Since graduating from Hogwarts, the decidedly unstarry Daniel Radcliffe has played devils, confused poets and, now, Frankenstein’s hunchbacked sidekick. Olly Richards meets Britain’s oddest film star.
Fame teaches you many things: how to outrun paparazzi, how to respond to mobs of fans, how to endure a breakfast TV interview without screaming. It does not, apparently, prepare you for the complexities of making coffee. Bouncing into a huge wood-panelled conference room above the photography studio where he’s just been shot for NME’s cover, Daniel Radcliffe is presented with a cup and reaches for the sweeteners. “How many of these are you supposed to use?” he asks, merrily clicking little white pellets into his drink. Each of those is one sugar, we tell him. You’ve just given yourself seven sugars. “Oh, right,” he laughs. “Well, we’ll leave that then.”
You half-expect Daniel Radcliffe to have an entourage of people to dispense his sweeteners for him. He is stupidly famous. Playing Harry Potter, he led one of the biggest film series in history to take over £5billion at the world box office. He is worth, according to the Sunday Times Rich List, around £69million. He should be swaggering around in furs, eating swans and doing drugs off antique mirrors. But Radcliffe’s the antithesis of all that. He is not like other movie stars. We don’t mean that in the usual clichéd way, as when a celebrity profile declares its subject “down to earth” because they ate carbohydrates and weren’t paraded in on a throne. Daniel Radcliffe is odd. Good odd. He is Britain’s weirdest film star and we love him for it.
Consider the evidence: Since Potter ended, his roles have included a haunted lawyer (The Woman In Black), a man turning into a devil (Horns), a singing corporate climber (How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, on stage), a sexually confused beat poet (Kill Your Darlings) and a doctor who has imaginary conversations with his older self (The Young Doctor’s Notebook). Then there’s his latest role in Victor Frankenstein, his first studio movie since Potter. He plays Igor, the otherworldly, hunchbacked assistant in an imagined origin story that details the peculiar early experiments of young Frankenstein (played by James McAvoy). These are the career choices of a burgeoning indie actor, not a man so famous he has his own Lego range and has been parodied on The Simpsons.
“No, I don’t really have mainstream tastes,” he says. “People do ask me, ‘Why do you choose such weird movies?’ but I don’t think they’re weird, they’re just stories I’m interested in. Isn’t having weird tastes good, though? I think so. I think that’s better than always wanting to play the handsome hero. You think I’m weird? I’ll take that.”
Radcliffe is handsome but in quite a normal way – he has what your mum might call “a nice face” – which means he’s not obvious leading man material, and at around 5’5”, he’s a bit small to be an action star (though that never stopped Tom Cruise). Today, dressed all in black and with his hair sharply cropped as a souvenir from a recently completed role in Imperium, playing an FBI agent posing as a neo-Nazi, he should look intimidating. Yet he’s so effusively cheerful that he just looks… tidy. He’s 26 now, but clean-shaven, he could pass for much younger. He’s got a character actor’s face, which means he can do those strange lead roles your more traditional leading man couldn’t.
“I had a huge amount to prove [after Potter],” continues Radcliffe. “Proving that you can be a young actor and not be a complete fucking disaster when you grow up. That is the – quite unfair I think – image that people have of young actors. There are a huge number of child actors who grow up fine. Always with my career in film, I saw Potter as an amazing beginning to it. I’m sure I’ll never hit that kind of commercial peak again but very, very few people will.”
He doesn’t, however, agree that coming back to studio films is a sign he’s ready to accept being ‘a big deal’ again. “No, although that’s a nice theory,” he smiles. “There’s no significance to it. Doing studio movies is fun because you get to do stuff that you mostly wouldn’t get to do on an indie movie, in terms of action. There is a part of me that, because I grew up doing it, loves that stuff and really misses it. Frankenstein was just the most interesting and original script I’d seen from a studio. It looked like fun to make, and it was.”
It is, as rollicking blockbusters go, smarter than most, playing with ideas of science vs religion, heart vs mind, while also finding room for a fight with a zombie monkey. “It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it has a nice intellectual debate at the heart of it,” says Radcliffe.
