On a warm September day Daniel Radcliffe is leaning out of the window of a Soho hotel with his loose checked shirt wrapped tight around him. He draws on a roll-up and scratches his stubble while a three-minute taster tape of A Young Doctor’s Notebook flickers in the corner of the room. Every now and then he ducks his head back in to offer wry comments and daft gags, and somehow the whole scene feels more like hanging with an old-school rock star than an actor just out of his teens.
“I’m probably the happiest I’ve been in my life at the moment,” he explains. “A bit tired but very, very happy generally. But then, if I wasn’t tired, what would the Daily Mail have to write about?”
Notebook, based loosely on a collection of short stories by Mikhail Bulgakov, has a healthy part to play in his contentment. Radcliffe plays Vladimir, a morphine-addicted doctor alongside an older version of himself, played by Jon Hamm. Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita is one of Radcliffe’s favourite novels – on his 21st birthday, he took a trip to Moscow to visit the author’s house – and he’s formed a strong friendship with Hamm, sharing a love of comedy and pranks.
By series two every one of Bulgakov’s original short stories have been told, so the writers have begun to improvise – adding a love interest, deeper morphine addiction for Radcliffe and the introduction of the Russian Revolution.
“In the first series we mentioned it in a couple of scenes but I think when you’re making a show about Russia in 1918 you can only avoid the revolution for so long,” he explains, quipping, “as was probably the case for most of the people in that country at that time.”
Unsurprisingly, this segues into a conversation about politics. When Radcliffe was 18 and he told a journalist he’d be voting Lib Dem, the headline avalanche that followed led to a letter from, and then a meeting with, Nick Clegg. “He asked me to come and help out with youth policy and I was like, “No, no, no, I do not speak for my generation!” he protests, clearly still horrified at the idea.
A few years later he mentioned voting Labour – “The headlines were ‘Dan Loves Red Ed’…” he sighs. “You know what? Like everybody else I change my mind. I’m not an affiliate of any party. I do vote – I think it’s important. The first time I voted, I felt I had graduated as a full member of society. But politics is disillusioning; it’s just bickering, it’s exhausting. I think the next thing I’m going to get excited about is Eddie Izzard running for London mayor. He’s really interesting, super-smart and brings a huge amount of integrity – something that we definitely don’t have today.”
For his Notebook character, however, politics just gets in the way of his twin desires for morphine and Natasha, an elegant new arrival played by Margaret Clunie. Radcliffe drew a little on his own fears about succumbing to alcoholism – famously he renounced the booze aged 21 after delivering scenes as Harry Potter while under the influence. “I think you can definitely find elements of psychology that are the same – not that I ever was as bad, but I walked away for a reason,” he nods carefully.
Where he starts to get cautious is discussing his love life – he met actress Erin Darke on the set of Kill Your Darlings and they’ve managed to keep things going in private for almost a year.
“There was a time when I thought that the closer the public perception of me was to the real me the happier I would be, so I tried to put as much information out there as I felt safe doing,” he shrugs. “But what I learnt is, more information just leads to further speculation.”
We chat a little about fame and he looks briefly haunted. “The one piece of advice I would give to anybody getting into any sort of situation where they’re recognised is: at all costs retain your sense of humour.” He gives a brief smile. “Try to have fun even if you’re in a very mad situation. Premieres and stuff, having people scream at you… it’s quite overwhelming. It’s lovely in one way but at the same time it’s intimidating. When you start at 10 or 11 I think it’s actually easier – you grow into it. If I was [Twilight actor] Rob Pattinson, suddenly getting to 22 or 23 and finding nothing you do is private any more, I wonder how I’d deal with it.”
Radcliffe is, above all else, an enthusiast. He’s constantly getting thank you messages from indie bands who see sales rocket when he mentions them or wears their T-shirt. He’s urged his fans to donate to causes like Demelza House children’s hospice instead of sending him Christmas presents.
“I do like the fact that I can draw people to see Equus, or A Young Doctor’s Notebook,” he nods. “If one more person picks up a Bulgakov book because of me, that’s really cool. And I also have to make hay while the sun shines, because that won’t be something I have forever, or I don’t think it will.”
You have to smile at the self-deprecation – in part because it’s so genuine. David Thewlis, who played Professor Lupin in the Harry Potter films, once said that even when Radcliffe was young he would “joke that he’d be in rehab by the time he was 18, and by 27 he’d be hosting a game show called It’s Wizards!”
Right now, the exact opposite is happening – he’s making smart choices, impressing heavy-weight critics with his range and is subtly, almost without our noticing, leaving Harry Potter behind. A few more strong scripts, a couple of decent roles and he could literally do anything. Only last month it was announced he had been cast as Sebastian Coe, a lead role, in a new BBC film. There must be other actors equally at home in romcoms, sexual psychodrama, surreal slap-stick and bleached naturalism, but I bet you’d struggle to name three of them. There’s maybe one last link with the wizard it’s worth checking before we all move on – like Harry, Daniel is the boy who lived.
A Young Doctor’s Notebook and Other Stories is on tonight at 9:00pm on Sky Arts 1