The sixth Harry Potter film sees the bespectacled boy becoming his own man. But what about the actor that plays him?
No wands. No glasses. No scars. Those were the rules we agreed with Daniel Radcliffe’s camp when we started planning our cover shoot with the 19-year-old star of Harry Potter. Which is why Radcliffe is now in a west London photo studio and giving it the ecstatic-wired look on a bare mattress. Today is all about Dan – as everyone calls him – not Harry. ‘He’s like a pig in s***,’ says Radcliffe’s publicist Vanessa when I turn up halfway through the shoot. I couldn’t have put it better myself. When I first catch sight of Radcliffe, he’s having an intense moment in front of the lens. It’s his iPod that’s rocking the studio – Interpol, for the record – and he’s mouthing the words like a musician possessed, his body shaking and his eyes staring at the camera and giving it the full-on rock-star attitude.
‘It’s the nearest he’ll ever get to shooting an album cover,’ whispers Vanessa as the shoot continues. She tells me she’s been working with Radcliffe ever since he was 11 and first cast as JK Rowling’s pint-sized hero. She has seen him through six Harry Potter films (with two more to go that he’s shooting back-to-back this summer), a naked performance in the play Equus in London and New York, and, of course, the small matter of his entire adolescence. In a quick break, Radcliffe wanders over to say hello. He’s sparky, polite and small, and wearing a fashionable full-of-holes woollen jumper. I admire the silver-sprayed Converse the stylist has also given him. He agrees: ‘They’re great, aren’t they?’
Later on, six of us – Radcliffe, his publicist, our photographer, his assistant, our art director and me – scramble on to the roof for one final shot. It’s safe enough, but the sharp drop and glass skylights draw the odd worried look. Radcliffe is loving this: he extends his arms as if to fly and bounces back and forth between two sloped roofs. Each time he jumps up and lands, we breathe a sigh of relief when he doesn’t go crashing through the tiles.
Photos over, clothes changed, we return to the roof, just the two of us. ‘This has got to be the coolest place I’ve ever done an interview,’ says Radcliffe. He’s good company, lucid and self-aware. It’s only when his minder pops his head through the skylight to check we’re doing OK that I remember this is no ordinary kid. Some say he’s worth £15 million (Dhs89.4million), others £30m (Dhs178.8m). Whatever the figures, he’s lived the sort of teenage life it’s hard to imagine. He seems to have come through it unscathed. More than that, he reckons that his outlook is a whole lot broader than it would have been had he gone through ‘the public school thing’ for which he was destined. He’s left home, but he still lives near his parents in London. He’s also got a girlfriend, Laura O’Toole, an actress whom he met while doing Equus in 2007.
When we’re done, Radcliffe pulls on his leather jacket and heads for the car (complete with driver). It’s Saturday evening, the sun’s out, there’s no work tomorrow. What’s he up to? ‘I’m off to a friend’s house,’ he says. ‘To play chess.’
Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince is out this week and you’re already filming the last two movies. How does it feel with the end in sight? ‘To be honest, I’ve got a year left of shooting, so I’m not thinking about the end yet. Probably on the last day I’ll get emotional, but not for the reasons anyone would expect. Not because I’m leaving behind a character. I will be sad about that, but that’ll happen six months after. That’s normally when I think: God, I could have one more go at that. Although, to be fair, I’ll have had eight goes at Harry Potter by that time. But I’ll be sad because I’ll miss all my friends that I worked with every day. It’ll feel like a tribe splitting up.’
You must be starting to think about what you want to do next? ‘I want to keep acting. I want to test myself. And I’m sure I’ll c*** up a few times but that’s to be expected. I don’t have any certain plans. For now I just want to try things and see. I would love to work in America. I wouldn’t love to live there, but I’d love to experience working there.’
Do you ever think: How the hell am I going to put Harry Potter and wizardy behind me? ‘No. I have no doubt that I won’t ever be able to put it behind me!'
Between Potters, you did the play Equus and a couple of films. Were you looking to do things that were miles away from Harry Potter, to show you could? ‘Yes, we always knew it was important that I start doing other things to ease people out of the perception of me being one character. Otherwise I’d be doing eight Potter films and then suddenly saying, “OK, now I can do this!” And people are a bit more sceptical if you leave it all those years and then decide to do something else.’
Who do you make those decisions with? ‘When I say “we” I mean me, my mum and my dad and my agent: we’re all very close. My agent Sue [Latimer] is a family friend of 20 years and her son is Freddie Highmore who was Charlie in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.’
So, that’s the inner council? ‘Yes, exactly. They’re all very good, and my dad’s got a brilliant eye for scripts ’cos he’s a literary agent. He and my agent read a load of scripts and filter them.’
Do you worry that people will forever see you as a schoolboy wizard? ‘A lot of people will be generous and open-minded enough to see me as other people. But I think that to a lot of people I will always be Harry. However, there’s one thing that might work in my favour, and that’s that I’m still going to change so much, I hope. I’m not going to grow – that’s tough luck – but hopefully the change in me physically will help people disassociate me from Potter. But I would never want to dismiss it because it has given me every opportunity. You know, people say to me, “Are you worried about being typecast?” I’ve got to say, no. I haven’t been so far, so I don’t know why I should in the future.’