For someone who has lived with press intrusion since the age of 11, Radcliffe is an open interviewee. What was he into as a kid? “The Simpsons… but I was also obsessed with Yes, Minister.” The 1980s sitcom that was made before you were born? “Yes!” He puts his hands on the arms of his chair, as he does whenever he’s about to launch into a subject that really excites him. “I used to watch that every night before I went to bed when I was about 15. I still think it’s one of the best British sitcoms ever… And one of my favourite films is A Matter Of Life And Death, with David Niven… He has to go to court in Heaven. It’s sweet and funny but so weird.” These are the kind of references you’d expect from someone twice Radcliffe’s age. He shrugs. “I like things that do whatever the fuck they want at all times.”
Radcliffe’s frankness extends to discussing more personal matters, which in the past have included losing his virginity to an older woman and problems with alcohol, long since given up. Most recently, in an interview with Playboy, there was the surprising admission of masturbating during the production of Harry Potter…
“What?” he says, confused, but not angry. “I didn’t say I wanked on set!”
He gets out his phone to find the interview, which doesn’t take long as there are many, many Google hits. “Oh God,” he says, flopping back in his seat. “It’s frustrating when you tell a story and say, ‘Yes, I wanked a lot when I was a teenager,’ but clearly I didn’t mean on set.” He straightens up in his seat. “Can you make this clear for me: I was not wanking during the filming of Potter – I managed to restrain myself until I got home.” Consider the matter closed. Let’s wash our hands of it, so to speak.
Radcliffe wears his fame lightly, remembering a key incident from the height of Pottermania. “I was at Reading Festival and I was standing behind a guy who’d been on reality TV. He was really, really hated and I saw the shit he took from that crowd. Stuff chucked at him, people swearing at him… I was 16 and was all, ‘Oh man I can’t go anywhere.’ Then I had that moment of realisation that, holy sh*t, I am really lucky to be famous for something that people really like. There are far worse things to be famous for, and this is something that still seems to be genuinely important to so many people in a really sweet way.”
If Radcliffe is fed up with discussing Potter, and he has every reason to be, he doesn’t show it. In fact, he brings up the subject, talking about how strange it is that it’s only four years since the film series ended, because it feels so long ago. He can’t escape it, but he doesn’t want to. Which is good because the Potter universe has started expanding again.
We meet on the day that the first images were revealed of Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, the 1920s-set Potter spin-off that stars Eddie Redmayne as a magical explorer who collects bizarre creatures. Radcliffe hasn’t seen the pictures and jumps up to look at them on my phone, clocking Redmayne’s swishy cerulean coat and barking, “Oh fuck you, Eddie, in your brilliant costume… I got jeans and a zip top for 10 years and you’ve got a greatcoat already?”
JK Rowling is not just expanding into the Potter universe’s past, but also its future. Next year will see the West End opening of the play Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, not a sequel to Potter but a continuation of Harry’s story, focusing on his youngest son, Albus, who is struggling with all that comes with the Potter name. Harry is now unhappily employed at the Ministry of Magic (basically a wizard civil servant).
What’s it like knowing someone else is going to play Harry? “It’s weird,” he says. “But I’m happy for it to go on without me. I’ve no ownership of it.” Would he go and see it? “Now that I know [Harry’s in it] I actually really want to see it. It would be
a mental thing to try and see it with lots of very excited Harry Potter fans. But I kind of would like to know what happens now.”
He goes all wistful for a minute. “I’d always thought in the years after Potter finished that it would die down, but it’s just grown more because the people who were massive Harry Potter fans in their teens are now adults. So you meet them more. They’re not at home with their parents, they’re out in the world. It always amazes me when someone says what a huge part of their childhood it was. I still have a natural reserve that makes me go, ‘Oh don’t be so silly, I wasn’t responsible for your childhood.’ But I think about the stuff that means a lot for me from my childhood, like The Simpsons, and how, when I did a voice on The Simpsons I got a signed thing from Matt Groening and that was so fucking exciting. The thought that I might occupy that space in somebody else’s childhood…”
Maybe it’s not the roles he’s taken since Potter that make him unusual. Maybe it’s not even his bizarre affinity for granddad TV shows. Maybe the thing that makes Daniel Radcliffe Britain’s oddest film star is that he hasn’t ever quite realised that he’s a film star at all. It doesn’t seem to have sunk in that he’s Daniel bloody Radcliffe.
VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN – in cinemas from December 3