Whenever I’ve seen Daniel Radcliffe, or, as much of the world still knows him Harry Potter, interviewed, I’ve been struck by how down to earth, mild mannered and, I hesitate to use the word, nice, he seems. This is the twentysomething actor who grew up on the set of the most high profile movie franchise in the history of the world, whose face is recognised the globe over, whose bank balance undoubtedly means he would never have to work again if he didn’t want to. By rights you might have expected him to have gone off the rails or, at the very least, be obnoxious enough to make Draco Malfoy blush with embarrassment.
He’s not. He’s charming. He’s intelligent. He’s amusing, self-deprecating and he even humours me when I shout ‘expelliarmus’ as he enters the room. (I don’t do this, of course, but oh the temptation).
“If I had gone through all this in LA,” he says, referring to his childhood playing the world’s most recognisable boy wizard, “I would be a very different person. I think I would still be fine. I think I would still be grounded because I have the parents that I have, but I do think my attitude to the job and the industry might be different.”
By which I take him to mean that showbiz life in Los Angeles has certain implications. Work is not just about work, it is about being seen in the right places and with the right people, who are, more often than not, the wrong people.
While Radcliffe has been open in the past about battling a reliance on alcohol while filming the movie series’ final episodes, he assures me “I much prefer being on a set to being at a party.”
“It’s almost a problem how much I enjoy my work,” he adds, hinting at an addictive personality that finds him, at the moment, experimenting with a variety of hobbies, the latest being rock climbing, in an effort to fill the time when he is not rehearsing, performing or filming.
“I much prefer being on a set to being at a party”
The toil in which he is currently revelling is leading the cast of the West End revival of Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy The Cripple Of Inishmaan. The production, the third play in the Michael Grandage Company season, is, says Radcliffe, “the thing that actors’ dreams are made on”.
Radcliffe plays the title character, Billy, who, when he hears about a film being made on a neighbouring island, is eager to be part of it in an effort to break away from the tedium of his life.
“I’m providing the tragic relief,” Radcliffe laughs. “There are some very funny lines, but the comedy is mainly based around the cruelty to my character.”
Stories about Radcliffe being eager to explore the Irish canon based on his heritage on his father’s side have, it seems, been exaggerated. When director Grandage gave the actor a selection of plays to peruse, he looked no further than McDonagh’s comedy. “I don’t know if Martin McDonagh took any convincing about me,” he ponders. I suspect not. “By the time I met him he seemed really open to the idea. I always feel that if you put me in a room with a director and a writer and let me talk about the script I can give a good account of myself.”
After spending half an hour with the swift-talking Radcliffe, I believe him. The passion and detail with which he describes his upcoming projects, which include the films Kill Your Darlings, in which he plays poet Allen Ginsberg, unconventional romantic comedy The F Word and Horns, where he stars as a man who sprouts horns in the aftermath of his girlfriend’s death, is intoxicating. He’s convinced me that I have to see each of them.
“It’s important for me to say that these films that are slightly off-beat choices, I always go into them with the sense of faith that they can capture a wider audience. I don’t make films so no-one will see them. I know it’s never good to compare yourself to The Beatles, but after they scaled the heights over the first few years of their career they realised they were incredibly commercially successful and now they could just experiment, play and have fun. I’m never going to be in something as commercially successful as Harry Potter ever again. It’s impossible. So that gives me incredible freedom to go off and make the slightly off-the-wall films that I want to make.”
“There’s something electrifying about being on stage and I’ve come to love that”
It also gives him the freedom to return to the stage, which, says the star who made his theatrical debut as a special guest in The Play What I Wrote in 2002 before stunning audiences and Potter fans by making his clothes disappear while playing the horse-obsessed Alan Strang in 2007’s Equus, is “a really adrenalised experience; there’s something electrifying about being on stage and I’ve come to love that. I definitely think that theatre is something I’ll keep coming back to in my career for as long as I can. I also think theatre’s something you have to be very fit to do. I am fairly fit, but I don’t think I could do it all the time.”
It is testament to Radcliffe’s career choices – Equus, Sky Arts’ A Young Doctor’s Notebook, How To Succeed In Business on Broadway – that actually sitting opposite him, listening to his arguments, enjoying his delight at being able to use a new word discovered by a friend – prochronistic, since you were wondering. Look it up. – I don’t once think of him as the bespectacled, lightning scarred, wand wielding schoolboy wizard. If leaving Harry behind was his goal, he’s well on his way to achieving it. I suspect, however, that’s not the case.
“The question I was never asked [by journalists],” he tells me “was ‘Do you consider Harry Potter an amazing launching platform for the rest of your career?’ Some people were very eager to write the story of it being a handcuff rather than a bracelet,” he says, paraphrasing Walter Scott. “I think there was a tendency to want to see failure. Even on the very first film, an American journalist came over to visit the set and interview us all individually. She was asking ‘But are you happy?’ We replied ‘Yes! We’re having a really good time. We’re 11-year-olds on a film set!'”
“Film sets have such a bad reputation for being places to grow up,” he continues. “It is such a huge part of the person I am today. Being on film sets and having to work in that environment and having to become a member of that team at a young age has been such a huge influence on my character in a really positive way that I want to prove that it’s safe to let your kids go on film sets.”
Radcliffe need do no more than continue to make clever choices, interesting work and be himself to do just that.