HE HAS been quick to shake off his Harry Potter alter ego with dramatically different roles, but can Daniel Radcliffe ever truly escape the boy wizard?
AT 22, Daniel Radcliffe is feeling his age. “Let me see if I can get something to crack for you,” he says, stretching out one lean leg, then the other, so I can hear his tendons snap as they adjust to a new position. “Oh,” he says, with the air of a man who has just given away his last Rolo. “I think all the creaks have gone for today.”
Apparently first thing in the morning, Radcliffe sounds not unlike a November bonfire – an aftereffect of 11 months hoofing on Broadway, eight times a week, in the musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, until he bowed out last month. “I’ve only got myself to blame because I think I stretched twice in a year, so now that I’ve stopped it’s incredibly painful all the time. My body hates me.”
After growing up in front of us in the hugely successful Harry Potter films, Radcliffe is now impatient to stretch towards more mature roles. Within hours of wrapping Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, the final film in the Potterthon, he was jetting off to New York to prepare for How to Succeed, and by the time he had landed in New York he had also picked out his first post-Potter movie, The Woman In Black, a character-driven chiller. It’s a ghost story, which perhaps isn’t that much of a move away from the boy wizard’s confrontations with vicious, vaporous Voldemort, but Radcliffe plays a Victorian lawyer and father of a young child (played by Radcliffe’s own five-year-old godson Misha Handley), who is still mourning the loss of his wife when he is sent to wind up the estate of a wealthy family whose gothic pile is inhabited by a vengeful, shrieking wraith. “I was never under any illusions that this could be the one film that would make everyone suddenly go, “Oh, he’s no longer Harry Potter,’” says Radcliffe, amiably.
“But I certainly think it’ll start that. I look very different in this film – and it’s a very different type of performance. Instead of using my own natural energy for Harry, I had to completely suppress and deaden it.”
For someone as restless and animated as Radcliffe, this may have been his biggest challenge. He is an ebullient interviewee, self-aware without being self-conscious. Mind you, in the age of the internet and gossip sheets, it’s hard not to be aware of what sort of figure you cut in the blogosphere. “When you Google ‘Daniel Radcliffe’ it’s always amusing,” he agrees. “At the moment it’s ‘Daniel Radcliffe gay’, ‘Daniel Radcliffe Twitter’ and ‘Daniel Radcliffe alcoholic’. That’s the three top suggestions that come up, which is kind of awesome.”
The bad news for Twitter fans is that while Radcliffe is listed with eight Twitter accounts, “none of them are me”. The alcoholism is a reference to his admission of binge-drinking while filming The Half-Blood Prince, the sixth Potter film. As a teenager whose on-set behaviour has always been exemplary, he began to wonder if he should cultivate a more rock’n’roll lifestyle off-set. “Working with Richard Harris, Gary Oldman, all those actors who went crazy when they were young, that chaos was always so appealing,” he ponders. He started to add a little tequila to his own life, and seems to have had a high old time before concluding that “unfortunately, there is no romance to drinking the way I do it”, and has now been teetotal for more than a year.
“And what I love about the ‘gay’ thing is that every single person I type into Google gets that. It doesn’t matter if it’s Florence Welch, or anybody. My theory is, if you are not being called gay you don’t have a career.” In any case, it’s now public knowledge that Radcliffe is stepping out with Rosanne Coker. You can Google her too. Radcliffe has. “When me and my girlfriend were photographed together for the first time, within 48 hours, if you typed in R-O-S-A, she was Google’s third search result after ‘rosacea’ and ‘Rosa Parks’, which I find quite amusing.”
Rosie is a production runner he met on Harry Potter – “I’ve met all my girlfriends through work” – and he sounds besotted by her bossiness, while his untidiness drives her a bit mad. They haven’t become a red carpet power couple, partly because his How to Succeed schedule in New York precluded many nights out but also because Coker’s job is short on glamour and long on hours spent on film sets for low wages. In Radcliffe’s West Village townhouse, their life seems to be one of cosy domesticity punctuated by Radcliffe’s enthusiasms for fantasy football and all-night binges of History Channel documentaries on “Hitler’s bodyguard or Hitler’s gardener, or random members of Hitler’s retinue”.
Is he a good boyfriend? He says he tries to be, adding rather sweetly, “I talk non-stop but she listens, and all of those things that I hate about myself, she finds cute. She’s lovely and sane, which is what I look for in a woman.”
She is also rather grounded about his Potter work. Before his intensive dance lessons for How to Succeed, he had one bittersweet, vaguely romantic waltz with co-star Emma Watson during Deathly Hallows, dancing to Nick Cave’s ‘O Children’. “When the Nick Cave song came on, I went, ‘That is the coolest Harry Potter has ever been.’ Then she said, ‘Yeah, but that’s not,’ when I started doing disco dancing.”
Radcliffe is good at self-deprecation, which is useful when everyone seems so keen to rib him about wands and snitches. “You know the comedian Brendan Byrne? He’s got a great line: ‘You’re in the alpha male club, it’s time to sit back and have a f***ing sense of humour about yourself’,” says Radcliffe. “Once you’ve been in the biggest movie franchise in the world, people are going to make jokes, and I’ve had some great references. The Thick if It has one of my favourite mentions ever. I don’t know if you remember the line, I certainly do. It was ‘If you resign now, this party will be out of power until Daniel Radcliffe is advertising walk-in baths in People’s Friend.’ I was very, very pleased with that.”
