After spending his teens casting spells, the newly sober Daniel Radcliffe is ready to show what he can really do, finds Tom Ellen
The thing is,” says Daniel Radcliffe, apologetically, “I’m aiming to become the most reliable actor in Hollywood.”
In isolation, it’s an admirable statement. However, as a last-minute excuse for cancelling his interview with ShortList, this seems paradoxical. Thankfully, Radcliffe expands. “My voice is going,” he croakily explains outside the New York studio where our exclusive cover shoot is taking place. “I’ve only got three weeks left on Broadway and I promised myself I wouldn’t miss a single show. I can’t risk talking for an hour and losing my voice completely. I don’t want to let anyone down.”
This kind of iron-willed professionalism seems a world away from the hot-headed petulance traditionally associated with those who have grown up in the spotlight, but then, as ShortList is discovering, Daniel Radcliffe is not your average superstar. It’s been more than a year since the matchlessly lucrative Harry Potter series reached its conclusion, and rather than simply sitting back and counting his share of the loot, Radcliffe has been enjoying the chance to spread his theatrical wings. He’s currently at the business end of a nine-month Broadway stint [in the raucous musical How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying] and, as his reluctance to waste vocal energy proves, he’s not taking his responsibilities lightly.
A month later, back in London, we’re shaking hands again. By now, the 22-year-old has made a full recovery and he’s energetically letting fly on everything from his first post-Potter film — a chilling big-screen adaptation of The Woman In Black — to school bullies, journalists and the beauty of Baileys...
How were the last few weeks on Broadway?
I didn’t miss a single show. But whenever I got ill, I got ultra-f*cking paranoid, so I had to take any excuse I could not to talk for a while.
Professionalism is clearly important to you...
It’s a vastly underestimated quality that a lot of young actors don’t have. It comes down to the fact that actors get away with a lot of sh*t they shouldn’t, so people expect a certain level of complacency. I always feel that’s the perception of me I’m coming up against and I want to counteract that as strongly as I can. One of the main reasons I want to direct is so I can be really f*cking bossy with actors. I won’t take any sh*t [laughs].
There'll be no mucking about for the blooper reel, then?
God, no. Even when I was 11 on the first Potter film and the other kids would say, “Let’s do something funny on this take,” I’d think, “No. Why don’t we just do our jobs?” The crew don’t f*ck about, do they? They don’t do one take where they all f*cking shake the camera. So why should the actors do it?
Let's talk about The Woman In Black. Did you see the play when you were younger?
I didn’t. I missed that school trip [laughs]. But I tend to mimic and copy, so I wanted to keep from seeing it as I knew I would end up borrowing elements I liked from the play.
Were there any Three Men & A Baby-esque ghostly apparitions on set?
No, although Tom Selleck did materialise in the background of one scene. It’s very brief — you just catch a glimpse of his moustache [laughs].
We'll watch out for that. Now, you mentioned in New York that you regretted not drinking more Baileys... Why is that?
[Laughs] I had a taste of Baileys just before I stopped drinking and I thought, “Gosh, that's nice. I could drink a huge amount of this.” It would have made things more pleasant for the people doing my make-up on set. They’d have smelt Baileys on my breath in the morning instead of vodka.
There's been a lot written about your drinking...What's the truth?
It’s ridiculous that it’s been talked about so much. The drinking was unhealthy and damaging to my body and my social life. That’s beyond question. I was living in constant fear of who I’d meet, what I might have said to them, what I might have done with them, so I’d stay in my apartment for days and drink alone. I was a recluse at 20. It was pathetic — it wasn’t me. I’m a fun, polite person and it turned me into a rude bore. For a long time people were saying to me, “We think you have a problem,” but in the end I had to come to the realisation myself.
Gary Oldman - who you worked with on the Potter films - has been through similar things. Did you ever confide in him?
I did talk to him about it once. I didn’t say I had a problem — because I didn’t think I did at that point — but I told him I shared that mentality he had for actively seeking out chaos. He just said, “You can’t keep doing this. You’ve got too much to lose.” And that really went in. But not even he could have stopped me alone — I had to stop myself. And stopping has shown me a world of happiness that I didn’t think was possible.
You must have had a couple of fun drunken nights out, though?
Yeah, but I can’t remember them [laughs]. Seriously, in the last three years of drinking I blacked out nearly every time. Blacking out was my thing.
How do you find staying sober when everyone else is drunk?
I quite enjoy it until everyone starts slurring, and you’re like, “You’ve told me this f*cking story three times already!” Actually, after our Christmas party on Broadway, I had fun going into the rooms of people I knew had got really f*cked up the night before, and shouting at them [laughs]. Just to be an arsehole. If you’re going to be sober, you might as well be smug about it.
Was there ever a point when you regretted signing up to Potter?
There was a time after the third film when I thought about quitting. It was only for a second, but I thought, “If I do the fourth, I’ll have to do them all,” and that seemed quite daunting. If I was going to leave, that would have been the perfect time because it would have given whoever came in to play Harry enough films to establish himself properly. It wouldn’t have totally dumped him in the sh*t. But then I started thinking, “What other good parts are there for 15-year-olds? None.”
You've talked in the past about getting hassle at school - did that contribute to you thinking of quitting?
I don’t know. I mean, school was sh*t because the kids didn’t like me, but I wasn’t there very often. The problem at school was that I ended up getting cocky. Although most of them were brighter than me, I’d spent five years on film sets, so I’d developed a sharp tongue. Kids would shout, “Oi, tell Hermione she’s fit, yeah?” and I’d say, “Definitely. You’re exactly her type, actually. She’ll go ape-sh*t when she hears you’re interested.”
