Daniel Radcliffe: interview
Time Out catches up with Daniel Radcliffe as he returns to play the world's most famous boy-wizard in 'Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince'. The star of the JK Rowling adaptations talks to us about growing up in the spotlight and taking washing round to his parents' house
No wands. No glasses. No scars. Those were the rules we agreed with Daniel Radcliffe’s camp when we started planning our cover shoot with the 19-year-old star of ‘Harry Potter’. Which is why Radcliffe is now in a west London photo studio and giving it the ecstatic-junkie look on a bare mattress.
Today is all about Dan – as everyone calls him – not Harry.
‘He’s like a pig in shit,’ says Radcliffe’s publicist, Vanessa, when I turn up halfway through the shoot. I couldn’t have put it better myself. When I first catch sight of Radcliffe, he’s having an intense moment in front of the lens. It’s his iPod that’s rocking the studio – Interpol, for the record – and he’s mouthing the words like a musician possessed, his body shaking and his eyes staring at the camera and giving it the full-on rock-star attitude.
‘It’s the nearest he’ll ever get to shooting an album cover,’ whispers Vanessa as the shoot continues. She’s been working with Radcliffe ever since he was 11 and first cast as JK Rowling’s pint-sized hero. She’s seen him through six ‘Harry Potter’ films (with two more to go, which he’s shooting back-to-back this summer), a naked performance in ‘Equus’ in the West End and on Broadway, and, of course, the small matter of his entire adolescence.
Later on, we all scramble on to the roof for one final shot. It’s safe enough, but the sharp drop and glass skylights draw the odd worried look. Radcliffe is loving this: he extends his arms as if to fly and bounces back and forth between two sloped roofs. Each time he jumps up and lands, we breathe a sigh of relief when he doesn’t go crashing through the asphalt.
One of the assistants, inspired by talk of rooftop free-running, asks, ‘What’s the drug that makes you feel like you can fly?’LSD!’ shouts Radcliffe. Blimey. It’s not the sort of thing you expect from Harry Potter.
Photos taken, clothes changed, we return to the roof, just the two of us. ‘This is got to be the coolest place I’ve ever done an interview,’ says Radcliffe. He’s good company, lucid and self-aware. And while he’s lived the sort of teenage life it’s hard to imagine, he seems to have come through it unscathed. He’s left home, but he still lives near his parents in London. He’s also got a girlfriend, Laura O’Toole, an actress whom he met while appearing in ‘Equus’ in 2007.
When we’re done, Radcliffe pulls on his leather jacket and heads for the car (complete with driver). It’s Saturday evening, the sun’s out, there’s no work tomorrow. What’s he up to? ‘I’m off to a friend’s house,’ he says. ‘To play chess.’
‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ is out this week and you’re already filming the last two movies. How does it feel to have the end in sight?‘I’ve got a year left of shooting, so I’m not thinking about the end yet. Probably on the last day I’ll get emotional, but not for the reasons anyone would expect. Not because I’m leaving behind a character. I will be sad about that, but that’ll happen six months after. That’s normally when I think: God, I could have one more go at that. Although, to be fair, I’ll have had eight goes at Harry Potter by that time. But I’ll be sad because I’ll miss all my friends that I worked with every day. It’ll feel like a tribe splitting up.’
You must be starting to think about what you want to do next?‘I want to keep acting. I want to test myself. And I’m sure I’ll cock up a few times, but that’s to be expected. I don’t have any certain plans. For now I just want to try things and see. I would love to work in America. I wouldn’t love to live there, but I’d love to experience working there.’
Between Potters, you did the play ‘Equus’ and a couple of films. Were you looking to do things that were miles away from ‘Harry Potter’, to show you could?‘Yes, we always knew it was important that I start doing other things to ease people out of the perception of me being one character. Otherwise I’d be doing eight Potter films and then suddenly saying, “Okay, now I can do this!” And people are a bit more sceptical if you leave it all those years and then decide to do something else.’
Who do you make those decisions with?‘When I say “we” I mean me, my mum and my dad and my agent: we’re all very close. My agent Sue [Latimer] is a family friend of 20 years and her son is Freddie Highmore who was Charlie in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”.’
So that’s the inner council?‘Yes, exactly. My dad’s got a brilliant eye for scripts ’cos he’s a literary agent. He and my agent read a load of scripts and filter them.’
Do you worry that people will forever see you as a schoolboy wizard?‘A lot of people will be generous and open-minded enough to see me as other people. But I think that to a lot of people I will always be Harry. However, there’s one thing that might work in my favour, and that’s that I’m still going to change so much, I hope. I’m not going to grow – that’s tough luck – but hopefully the change in me physically will help people disassociate me from Potter. But I would never want to dismiss it because it has given me every opportunity. You know, people say to me, “Are you worried about being typecast?” – I’ve got to say no. I haven’t been so far, so I don’t know why I should in the future.’
