DAN THE MAN
THE CHILD STAR ON KISSING EMMA WATSON, AND CASTING OFF THE HARRY POTTER SPELL (BY GETTING NAKED... A LOT)
Daniel Radcliffe is a member of an elite actors’ club, which includes two of his Harry Potter co-stars, Alan Rickman and Gary Oldman. Its most recent member is James McAvoy, whom Radcliffe met this year when filming Victor Frankenstein, the most recent movie based on Mary Shelley’s iconic novel Frankenstein.
The membership criteria of the club are extremely strict, and candidates are heavily vetted. ‘To join you have to have been stark b****** naked on stage at some point of your career,’ he says. ‘I mean full frontal nudity in front of thousands of people.’
Radcliffe was 17 when he stripped bare for Equus. It was his first post-Potter – and his debut theatre – role after making five of the eight Potter movies. It was a decision that sent shockwaves through the film-watching world on a level akin to the once squeaky clean Miley Cyrus twerking in a nude bikini at the Grammy Awards. Never have so many cameras been raised in a London theatre. Never before has one naked scene caused so many headlines around the world.
‘James says that I definitely get top spot for what I did in Equus, which was effectively stand there completely naked for about ten minutes. Ten minutes is a hell of a long time – and I was out there at the centre of the stage.
‘When you take your clothes off – whoever you are – there is very little acting going on. You are standing on a stage thinking, “Oh my God, I’m naked. They are all looking at my bits.” They are in the audience thinking: “Oh my God he’s naked. Look at his bits.” There are mobile phones up in the air but you are trying not to notice. It’s the weirdest thing because you are absolutely dreading it, yet you are doing it voluntarily and then you have to do it again and again and again...’
Before agreeing to the role, Radcliffe turned to an elder statesman of British cinema, Oldman (who played his mentor Sirius Black onscreen and who had become his mentor offscreen) for advice. He grins: ‘Gary’s always someone I can talk to and he thought it was a good thing to do. I also knew from a technical point that he’d taken his clothes off quite a lot and I thought he may have a trick or two. But he basically said: “There’s no advice. You just have to get ’em off and go for it. You’ve just got to do it.” Like jumping into cold water.’ Radcliffe pauses. ‘You become part of this little club and actors will bring it up because they know what you’ve done. It becomes this bond. Alan Rickman did the play The Grass Widow early in his career  where he had to lie down naked for five minutes, and Gary and James both had to be naked in Privates On Parade.’
While Radcliffe is fully clothed for our meeting, he has, however, continued to strip off in film after film, including his most recent release, What If. He nods: ‘Yup, I did three films last year and I got naked in all of them. I think getting naked on a stage gets rid of all your inhibitions.
‘I also decided to start going to the gym, so the whole thing about hating how you look doesn’t become an issue. There’s nothing like doing a nude scene to put yourself under pressure. But honestly, it might look like I do but I don’t go round insisting that nudity clauses have to be put in my contract – I just happen to be getting it out a lot at the moment.’
For Radcliffe, nudity was a way of freeing himself from Harry Potter, a role that defined him from the age of 11 when he was cast as the Hogwarts hero in what was to become the biggest movie franchise of all time. He admits that stripping off made people look at him in a completely different way.
Alongside Emma Watson ( Hermione) and Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Radcliffe became the most famous child star in the world, frozen in time, like an Andy Warhol painting, as the boyishly bespectacled Harry. The films earned him millions (according to one rich list he is worth € 75 million) and made him famous and loved the world over. But ironically, even though it made him the leading star of the most successful children’s film series ever, it did not – at least in his own mind – make him an actor. And being an actor was the only thing Radcliffe wanted to be.
To become a real actor, Radcliffe had to lose Potter. There were two ways he could go. The well-trodden Britney Spears/ Lindsay Lohan/Justin Bieber child star rebel route, which i nvolves an aura of dubious credibility via s ex , d r ugs , rock ’n’ rol l and spells in r e h a b. A nd then there was the alternative route: just what he calls ‘ t h e a b s olut e unexpected’.
To be fa ir, between the ages of 18 and 20 Radcliffe did almost go off the rails, drinking himself into blackouts, having casual sex and – on occasions – turning up for work on the set of his latest Potter movie while still under the influence. Whisky was his drink – and he has confessed that he was ‘a really annoying, loud, inappropriate, messy, drunk’.
‘I don’t think I was consciously trying to rebel or sabotage everything,’ he says. ‘It felt more like there isn’t any blueprint for how to do this, get through this. And the reason I spoke out about it was because I felt someone else would and I should take control... which is exactly what I did.’
Radcliffe says Har ry Potter haunted him in other ways. Although he acknowledges that winning the
role of the boy wizard was the movie equivalent of winning a Willy Wonka golden ticket to fame and fortune, there were many times Radcliffe could barely watch himself on screen.
‘Doing Potter was an incredible blessing because it gave me this opportunity to start a fantastic career. But then the moments I’m not as proud of, mistakes other actors get to make in rehearsal rooms or at drama school, are all on film for everyone to see.’
He pauses again. ‘I never liked watching myself on film but I do make myself sit through it. I think it comes from not actually realising I didn’t have to go to my own premieres and watch the film – that’s something I’ve only just realised you don’t have to do. I always went along and sat with everyone else watching the movie.
‘And that’s why it’s hard to watch a film like Harry Potter And The Half- Blood Prince, because I’m just not very good in it. I hate it. My acting is very one- note and I can see I got complacent and what I was trying to do just didn’t come across. My best film is the fifth one (Order Of The Phoenix) because I can see a progression.’
