No booze, no wand, no fear. Total Film speaks to Hogwarts royalty about post- Potter action…
When a star blurts out about their booze battle, it often follows a career nosedive or various public balls-ups. Happily, neither applies to Daniel Radcliffe’s confessions about his half-cut Half-Blood Prince year. Like a true wizard, he’d hopped on the wagon and got his life back on track before anyone even noticed he liked a tipple.
“It’s clearly a lot better and less chaotic,” he says, clearly in a good place when Total Film catches up with him in New York.
“449 or so days ago – but who’s counting? – was my last drink. I just felt like I was chasing chaos and making my life difficult, all the time thinking I was having fun. So it feels very nice to not be putting myself in danger, to be waking up in the mornings and not thinking, ‘Oh my god, who am I going to hear from? What did I do?’ It’s a life lived without dread and fear and it is lovely.”
From Boy Star To Man Actor
Put aside puerile thoughts about what Radcliffe did the nights before the mornings after and the key point there is this: his growth from The Boy Who Lived into the man who knows no fear.
After all, he’s currently facing challenges that look scarier to us Muggles than Ralph Fiennes without a conk. Like, can the boy star convince as a man actor? Can he thrive outside the Potter juggernaut, with its cushioning complement of top-league Brit actors? And can he cast spells over audiences without CGI support?
His first post- Potter movie seems well chosen to prove he can. Adapted from Susan Hill’s chill-fest novel (previously a play and a crap-your-pants 1989 TV movie) by Kick-Ass scriptwriter Jane Goldman and Eden Lake director James Watkins, The Woman In Blac k casts Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps, a Victorian widower and dad called to settle affairs at a house in a coastal town lashed by tides of spookiness.
Kipps’ state of mourning requires adult emotions from Radcliffe. The scares are mostly in camera, not CG.
He’s no wizard, he’s a lawyer. And crucially, he’s often very alone...
“The thing I was worried about was not so much playing the side of him that’s been devastated by grief,” says Radcliffe.
“The main thing I was concerned about was the 20 minutes in the middle of the film that has no dialogue and is just me walking around this house. I was thinking, ‘God, will this be like watching paint dry? Will I just be making the same expressions of fear the whole time?’”
“Thankfully, neither is the case,” the actor promises. “It’s one of the most exciting sequences in the film.” With all eyes on his post- Potter form, he reckons he’s upped his game to deliver his finest work yet: “I think it is, absolutely.
“I think it’s equivalent to my work in the last Potter film, which I was pleased with for once. And, I hope, better than that.”
In truth, the harsh criticisms of Radcliffe’s Potter form now feel misjudged. Cast after his touchingly forlorn TV debut in 1999’s David Copperfield , he was a mite stiff in the early Potters .
But that goes with the turf of a film series largely unique in tracking an entire adolescence: re-watched from the perspective of Deathly Hallows , where he simply is Harry, the early films look like awkward but necessary first steps en route to growing into the role’s skin.
Outside of Potter , he’s stripped himself of crutches to prove his standing.
Taciturn in 2007’s December Boys and self-mocking in Extras , Radcliffe silenced prurient fixations over the fact that he literally stripped off on stage as a disturbed hippophile in Equus with an impressively visceral performance.
Add his all-singing, all-dancing, all-year stint in Broadway’s How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying – he recently finished his tenure, with the lead role taken up subsequently by Darren Criss, then Nick Jonas – and it looks like Radcliffe has been scaring himself into testing what he can do.
“A little bit,” he says. “I think stage is a place where I learn and get better. On a long run, you learn so much about your abilities.”
“I want theatre to be a big part of my career. I think with Equus and How To Succeed as my first shows, anything is going to seem easier.”
Anything might seem easier after 10 years in the pap-light, too. With depressing predictability, Radcliffe has been a tabloid target.
But if you sideline his alcohol confession – after all, he’s hardly Olly Reed – then he, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint have collectively rebuked Curse Of The Child Star clichés. “When you’re exposed to mad fame so young, it has a weird effect on you – you have to be careful about where you see yourself and what you think people expect of you,” Radcliffe admits.
“But we are, I think, genuinely very happy and well-adjusted. I think we’ve all done pretty well, I’m pleased to say.”
Which brings us to the big issue: what will Hogwarts’ graduates do well next?
Radcliffe has been connected to various projects: indie comedy The Amateur Photographer (which he says is probably off), a remake of the classic war movie All Quiet On The Western Front (all is quiet on that front).
He wants to star in a new play. A book-lover, he also wants to write: “Every time I see a play or a film, I’m at that point where I want to write something. I’m convinced in my heart that I am a writer but I have no ideas.”
But if The Woman In Black is his only inked-in gig to come, it should offer scares and substance enough to be getting on with, given Radcliffe’s enthusiasm for the script.
“It was genuinely frightening. I’d never read something before that made a chill run up my spine numerous times.
“Then I met James [ Watkins ] and realised we were on the same page in terms of how we saw the film – not just a horror movie but as a character-driven horror movie with the capacity to move people as a comment on grief.”
For His Next Trick
Sure, horror and raw grief are big leaps from Potter ’s flighty fantasy. But don’t underestimate what 10 years as the frontman for the world’s biggest franchise can do to steel an actor.
“I suppose Potter has stood me in good stead for almost any situation,” Radcliffe says, with typically calm confidence.
“There are very few things on a film set, I think, that will faze me because I’ve been lucky enough to experience it all when I was young.”
And for the Boy Who Survived’s next trick? Just watch him thrive.
Director James Watkins talks Daniel Radcliffe
The Woman In Black director takes Daniel Radcliffe to the dark side
What inspired you to cast Radcliffe in a role that’s so far from Harry Potter?
"I saw an opportunity for a real reinvention. Here he’s in a much darker, more adult role. I thought it would be a fascinating journey and when I met Dan he was really up for that journey."
He looks pretty different…
"He looks older and sexier. They aged him down in Potter and if anything we’ve aged him up. Take away the glasses and you can really look into his soul in a much deeper, more complex way. There’s a real contrast between his pale skin and the jet blackness of his hair, the sharp, intense burning blue of his eyes. I wanted people to see Dan afresh."
It’s a bit of a change for you too, after Eden Lake .
"There’s no violence! It’s a completely different aesthetic from Eden Lake, which was deliberately raw. Here the camera is always on a very slow creep, you’re coming round corners and discovering things. We shot everything on track or on steadicam, which is a very seductive and unnerving way of observing things."
This is a Hammer movie – did you pay homage?
"It’s Hammer in that it’s a haunted house movie – there’s some play on that. It’s a fantastic legacy of films, but I didn’t revisit the old Hammer films and I didn’t determine my thought processes by the fact that it was Hammer."
We heard it was going to be in 3D at one point?
"I thought that was a ludicrous idea. It would never have been made in 3D with me directing it!"
This feature originally appeared in Total Film magazine – Issue 189.
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