He spent half of his life playing an adorable English school sprout with magical powers and two best friends, but now Daniel Radcliffe must convince the world that he is more than Harry Potter, that he is at 23, a man. Try spending time with him and not calling him “Harry”. Such is the power of the role he created over ten years, that revolutionised young people’s film, got them reading and made his a household name. Starting to work his away from Potter as early as 2007, Radcliffe shocked fans by appearing naked onstage in Equus, as a psychiatric patient with a fascination for God, sex, ritual sacrifice and horses. It’s a role he says he’s not sure he’d do now. Next, Radcliffe indulged in a little singin’ and dancin’ in the Broadway revival of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying". But in terms of film, The Woman in Black, a horror film co-produced by Hammer Films and Canada’s Alliance Films, is his first foray beyond Hogwarts. Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a disturbed young lawyer mourning the death of his wife, sent to a remote village to settle the affairs of landowner who died in a mysterious mansion. There Kipps encounters terrifying spectres and calls his own sanity into question. Radcliffe appeared at the Toronto première of The Woman in Black, where he was mobbed by fans who’d lined up for days to see their hero. Despite the adulation, this is a young man whose phenomenal success hasn’t turned him into one of those entitled, maddening Hollywood brats. He’s the real deal – those perfect manners, his desire to connect, while keeping his feet planted firmly on the ground – add a big dash of engaging optimism and it’s an awesome start to Daniel Radcliffe, Chapter Two. AskMen spoke with him in Toronto about becoming a man before our eyes.
Did you find doing Equus your first way of breaking free from the baggage of Potter?
I think so. Somebody said to me the other day "Do you think your Harry Potter fans will stick with you in this film, and I was like, "If they stuck with me through Equus they'll stick with me through this!" This is nothing in comparison to that. I think this is a very good first step. I was under no illusion that people would see this film and go, "Christ! He's not Harry Potter anymore, he's completely transformed”. I didn't ever think that was going to happen. But I think it's a good first step in that I look very different, I'm playing a man rather than a boy, it's a different type of film to be in, and all that stuff is very useful at this point for an audience to see that I'm going to try and do different stuff.
People ask those questions a lot, "Why are you searching to be so different?" or "Is it intentional that you want to be so diverse?" and the answer is, “Yes, it is”. But I don't think that's something specific for someone coming out of a franchise. I think any actor worth their salt wants to show as much versatility as they possibly can. Over the next couple of years it's going to be about doing as much work as possible and making it as varied as possible.
I understand you aren’t a fan of horror movies?
No, I was terrified of them. A lot of modern horror can leave me cold, and I'm not good with blood and gore and all that stuff. It's not fun for me, there's nothing entertaining about watching a film like that.
How did you prepare to play Arthur?
I spoke to a couple friends about depression and one of the things they said to me which I found fascinating, and in the exploitative minds we actors have, useful, was the fact that they said how physically exhausting true depression is, how it is a serious effort, both physically and mentally, to get out of bed in the morning. That’s where I started with Arthur. He’s just depleted and has been for five years, just trying to put one foot in front of the other hoping that something will change. Maybe that death will come.
I have this very excitable energy about me, and Arthur should not, and it would be completely wrong for the character. One of the things (dir. James Watkins) was keen on was trying, as he put it, to "take the fizz out of the bottle, to let it go flat”, stripping away my natural zeal, the attack I have with everything, and actually showing somebody who has been devastated by their loss to the point where they're in a state of emotional paralysis.
How did you stay in character during the long sequences of walking through the house?
The only method I could come up with for those days where you're playing terrified reactions for hours was to take myself off to a corner of the set and just pace and mutter insanely to myself and working into a little bit of a frenzy. This is why I'm pretty desperate for a process. I used to joke I was a point-and-click actor. My whole process has been about trusting your instincts and hitting your mark. The nature of filming means that it's very broken up. You can be nailing something one minute and feel really in the moment, but if you don't have a solid process you come back to it for the next take and be vaguer (sic) in what your intention is or there can be more grey areas. On stage you just have to go on and look and listen and it'll happen. There's no room for self-consciousness to creep in like there is on film.
How did you find the Saturday Night Live experience?
Fantastic! I just had the best time. I'm somebody who just thrives on fear and panic and chaos, so for me that's just the perfect environment. I liked the fact that somebody said, "OK, there's been a slight change, just look at the cards." Love that. Those are situations I kind of live for. It was interesting that people didn't think it was the strongest episode, but I had a blast. It's interesting. The people who can be scathing about SNL, for me it's very lazy, because they have no concept of what is actually going on. They're putting on an hour-and-a-half music and comedy show, from scratch, in a week. Actually, it's two-and-a-half hours if you include what you do at the dress rehearsal. I just loved it. You'll do a sketch, and someone will grab you and run you to another quick change. It was great. I said at the end “Ask me back, any time, I'll run across oceans!” The Casey Anthony dog is one of the favourite things I have ever done. I read it, and I had no idea how I was going to play it, should he just be terrified, or panicking or what? And then they put the wig on and I went “Oh, easy! I just have to play it really angry". I was very grateful to Seth Myers as all through the episode he was really kind to me. What's impressive about that show, there's people that have been working there 21 years who say there's nowhere else they'd rather be. That speaks highly of the cast and the crew. It's a really good atmosphere.
Do you feel you're still catching up as an actor to where you want to be in your head?
There's no blueprint for where I should be. I see myself as a young, good actor that still has a lot to learn. There's nobody at any point in their career who is the finished article. The next couple years for me are about finding people that are really going to push me. I've never trained, so the only way I'm going to get better is with taking risks and working with people who I think are going to improve me. Obviously I've been very lucky in general in my career, but I feel that I've been very lucky in terms of having directors come along at the right times who have taken me to the next level of where I needed to be. Over the next couple years I'm going to hopefully come on in leaps and bounds. To me it's what this process is about. I just want to work with people who are going to stretch me.