Daniel Radcliffe is tiny, slight, polite and he laughs a lot. He laughs particularly loudly when I tell him that on my set visit to A Young Doctor’s Notebook to meet his co-star Jon Hamm, no one would actually tell me the location till just hours before, in case word got out and Radcliffe was mobbed by enthusiastic Japanese fans. They turn up everywhere, apparently.
“Possibly people are slightly overprotective of me, worry I will get upset that people are waiting at the gate. But if they want to stand outside Hayes studios waiting for me, then good luck to them.”
Radcliffe is voluble and utterly charming. I expected him to be surrounded by a cabal of “people”, but he isn’t; just me and him, having a nice chat in a London hotel. He wants me to know how much he loves Mikhail Bulgakov, an early 20th-century Russian novelist best-known for his masterly magical realist novels, The Master and Margarita and Heart of a Dog.
“Bulgakov is my obsession. My 21st-birthday present to myself was to go to Russia for a week and visit the author’s apartment, which is now a museum.” So when, barely two years later, Radcliffe was offered the part of the young doctor, with Hamm playing his observing, older self, he jumped at it.
“It’s very, very funny and equally grotesque and gruesome [he is right, there’s a stomach-churning amputation scene that might have you reaching for a bucket]. I was worried that Sky would tone down the blood, but after we did the script read-through they said, ‘Keep the blood – it’s necessary to tell the story.’”
A Young Doctor’s Notebook is the latest in a series of bold and interesting post-Potter career choices made by a young actor catapulted to worldwide fame when he was just 11 (he is now 23). When we spoke, Radcliffe had recently crested the huge success of The Woman in Black, the film version of Susan Hill’s ghost story. “I’d shown that I could open a film, so I was sent lots of scripts.”
Most of them were Woman in Blackish. “I went through four thrillers in a week and they were all kind of the same. Not that they were bad; they just didn’t interest me. Then I read this and I knew this was absolutely what I was going to do next, because it’s the most interesting and original thing that I’ve read. I’m essentially playing my favourite author, because it’s his story.” Bulgakov actually spent time as a doctor and developed a morphine addiction.
Radcliffe has no problems with Notebook’s, shall we say, boutique quality. “Not many people are going to watch this compared with the number of people who saw Harry Potter, but I still think a lot of people will really get into it. It’s something different. I can’t find something to compare it with. Saying, ‘It’s a Russian medical comedy set in 1917’ doesn’t really tell you very much.”
Actors always say they get along brilliantly with other actors, but Radcliffe and Hamm both sound genuine in their praise and enthusiasm for each other. “I like Mad Men, but I’ve loved watching Jon on Saturday Night Live. For a guy who is that good-looking and charismatic and all of those things… to be funny and that willing to be irreverent, is very compelling to me.”