Yesterday afternoon I had the chance to sit down with Daniel Radcliffe, star of the new Hammer / Alliance co-production The Woman In Black.
In person he's a bundle of energy, quick with a smile or deprecating joke, but never lacking in self-confidence or self-awareness. For an actor of young age, he's already had a tremendous run with some of the most esteemed actors of British stage and screen, and a slew of both name and lesser known directors.
With this film he appears in his first post-adolescent role, and he sat down to talk frankly about his method, his passions, and a certain dog costume he donned recently on a sketch comedy television program.
After Harry Potter you must have been open to a tonne of roles, what drew you to this one?
The main thing about this film was the story, it was so compelling I wanted to be a part of it - it was quite that simple. Obviously the part [itself] was really interesting, and when I met James (Watkins, the director) that became an incentive as well. And also because of, uh... those "little arthouse movies" I made, people would be going in specifically to try and see bits of Harry in the performance, and I thought with a film like this, which has an incredibly strong story, after the first ten minutes they would forget about what they came in there to try and see.
Did you find doing EQUUS your first way of breaking free from the baggage of POTTER?
I think so. Somebody said to me the other day "Do you think your HARRY POTTER fans will stick with you in this film, and I was like, "If they stuck with me through EQUUS they'll stick with me through this!" This is NOTHING in comparison to that!
I think this is a very good first step, I was under no illusions that people would see this film and go, "Christ! He's not Harry Potter anymore, he's completely transformed!" I didn't ever think that was going to happen. But I think it's a good first step in that I look very different, I'm playing a man rather than a boy, it's a different type of film to be in, and all that stuff is very useful at this point for an audience to see that I'm going to try and do different stuff.
People ask us [the cast of POTTER] those questions a lot, "Why are you searching to be so different?" or "Is it intentional that you want to be so diverse?" and the answer is, yes, it is, but I don't think that's something specific for someone coming out of a franchise. I think any actor worth their salt wants to show as much versatility as they possibly can. Over the next couple of years it's going to be about doing as much work as possible and making it as varied as possible.
It's been said you weren't a fan of horror movies when you were younger?
No, I was terrified of them. A lot of modern horror can leave me cold, and I'm not good with blood and gore and all that stuff. It's not fun for me, there's nothing entertaining about watching a film like that.
Because this is associated with Hammer Films, did you go back and look at certain films from them?
The one I know is the first DRACULA. I'm probably the last generation in England to sort of grow up with that, it was on TV a lot when I was a kid. The first time I watched it was I think when I was at school, it was an end-of-term thing when the teachers can't be bothered to teach you anymore so they take a video out. One of our teachers, was it Mr Lowry? [pauses to think... laughs] he brought it in and played it. EVERYONE in my class wanted to be Christopher Lee, except for me who wanted to be Peter Cushing, because I thought he was really cool. There's no doubt that had this film been made 30 or 40 years ago he'd have beaten me to this part 10 times out of 10.
And Cushing because of DRACULA, not because of STAR WARS...
Indeed, YES! [leans over to whisper] I've never seen STAR WARS. I know that's a terrible thing to admit.
I'll send you a copy
Thank you very much! But the thing is, can you get the originals?
Yeah, on DVD, I'll hook you up
Ok, thank you very much, I'll take you up on that!
You avoided seeing the play, but you did seek out the author of the original book. What did you take away from that experience?
It's mainly about just making sure I'm on the right track, because the script is an adaptation, and very different in both the character of Arthur and in the entire framing of the story, so I was very keen in just ensuring I wasn't doing anything that would piss her off. I just ran certain things by her - I spoke to a couple friends about depression, and one of the things they said to me which I found fascinating - and in the exploitative minds we actors have - useful, was the fact that they said how physically exhausting true depression is, how it is a serious effort, both physically and mentally, to get out of bed in the morning.
That where I started with Arthur, that he's just depleted, and has been for five years, just trying to put one foot in front of the other hoping that something will change, maybe that death will come.
I didn't see the play because I'm a terrible mimic, I didn't want to be influenced by that. Generally speaking, I took my cues from James rather than Susan [the author].
How did you prepare to play Arthur?
I have this very excitable energy about me, and Arthur should not, and it would be completely wrong for the character. One of the things James was keen on was trying, as he put it, was to "take the fizz out of the bottle, to let it go flat." About stripping away my natural zeal, the attack I have with everything, and actually showing somebody who has been devastated by their loss to the point where they're in a state of emotional paralysis.
What did you do to stay in character during the long sequences of walking through the house?
The only method for this one I could come up with for those days where you're playing terrified reactions for hours was to take myself off to a corner of the set and just pace and mutter insanely to myself and working into a little bit of a frenzy. This is why I'm pretty desperate for a process.
I used to joke I was a point-and-click actor, my whole process has been about trusting your instincts and hitting your mark. The nature of filming means that it's very broken up, you can be nailing something one minute and feel really in the moment, but if you don't have a solid process you come back to it for the next take and be vaguer in what your intention is or there can be more grey areas.
