Daniel Radcliffe: Life after Harry Potter

The Harry Potter star talks about life, love and his fight to become "a working actor"

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Daniel’s latest project

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Daniel Radcliffe was running late. He was in the middle of a busy filming schedule at Pinewood and Leavesden studios on the outskirts of London. Twas, of course, ever thus. Radcliffe has been shuttling back and forth from his own south London flat since 2007, and from his parents’ home since 2000. That was when filming began on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the blockbuster adaptation of the first of JK Rowling’s seven novels.

Radcliffe, who had been “discovered” by the Potter movie producers on a trip to the theatre with his film-biz parents, was all of 11. With his 21st birthday looming this July, he has spent half his life as the boy wizard. This year, as well as juggling the demands of work on the huge, two-film adaptation of the final book in the series, The Deathly Hallows, Radcliffe has been taking dance lessons.

Come again? Yes, dance lessons. “I’m hoping to do a musical after Potter is finished,” Radcliffe told me when we spoke in March. After his well-received performance in the lead role in the 2007 revival of Equus on the London and New York stage, the young actor hoped to star in a reboot of How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, the 1961 Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning American musical.

It wouldn’t require Radcliffe to strip naked, nightly, as had the role of the troubled stable boy who blinds horses. It was more terrifying than that. Radcliffe would have to sing and dance.

“If it comes together, it’ll be really exciting,” he said. And, indeed, it did: a few days after our interview it was officially announced that the show, with Radcliffe taking the lead in the satirical self-help story, will hit Broadway early next year.

A Broadway musical: it’s typical of Daniel Radcliffe’s ambition and, it has to be said, fearlessness. You don’t grow up before the world’s eyes – going from unknown youngster, to most famous teenager in the world, to an actor who reportedly signed a £25.6 million contract to make the final two Potter films – without learning a good deal about yourself, your ambitions, your capabilities and your shortcomings.

On growing up

“My favourite question is always, ‘what’s it like growing up in front of the cameras?'” he said. “I don’t bloody know!” is his normal answer (without the cursing). “It’s my job. It’s just what I do. It’s what I love doing. When people say I’ve grown up in front of the world’s press, I say, no, I haven’t. The integral moments of me growing up have not been shared with the world’s press. They haven’t been filmed, caught on photograph, nothing.”

I first met Daniel – Dan to those who know him – Radcliffe in January 2007. He was in the rehearsal period for Equus. We rendezvoused on a Sunday afternoon (it was the only time he had free) in a hotel in Chelsea, near his family home. He was scruffily dressed, escorted to the venue by his dad, Alan Radcliffe (a former literary agent; his mum, Marcia Gresham, was a casting agent) and chaperoned by his longstanding PR.

The perks of the job

Before anything else, we talked about music – Bloc Party were the favourites of this seasoned indie kid. About hair – with a self-mocking laugh, the 5ft 5in youngster wanted me to know he wasn’t trying to grow “a bad teenage moustache” to look older, but had been instructed by the director of Equus to develop a little stubble.

And we talked about the benefits of fame. “What’s great about this is occasionally I’ll mention a band in an interview – like, I mentioned Arcade Fire in an interview with Rolling Stone last year. Lo and behold, a month later a crate of Arcade Fire stuff turned up!” he beamed.

On turning 18

Back then, Radcliffe was staring down the barrel of his 18th birthday. Would this only child be moving out of his parents’ home? “Oh, I hope so!” he shot back in the excited, confident and engaged way that I would discover is his normal conversational style. “I am looking forward to moving out and trying to be independent. ‘Cause I’m hopelessly undomesticated. It’s terrible.”

He was hoping to get a car (an environmentally friendly Toyota Prius) but first he had to find time for some driving lessons. He didn’t think he’d have an 18th birthday party – he wasn’t “really a party person… And, the thing about parties is (a) they’re always better at other people’s houses ’cause you don’t have to clean up. And (b) if I had a party, I’d be so crap at organising it, it would be really rubbish.” And he was single.

“I’ve had two probably what you’d call serious girlfriends.” He’d learnt to be wary of those who might want to honey-trap him for cameraphone-to- YouTube amateur paparazzo glory, but he hadn’t suffered too much from such intrusion into his private life. “I have quite a good instinct for people.” And at the same time, “somebody said to me the other day, ‘do you ever worry that girls are just giving you attention because of who you are?’ I was like, ‘I’m 17, I don’t care! It’s wonderful! “‘

Working with Ricky Gervais

We talked about Radcliffe’s appearance on Extras, in which he played a jumped-up, sex-mad version of himself. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, the sitcom’s writer/directors, had first approached him to appear in series one. It didn’t happen – not, he insisted, because it was too soon for him to play around with this perception of himself, but because he was too busy filming the fourth Potter film, The Goblet of Fire. But when, in late 2005, Gervais and Merchant were planning the second series of Extras, they got in touch again.

Extras came at a good time for him professionally. He had filmed December Boys, news of Equus had broken, and he was about to play Rudyard Kipling’s soldier son, killed in the First World War, in TV drama My Boy Jack.