Do you think you should avoid fantasy films altogether? ‘I’d like to avoid franchises. It’s a long commitment. I think I’ll give wizards a break, too.’ How did you feel when JK Rowling said she was writing the last book? ‘I think I always knew there were only going to be seven books. Because in the books you get seven terms of Hogwarts. I did have a mild moment of cardiac arrest one day when I picked up my phone and looked at the browser and it said, “Rowling promises eighth Harry Potter book” and I was like “Arghhh! What?!” I saw her the other day and I said, “Jo, you’re not going to do any more, are you?” She said, “No, don’t worry. No more Potters.” Which I think slightly worried her because it must have looked like I’d had a horrible time doing the films.’
You’ve described the new film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, as being a bit like Trainspotting. You’ve got to explain that one! ‘There are a few references, yeah, certainly. There is a moment when Ron takes a love potion and he’s suitably loved up, hence, yeah: he’s sort of ecstatic. Then Harry at one point takes the potion Felix Felicis, and I was doing a vague attempt at Spud’s famous scene in Trainspotting, you know the one where he talks really fast? It’s that kind of mentality.’
Do you ever step back and wonder how a story set in a boarding school became so popular? ‘I don’t know! I really don’t know.’
You’re probably not the best person to ask because you’re in the middle of it. ‘Yes – and you’re the first person to realise that. I can’t tell how far this phenomenon stretches because I’m so in the centre of it. I can’t see the edges. I’m aware of it being a phenomenon, because you can hardly not be when you disembark a plane in Japan and there are 5,000 people waiting for you. That was mad, that was terrifying. It was completely overwhelming for a 12 or 13-year-old. But I do sometimes look back and go: How did I do this when I was young? How did I cope with this? But when you’re 11, I suppose you have more energy.’
There’s a difference between being 11 and having screaming girl fans and then being 15, 16, 17, 18. How did you deal with it, as an adolescent? ‘You laugh off a lot of it. You have to dismiss it as being ridiculous. And realise they’re not there for you, they’re there because you play this character. If I play another role there won’t be 5,000 people to greet me at an airport. It’s Harry more than me. And as long as you make that distinction and don’t buy into your own hype then it’s easier to cope with it. It’s only when you start to believe that you’re as good as they think you are and you’re somehow above the rest of humanity that things can go badly wrong for people.’
Did you finish school a while ago? ‘Yes, almost three years ago. My parents recommended that I stop, funnily enough. We were sitting in a restaurant in Australia and they said to me, “You’re going to be doing Equus in a month, and with the rehearsal hours you just won’t have time to keep going with formal schooling.” And so I stopped. I’ve continued seeing a language teacher twice a week. We just sit and discuss ideas. It’s a wonderful way of working. I imagine it’s how Roman children were schooled.’
Before that you went to school? ‘Yeah, but I have to say I think the longest I ever spent at school in one go was only two whole terms.’
Did you ever feel like you were missing out on anything? ‘No! No. Not at all.’
It sounds like you had a pretty good community around you on Harry Potter. ‘And a much more varied one. Age-wise, background-wise. I was very much a product of the public school system. I think there was only one other kid in my class who had parents not involved in the stock market or law.’
So you never felt you were missing out on relationships with other kids? ‘I had that on set. And I’ve been given a much better perspective on life by doing Potter. The different people you’re exposed to on Potter give you a much more worldly view of things.’
You’ve officially been an adult for two years. Have you got your own place? ‘Yeah I have. I’m living in south London at the moment. South west. It’s lovely. It’s a slightly rude awakening, like, “Oh my god! I’ve got to do so much more for myself.” Got to do the washing. But I still live quite close to my parents and take it round there sometimes.’
You don’t seem primed to go off the rails. ‘No! I’ve got good parents, I’ve got friends, I’ve had a great childhood, I’ve had a great time on Harry Potter. It’s been great fun, but people do worry and write cautionary tales to me.’
Even now? ‘No, maybe not. But I’m sure some people are still waiting.’
Waiting for what? A fall? ‘People are waiting for a c*** up: yeah, absolutely. Waiting for me to mess up big time. But, touch wood, it won’t happen.’ Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince is in cinemas across Dubai from July 16.
… music ‘I don’t see as many bands as I want to. It’s hard because I’m knackered at the end of the day and I just want to go home. Glass of wine and bed. A friend says this to me regularly: I’m an old man in a young man’s husk. I like that.’
… law ‘I could do law if the acting dries up – but I wouldn’t have the patience to do the course, that’s the thing. I’m easily distracted. And I would also be given to histrionics. I’ve watched A Few Good Men far too many times to be a lawyer.’
… that Christian Bale outburst ‘That shocked me. But I’m not going to judge him. If it was as unprovoked as it sounded, I think it’s outrageous. But I doubt it was, I’m sure there was other stuff going on. I’ve always looked up to him a lot, because he was one of those people like Jodie Foster and Elijah Wood that made that transition from childhood actor to adult actor really well.’