On stage, you just have to go on and look and listen, and it'll happen, there's no room for self-consciousness to creep in like there is on film.
Given the pantheon of British actors you've worked with, are there any others with whom you'd like to collaborate?
Judi Dench, we never did manage to get her in there. Helen Mirren. Ben Wishaw [LAYER CAKE, I'M NOT THERE]. Aaron Johnson [KICK ASS, ALBERT NOBBS]. Russell Brand, actually, I always thought he'd be fantastically entertaining and great to work with.
Was there any advice you were given from the actors you worked with previously that you've carried through to this project?
Not particularly, they were all just very supportive and very generous with their time, particularly Alan Rickman who was amazing this year because he was in New York a lot so he came and saw the show twice, and took me out for dinner. He's given me some advice, but some things sound amazing in Alan Rickman's voice but when I say them to you they won't have nearly the impact, but I promise when he said it to me it was really quite profound.
How did you find the SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE experience?
FANTASTIC! I just had the best time. I'm somebody who just thrives on fear and panic and chaos, so for me that's just the perfect environment. I liked the fact that somebody said, "OK, there's been a slight change, just look at the cards." LOVE that. Those are situations I kind of live for.
It was interesting, in the reactions to it people didn't think it was the strongest episode, but I had a blast. It's interesting, the people who can be scathing about SNL, for me it's very lazy, because they have no concept of what is actually going on. They're putting on an hour-and-a-half music and comedy show, from scratch, in a week. Actually, it's two-and-a-half hours if you include what you do at the dress rehearsal! I just loved it.
You'll do a sketch, and someone will grab you and run you to another quick change, it was great. I said at the end, ask me back, any time, I'll run across oceans.
The Casey Anthony dog is one of the favourite things I have ever done. I read it, and I had no idea how I was going to play it, should he just be terrified, or panicking or what? And then they put the wig on and I went, "Oh! Easy! I just have to play it REALLY angry!" [laughs]
I was very grateful to Seth Myers as all through the episode he was really kind to me. What's impressive about that show, there's people that have been working their 21 years who say there's nowhere else they'd rather be. That speaks highly of the cast and the crew, it's a really good atmosphere.
You seem to enjoy the mechanics of acting, as opposed to before where you rushed along. Do you feel you're still catching up as an actor to where you want to be in your head?
There's no blueprint for where I should be. I see myself as a young, good actor that still has a lot to learn. There's nobody at any point in their career who is the finished article, the next couple years for me are about finding people that are really going to push me. I've never trained, so the only way I'm going to get better is with taking risks and working with people who I think are going to improve me.
Does that include Alan Ginsburg? [KILL YOUR DARLINGS, set for release in 2013]
It does, that's the next project, it starts filming in March. It's a first time director, I'm terrified, but very excited!
You're mildly deprecating about your lack of training, you obviously draw from your directors what you are doing.
Is there part of you that thinks you might want to go the academic route to study your craft?
I do study with people, with coaches and things outside, not really acting coaches but voice coaches. Generally the way I have always learned is by doing, I think that's probably going to continue.
The '89 film, shot the year you were born, starred Adrian Rawlins, who played your father in the POTTER series.
Besides the cream of the acting crop, you've also managed to work with some pretty incredible, internationally renowned directors, and Chris Columbus...
[interrupts] You will never find a crew that wants to work harder for their director than Chris Columbus' crews. The insane energy I have definitely comes from Chris, he is a force of energy and enthusiasm. I saw the effect at eleven [years of age] that had on the crew and on the general process of filming, it's amazing because suddenly everyone is happy to come to work every day.
Can you point to specific things that the disparate group directors with whom you have worked have given you?
I rely very heavily on a director, absolutely, and when I get more direction I do better, I think. I like having a close relationship with a director. Alfonso Cuarón is a gifted filmmaker, and I would love to work with him because now I'm ready, now I can really appreciate it! The director I'm currently with now has already shown me an entirely new way of working I never knew existed before, and it's kind of AMAZING to me that nobody ever told me this stuff! We're working with action verbs, and loads of different techniques, I'm very happy to be doing that.
Obviously I've been very lucky in general in my career, but I feel that I've been very lucky in terms of having directors come along at the right times, who have taken me to the next level of where I needed to be. Alfonso is one, Thea Sharrock who directed me in EQUUS was another, and I think John is going to be the next one.
It's funny, it's a slightly horrible feeling because we filmed this movie a year-and-a-half ago, and I feel I've come along a lot since then, so sort of like my current ability and potential is being measured on my work of a year and a bit ago, which is a very strange thought. It's hard to come to grips with that.
Over the next couple years I'm going to hopefully going to come on in leaps and bounds. To me it's what this process is about, I just want to work with people who are going to stretch me.