Here’s a brand spankin’ new interview from the Observer today with Daniel Radcliffe:
From speccy wizard to deranged stable boy, Daniel Radcliffe’s trajectory from child actor to rising star of the stage couldn’t be more different – or daring. But underneath the mature exterior of the nascent leading man is an ordinary teenager about to savour his first legal pint – not to mention his first nude scene.
First things first. As he removes his battered green peaked cap and wriggles from his chunky jumper, blusteringly polite and keen, Daniel Radcliffe wants me to know that no, he is not trying to grow ‘a bad teenage moustache’. He has been instructed not to shave before he next shows up for work. ‘This is two days’ worth,’ he says with a hopeful smile, rubbing his barely stubbly face, ‘so I’m getting there.’
We talk hair for a bit. He’s 17 now, and it’s something of an issue. As he sheds clothes, stripping to T-shirt, jeans, knackered trainers – I catch an eyeful of the substantial fur running from Radcliffe’s navel down to his crotch.
‘That’s what’s annoying!’ he shouts. ‘It goes from your head then sprouts out everywhere else.’ His dad, Alan, has a decent head of hair, but he went grey very young. ‘But he’s quite a dignified grey, I like to think. I’m hoping that’s where I’m going. But women get a rough deal in the hair department – they’re not supposed to have any, and occasionally you have women who get to 60 and have a hairy top lip. That’s terrible!’ Radcliffe’s eyes widen at the horror.
As we settle into our seats in a room in a boutique hotel in Chelsea, not far from the Fulham home that Radcliffe – an only child – shares with his parents, we move on to music. He’s a serious fan, mostly of indie bands, and I’ve brought him copies of some albums not yet in the shops. He’s especially chuffed to receive a copy of Bloc Party’s second CD. He met singer Kele Okereke at the Reading Festival. Okereke didn’t know who he was, until the actor’s friend said, ‘Uh, this is Daniel Radcliffe …’ Then he ‘sort of twigged and it was one of those situations where it was a bit embarrassing for a moment’.
He flips excitedly through the pile. ‘What’s great is occasionally I’ll mention a band in an interview – like, I mentioned Arcade Fire in an interview with Rolling Stone last year. Lo and behold, a month later a crate of Arcade Fire stuff turned up!’ he beams.
Ah, the perks of the job when you’re Britain’s most famous teenager. Or, arguably, the most famous teen film star in the world. Not that he needs free stuff. The global success of the four Harry Potter films have made Daniel Radcliffe – let’s call him Dan, everyone else does – the richest kid in Britain. Since beating off 400,000 hopefuls over four auditions when he was 11, Dan has seen his fee per movie rise handsomely. For the opening instalment, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001), he was reportedly paid £60,000; for the last, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, £6m. With Dan also receiving a share of revenue from sales of movie-related merchandise, his net worth by the time of the release this summer of the fifth film, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, should be around £20m.
But as Harry Potter knows only too well, fame and success attract dark forces, too. Dan understands that, now he’s approaching adulthood, his celebrity means that the paparazzi – and citizen snappers armed with camera-phones – see him as fair game. Even if you’re not the kind of star who goes partying without any pants on, you have to be careful.
‘If [the paparazzi] got a picture of me at 15 doing vodka shots – which by the way I wasn’t – then they’d be having a field day. I do have to watch myself going out and things.’ At Reading, a mate asked Dan to hold his pint for a second; he had to decline. He’s been in this game long enough to imagine the resulting headline: ‘Harry Blotto’.
Going to gigs, he says, is relatively risk-free, even if you have been a Vanity Fair cover star. ‘People are there for the music. So most of the time they don’t recognise you. I went to see Radiohead at Hammersmith and there was not a single person who wasn’t transfixed by the stage.’ Clubs are out of the question, but he’s not into the music they play.
He tells the story of a friend being offered £200 by a newspaper for a picture of one well-known, club-hopping teen celebrity doing cocaine; he was horrified, and knows it’s likely there’s a much higher bounty on incriminating photos of himself.
‘I’m not by any stretch of the imagination a monarchist,’ he continues, ‘but I do feel sorry for poor Kate thingy. What’s her name? Middleton. Those pictures of her walking out of her house the other day …’ He shakes his head at the image of Prince William’s girlfriend spending her birthday morning running the paparazzi gauntlet. ‘The thing I kept thinking is, they’re all saying he’s gonna marry her – what if he’s not? That must create some really awkward moments over dinner.’
