You know how this script tends to go; precocious child becomes child performer becomes child star. Child star becomes phenomenally famous and indecently wealthy. Child star’s childhood is more about press junkets than the playground. Child star experiences belated adolescence and goes off the rails in epically messy, tabloid fuelling style: cue smirk-smeared mug shots, ‘WTF?’ relationship choices and a quickstep in and out of rehab.
Except that’s not how it panned out for Daniel Radcliffe. Aged 11, Radcliffe was catapulted into the name leagues of stratospheric fame when he was cast as the lead in mega-franchise Harry Potter, something that only increased as he grew up on screen over the course of eight films. A blessed position of course, but one that could justifiably send anyone a little bonkers (and, let’s be frank, what teenager wouldn’t? I’d be worried for myself if I saw my adolescence in print). And yet, Radcliffe has remained about as normal as you can get in very not-normal circumstances (his Potter co-stars Emma Watson and Rupert Grint are also narrative eschewing in their level-headedness; something went very right on those sets).
But perhaps Radcliffe’s biggest feat is that, now aged 26, he’s managed to forge a career as a character actor who isn’t shackled to a role so deeply ingrained in pop culture (not that Potter, as he affectionately calls it, is off-bounds either; there’s a gratitude implicit in Radcliffe’s amenability, that he’s well aware that playing such a cherished part has also given him a lot of freedom). Post-Potter choices are as unpredictable as they are interesting; a troubled teen in Equus and Cripple Billy in The Cripple of Inishmaan, both on the stage, with parts on screen as diverse as Allen Ginsberg (Kill Your Darlings), a blink-and-you-miss-it tongue-in-cheek turn in Trainwreck, and as Igor in Victor Frankenstein on film. Not to be second-guessed, when I spoke to Radcliffe in August he was in the middle of filming indie-pic Swiss Army Man, apparently about a man who befriends a dead body. Well, if anyone can fly in the face of typecasting and cliché, it’s Radcliffe, throwing in his own plot twists every step of the way.
Laura: So you’re in LA at the moment filming, how’s that going?
Daniel: I’ve never actually worked in California before. I’m doing a job called Swiss Army Man with Paul Dano and a pair of directors, called the Daniels. I’m having a great time. It’s one of the most creative things I’ve maybe ever worked on. It’s a small film racing to get things done, but in its ambition it feels huge which is really exciting.
You’ve been very bold in your choice of roles; I wondered how you go about choosing them?
To be honest I’ve reached the point now where I just choose the things that I think are going to make me the happiest to do. I want to work with people that I’m going to learn from. Because I had such a fortunate career to start off with there was never a huge sense of pressure after Potter finished to do movies that are as big as that all the time. I felt like I’d done [big movies] for ten years, and they’re great, but it’s fair to say that the stuff that excites me the most, most often are crazy, tiny projects.
I read somewhere that someone said you picked weird roles and you took that as compliment, can you elaborate on that bit?
I think by weird they meant unexpected, and I think it’s a great thing not to be predictable. I can only infer by the questions I get asked about the roles I choose that people expected me to have a much more boring career by now, so I take it as a compliment.
I feel that you choose things for yourself, but, you’re saying about people’s expectations, do you feel that you battle misconceptions?
I don’t think so much anymore, I don’t feel particularly like I’m coming up against peoples’ pre-conceived notions of me anymore than anyone else in the industry does. I may have had that a bit once, but because I did Equus I think that sent a signal to the industry that I was up for doing different stuff. And as much as some people would still think ‘Never mind that, he’s only ever going to be Harry Potter’ there was an equal number of people who had the opposite reaction, like [director] John Krokidas who saw me do Equus cast me in Kill Your Darlings because he’d seen I was up for trying challenging and potentially vulnerable roles. It made people know I was willing to try other stuff and that I think has paid dividends in terms of people giving me the opportunities. Frankly it suits me that people think I have slightly weird tastes as it means that the scripts I get sent tend to be really original because people know that I won’t dismiss them as slightly mad.
I saw you in Equus in London and I thought it was terrific...