How did you feel when JK Rowling said she was writing the last book?‘I think I always knew there were only going to be seven books. Because in the books you get seven terms of Hogwarts. I did have a mild moment of cardiac arrest one day when I picked up my phone and looked at the browser and it said, “Rowling promises eighth Harry Potter book,” and I was like, “Arghhh! What?!” I saw her the other day and I said, “Jo, you’re not going to do any more, are you?” She said, “No, don’t worry. No more Potters.” Which I think slightly worried her because it looked like I’d had a horrible time doing the films.’
You’ve described the new film, ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’, as being a bit like ‘Trainspotting’. You’d better explain that one…‘There are a few references, yeah, certainly. There is a moment when Ron takes a love potion and he’s suitably loved up, hence, yeah: he’s sort of ecstatic. Then Harry at one point takes the potion Felix Felicis, and I was doing a vague attempt at Spud’s famous scene in “Trainspotting”, you know the one where he talks really fast? It’s that kind of mentality.’
Do you ever wonder how a story set in a boarding school became so popular?‘I don’t know! I really don’t know.’
You’re probably not the best person to ask because you’re in the middle of it.‘Yes – and you’re the first person to realise that. I can’t tell how far this phenomenon stretches because I’m so in the centre of it. I can’t see the edges. I’m aware of it being a phenomenon, because you can hardly not be when you disembark a plane in Japan and there are 5,000 people waiting for you. It was overwhelming for a 12 or 13 year old. But I do sometimes look back and go: God, how did I do this when I was young? How did I cope with this? But when you’re 11, I suppose you have more energy.’
There’s a difference between being 11 and having screaming girl fans and then being 15, 16, 17, 18. How did you deal with it?‘You laugh off a lot of it. You have to dismiss it as being ridiculous. And realise they’re not there for you, they’re there because you play this character. If I play another role, there won’t be 5,000 people to greet me at an airport. It’s Harry more than me. And as long as you make that distinction, it’s easier to cope with it. It’s only when you start to believe you’re as good as they think you are and you’re somehow above the rest of humanity that things go badly wrong.’
Did you finish school a while ago?‘Yes, almost three years ago. My parents recommended that I stop, funnily enough. We were sitting in a restaurant in Australia and they said to me, “You’re going be doing ‘Equus’ in a month, and with the rehearsal hours you just won’t have time to keep going with formal schooling.” So I stopped. I’ve continued seeing a language teacher twice a week. We just sit and discuss ideas. It’s a wonderful way of working. I imagine it’s how Roman children were schooled.’
It sounds like you had a pretty good community around you on ‘Harry Potter’.‘And a much more varied one than at school, age-wise, background-wise. I was very much a product of the public-school system. There was only one other kid in my class who had parents not involved in the stock market or law.’
So you never felt you were missing out on relationships with other kids?‘I had that on set. And I’ve been given a much better perspective on life by doing Potter. The different people you’re exposed to on Potter give you a much more worldly view of things.’
You obviously adore music. Do you go and see a lot of bands?‘Not as much as I want to. It’s hard because I’m knackered at the end of the day and I just want to go home. Glass of wine and I go to bed. A friend often says I’m an old man in a young man’s husk. I like that. I am old-fashioned in some ways.’
Is that your personality or because you’ve been doing Potter?‘It’s largely to do with the people I’ve been around for the last ten years. But even when I was young, people would say I was an old soul. When I was 12, someone wrote that if I wanted I could pursue a career as a politician. I’m a real bugger in an argument.’
You could do law if the acting dries up.‘I could – but I wouldn’t have the patience to do the course. I’m easily distracted. And I would also be given to histrionics. I’ve watched “A Few Good Men” far too many times to be a lawyer.’
You’ve officially been an adult for two years. Have you got your own place?‘Yeah, I’m living in south-west London. It’s lovely. It’s a slightly rude awakening, like, “Oh my God! I’ve got to do so much more for myself.” Got to do the washing. But I still live close to my parents and take it round there sometimes.’
Other child actors have had a difficult time adjusting, but I can’t see you having a Christian Bale outburst on set.‘That shocked me. I’m not going to judge him, as I don’t know anything about it. If it was as unprovoked as it sounded, it’s outrageous. But I’m sure there was other stuff going on. I’ve always looked up to him, because he was one of those people, like Jodie Foster and Elijah Wood, that made that transition from childhood actor to adult actor really well. Foster did it rather brilliantly. And Christina Ricci.’
You don’t seem primed to go off the rails.‘No! I’ve got good parents, I’ve got friends, I’ve had a great childhood, I’ve had a great time on “Harry Potter”. But people do worry and write cautionary tales to warn me.’
Even now?‘No, maybe not. But I’m sure some people are still waiting.’
Waiting for what? A fall?‘People are waiting for a cock up: yeah, absolutely. Waiting for me to mess up big time. But, touch wood, it won’t happen.’
‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ is in cinemas now. You can also watch the trailer , read our review and swot up with our Harry Potter crib sheet .
Author: Dave Calhoun. Photography Phil Fisk
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