Until fairly recently, attention from female admirers was little more than an amusing curiosity to Dan. An estimated 6,000 fans crowded outside New York’s Radio City Music Hall for the 2004 unveiling of The Prisoner of Azkaban. But in 2005, at the American premiere of The Goblet of Fire, Pottermania boiled over: ‘Rupert [Grint, aka Ron Weasley] had underwear thrown at him!’ he laughs. One girl in a car trailed Dan’s limousine through the streets of Manhattan; when they stopped at traffic lights she tried to climb in the passenger window. ‘It was very, very strange.’ Another girl held up a banner: ‘Mrs Radcliffe is here.’ His mum was confused by that, ‘because she’s Mrs Radcliffe’. She didn’t immediately understand that her little boy was now an object of lust.
That said, even when he was promoting the first Potter film in America, Dan remembers the girl who waited for him, dressed only in a towel. ‘I was about 11 when that happened. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was just discovering what everything was!’ he splutters. ‘That was really cool actually. I wish that would happen again. As I remember, she was very attractive. I’d be up for something now!’
Dan’s publicist-cum-confidante Vanessa Davies – who’s been his media chaperone for six years – pipes up from the adjacent room. ‘You don’t want to be saying that in an interview …’ Chastened, Dan quickly dampens down his hormones. I glimpse for a moment the push-pull he must wrestle with daily: of being a kid in a super-grown-up world.
When I ask him if he has to worry about his relationships being over-exposed – or about any girlfriend’s motives – he shoots Davies a glance before replying. Then he ploughs on regardless. ‘I’ve not got a girlfriend at the moment. I have had probably two I suppose what you call serious girlfriends. But I’ve never worried about that, or them doing anything. Generally I’d rather take the chance if I really like someone. I think I’d generally be able to tell. I’ve got quite a good instinct for people.
‘Obviously you have to watch a bit, and I’m sure there will be a lot of girls … Well, I hope there will be a lot of girls who are just trying to get stories! Somebody said to me the other day, "Do you ever worry that girls are just giving you attention because of who you are?" I was like, "I’m 17, I don’t care! It’s wonderful!"’
What his Potter fans will make of his next role is hard to predict. This month he starts a four-month run at London’s Gielgud Theatre in Peter Shaffer’s Equus. It’s the first major London production of Equus since the original, more than 30 years ago. Dan plays Alan Strang, a disturbed – and unshaven – stable lad who blinds six horses with a metal spike. Richard Griffiths (The History Boys and, of course, Uncle Dursley in the Potter movies) takes the role of Dr Martin Dysart, the psychiatrist charged with treating him. And, in a nod to Sidney Lumet’s 1977 film adaptation of Equus, Jenny Agutter is Hesther Saloman, the magistrate who first refers the boy to Dysart. In the big-screen version Agutter was Jill Mason, the comely stable gal who seduces Alan. It is their abortive sexual fumbling in the hayloft that causes Strang’s sexual-religious obsession with horses and their mystical spirit (‘equus’) to spill over into a savage attack on the animals in the stalls below.
Equus is a daring career move for a child actor hitherto known as a speccy boy-wizard. Last year, Dan first broke out of the Potter bubble with a guest turn in the second series of Extras. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant cast him as a brattish, sex-mad adolescent who accidentally pings his prize condom on to the head of Dame Diana Rigg. He loved every minute of it, ‘playing up to the preconception that everyone has of you as a child actor – that you’re gonna be really cocky and full of yourself’.
But why did he decide to do this arduous, psychologically challenging role? ‘It is a really intense, sexual and in some ways violent play,’ he concedes. ‘And some of the audience may be shocked. People may even possibly think that I shouldn’t be doing it because of the Potter fans. But I think that would be a mistake … the person at the centre of all the attention should always be the one to lead where the attention goes,’ he concludes firmly and with savvy flourish. And here I see the other side of Dan. This combination, of the gauche and the worldly-wise, is rather endearing. You’d like to have a beer with this chap, you think. When he’s legal, of course.
I ask Dan what JK Rowling makes of his new adventure.
‘She’s coming to see it!’ he says, beaming. ‘She’s very excited about it, which is great! I think it will be weird for her because – I’m not sure how true it is – someone said that when she first saw my screen test she said something about it being like she’d found the son she never had. So it’s going to be very weird for her to see her long-lost son blind horses! I look forward to hearing what she thinks.’
