Daniel Radcliffe interview: 'I love getting beaten up'
We talk to the ex-wizard about sex scenes, growing up and leaving Hogwarts far behind
By Caroline McGinn|
A sleek car purrs up to the back of Time Out’s offices and the agent (blonde, on the phone) and the muscle (two big rippling men) shoulder their way out of it. It’s a standard showbiz entrance. Until Daniel Radcliffe appears behind them: jumpy, nervy, intense, apologetic, beaming, dwarfed by his minder and driver (he’s 5 ft 5), and sucking hard on the last inch of an untidily rolled gasper.
There’s fame – and there’s Potter. Radcliffe has not only survived both, but grown up into one of the most unpretentious actors you could hope to meet: a lucid, bright 23-year-old with credible roles such as the horse-bothering Alan Strang, in stage debut ‘Equus’, already behind him. He’s an object lesson in how to survive the curse of being a child star: relationships conducted quietly out of the limelight; brief teenage flirtation with booze swiftly abandoned; rigorous focus on working with the very best people. That’s what brings him back to London: a physically and mentally demanding stage turn as ‘Cripple Billy’, a bullied Irish village boy in Martin McDonagh’s black comedy, ‘The Cripple of Inishmaan’. Also coming soon are a couple of surprising film turns: as gay beat poet Allen Ginsberg in ‘Kill Your Darlings’ and as a guy who sprouts horns in, well, ‘Horns’.
No horns today; Radcliffe is rumpled and grimy after eight hours chucking himself around in rehearsals. But he is still full of beans, talking at a mile-a-minute and jumping up to demonstrate how he twists his body to play the role. Ultimately, it’s his judgment as well as his enthusiasm that marks him out now, as more than the boy who lived through the Potter franchise, but the adult who’s outgrown it. Famous at 11, multi-millionaire at 19. Why aren’t you a completely fucked up egomanic? ‘That’s the question. I had really good parents. And I got lucky and loved it. I’m always amazed at the way some actors’ behaviour is truly disgusting. That’s one thing that will never happen on one of my sets, if I ever direct. Life’s too short to work with arseholes. and I’ve been lucky enough not to have to.’
You stripped naked in ‘Equus’, your last London performance. Was that a version of teenage rebellion? ‘No. It was a statement of intent. Some people were always going to be salacious and focus on the nudity but the people that mattered sat up and said, “Okay, that play’s no joke, it’s a bold move, he wants to do something serious.”’ In your new indie movie about beatnik Allen Ginsberg, people are already talking about gay sex scenes rather than poetry… ‘I don’t care why people see the film. If they see it for the wrong reasons they’ll still see it and they might take something from it. I think it will be an ‘Equus’ moment for me when ‘Kill Your Darlings’ is released this autumn. And not just because I'm getting naked. It’s not full frontal, so you don’t have to worry about that! It’s a performance and film that I’m proud of.’ Now you’re back on the West End to play a lame Irish village boy who dreams of going to Hollywood. Why this role now? ‘This was a complete no-brainer. I read Martin McDonagh’s play and fell in love with it.’
Your character, Billy, gets bullied by everyone. How's that? ‘I love getting beaten up. I encourage people to just hit me harder. There’s one fall where I take it on my arm and not only is it really fast and looks horrible, it also makes a really loud noise. I was taught how to fall by stuntsmen on Potter. For ages, in my lunch hours, I would just go round and choreograph fight scenes. For fun. So now I’m very good at being thrown around. I bounce, in the words of my friends.’ What impact does that Mark Rylance-style physical acting have on your body? When Rylance played Rooster Byron he even seemed to get shorter. ‘Fuck, I hope that doesn’t happen to me! My calves and lower back are really hurting but if I can get through rehearsals I won’t ever have to be in that position for longer than I am now. Though my arm’s going to look like this for a while (shows a huge lumpy bruise).’
