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Daniel Radcliffe poses during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Since completing his 10-year-long gig as Harry Potter, Radcliffe has taken a variety of roles in both theatre and film.Victoria Will/The Associated Press

Daniel Radcliffe offers me a cupcake. It's his 25th birthday, and he's in a Toronto hotel suite conducting interviews. "It's the first time I've done press on my birthday, but I had my birthdays on films sets for years and years," he says cheerily. Then he offers me a slice of cheesecake. The hotel sent up two, each almost as large as the actor himself, who is compact and wiry. His pale blue eyes are rimmed with tender-looking pink, that naked look that glasses-wearers get when they remove them. His eyebrows, however, are lush and dark, like two bonsai hedges on his forehead.

How strange it must be to grow up onscreen. In Boyhood, my favourite film this year, the lead actor ages 12 years over three hours. But long before Boyhood, we watched Radcliffe age 10 years over eight films. He was 11 when he first played Harry Potter, and 21 when he finished. Think about everything that happened to you in those years. Now think about doing it in front of a billion people.

So it's remarkable that Radcliffe seems as grounded as he does – and as warm, gracious and peppy (not because he's hopped up on sugar, either; the cakes are untouched). He's a pro. That was obvious the previous night, when he walked a red carpet past hordes of teenagers squealing, "Harry!" and holding out copies of their Potter books for him to sign. It was obvious at an after-party, when he kept bounding down from the cordoned-off VIP area into the main room, to mingle with civilians and pose for their selfies. And it was obvious to Michael Dowse, who directed Radcliffe in the Canadian rom-com The F Word.

"The joke was, Dan was the youngest guy, but the most experienced guy," Dowse says in a separate interview. "He'd spent more hours on a set than any of us. I used to say, 'Can't you ever be late? Can't you pout in your trailer for a couple hours, so I have a scapegoat if things go wrong?'"

"He's compulsively hardworking," agrees Zoe Kazan, one of Radcliffe's co-stars. "He comes to set with his lines learned. We got together on our days off and ran lines. He was a joy to work with. And everyone in the theatre in New York, from stagehands to producers, raves about him, praises his work ethic and thinks he's so talented."

Theatre played a large part in Radcliffe's transition from Harry to adult roles. Canny enough to know that he could only play a boy wizard for so long, he used a break between phoenixes and half-blood princes to appear on stage in Equus, which required him to be a) psychologically complex and b) nude, first in London, then in New York.

"Equus was big for me, in terms of letting people know I was serious about acting," Radcliffe says. "If people give you the opportunity to take a risk, and you make the most of it, then people will give you more." Proving himself right, he followed up with the stage musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and the intense drama The Cripple of Inishmaan.

On his final day of playing Harry, Radcliffe wept, as did everyone in the cast and crew, but he had films lined up like ducks in a shooting gallery. He played a lawyer in the ghost story The Woman in Black, and the poet Allen Ginsberg in the period drama Kill Your Darlings. And now, in the new thriller Horns, he's essaying no less a figure than the Devil. (It opens today, Halloween.)

Directed by Alexandre Aja, based on the novel by Joe Hill (Stephen King's son), Horns stars Radcliffe as a small-town guy accused of murdering his girlfriend (Juno Temple). Waking one morning, he discovers not only that horns are growing out of his head, but also that anyone he meets immediately admits to and indulges in their darkest, most hidden thoughts and behaviours.

"The script was one of the most original I'd ever read," Radcliffe says. "I like stories that take things we all relate to – broken-heartedness, loss, feeling like an outsider – and deal with them in an extreme, original, different way."

People tell him they're "weirded-out" by the film's brimstone-stoked ending, which he finds puzzling: "You just watched two hours of craziness, did you not expect it to have a crazy ending?" he asks. "But as a friend of mine put it, I'd rather it be nine people's favourite thing than 100 people's ninth favourite thing."

(Adding to his charm, he offers a succinct explanation of the difference between fantasy, "which implies that the whole world of the piece is fantastic," and magic realism, "where the world is reality, but punctuated with acts of magic." Thank you!)

Radcliffe is sanguine about his working childhood. "Of course there are things I didn't do, experiences I don't have," especially university, he says. "But I have experiences no one else has."

At his posh school, where "everyone was privileged, and much the same," Radcliffe's "high energy level and talkative nature irritated everybody," he says. "I was hyperactive. I need to move around, and I learn best by having discussions. If you tell me something, I won't remember it. But if you tell me something, I ask a question and get an answer, then there will be something originated in my mind that will knit all that together, so I can retain it."

On a film set, energy and a love of discussion are attributes. "To discover a world where I was encouraged for doing everything I'd previously been reprimanded for was amazing," Radcliffe continues. "It gave me confidence, not only financially and career-wise, but in terms of the person I am. And spending every day for 10 years with my dresser and the crew gave me a much broader world view."

Sometimes he wishes he could go get pissed in a pub without anyone caring. He wishes people couldn't profit "by writing ridiculous things about me and my girlfriend." But "I wouldn't be sitting here if it wasn't for Harry Potter, I'm under no illusions about that," he says. "And I was able to do most of my growing up off-set. My youth and my lessons still feel like mine, not shared with the world."

So no quarter-life crisis for Radcliffe – this birthday is as sweet as those cheesecakes. He's got some splashy projects lined up, including Trainwreck, a comedy directed by Judd Apatow, starring Amy Schumer and a dozen other hilariosos; Victor Frankenstein, which tells the tale from Igor's point of view (he's Igor; James McAvoy is the doc); and the sequel to the magician caper Now You See Me, in which he plays Michael Caine's son.

"In my mind, I've been 25 for a while," Radcliffe says. "I feel I'm at the beginning of lots of things. I'd like to write and direct. I want to have a family. There's lots and lots to go. Everyone tells me the years 25 to 30 are particularly good. I plan to enjoy them."