] got screwed up, the focus shifted to coming out of it – ‘Well, that’s when it’s going to fall apart.’ But for me in my experience of it – I can say the same for Emma [Watson] and Rupert [Grint] – we have just gone off and we’ve been doing OK. We’re going to be written about in connection with Harry Potter forever. That’s fine. In terms of whether it has affected our ability to get other jobs, so far, touch wood, no, I’m relieved to say.
“I’ve had an amazing decade. I just need to make sure I’ve got a good next one,” he concludes. “It’s all about longevity for me.” Will he stay in the limelight for as long as we’ll allow him? Maybe he will step to one side at a moment of his choosing, he hints. “The main thing I’d like to do over the next five to 10 years is write and direct.
“I’m writing something at the moment. I’ve just completed the first draft of it.” What’s that, then? He flashes that winning smile of his.“It’s a case of watch this space,” he says simply. He can be sure we will.
First published in the Daily Telegraph 23 May 2013.