Awesome, thank you very much
It was a very brave thing to do. Do you deliberately seek out roles that will take you out of your comfort zone, or ones where you’ll learn something, or is it just a case of ‘fuck it, that one sounds fun’?
Sometimes it’s a case of I really want to be a part of this, and then I have to work out how the fuck I’m going to do it! Like when I was doing The Cripple of Inishmaan, I loved the part initially and then had to learn an Irish accent and embody the physicality. I didn’t know how to dance until I did a musical, and there’s nothing that will incentivize you to learn to dance quickly than having an upcoming musical on Broadway! I do enjoy challenging myself but it’s not like I’m trying to find the hardest thing I can, more that I find the thing I like the best, and often that comes with something else I have to do.
Has there been anyone you would consider a mentor?
I’ve been really lucky getting to watch people when I was younger. Like Gary Oldman was very influential to me on the Potter set, as were David Thewlis and Imelda Staunton, but whether or not they realized it, I don’t know.
Well I suppose you had access to the best of the best, didn’t you?
Yes, and recently I got to work with Michael Caine, which was just phenomenal because when you’re in the British film industry from a young age, everybody has worked with Michael Caine and everybody talks about him with this incredibly reverential love. It’s wonderful to watch him on set, a man in his eighties, and he still loves it. I was on set with him doing long, cold night shoots where actors half his age would have been complaining bitterly and he’s there laughing and joking. He was very inspirational. The person who in recent years I have talked to the most about in the industry and I’ve learnt a lot from is John Krokidas. Since making Kill Your Darlings he’s become a really good friend of mine. I write and he’s been helping me with my writing. Yes, I would say he’s definitely been a mentor. But, don’t print that, it will go to his head! [LAUGHS]
Do you ever get star struck?
Absolutely, particularly with comedians but it’s probably worse with musicians. If I love and respect your music I want to tell you that immediately. Some people aren’t great at taking compliments and I feel sometimes I’ve been far too gushing. If I like you I’m going to tell you intensely what I like about you and what you’ve meant in my life! [LAUGHS]. The person I most got star struck by was Tom Lehrer, the guy who wrote ‘The Elements’ song and a bunch of other amazing, very funny songs from the ‘60s era and then became a mathematician. It’s very, very geeky but I grew up on his music. When Jarvis Cocker was in the Potter films I’m pretty sure when I met him I just made an arse of myself, being 14 and so eager to impress but also trying to be cool and funny. Oh god, I cringe at my 14-year old self!
I feel you’ve grown up in front of the cameras in two ways; you learned on the job and you’ve had your every move scrutinized. Obviously, you’ve lived an extraordinary life, but it’s your ordinary, right?
Growing up on camera I don’t really think about it at all. That’s not my life; it’s a by-product of my life. Because I don’t watch the films I’m not being constantly confronted by how young I was or how shit at acting I was or whatever I might feel if I watched. What felt normal to me growing up was being on set every day. I was having a conversation with another actor who started very young recently and we were both saying how you meet a lot of people on film sets whose knowledge of film is phenomenal and it’s their love of it that took them into the film industry, whereas I got into film after I’d been doing them for some time. I don’t mean that to sound conceited, it’s just that I fell in love with the process of making films before I fell in love with films themselves. The process of being on set every day is absolutely my normal. The thing that is very hard to explain to people because I just don’t think they believe it, is that it’s probably the most normal and regular I feel because it’s the one place, even though you’re an actor and everyone knows you’re an actor, nobody really gives a shit because everybody sees loads of actors all the time! Being part of cultivating an atmosphere on set which is collaborative, fun and where you help remove some of the hierarchy, is why I love it. It’s the most fun place in the world when it’s good.
In terms of growing up with the paparazzi, that doesn’t feel normal, that never will feel normal. In fact it’s felt less normal as I’ve grown up and it’s affected more people in my life. But it is what it is and a lot of people have it a lot worse than me because I am a man and it’s just part of the job now.
I think it’s very interesting what you say about being a man.