“Ricky and Stephen are known for writing really very edgy, sophisticated humour, albeit silly as well.” Alongside other non- Potter projects, “for me to be working with them, I hope it made everybody think again about what kinds of things I want to do, and start to think, ‘he’s serious about this’.”

When we spoke again a few weeks ago, Radcliffe remembered his two days on the Extras set as “a complete blur. Ricky is capable of being incredibly hyperactive, and people like that need people like Stephen to calm them down and stop them annoying everybody. I can empathise with that – many of my friends fulfil that role for me! Stephen’s the one that keeps him calm and makes sure he doesn’t get his hands on the sweets.”

What’s next?

This spring and summer, things are stepping up another gear for Radcliffe. He’s beginning New York preparations for How to Succeed… When I met him last year to discuss the sixth Potter film, The Half-Blood Prince, in a private club in Covent Garden (no chaperone required now that he was, officially, an adult), he said of Equus that it “exposed me to a group of new actors, and it also forced me to train.

‘Cause my parents said to me, ‘Dan, you are not gonna hack it if you think that turning up on a night and just being able to talk to the back of the house will work.’ So they sent me to a voice coach for one and a half years. Someone I’ve worked with continually since. And there’s no substitute for that kind of training.”

He might be a veteran already, a youngster who has spent a decade at the knees of some of Britain’s finest actors, including Richard Harris (the first Professor Dumbledore), Sir Michael Gambon (the second), Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid), Gary Oldman (Sirius Black), Alan Rickman (Snape) and Dame Maggie Smith (Professor McGonagall). But for Radcliffe, there’s always stuff to learn, skills to acquire, experiences to embrace.

Thus he remains keen to see another long-cherished project get off the ground: a film called The Journey Is the Destination, a biopic of the 23-year-old English photojournalist Dan Eldon, who was murdered by a mob in Somalia in 1993.

“Everyone around him was inspired by his adventurous spirit,” Radcliffe says. “And it’s also a character that’s very unlike me. I’m probably not that adventurous in terms of exploring the world. The freedom that he had as a character, I don’t necessarily have.”

The final Harry Potter film

But before all that…the production of the final, climactic film in the Harry Potter series is nearing a close. By mid-June it’ll all be over. Just in time for the titular lead actor to embark on preparations for his 21st birthday, and for his future.

The Deathly Hallows has been split into two films by the movie producers. This has necessitated a 19-month shoot – epic even by the standards of Potter, the second-most successful franchise in cinema history. Only James Bond beats it, and it’s been going for 50 years.

Not that Bond is the reference point that matters most to Radcliffe – a bookish, cultured young man who, in his late teens, developed a passion for collecting modern art, poetry (writing and reading) and cricket.

“You know what I take pride in more than anything else about these films? They’re the only ones since François Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel series that have featured one character going from about the age of 11 to 20 and beyond. To be in Truffaut’s company, I’m quite happy with that.”

Daniel Radcliffe is an amazingly grounded young man. Shepherded by his parents and his own common sense, he hasn’t spun out on drugs, booze, fame or ego. He has studiously avoided the kind of über-celebrity that attends fellow Englishman and Potter alumnus-turned-Twilight star Robert Pattinson.

He counts older actors such as Oldman and Kenneth Branagh (who played Gilderoy Lockhart) as friends and mentors. And he has soaked up knowledge from the directors of the Potter films: Chris Columbus (the first two), Alfonso Cuarón (the third), Mike Newell (fourth) and David Yates (the remaining four).

“You just couldn’t have had one director for all these films,” he thinks. “And also no one would have survived! Alfonso, when he arrived, was this clean-shaven, handsome Mexican man. By the end of it he looked like [hirsute, tubby Lord of the Rings director] Peter Jackson! Still very, very slim but beard out to there!

“Everyone finds it really hard. I do not know how David Yates has lasted as long. He has this boundless enthusiasm for the Potter series.” Which begs the question: how has Radcliffe lasted?

“I’ve been growing up. I’ve had so much other stuff going on in my life. Yeah…The conclusion I have come to is that growing up is just something you do. It’s not something you concentrate on. It’s just something that happens when you’re doing other stuff. It just is.”

Post-Potter plans

Ask Dan Radcliffe what kind of career he sees himself having post-Potter, and he is both sure and bewildered, but never bumptious. “It’s bizarre. Most working actors want to become stars. I sort of am a star because of Harry Potter,” he says, almost wincing at the notion. “And I would love to become a working actor. I love auditioning.

“But to be honest, I’m happy to ride this as long as it goes. If it goes for two months after Potter, I’m happy. If it goes for six years, I’m happy. It’s a tough, tough industry, and I’ve got a lot of friends in it. And I truly believe that if I don’t make it as an actor, I will make it another way – I don’t have doubts about myself. I’ve been through all the stuff. I’ve been busy growing up along the years. And I believe I can write as well as act. And I believe I have other skills.”

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The kid, it seems, will stay in the pictures.