It’s a big year all-round for Radcliffe. In August he films his first major TV role – the lead in My Boy Jack, a drama about Rudyard Kipling’s son, whose death in the First World War haunted the writer for the rest of his life. Like a proper boy, Dan is excited at the prospect of filming the trench scenes, which are being recreated in Ireland. ‘It’s also an excuse to watch loads of World War I movies and read Birdsong,’ he adds.
September should see the release of another non-Potter project. December Boys, a low-budget film he made in Australia, is a Sixties-set drama in which Dan plays one of four orphans vying for the attention of potential adoptive parents. He and his parents have a house in Melbourne and often visit during the British winter – it was great to fit in a bit of work, especially on a film that was a short shoot, compared with the nine or 10 months required for each Potter film.
But the summer brings an even more pivotal development in his young life: on 23 July, Dan turns 18 and he will get access to his considerable fortune. He’s no flash Harry but reckons he might buy a Toyota Prius (not that he’s passed his test, and not that he’s ‘a real environmentalist – I always forget to turn the lights off’). Or he may indulge his passion for modern art; he loves Jim Hodges’s work, although his favourite artist is Jackson Pollock. He’s also considering buying his own place, and he’s looking forward to going to the pub and holding a pint without fearing the flash of a camera-phone. One thing he won’t be doing, though, is having a party. He’d be useless at organising it, he says, ‘I’m not really a party person. I don’t really know what to do with myself when I’m standing there.’
July also sees the release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth film, and publication of the seventh and final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Dan lets slip that the latter is coming out on 07/07/07. Davies shouts through again. That date isn’t confirmed, she says. Blushing, Dan says his big worry is that the book will be published just days before the 13 July US premiere of the movie. He won’t have time to read it, and a journalist on the red carpet is bound to ask what he thinks of the ending … Later, it turns out the publication date of the book is 21 July, so he really will be stumped.
Is there a sense of relief that this summer the series finally draws to a close?
‘It was a relief until a short time ago, when I started thinking, "God, this will have been nine years of my life by the end. ‘I’ve met so many people, and people have come in and come out of my life in that time, and I’ve made some amazing friendships. And some friendships that have started and then’ – he laughs and coughs – ‘reverted to not being friends any more.’
He reflects on the way that acting, and Harry Potter, have defined his 17 years. Having spent large chunks of his adolescence in the company of adults, famous ones at that, it means that he counts as friends not schoolmates and peers but people like Gary Oldman, Imelda Staunton and Kenneth Branagh. (It was Branagh – Gilderhoy Lockhart in the second film, Chamber of Secrets – who first suggested that Dan do Equus, and who worked with him on early workshop versions of the play in 2005.) He sometimes thinks he’s taken on the characteristics of an ‘old man’ on account of all the adult company he keeps.
‘And teen years,’ he continues, ‘are the years of your life where everything’s happening – you fall in love for the first time, you do all the stuff. And alongside all that happening in my life has been Harry Potter. It’s gonna be exciting in a way because I’ll be free from all that. But that’s been the stage [on which] my teen years have been played out. So it’s gonna be really sad when they’re finally over.’
For all the surreality of his A-list existence, Radcliffe’s key debt to Harry Potter is more prosaic. Ask him if he could imagine a life without the films and he replies, ‘I think it would have been a crap life, to be honest.’ Not because he wouldn’t have had the money, fame, fun – ‘but in terms of being at school’. He went for his first audition, aged nine, for a role in a TV version of David Copperfield, at the suggestion of a film agent friend of his parents. ‘The reason I did that was because I was not doing particularly well at school.’
Then, making the Potter movies was at first ‘just fun. I was a kid on a film set and it was brilliant and I was swinging about on the scaffolding.’ But by the third film, The Prisoner of Azkaban, ‘I really started to get into the process of it as well. And that enjoyment has just increased as the films have gone on. ‘
The production cycle of the films also made his secondary-school-age experiences better. ‘I was never good at sport, and as I wasn’t very academic either, I’d have found all that really hard and frustrating. So being tutored one-to-one on set has been great.’ He credits his English tutor – ‘a great inspiration’ – with opening his eyes to the wonders of poetry. Writing poems is one of his hobbies. ‘A lot of it’s about recording how I’m feeling, or about certain events in my life. Much more fun than writing a diary.’ His favourite modern poet is Tony Harrison, whose partner happens to be Sian Thomas, who plays Amelia Bones in the upcoming Potter film. ‘So I was fortunate enough to be able to write to him.’