Yes, women have it so much worse from the paparazzi; it’s not even close. I was going into a building recently and as I was approaching I wondered why the paparazzi were there. I knew they weren’t for me because there was no chance in hell they’d know I’d be there. As I was walking in Cara Delevingne was leaving and these two dudes – and we’re talking heavy-set guys in their 30s and 40s – suddenly rush up to her with cameras and shouting. In what other context is that fine? Recently in New York, there’s been a surge in paparazzi activity around where I live, so they got loads of fantastically mundane photos of me and Erin, my girlfriend, shopping.
What’s really funny is that everybody is so desperate to be famous in their own little way. That’s the thing about social media, it’s people acting like celebrities in their circle. Are you able to take the silliness of it all with a pinch of salt, the side that’s about you as a person rather than you as an actor?
Yes, it’s part of my job to give interviews so I can only complain so much about information getting out there about myself. Especially when I was doing Potter, what always kept things in perspective was knowing that all of the craziness would be happening to anyone who played Harry Potter. It wasn’t because of me; it was because of the love people had for those books. That always helped me remember it was something I was incredibly lucky to be doing, rather than something that I felt entitled to.
That’s a really good way of looking at it actually.
I think so. I’ve always had a sense of ‘I’m really lucky to be here. I love it, and I want to work really hard and make sure I can continue doing it.’ People whose careers exist on their celebrity, I honestly don’t know how they do it, because those are all the parts of my job that I have to do for my job but they aren’t the things about my job I love. Whereas for some people that aspect of it is very attractive, but I will never understand or be one of those people.
Most of your life you’ve been famous - and a phenomenal level of fame - yet you’ve managed somehow to keep a low profile, comparatively.
Thank you. Yes, I’ve done ok. Nobody does it perfectly, there’s no blueprint for growing up doing interviews and negotiating being famous. It’s definitely something you live in denial about for a while. You say, ‘I’m just going to be normal’ and then you realize, ‘OK I just can’t do all that, I can’t act as if it isn’t a thing’ and once you get to grips with all that it’s easier.
Was there ever a point when you thought it wasn’t worth it?
No, there really wasn’t because I always loved my job on set so much. There was never a point where I thought I’m going to have to walk away from all this. It never got that bad, I’m lucky.
Do you feel older than your years? Do you feel like an old soul?
Umm. I used to get told that a lot when I was younger but I think that’s more about how only children can seem more mature. But I feel 26 now. Maybe I’m regressing, I’m going upwards physically and backwards mentally and I’ve met now in the middle!
Speaking of being a child, did you have a light bulb moment of ‘That’s what I want to do’?
Yes, but not when I started doing films. It was probably more like on the third film.
Before that it was really good fun, but I wasn’t taking it that seriously, because you’re not thinking of forever when you’re 11 or 12. I guess it was when I was 14, that was the film David and Gary came onto and because they met us as teenagers, not kids, it was more an older brotherish mentality than a parental one. It started to feel really fun. We weren’t just hitting marks any more; we started having opinions on scenes for the first time.
Your latest film is Victor Frankenstein. Why is the story still relevant? What is different about your version and what attracted you to it?
Our version is shown through Igor’s point of view, from his perspective and shows a lot more of his backstory than has ever been shown before. Obviously Igor isn’t a character from the book [the lab-assistant character has appeared in many Frankenstein adaptations but not the original Mary Shelley book], so it isn’t a faithful adaptation but what remains from the book is the argument that I think makes it relevant. We’re still having these conversations about technology and the fears about technology advancing, whether it’s about cloning or Artificial Intelligence or whatever it is, these are current conversations. Jurassic Park is in fact a Frankenstein story in that sense. And for me what was fun about the script was that we were allowed to have this big, interesting conversation about man’s relationship to technology and science set against the backdrop of this incredibly fun adventure movie.
Do you have some kind of game plan for your career or do you like to roll with the punches and see what comes up?
Not really, I just want to keep going and that’s all anyone can ask for really, making films that excite me and make me happy. I have aspirations to write and direct and that hopefully may be something I can get to try out in the next few years.
And is that when you’re happiest when you’re creating?
When I’m on set, absolutely, yeah. I think that’s definitely where I feel most in my element. When I’m there it just feels most like home.
painting: Kris Knight
photography: Dennis Golonka
styling: Romina Herrera Malatesta
art direction: Lisa Dotson