Having carved out a career as a respected actor he tells Tabitha Lasley how he conquered his demons.
Daniel Radcliffe is shivering like a whippet. We are sitting on the balcony of a north London studio so he can smoke. He has thin skin, so pale it’s almost translucent, and his arms are covered in goose bumps. I ask him if he wants to go back down.
“No! No, no, no, no. I’m fine. I’m not cold.”
I get the sense that now we’ve gone to the trouble of walking upstairs, and finding a door that unlocks, he feels obliged to sit it out, as a kind of penance for asking in the first place. Radcliffe, once the world’s most famous child actor (the Harry Potter films are the highest-grossing franchise in history), knows that people expect him to be spoilt. So he’s scrupulously polite.
“I’ve always hated arrogance and bad behaviour,” he explains later. “I remember hearing a crew talking about Michael Caine. The admiration for him was universal, because of how he was on set. He made everyone feel good about being there. You learn from the people around you, and you see who you want to be like. If you encourage honesty, you’ll never be surrounded by sycophants. You’ve got to be surrounded by people who’ll tell you if you’re being a dick.”
If Radcliffe’s life were a play, then the desire not to ‘be a dick’ would be its central leitmotif. He arrives early for our shoot; poses with reflexive professionalism; stands around and gossips between shots. He handles questions with such deft charm, it’s impossible to tell whether you’ve struck up a rapport or not. He’s certainly nice company: courteous, cheerful, kinetic. Other than a couple of small spots on his cheek, there are few reminders he’s only 24. He says that even before Potter, as a bookish only child, he spent most of his time with adults. I meet this information with what I think is a neutral expression.
“Don’t look at me like you feel fucking sorry for me!” he howls. “I hate that! Journalists do that all the time.”
“Sorry,” I say. He’s joking, but he also looks a bit stung.
“I used to want a brother when I was younger. Mainly to wrestle with. My girlfriend has an amazing relationship with her younger brother, so…”
He tails off, perhaps remembering his own rule that he won’t talk about his relationship in interviews. There have been reports that he’s engaged to Erin Darke, the American actress he met filming Kill Your Darlings, and that his Potter co-star Rupert Grint will be best man. Is he?
“No. That’s not true at all. We’re very happy but we’re not engaged.” So Rupert won’t be best man? “No. And we’re not flying to Paris to choose a ring, either.”
Daniel Radcliffe photographed for The London Magazine
He is tight-lipped about Darke, but vocal on relationships in general. We are speaking ahead of the release of indie romcom What If. He says he’s got a lot in common with his character Wallace, who falls in love with a girl who has a boyfriend, so has to settle for being her mate. Given that Radcliffe has been globally famous since the age of ten, did he really struggle to get girls to notice him, the same way Wallace does?
“Absolutely! I’ve got a girl who’s still a good friend, and we’re grateful every day that we never hooked up, but we definitely had a crush on each other in our late teens. I absolutely feel that I’ve been through the same shit, the same ups and downs, with relationships. Though I’ve never been as pig-headed about love as Wallace.”
As Radcliffe’s post-Potter outings go, What If is surprisingly sunny. Until now, he’s shown a marked preference for mordant, offbeat films: The Woman In Black, a gloomy, Gothic horror; Kill Your Darlings, the beat poet biopic; this year’s Horns, a magical realist thriller. His first stage play was Equus and earlier this year, he reprised his role in The Cripple of Inishmaan. Does he feel there’s enough distance between him and the boy wizard to play it straight again?
“There was never a conscious effort to pick dark things. You obviously want to challenge people’s perception of you, but any actor wants to do that. I get unwarranted credit for picking a variety of roles because people have seen me play one character for so long. There’s no master plan. I feel I have good instincts when it comes to scripts, and I just follow them.”
In fact, Radcliffe seems reconciled to the fact that he and Harry will forever be conflated in many people’s minds.
“Potter has done too much for me for me to ever want to shit all over it. I’m never going to say: ‘Don’t ask me questions about that’. I remember reading an interview with Robert Smith from The Cure. Somebody said to him: ‘Why do you still wear all that makeup, don’t you feel a bit past it?’ And he said: ‘There are still 14-year-olds coming to see The Cure for the first time, dressed like that. I’d never want to make them feel silly.’ It’s a similar thing with Potter. People are still discovering those books and films. It would be awful for them to find out the people involved had turned their backs on it. Though sometimes, people do come up and say ‘I loved you in The Woman in Black,’ which is really sweet. That’s them knowing that it matters to me that I’ve done other stuff.”
So far, this ‘other stuff’ has turned out well (The Woman in Black was the highest-grossing British horror in 20 years) though he remains hard on himself. He says he “hates” his performance in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (“My vision of Harry in those final films was this war vet suffering from some sort of traumatic stress disorder, but it was just very monotone”) and reckons Equus was the making of him because “you can’t fake it on stage; if you’re crap it will show”. He’s now worth an estimated £60m, though he claims not to be interested in money; his mother manages his assets for him. Unusually for a child star, he’s still speaking to both parents. “They’re incredibly supportive,” he says. “I just got really lucky.”
His sole brush with celebrity excess was a period of heavy drinking while filming The Half-Blood Prince, which he’s since attributed to worries about his career post-Potter. He stopped drinking in 2010, and says it’s easier in America: “There, you can meet up with somebody and it not be about drinking. Over here, you say: ‘Do you want to go for a drink?’”
Outside work, he lives a low-key life. “I have never been to a premiere of a film I wasn’t in, because I prefer to see films at the cinema, without fucking hundreds of people shouting at me. Everyone gets papped sometimes, and you can’t control that. But the more you put yourself out there, the less right you’re going to have to say: ‘I don’t want to talk about that’.”
He shrinks further into his hoodie. He now looks so cold, I feel duty bound to make this question the last. He was the boy picked because he matched an author’s vision, that grew into a man determined to prove he could actually act. Has he slain those Potter-era demons that whispered he’d never work again? He looks at his shoes. “I always knew people were saying it. But I also knew I was more prepared for a long-haul journey than anyone thought. Not every film I do is going to be a success; probably none will come close to the commercial success of Potter. But I am always going to be an actor.”
What If is in cinemas from 20 August