JK Rowling remains a huge supporter: ‘To my knowledge she was always very happy with the way I played him, but it’s my job to be critical.’ Was he critical of her decision to rob him of the chance to end up with Hermione? He laughs: ‘No. I’m glad it ended like that. If Harry and Hermione had ended up together it would have been too conventional and it’s far better to be unorthodox.’ He laughs: ‘And I did get to kiss Emma, so all is good.’ Radcliffe is now 25, clearly not cut out to be a rebel and it doesn’t take long to realise this when you meet him. The middle- class son of a literary agent (Alan) and casting agent ( Marcia) cares too much about being liked, being good at his job and being a nice guy. He rolls his own cigarettes, loves rap star Eminem, the TV quiz show Pointless, American football, and a ‘ filthy’ Starbucks (caramel Frappuccino with extra caramel).
Radcliffe has somehow managed, amid the maelstrom of Potter, to live a relatively normal life. He went to Reading music festival three times with his mates as a teenager and still eats in burger chains because, he says: ‘I made a decision early on to keep things as normal as possible. There are times when you go in a pub and you realise someone wants to fight you, but you just have to be aware when that’s going to happen and get out. And there are times you go out and you get accosted by loads of people with camera phones, but then that’s just the rent you pay for getting to do this job.’
He is polite, chatty, engaged. He’s also incredibly tuned in to the whole acting process, highly self-critical and intent on improvement.
‘It’s more important for me to be very critical because I’ve grown up in an atmosphere where everyone is always wanting to be nice to me and say what I’m doing is great. And so you don’t trust that. Ultimately you have to look to yourself or a handful of people to get a proper opinion. I’m seriously critical of myself – if I wasn’t I would be worried. You don’t want to be the one people say: “Great, great, great” to and then turn round and think: “S***, s***, s***.”’
‘ I only really started to feel I was being just Daniel Radcliffe in 2012, and it started when I made Kill Your Darlings [the critically acclaimed indie movie in which he plays tortured young Beat poet Alan Ginsberg] followed by Horns and What If. That was a really important year for me – I suddenly started to feel I’d relaxed as a person and as an actor and that I didn’t have to keep proving myself or justifying that I can do this job. I certainly think that after Kill Your Darlings and my role on Broadway in The Cripple Of Inishmaan, the debate as to whether I can do things outside of Potter is near to ending.’
Radcliffe’s acting choices have been – as he intends – both brave and unorthodox. From Equus he went on to another acclaimed stage performance in Martin McDonagh’s black comedy, The Cripple Of Inishmaan, in which he plays a lonely Aran Island outcast. On television he’s starred opposite Mad Men’s John Hamm in A Young Doctor’s Notebook, taken the brickbats on Have I Got News For You and appeared with Ricky Gervais in Extras.
On screen, he secured plaudits for Kill Your Darlings and the darkly brilliant The Woman In Black. In the thriller Horns he plays a man accused of rape and murder who wakes to find a pair of horns growing from his head. ‘It’s dark, outrageous and very different again,’ he says.
His latest film, What If, is a very conventional modern-day romantic comedy about a perfectly matched couple – but while she wants to stay friends he wants something more. ‘I
‘I’m a pretty good judge of character, and I only go for intelligent girls. I’m
a serial monogamist’
think this is the part where I play someone most like myself,’ he says. ‘I’m definitely the geeky guy who wants to be in a relationship. And it was a big thing for me to do a modernday romance. There was no point in this film where I had to get covered in blood, or cry over the body of someone, or pull someone out of a muddy bog.’
His own love life is relatively normal. He is currently dating his Kill Your Darlings co- star Erin Darke, after splitting from Rosie Coker, a set painter from the Potter movies, in 2012. ‘I’ve never been paranoid about girls dating me for the wrong reasons because I’m a pretty good judge of character,’ he says. ‘And I only go for intelligent girls. I’m a serial monogamist, though. I think the shortest relationship that I was in was six months and I think I’ve been pretty lucky because I’ve never gone for the wrong type of girl. I’ve definitely had my heart broken, but it was more when I was a kid and hung up on someone. I’ve never actually been dumped. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing, it just hasn’t happened to me.’
Two years ago he bought an apartment in New York. He divides his time between there and London. ‘I think it is a bit easier in New York – I get bothered less. The politics are better, too; we have Cameron, they have Obama. Plus they have American football, and I’m obsessed by it.’
While he is the first to seek advice ( he cites Oldman and his parents as people he always listens to) he does not dole it out to the likes of Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus. ‘I have no idea what is going on in their lives and I wouldn’t presume to give advice unasked.’
Radcliffe is determinedly low-key. He is wearing black jeans and a T-shirt – there is no sign of an expensive watch or even a single piece of jewellery. A few weeks ago, during filming of Victor Frankenstein in Edinburgh, Radcliffe made a decision to hang on to the extreme hair extensions he wears for the part of Igor.
‘ I could cover my face with them – I was totally unrecognisable. It was pretty amazing. I did lots of random things I never do, like go to Tesco and sit in a park. Everyone just walked past me – I didn’t get stopped once.’ And for this reluctant superstar, nothing pleased him more.
What If is released in cinemas on August 20
Clockwise from above: Radcliffe with Mad Men’s John Hamm in A Young Doctor’s Notebook; in familar Harry Potter pose; with girlfriend Erin Darke, his co-star in Kill Your Darlings; on stage in Equus in 2007; with Zoe Kazan in a scene from his new film What If; and in the supernatural thriller Horns