Daniel Radcliffe remembers listening to Revolution 9, that Beatles cacophony from the White Album, and finding it to be a “horrible, horrible menagerie of nonsense.” He hated it, but he also took something away from the mess of sound: “I remember going: They can do what they liked. They weren’t going to achieve anything more in a commercial vein of success,” Radcliffe said during an interview that marked the end of many weeks working in Canada. “And I always think there’s something in that. I’m fully in acceptance of the fact that I will never be in something as commercially successful as Harry Potter ever again. And in a way that’s a relief: I’ve had this amazing thing happen to me. There’s a lot of my friends who are actors and they’re saying they’re all kind of wanting a big franchise, and I’ve done that, and now I can go pick and choose.”
Radcliffe, 23, is also keenly aware that the choices he makes now are crucial. After starring as the boy wizard in all eight of the Harry Potter films, he knows he will be carefully scrutinized. And he understands that establishing his credibility beyond a role he has literally grown up playing is not going to happen by magic.
“I definitely think this year is the start of really starting to be seen as something else,” he said at the Whistler Film Festival. “I think I’m a long way from [proving myself], but I think the next year’s going to make a few strides toward it.”
Radcliffe was 11 when he was cast in the title role for the first Harry Potter film and spent a decade with the franchise, the final film coming out last year. He has proven himself onstage, with well-reviewed and award-nominated roles in Equus and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. On film, he has starred in December Boys, My Boy Jack and this year’s sleeper hit The Woman in Black. This week, the miniseries A Young Doctor’s Notebook, in which Radcliffe co-stars with Jon Hamm (Mad Men), begins airing in the U.K.
Radcliffe has three films coming out in 2013, beginning with Kill Your Darlings, which will premiere at Sundance Film Festival in January. He plays a young Allen Ginsberg, pre-beat-poet fame, during his sexual awakening. Casting Radcliffe as the legendary Howl poet may have raised some eyebrows, but it allowed Radcliffe to disappear into the role, a physical transformation the actor says has helped him in his work – and will also surely help audiences see him as something other than the boy wizard.
He also experiences a severe physical transformation in the dark fantasy Horns, which has just wrapped eight weeks of shooting in British Columbia. Radcliffe describes Horns as a “very special experience,” praising director Alexandre Aja. “I’ve never wrapped a film before and stood around the camera truck with the camera department and the grips and the grip supervisor, all waxing lyrical about how much we love the director.”
Before coming out to Vancouver to shoot Horns, Radcliffe spent six weeks in Toronto, filming The F Word, with director Michael Dowse (Fubar, Goon).
“It’s very hard … to try not to start some sort of Toronto-Vancouver feud,” Radcliffe says. “Canada’s been very, very good to me over the last six months.”
A romantic comedy co-starring Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks), The F Word explores whether friends can become lovers. Radcliffe says his interest in the project followed a “lovely letter” he received from Dowse, in which the Canadian director explained why he thought Radcliffe was right for the part – referencing his appearance on Saturday Night Live, as Radcliffe recalls. Then, when he got to Page 2 of the script, Radcliffe was really sold: His character Wallace corrects Kazan’s character’s pronunciation of a word. Radcliffe, an etymology freak, was in.
When asked if it’s hard for him to play an everyday guy dealing with run-of-the-mill romantic issues – given how not run-of-the-mill his own coming of age has been, Radcliffe is adamant. “Not at all. No, no, no. Not in the slightest. That’s so much easier than being a wizard,” he says. “My life is much more like Wallace’s life than Harry’s.”
Radcliffe is a superstar, and he’s young, and the two don’t always combine to create the nicest result. Not in his case, though. Diminutive but solid, dressed in a brown sweater and jeans, Radcliffe is either really lovely or putting on a great show. (The guy can act, after all.) He is kind, considerate and exceedingly polite. If anyone discloses that they have children who idolize Harry Potter, he is gracious. “How old are they?” he might ask, appearing truly interested. When, during our interview, he mentioned that interest in etymology and then added, by way of explanation, “roots of words,” he was instantly apologetic. “I know you know etymology,” he said, touching my arm, as if to say: I wasn’t suggesting that you don’t know what that word means.
He also has no qualms about Harry Potter questions, and in fact welcomes the discussion. While he “absolutely, totally, completely” is eager to move on from the Potter character, he does not get at all huffy, that’s-not-the-project-I’m-here-to-promote about it. It made up a decade of his life, he loved the experience, it has taken him to a privileged position. Why would he deny people the opportunity to ask about it?
Radcliffe is back in London now, where later this year he will return to the stage to star in Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan – a dark comedy set in the 1930s on Ireland’s remote Aran Islands.
“It’s really just about the things that excite me and the things that challenge me and at this point about working with people that I think are going to make me better and make me grow and who I’m going to learn from,” he says. “It’s been a great year for working with good people.”