COMING INTO HIS OWN
August Man Malaysia catches up with the erstwhile world’s most beloved boy-wizard Daniel Radcliffe on his acting career coming of age
Photographs by Karl Simone; creative consultant, Melvin Chan; styled by Jenesee Utley; words by KC YAP
History shows that growing up in the Hollywood spotlight often results in a difficult transition from child star to adult actor, troubled by legal issues, mental disorders, financial woes and so forth. As treacherous as the journey may be, there are a rare few who would hold their ground and continue their acting careers well into adulthood.
One such fine example is our cover star this month, Daniel Radcliffe, who was merely 12 years of age when the first of eight Harry Potter films, The Sorcerer’s Stone, premiered in 2001. In playing the title character, a role which would go on to occupy Radcliffe’s career throughout his adolescence, all the way to the release of the final instalment in 2011, The Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Radcliffe became what Bob Graham of the San Francisco Chronicle described as “the embodiment of every reader’s imagination”.
At age 17, however, Radcliffe gave us a glimpse of his poise to enter the adult world of the performing arts when he took to the stage in English playwright Peter Shaffer’s 1973 play Equus, where he played the lead role of a stable boy with an obsession with horses. Not only was Radcliffe lauded for the nuance and depth of his delivery, the coming-of-age actor was nominated for a Drama Desk Award and praised for being able to break away from his Harry Potter persona.
Radcliffe carried on his theatrical success from West End all the way to Broadway in the 2011 revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, in a role previously held by veterans such as Robert Morse and Matthew Broderick. Once again, Radcliffe was nominated a Drama Desk, in addition to a Drama League nomination. On screen, Radcliffe portrays a widowed solicitor and father tasked to look into the legal and estate matters of a recently deceased woman rumoured to be haunting a small English town, where her residence is located, amidst heavy fogs and marshes, in the 2012 film adaptation of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, by which time, our budding actor had seamlessly transitioned into a consummate thespian.
With regard to the smooth evolution, Radcliffe says, “I think I’ve just been very lucky. I’ve always had just really good people around me who are never going let me get a big ego or anything like that. I think it’s also because I didn’t do it in LA; I sort of did it all in London, where I’m from, so that makes quite a difference. LA is a very specific world. I think if you had grown up there as a kid, it would definitely have shaped you in a different way.”
Committed to his art, Radcliffe credits his good grip on film and theatre to his focus on the same goal of delivering an honest performance, saying, “I enjoy both immensely and want to continue doing both for a long time. I think theatre has a slightly different discipline. There are certain things you need to do differently technically, but generally speaking, you’re always going for the same goal―honesty and truth, and just being as realistic as possible.”
At the time of our phone interview, Radcliffe was actually performing in New York, in James Graham and Josie Rourke’s Privacy, a modern piece with a confounding look at privacy issues brought on by the digital world, in which Radcliffe’s character undertakes a painful journey of self-discovery when intimate details of his private life that he’s been so carefully guarding are already out there. About the role, he says, “It’s been one of the most fun jobs I got to do. There’s quite a lot of audience participation and interaction which makes it a lot of fun.”
Radcliffe’smore recent grownup film roles include this year’s Swiss Army Man and Imperium. In the former, a comedy-drama fantasy by directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Paul Dano of Love & Mercy fame plays Hank, a man stranded on a desert island and attempting suicide who befriends a corpse washed ashore played by Radcliffe. To the audience’s amusement, Hank can also manipulate Radcliffe’s corpse like a multipurpose tool, hence the title Swiss Army Man. Together, the duo embark on a surreal quest for survival and finding the way home.
Seeing a recurring undertaking of fantasy roles here, we ask if this is what Radcliffe is attracted to, to which he replies, “I sort of like it because it gives you the chance to explore very normal and human issues in a way that’s sort of weird and out there. Fantasy is a very broad umbrella for a lot of things. For example, Swiss Army Man is not a second reality, it’s also sort of not remotely in the same world as Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings; it’s like a world where anything can happen, so I think I enjoy that aspect of it, but that’s not going to be all I do for the rest of my career. Hopefully I can keep a good mixture of fantasy and reality.”
Sure enough, in the latter film, Imperium, directed and written by Daniel Ragussis alongside Michael German, who used to be a former FBI agent, Radcliffe takes on a project inspired by real events. The film charts the journey of his character, an FBI agent who goes undercover with Neo-Nazi white supremacist groups in order to stop a terrorist plot.
From the plot alone, one would expect Radcliffe to be showcasing his action prowess, but the actor, who has always demonstrated a penchant for something with a bit more depth, responds that the film resembles more of a thriller than an action packed movie, “That’s one thing that I like about the script, it’s that normally films of this nature are very action-packed, and this film has some action in it, but it’s mainly a thriller.”
“In the real world if you fire a gun at another cover agent, you’re sort of the worst undercover agent in the world, so all you have is really your charm and your ability to read people in these situations and that sort of is the only weapon you have at your disposal. So it’s about watching this guy navigating his way in and out of these different and some terrifying situations, all of which is based on a real case.”
In real life, we would like to commend Radcliffe for playing a big role in supporting The Trevor Project since 2009, in their efforts of preventing suicide attempts amongst minority groups, particularly those of the LGBTQ community, amongst other charities.
“I’ve always been very privileged living in a tolerant, liberal community and surroundings, so when somebody drew my attention to the fact that there are still some in so many, many places around, like in the US, where LGBT people are treated with hostility growing up, it just seems to me that in this day and age for this to be happening is sort of ridiculous. When I was told about the organisation I was excited to be able to lend some support and hopefully be a part of building a better future,” he reveals.
While his recent choice of roles has been in these limited releases and more independent productions, Radcliffe reveals that it is here that he finds the most interesting work to grow his acting career, saying, “I think that tends to be where the more challenging scripts are. At the moment that’s where the film industry is, it’s that people are less willing to risk money on something that’s not a sure-fire success. So I think the most challenging and interesting movies are often being made in the independent world, though not always the case. On the whole, I gravitate towards that stuff but that’s not to say that I don’t want to keep a mixture of both in my career, which would be the most ideal. It just happens that at the moment I’m just going to go where the scripts and projects that I find most exciting are, and they happen to be in the indie film world.”
Today, even though Radcliffe doesn’t come with a formal higher education in Acting, he has more than assured us of his performing capability with the solid roles he has garnered under his belt. “I used to wonder if I was missing out by not having done that. Sometimes I would be on set with actors who are trained and I worried that I didn’t have the same skill sets as them, but then I sort of realised as well that I had a different type of training, like I was trained on how to be on a film set for years just as the people who are trained at fantastic drama schools will have wonderful vocal skills and projection. I’ve got a different set of skills, but I sort of acquired them from just being on a film set for a long time. Everyone comes to this industry in their own way, providing that you find a process that works for you.”
Going forward, the full-fledged actor wishes to direct his own material, but in the meantime, he’s happy to be able to maximise the potential of his acting know-how and enjoy the process along the way. “I have had so much fun at my job. I’m really lucky. I think acting is an exhilaratingly fun job in terms of great places to work. Swiss Army Man is definitely one of the most fun sets I’ve ever been on. It’s sort of a bit of a crazy movie and being there every day, you’re like filming some crazy new thing. It was constantly surprising and weird, and it was an interesting group of people to work with.”
Finally, Radcliffe surprises us with the following message, ending our cover story on a sweet note and marking the start of our eighth anniversary. Check out our September 2016 issue for the full spread.