Culture

Daniel Radcliffe’s Magical Thinking

Culture

Daniel Radcliffe’s Magical Thinking

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Daniel Radcliffe seems preoccupied when he enters the Hudson Diner, an unassuming bistro in Manhattan’s West Village. Visibly frustrated, he heads straight to an empty table, where he fidgets with his iPhone. “Sorry about that,” he says, emerging from his tech-coma. “I sent an e-mail and it didn’t go through, and I just got so angry! A hundred years ago, the person I was e-mailing would have needed to wait two years to get the message and now I’m pissed off because it didn’t go through the moment I sent it. It’s so stupid.” At 5’5”, the 22-year-old English actor cuts a dashing silhouette of compact physical strength. Over the next couple of hours, he’ll swear often, and enthusiastically, while discussing everything from true love to full-frontal nudity with a maturity that should no longer come as a surprise.

Radcliffe has devoted the past 10 years to bringing the eponymous hero of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books to life. In 2001, after an exhaustive search, Rowling and the film’s producers cast Radcliffe, at the age of 11, for the leading role in the franchise that has since earned more than $7.7 billion, becoming one of the highest-grossing film series of all time. “I hadn’t thought that I’d be sad at all when it came to finishing the films, but then it happened and I was weeping,” he says of his farewell to the character with whom he’s become synonymous. “When you’re doing something for that long with the same people, you kind of start thinking, God, can I do anything else?

For Radcliffe, the series’ conclusion signals not just the end of an era, but newfound creative freedom. Though he’s one of the wealthiest young actors of our time (estimating Radcliffe’s net worth is one of Forbes’ favorite pastimes—“they’re almost always off”), until recently, he hasn’t been able to spread his wings far beyond Harry’s world. A monogamist by nature, he’s been faithful to the young wizard, choosing only to test the waters in one non-Potter film (the 2007 romantic drama December Boys) since signing up for the part. “I kept saying to people, What am I going to do now? But soon after, I was on a plane reading the script for The Woman in Black,” he says of his new film, a supernatural thriller set in Victorian Britain. “I moved on very quickly.”

In his first silver-screen part since slaying Voldemort, Radcliffe plays a lawyer who crosses paths with a wronged woman’s vengeful ghost. Given his commercial appeal, the choice was bound to baffle some audiences, as will his next project, first-time feature filmmaker John Krokidas’ Kill Your Darlings, in which he’ll play Beat poet Allen Ginsberg opposite Elizabeth Olsen. “I really like working with young, hungry, ambitious directors like James [Watkins, director of The Woman in Black, whose only other credit is 2008’s psychological thriller Eden Lake]. He’s got a head full of ideas and he’s made a great film.” Radcliffe’s real-life godson, Misha Handley, plays his son in the film, a casting choice that allowed the director to capture some authentic chemistry between Radcliffe and the young boy. “You’re not really talking about ‘acting’ with a kid that young,” Radcliffe says. “You’ve got to have a real relationship with him, and that comes across on the screen. It was a help to me as well.” Not only does he want to continue to work with children—he’d like to have them. “To be honest, I’m kind of the broodiest young man in the world. I want kids. They’re just so much more honest and funnier than anyone else. And we watch the same TV.”

The Woman in Black might be Radcliffe’s first post-Potter film, but he’s certainly dabbled in a variety other projects. Between the releases of The Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince, Radcliffe landed the part of Alan Strang in the 2007 revival of Peter Shaffer’s controversial play Equus, in London’s West End. In fewer than four months, the play was transferred to Broadway, where it ran until February 2009. Famous for its Freudian subject matter, Equus tells the story of a disturbed young man whose unconventional love for his horse borders on obsession. “It was a challenging production and I think it made people sit up and say, ‘Oh, well, he wants to do interesting work at least,’” says Radcliffe, whose performance earned him stellar reviews from the theater community. “The young wizard,” wrote Ben Brantley in The New York Times, “has chosen wisely.”

The role called for Radcliffe to strip completely naked, a brazen act that seemed to scream: Harry won’t last forever! A consummate professional, he delivered his lines in the buff while, on any given night, family members and a revolving door of respected industry veterans sat front row. “That was the least of my worries,” he says of his exhibitionism. “I’m an only child. We’ve always walked around the house naked. Some people find that weird, but I don’t. But some nights there would be some beautiful girl in the front row and I’d be like, Oh fuck, in two hours you’re going to have seen everything—there is going to be no mystery.”

His next endeavor, although less revealing than his turn in Equus, required an altogether different set of balls: simultaneous singing and cartwheeling in Broadway’s revival of Frank Loesser’s 1961 musical, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, a satire about a window washer named J. Pierrepont Finch, who happens upon a self-help book and begins to rise up the corporate ladder by following its simple instructions. An irreverent spoof of the American Dream, the play combined a cheeky look at post- WWII capitalism, a meticulously constructed 1960s wardrobe, and over-the-top humor to great effect. The play required Radcliffe to perform eight times a week for 10 months and was nominated for eight Tony awards last year, including one for Best Revival. “Some people think that if you’re in film, you should be in film; if you’re on stage, you’re on stage; if you’re on TV, you should stay on TV. But I just don’t think that’s how it should work.”

Like so many stars thrust into the spotlight at a young age, Radcliffe could have easily checked into rehab for “exhaustion” and collected his residuals, but even though he’s admitted to overcoming a short-lived drinking problem (he’ll be sober two years this August), his off-camera activities were never debauched enough to affect his public reputation.