You've cited Eddie Izzard's line about bullies - 'they hang out in groups of five because they have a fifth of a personality each' - as an inspiration. Have you ever told Izzard that?
No, I’d like to, but I’ve only met him once. It was in the toilet at the Baftas. I was about 16 and I hadn’t done anything for my girlfriend for Valentine’s Day, so I ran around getting Eddie, Anthony Hopkins and a few others to sign a card for her [laughs].
There are always crazy figures thrown about regarding how much you're worth. Do you even know yourself?
I only found out what I was worth two months ago. Seriously, I’d never wanted to know, but eventually I got so sick of hearing all these ridiculous figures that I asked my agent. She told me and my jaw hit my toenails. I won’t tell you what it was, but it was very surreal. You just go, “Oh. Well, that’s nice. I’ll buy you several drinks then, shall I?”
Is it still impossible for you to leave the house and not get mobbed by Potter fans?
Pretty much. Halloween is my favourite time of year because it’s completely acceptable to wear a mask [laughs]. I go out on Halloween with a mask on, and it’s amazing to be able to walk around with my head up and not worry about making eye contact with people.
How crazy are the fans? Do you get marriage proposals?
I get a lot of marriage proposals. Girls will come up and say, “I love you!”, to which I have a few responses. I use the old Seinfeld one a lot — “I love you too but I think we should see other people” [laughs]. That always goes down well.
Do children ever assume you can do magic?
Yes, that’s very confusing for them. If they ask me to do a spell I’ll usually say, “I can’t right now, there are people watching.” That’s a bit kinder than, “Grow up you little sh*t, there’s no such thing as magic! Oh, and Santa Claus isn’t real either.” [Laughs]
What's the strangest rumour you've heard about yourself?
Oh, I can give you a f*cking great list. I once read I was having my own beer brewed by Belgian monks [laughs]. I guess it was midnight and they had to fill that extra column inch…
The journalists were desperately wracking their brains for something... anything...
Yeah. “Throw another dart at the dictionary… Right, ‘monks’! OK, how about… Radcliffe’s got monks to brew beer for him?” What else? The SAS were apparently walking my dogs at one point. That was good. The best, though, was that I had a life-size, naked statue of myself in my living room. It’s not a big deal, but you do open the paper and think, “Jesus Christ, somebody’s getting paid to write this!”
Do you ever Google yourself?
I try to stay away from the internet. Occasionally, I’ll type my name into Google to see what comes up — that’s funny. At the moment, it’s ‘gay’, ‘Twitter’ and ‘alcoholic’. That’s the top three [laughs]. ‘Gay’ always comes up, although it comes up for most people — even Florence Welch. So, really, if people aren’t saying you’re gay, you don’t have a career. I’m sure there are a few ostensibly straight celebrities who are gay, but that’s their f*cking business. They’ll choose if and when they come out — they can’t be forced into it.
Is there anyone you're desperate to work with?
I’d love to work with Will Ferrell and Steve Carell. I find those gentlemen incredibly funny.
Having already worked with Ricky Gervais on Extras, you're in a good position...
Yeah, but [Ferrell and Carell] come from a school of improv that wasn’t there in the English Office. Ricky improvises a bit. In the Extras episode I did where Warwick [Davis] attacks him, he was improvising all these funny little lines — “He’s coming at me like Björk!”, “He’s all arms!” — but at that age I didn’t have the confidence to try any of my own.
But you think you could contend with Ferrell and Carell now?
I definitely think I could keep up with them. Not that I wouldn’t have a lot to learn from them, of course.
Have you considered putting a call in to set something up?
I’m nowhere near that level yet. The likes of George Clooney and Brad Pitt are the only actors whose involvement in a project can guarantee it will happen. I’m still an unknown quantity. I’ve got a built-in fanbase but people don’t really know what I can do. I’ve got a lot of respect for [Pitt and Clooney] though, because, if they’d wanted to, they could have spent their whole lives playing standard romantic leads, but they’ve chosen far more interesting routes.
Have you met either of them?
No. Who have I met that I admire? I once asked Christian Bale’s wife to tell Christian he was a big inspiration. She was on set one day and I said, “Will you tell him I think he’s f*cking great, please?” Because people always ask the ‘child actor’ question, referring to Macaulay Culkin and Corey Haim, but nobody ever mentions Christian Bale, Elijah Wood, Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman... Plenty of successful actors started young. But I guess when you’re a kid in a big franchise, people expect things to go south.
You don't fancy another big franchise, such as Bond, then?
I’d like to be in the new one, with Sam Mendes directing. But I don’t know if I’d be any good as Bond. I definitely wouldn’t want to follow Daniel Craig.
You'd need a rubbish Bond in-between to lower expectations...
[Laughs] Exactly. I’ll let someone else have a go first. Erm… who’d be terrible as Bond?
Someone like Paul Giamatti would change the pace a bit...
Yeah, absolutely, he’d take it in a totally different direction. His Bond would just be sat at a desk, continually doing paperwork [laughs].
What have you got coming up next?
I’m shooting a film called Kill Your Darlings. I’ll be playing Allen Ginsberg.
Have you seen James Franco's Ginsberg in Howl?
No. I like the fact he played him, though, because I’m slightly too handsome to play Ginsberg, but James Franco is way too f*cking handsome to play Ginsberg [laughs]. So if anybody tells me I don’t look right, I’ll be like, “Did you see Howl?”
The Woman In Black is at cinemas nationwide from 10 February
(Main photography: Danielle Levitt)
(Images: All Star)