He’s also not averse to joining in the wisecracks. A self-mocking guest turn on an episode of Ricky Gervais’s series Extras focused on his geeky side, and late last year he appeared on the American sketch show Saturday Night Live as Harry Potter 20 years on, unable to move on from Hogwarts.
In reality, he’s careful to pay fulsome tribute to his Potter experiences, and probably sincere too, even though he now has to prove himself in adulthood as capable of breaking the child star curse, and overcome a belief that he’s a decent kid who was lucky enough to be in the right place when Chris Columbus and David Heyman were looking for their Harry Potter.
In 2001, I attended his first press event for the inaugural Potter film, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Back then, he seemed more sleepy than apprehensive, even when one journalist stood up at the international press conference and asked Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint how to resolve the Middle East conflict. “I probably had an opinion, did I?” says Radcliffe eagerly, who had forgotten this moment.
Actually, we never got to hear about it because this unexpected left turn into Question Time territory was intercepted by a Warner Brothers moderator, who quickly reminded everyone that these actors were not yet able to vote or drive a car. “I remember Rupert and Emma being really sweet to me that day,” says Radcliffe “I’d only read the first two books at that point, and Rupert was writing out the answers to the Harry Potter questions and trying to slide them over to me.”
On his first outing, Radcliffe managed to mint some decent responses (“I’d like to own an owl”) and dodge any diplomatic minefields, but he was recessive and shy back then. At school, he got teased mercilessly about his fame, which should have made him withdraw even further. Instead, he started to fight back. “Because I had been working with some really witty people, I would at least try to tear them apart verbally.”
In subsequent encounters, he became more voluble and confident, in a nerdy way. When he was 14 or 15, he earnestly talked me through a discography of a band he had been listening to, called the Sex Pistols. By the fifth Potter picture, he was adept at parrying inquiries about girlfriends and kissing scenes. And always, someone wants to know what he’s doing with his money.
Radcliffe radiates modest, happy-to-be-here mateyness, but his top ten good times probably don’t include discussing his financial cushion with Scotland on Sunday. But it’s a little mind-blowing that the guy currently confessing that he had to have sideburns applied to his face for The Woman in Black because he was incapable of growing his own Victorian mutton chops, is also able to buy the Soho hotel in which we are now sitting.
His mother does the administration of a fortune estimated at £50 million, which puts him above Princes William and Harry, and his property portfolio stretches across London, New York and Australia. His Potter pot of gold allows him to collect artworks by Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol. It also supports a love of good tailoring and a serious iTunes habit. Radcliffe knows where this conversation is heading, and cuts to the chase. “The other day somebody was asking me about the wealth thing, and they said, ‘Why are you still working?’ Which seemed a ridiculous question to ask. I was like, ‘Because I don’t know how to do anything else’.”
He does have a mind of his own, however. At one point he came out as a Liberal Democrat but seems to have developed a more sceptical political outlook nowadays. David Cameron’s recent pep talk to the British film industry, in which he urged filmmakers to make “more commercial” movies, is subjected to some withering from Radcliffe. “How much more commercial than Captain America, X Men First Class, Clash of the Titans 2 and War Horse and Harry Potter does he mean?” he scoffs.
“And also, he can’t just offer a decree unless he’s going to offer an incentive. We’re not going to be able to compete with Eastern Europe unless he’s talking about tax breaks and things like that – which I don’t know that he is. You can’t just say, ‘We need to make more commercial films.’”
It’s an unworthy thought, but these could be someone else’s opinions, mimicked by a young actor. I don’t think so, though. It certainly feels like the impatient response of someone who has been through a decade of blockbuster filmmaking and isn’t too thrilled to be lectured by the former press officer for Carlton TV. “It sounds like someone who doesn’t really have an understanding of the industry,” states Radcliffe, but he’s aware this is a rant that could run start to away with him, so he decides it’s time to pull up the reins.
“But hey, he’s a politician so he must be right,” he concludes with a laugh. “I’m sure they wouldn’t speak so confidently if they were ill-informed.”
It’s time to go. I’m heading for the airport, Radcliffe to a première for The Woman in Black that chokes London traffic for much of the early evening. Earlier, I wondered aloud if he could see himself becoming as exasperated with his youthful blockbusting series as Sir Alec Guinness, who in later years famously took to urging his fans not to go and see Star Wars for the umpteenth time.
But Radcliffe prefers to compare himself to Robert Smith, who still smears on the lipstick whenever he takes The Cure on tour. “Someone asked him why he still dresses the way he does onstage. And he said, ‘It’s because people come to my shows dressed like that. And if they look and see me not dressed like that, it’s somehow a betrayal.’”
Like Smith, Radcliffe wants to be both graceful and grateful in acknowledging the affection of fans for the Boy Who Lived. “It’s something I’m very, very proud of,” he assures me.
“I don’t know, maybe in 30 years if someone is still coming up to me in wizard and gown costumes, maybe I’ll change my mind.”
• The Woman in Black is released on Friday