Growing up, Radcliffe always related more to his older colleagues than to kids his age, many of whom “turned hostile” when he became a household name. While even the slightest resemblance to the scrawny Harry Potter is enough to fuel endless teasing, actually playing him made Radcliffe a prime target for bullying. Having survived his own adolescence, Radcliffe now lends a hand to kids whose battles aren’t as public. He works closely with the Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization that helps prevent suicide among LGBTQ teens, a cause he’s very passionate about. Last year, the organization honored Radcliffe with their Hero Award for his outspokenness on the subject.

Due to the demanding schedule of the Potter films, Radcliffe often worked with on-set tutors, trading classrooms for private one-on-one discussions about culture and politics. “It kind of takes you back to a purer form of learning, when it was one student who hasn’t got 20 other people to deal with,” he says. “If we talked about something that we found interesting, then we could go off on a tangent and learn about that for a while—it was a lovely way of learning where curiosity was instilled rather than fear, like, I have to learn this to pass the test.” His education wasn’t limited to coursework; it bled into trailer tutorials with fellow artists and technicians.

Radcliffe’s encounters with his costars, who were often much older than he was, became the subject of an episode of Ricky Gervais’ comedy series, Extras, which aired in 2006 and painted him as an eager young actor trying to pick up a thirty-something thespian by convincing her that he, too, smokes cigarettes and has had “the intercourse.” Radcliffe plays the part almost too well, poking fun at his daily struggle to separate himself from his longtime character through innocuous acts of rebellion. “There is a huge amount of pressure placed on young men to go out, get fucked up all the time, and fuck a lot of women,” he says. “That’s what teenagers think they have to do in order to become men, which is so untrue and such a horrible idea. That’s what all my friends did—what I tried to do, with mixed success.”

Upending the expected fate of a child actor, Radcliffe did the unthinkable: Instead of derailing, he grew up to become a kind, intelligent, mature man. From the relatively safe vantage point of young adulthood, he wonders how different things might have been had he grown up in Los Angeles rather than London. “In America, you are treated as an actor first and a child second, but it’s so important that kids remain kids. Had I come over here, I think I would have been different.” He describes the adultification of today’s children as “fucking tragic—the fact that kids want to wear designer labels? I didn’t give a fuck about that. My parents were just trying to get me to not eat insects when I was 9. I didn’t know what the fuck AllSaints was. When did kids stop eating mud? The whole point of being a kid is that you get to do shit you can’t do when you’re an adult. It’s downhill from here. I’m 22 now and I realize that my best years are behind me.”

Whether or not he’s right remains to be seen, but those years have certainly been good to Radcliffe, who’s grown to become one of the most recognizable faces in pop culture—which, of course, comes with a price. “A lot of odd stuff happens,” he says of his frequent run-ins with overzealous fans. “Somebody in South America adopted my mother as his mother, for example. He’d seen my mom in some photos on the red carpet and wrote to her saying, ‘Dear Marcia, my name is so-and-so and I’m from Argentina. I’m just letting you know that you are my mother now. How is my brother Daniel?’ We also had a guy who sent a lot of pictures of me from when I was between the ages of 13 and 15, and he circled my crotch in all the photos with an arrow to it and the words, ‘Do you have an erection here?’ It’s funny shit.”

Obsession, something with which Radcliffe deals all too often, is also something to which he can relate. “I’ve been obsessed with people and fads and things. I don’t think I would ever faint or scream when somebody walked out of the theater or something like that though,” he says, obliquely referring to the throngs who greeted him nightly as he exited the theater after each How to Succeed performance.

Since his move to New York, Radcliffe has led a quiet life in the West Village, dating under the radar and focusing on work—a privilege he feels actors in similar situations might not have. “Look at all the comments that came out of the Twilight films,” he says. “I can’t remember their exact words and I am not going to try to quote them, because if I misquote them, Twilight fans will kill me. But the point is, those kids are kind of ready to be done with it. [Harry Potter] went on for 10 years and we had a fucking great time. I loved every second, and I learned so much.”

Given the commitment that Radcliffe has made to his craft, it’s easy to assume that he’d be adverse to similar commitment in his personal life. Such an assumption, he insists, would be wrong. “I love the notion that you can meet somebody when you’re young and stay with her forever,” he says. “My mom is the only girlfriend my dad has ever had. I look at them and I see how they’ve built their own mythology together. That’s what I want, to build a universe with someone. Everything that happens prior to finding that one person is kind of bullshit. You’ve got to find somebody who you love and who loves you, and then cling onto them.” He insists that monogamy with the right partner can be very exciting. “I have such a nice, happy life now,” he says. “I don’t go out all that often, especially to bars and clubs, just because it’s no longer as much fun for me. I like to stay at home with my girlfriend. We have a lovely time just with each other.”

One needn’t dig hard to discover that Radcliffe is a commitment junkie. In fact, he just might be the last romantic to emerge from his technology-dominated, sentimentally detached, and amorously doomed generation. His enthusiasm about an array of subjects—from women to film, and even to coffee—is genuine and contagious. Although he’s undeniably more experienced than his peers, Radcliffe shows no signs of nonchalance. To hear him tell it, every song, every project, and every person has the potential to change his life. “I think people should try to mix it up as much as possible,” he says. “That’s what makes us better.”

What does the future hold for the actor who managed to surprise us with each of his post-Potter choices? Delivering his lines naked while caressing a horse? Check. Dancing and singing in a musical? Check. Playing a father at 22? Check. Radcliffe’s recent resume reads like the checklist of someone who’s determined to break the speed limit on a road less traveled. And he’s only getting started.

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