Though The Order of the Phoenix is the longest of the six published Potter novels, the production was the shortest, because Dan could devote more time to filming after leaving City of London School last summer, midway through the shoot. He was gobsmacked by his results: As in all three of his AS level exams (religion and philosophy, history, English literature). But he won’t be going to university; he’s not even sure when – or if – he’ll go back to take his A-levels. ‘I’m much more into the idea of educating myself just by reading endlessly, which I’m perfectly happy to do,’ he grins. His current reading matter: Nabokov’s Laughter in the Dark. ‘Much easier than Lolita, actually.’
Phoenix is the darkest, most intense, most complex Potter film so far. ‘It was also the most fun I’ve had on any of them,’ he says. Not because there are love/kissing scenes – ‘although they were good!’ – but because he’s a big fan of director David Yates. And because he got to work intently with Oldman (Sirius Black) and Staunton (Dolores Umbridge).
Dan is remarkably mature and confident for someone not yet legally an adult. Even with his fine line in luvvie-speak he’s the least bumptious, most charming teenage millionaire superstar you’re ever likely to meet. ‘Someone recently thought I was 19, despite my diminutive stature [he's 5ft 5in],’ he says proudly. ‘That was quite cool. I must just exude a halo of maturity at all times,’ he declaims with a mock theatrical ponceyness.
David Heyman, producer of the Potter films, says that the seventh and final film will be done by 2010. But by 2010, Dan will be 20. Is he committed to the seventh Potter film? For once, his easy conversational flow falters. ‘Um, nnnnot for cer … sure. But if I did the sixth one, which I probably will, I think it’ll be really weird not to do the last one. If you’ve come that far you might as well finish them.’
What does he think will happen in the final book? Will he die?
‘I think I will. I sort of hope I will, really. I think that’s really the only way Jo can end it, if Harry and Voldemort… Maybe one can only die if the other one dies. I don’t know that for sure. But I’m quite looking forward to doing a death scene, if I get that opportunity.’
But honestly, he says, he has no idea of how the series will end. Nor does he want to. He’s a Potter fan, like everyone else. ‘Jo came down to the set at one point and I said, "Oh hello, why are you here today?" And she said, "Oh I just needed a break from the book – Dumbledore’s giving me a lot of trouble." And I said, "But isn’t he dead?" And she said, "Well, yeah, but it’s more complex …" I was like, [briskly] "OK, I’m not gonna ask anything else!"’
Our time is drawing to a close. We’ve met on a Sunday afternoon because it’s the only time he has spare – director Thea Sharrock is putting her Equus cast through a strenuous preparation schedule. So far, he’s only taken his top off in rehearsal, ‘which was all right’. The actress playing Jill Mason is going to be naked too, ‘so at least I won’t be on my own. But, um, I think it’s going to be very, very sensitively lit, which is nice. The nudity is just something I’ve gotta do really,’ he says, so casually he’s almost slurred. ‘It’s just part of the play.’
Has he been sneakily getting in shape?
‘I try and keep relatively fit anyway, but I haven’t been taking loads of steroids and stuff! That would be the worst thing I could do actually,’ he guffaws. ‘Doesn’t it make your balls shrink?’
Did he have to think long and hard about doing … Dan interrupts me with a snigger. ‘Sorry! Long and hard!’
Sorry, slip of the tongue. Anyway. Is the decision to do Equus some sort of statement on his part?
‘Yeah, definitely. I just want to establish that I can do other things. And that I’m not afraid to do very, very different things from Harry. Harry is an incredibly challenging part. But Alan is just so different.
‘And with the nudity thing… The thing is, if I did the first production of Equus in 30 years and didn’t get my kit off in probably the most iconic scene in the play, people would be going, "He’s not really committed to this!" It’s got to be done, it’s a great moment in the play. It makes me look much more vulnerable if I’ve got, you know, pants off rather than pants on!’
And Dan Radcliffe snorts like a teenage boy. Albeit a super-rich, ultra-famous, highly talented, rather smart and decent one …
· Equus previews at the Gielgud Theatre from 16 February (www.gielgud-theatre.com)