Daniel Radcliffe has hung up his wizard’s cloak, but he retains the magic touch in landing big roles. He tells Sophie Herdman about stripping down, bulking up and proving the critics wrong. [divider]
There’s little that we don’t know about Daniel Radcliffe. We know about his love life, his childhood, his vices (he smokes but doesn’t drink) – we even know, thanks to a controversial performance in Equus, what he looks like without clothes.
So it’s a surprise to hear something about the former child star that hasn’t already made the headlines – like the fact that, aged 17, he tried his hand at poetry. A quartet of his works, which tackled topics such as infidelity, prostitutes and Pop Idol, appeared in Rubbish magazine in 2007 under the pseudonym Jacob Gershon – a combination of his middle name, Jacob, and the Jewish version of his mother’s maiden name, Gresham.
Just six years later, the verse-loving star finds himself playing one of the most famous Jewish poets of all time, Beat Generation writer Allen Ginsberg, in new film Kill Your Darlings. So what would Ginsberg have thought of Radcliffe’s rhymes? “He would have hated them,” says the actor, laughing. “Well, he probably would have said: ‘Well done for being a 17-year-old writing poetry’. But he wouldn’t have liked it, because it’s far too rhyming and conformist.”
That’s perhaps not the only pastime of Radcliffe’s that the late poet would have struggled to appreciate. The 24-year-old, who today looks dapper in matching navy blue trousers, shoes and jumper, admits that while filming, he and co-star Dane DeHaan spent their spare time playing Fantasy Football. “I’m not sure if Ginsberg would have been in our league if he was alive today,” he says. “But we’d have invited him for sure.”
It wasn’t all fun and games, of course. Playing such a prominent character is no easy task – Ginsberg was a leading figure of the counter-culture, opposing materialism and writing explicitly about homosexuality at a time when it was still illegal. As someone who speaks out about homophobia and supports a number of charities, including The Trevor Project, which focuses on suicide prevention for young homosexual people, Radcliffe was well-suited for the part.
The actor reveals that many of his parents’ friends are gay – his father, Alan, is a literary agent, his mother, Marcia, a casting agent – so sexuality has never been an issue for him.
“I hate any kind of prejudice or injustice – we all do – so if I can be a small voice to speak against it, then that’s fantastic.”
Radcliffe has a number of homosexual scenes, including a kiss with DeHaan and an explicit sex scene. While he seems relaxed about doing the scenes, watching them back did give him a slight attack of body anxiety – though he is good humoured about it. “I remember thinking at the time: ‘I’m in quite good nick’. And then I saw the scene and thought: ‘Oh Jesus, I look like a whippet’. I was not in any way lean – but I guess it would have been inappropriate for Allen Ginsberg to look like he’d been going to the gym.”
Radcliffe’s body has been a particular talking point since he starred in Equus. “I’m still getting naked questions about that,” says Radcliffe of the 2007 play. Numerous Harry Potter films followed, but the role marked his transgression from child wizard to adult actor.
In that same year, he also appeared in Australian film December Boys and TV movie My Boy Jack, alongside Carey Mulligan. In 2011, the year that the Harry Potter franchise came to an end, he made his Broadway debut in the musical How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, followed by the big screen horror The Woman In Black and the first series of A Young Doctor’s Notebook in 2012.
It’s a lot in a short space of time, and he clearly works hard; at one point he was filming A Young Doctor’s Notebook during the day and starring in a Martin McDonagh’s play The Cripple Of Inishmaan in the evenings. “Everyone said to me: ‘Aren’t you tired?’ But I wasn’t really. I only get tired if I’m bored. If I stop getting stimulated, I shut down. I’m like a dog in that way,” he says, grinning.
Energy and enthusiasm aside, it must have been daunting to leave the cocoon of Harry Potter. “You definitely have a moment of fear,” he confesses. “But mainly – and please don’t take this the wrong way –because of journalists. I never considered that I might not have a future in the industry until I was asked that by a journalist. You can react to that in one of two ways. One is to go: ‘Oh well, maybe they’re right’ and give up, the other is to use it to fuel you and prove those people wrong.”
To a certain extent, he says, he’s achieved that. “I feel I’m on my way to it. I’ve done work that I’m proud of, but I don’t think it’s the end of the process,” he notes. “At this point, it isn’t just about not repeating Harry, it’s not repeating The Woman In Black, and now Kill Your Darlings.”
And also about moving away from Potter? “I always try to be careful with this question,” Radcliffe says cautiously. “I don’t want it to sound like I want to stop talking about Potter, because I love those films.”
Plus, he’s now financially secure. “I don’t have to do a job if I don’t want to. I’ve had so many friends on the phone saying they’re off to audition for this terrible film that they really don’t want, but they have to do,” says Radcliffe. “If you want to talk about something valuable that money can buy you, that’s it – the luxury of being able to choose what to do.”
• Kill Your Darlings (15) is in cinemas now