Post-Potter: Daniel Radcliffe goes from Hogwarts to Inishmaan
Famous since he was 12, Daniel Radcliffe is all too aware that ‘Harry Potter’ might be the biggest part of his career, but he is sure it won’t be the best
Daniel Radcliffe: ‘I never want to settle for where I am.’ Photograph: Larry Busacca/Getty Images
‘It is almost a problem how much I love my job,” says Daniel Radcliffe. “I have been thinking I have to find some outside interests. I went rock-climbing a few weeks ago. I need to find other stuff that I enjoy, because I will never take a break.”
Earlier he had bustled into a room in the building where he and other actors have been rehearsing Martin McDonagh’s play The Cripple of Inishmaan, which is soon to open in the West End of London. Radcliffe seems unaffected by fame, despite being famous globally for more than a decade for playing Harry Potter. He apologises profusely for being late, then matches a politeness and interest in the people around him with, apparently, a curious insecurity – or, at least, a realisation of the frailties of stardom.
Nearly everything about the 23-year-old works at speed, and his enthusiasm for acting shows no sign of abating, 14 years since he was first noticed in a 1999 TV version of David Copperfield.
The opportunity to play the lead in The Cripple of Inishmaan was unbelievably fortunate, he says, following an offer from the theatre producer Michael Grandage to appear in any one of three or four plays given to him to read.
“I read Cripple last because as soon as I saw Martin’s name on it I thought, I will probably want to do that one. And if I read that one first I won’t pay proper attention to the other plays. And as soon as I read it . . .”
Radcliffe’s interest in McDonagh dates back to In Bruges, the playwright’s cult film from 2008 about two Irish hitmen, played by Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell, hiding in the Belgian city after a job goes wrong.
It is one of his favourite films, “an obsession of mine for a period”, he says, his words tumbling out. “I loved that kind of dialogue, that kind of economical dialogue where there is a real joy taken in every character having their own rhythm. I think that is always a sign of great writing.
“If you took the script for Cripple and covered up the names on the left you would still be able to work out who is talking every time, because every character is so distinct. I have always loved that.”
Man of Aran
Radcliffe plays Billy, a disabled 17-year-old living on Inis Meáin who desperately wants to escape his dull life by travelling to the largest of the Aran Islands, Inis Mór, to win a role in the 1934 film Man of Aran.
An explanation for Billy’s disability is never given in the play. Radcliffe has chosen to play him as a man with cerebral palsy, helped by a coach who has the condition. “It has been amazing to learn from her the mechanics and what causes it. It is just another thing that I know about that I didn’t know about before.
“Really, I don’t want to say how amazingly hard people’s lives are. I recommend that you watch [the documentary] Don’t Drop the Baby. It’s about a couple with cerebral palsy who are getting ready to have their second child. They want to have it by natural birth. That really showed me. Our perception is that their lives must be an incredible struggle all time, but actually it is just their life. They don’t particularly think about it on a day-to-day basis,” he says.
“One of the things that was important for me to get across with Billy is that he is a 17-year-old boy, so there’s disability on one side, [but] it is important that his other side, a side that is incredibly strong and incredibly adept, also gets across.
“Because that is what one notices: that people are so skilful at coming up with solutions. That is one of things that I have taken away from it,” says Radcliffe, who enthuses about the performance in rehearsals of Pat Shortt, who plays Johnnypateenmike.
“I knew him from Father Ted. He is going to be amazing in this show. His work is brilliant, hysterical, inventive. I am very grateful for working with him.”
Born to a Northern Irish father and a Jewish mother, Radcliffe grew up listening to stories of his father’s life in Banbridge, Co Down, before he left for England – “the music they listened to, the Troubles, everything”. “My dad, rather wonderfully, was the All-Ulster Latin-American dance champion when he was in his late teens, and when all his peers were joining the territorial army my dad was leaping about in a Strictly Come Dancing costume.
“It is one of the things that I love about him,” he says, adding that his father’s accent was “beaten out of him” at drama schools in England. “It was just before having a regional accent was a boon to your career. He now sounds more middle class than I do.”
Radcliffe enjoys both of his tribal identities. “It surprises people about me. When you say either of those things, people go, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that.’ I take pride in it, but I wouldn’t be one of those annoying British people who say that they are Irish on St Patrick’s Day.”
His Irish connections are strengthened by his regular appearances on the The Graham Norton Show, on BBC One. “He has created something very unusual. It is special. It is the one we all want to do. It is so relaxed, and not because there is booze on the table but because you are all out there together,” Radcliffe says.
“He’s like a host in the true sense of the word. He is just like a host at a dinner party, making sure the conversation bounces along. He will take the piss, but he comes at you from such a good place.”
Far from Hogwarts
Even before the Harry Potter films ended, two years ago, Radcliffe seemed to choose roles that would take him as far from Hogwarts as possible – although, he says, “they weren’t chosen because one was a horror and the other was a historical drama. It was that the scripts were brilliant.”
He is keen not to become another child actor to fall by the wayside. “None of us wanted to let that happen. I fell into something that I adored and that gave me a sense of identity and purpose and a sense of community. That is not the wrong word to use.
“I want to work hard enough so that I can always be a part of it. One of the things that leads to people fizzling out or getting forgotten is when complacency or laziness sets in, rather than challenging themselves consistently.”
Playing Potter was “an incredible stroke of luck”. The price is the nagging feeling that the world will never be convinced he earned his position. “I don’t want anybody to be able to say that of me. People say things like, ‘Potter will be the biggest thing that I will ever do.’ And that is absolutely true, but nor do I think that it is going to be the best work I ever do – and that absolutely satisfies me.
“It is amazing how well Potter did, and how many people saw it, and that is fantastic, but it’s not the end goal. What I want to do at this point is get better and better as an actor and keep learning. And I think I am.
“I never want to settle for where I am and go, ‘I’m happy with this, I can stop challenging myself, I have done it all.’ I don’t think that is my make-up.”
This year Radcliffe will appear in a number of films, including Kill Your Darlings. It helps that he enjoys being on film sets. “I love working with film crews, and I love technicians. I got to work with some amazing crews on Potter, and I have been able to work with more since.
“I was very worried about working in the US, because I had always heard that the crew are not allowed to talk to the actors and stuff like that. That’s completely untrue. There are some actors who won’t talk to the crew, so that is how those rumours get started.
“For me there is no point doing it unless you are going to enjoy it. I don’t know how people go to work on film sets and come in grumpy every day, especially people who do my job.” What’s more, he says, he has never worked with a horrible director.
“I am of the belief – I am not sure if I can swear in your newspaper – that life’s too short to work with a***holes.”
The Cripple of Inishmaan is at the Noël Coward Theatre, London, from next Saturday until August 31st