Why push yourself like this? ‘The stories I’m interested in are challenging ones and maybe that requires a little bit more of you. I love my job and I want to earn the right to do it every single day.’
Are you a workaholic? ‘Yes, 100 percent. I don’t know when the last time was I had a holiday. I am now actively trying to develop other interests. I went rock climbing for the first time the other day. My idea of relaxation is not lying down by a beach. I have to move around, do stuff. Though I’m a massive quiz show person. I watch “Pointless”, followed by “The Chase” on ITVplus one, because they’re on at the same time, so you need plus one if you want both. And “University Challenge”.’
Do you ever watch your own movies? ‘No, not at all. Never, ever rewatch them.’
Does the fact that you’re liable to get papped stop you going out in London? ‘I stay in a lot. Going out’s not worth it. It’s not that I do get papped every time, but there are these moments. And going out has a certain level of anxiety around it. Most people are going to be lovely but there’s always one drunk guy who gets loud.’
Would you play Harry again if JK Rowling wrote a sequel in ten years' time? ‘Even if Jo did, which is unlikely, I’d take a LOT of talking round. I’ve done so much work to establish myself as something outside that series I’d be really hesitant to go back. I’m 23, which is too old to be running round in a schoolboy’s cape. I’d never totally close the door. But no more schoolboy stuff. A cameo as Harry's dad? That would be perfect!’
Would you ever do another big franchise, like Potter? ‘Yes. Franchise mustn’t become a dirty word. If directors like JJ Abrams and Joss Whedon keep doing what they’re doing, it won’t be. I’d love to be part of one again. Maybe not leading it: a nice supporting role. “Star Wars” would be awesome. That’d be crazy cool.’ When Time Out last interviewed you a couple of years ago, you were living in Chelsea quite near to your parents. Do you still take your dirty washing home? ‘No, that has stopped! Sometimes they will come round and see me put something away and go: “Oh, very good! You’re learning how to do that now!” I’m taking better care of myself, generally. I’m cooking for myself a little more now. But I’ve never cooked for someone else. At least not yet.’
Your teenage years were exceptionally exposed – but many people find their 20s even more difficult. How are yours? ‘Your 20s are weird. You feel like you should be grown up but actually you’re not. They’re quite bewildering really. You’re constantly torn between that thing of, “I’m young!” And then, “I’m not!” There are certain expectations you have about your 20s when you’re a teenager and none of them really happen. You think everything’s going to be simpler but life gets more bloody complicated. I hope to be more settled. I want to direct before I'm 30. And finish writing something I’m proud of. I’ve just finished a screenplay, a very, very, very dark comedy. I’ve always loved the way Martin McDonagh writes. Economical, rhythmic. That’s the kind of writing I aspire to. And my screenplay’s got a fair amount of blood in it too. In that way I’m just ripping Martin off!’
Would you like to settle down and have kids? ‘I really want to have kids. I’ve grown up around lots of people who were having kids when I knew them, because a lot of them were a lot older than me. And I saw the wonderful change in them. A lot more tired, a lot more happy. I see that it gives you a sense of purpose that I only really get from work. I want that. And I’d like to get started on it before my thirties. I like the idea of being a youngish parent. So I’ve got energy to play football, even though they’ll be better than me by the time they’re four. I’d like to run around with them and do all sorts of stuff with them that I didn’t do when I was young.’ Would you be a pushy parent? ‘I’m definitely going to be one of those parents who pushes their kids into things. Not the film industry! But sport. I’d love my kids to be a boxer. Yeah! Cricket too. I will have to find a VERY tall wife if they’re going to be good at sports. You could be my size as a boxer, you’d just have to be a superfeatherweight or something.’
No regrets about not having that childstar meltdown and tattoos to show the kids? ‘Actually, I am planning to get a couple of tattoos. It’s going to sound really pretentious but there’s a Beckett quote I really like which I’m going to get tattooed on me. “Try again, fail again, fail better.” That’s what I’m about.’