Interview: Daniel Radcliffe Talks BEAST OF BURDEN and the Need for Creative Risk-taking
The post-Harry Potter career of Daniel Radcliffe remains in full swing and has been an interesting ride filled with surprising project choices.
His latest indie, Beast of Burden, a drama disguised as a thriller, sees him collaborating with arthouse-oriented Swedish director Jesper Ganslandt. Going in blind (without even reading the rather spoilerific synopsis) seems like the best course of action for Beast of Burden, since the story strives to reveal new layers that force viewers to reevaluate how they see Radcliffe’s character, Sean Haggerty. So, all we’ll say is Radcliffe portrays a former U.S. Air Force pilot, a man who begrudgingly finds himself smuggling drugs for the cartel.
We had the opportunity to briefly chat with Radcliffe regarding his newest release.
ScreenAnarchy: Taking a look at your post-Potter films, you’ve played an eclectic bunch of characters, from Igor (VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN) to Allen Ginsberg (KILL YOUR DARLINGS), to a multipurpose corpse (SWISS ARMY MAN) and now even a drug mule. Have you always embraced the notion that diversity is the spice of life or did you deliberately start looking for projects that are radically different from one another to show off your range?
Daniel Radcliffe: I think when I first finished Potter, it was obviously something I had thought about and was something I wanted to show: that I could do more than just play that character but I think, actually, as I’ve gone on I have the same desires that any actor has and most actors just want to do as great a variety of work as they possibly can. That's the same for me.
I have the most fun doing my job when I’m doing a wide variety of things. So yeah, I think I am a ‘variety is the spice of life’ kind of person, certainly work-wise anyway. What is interesting is I’m really not particularly that way in my personal life. I’m a creature of habit and routine in almost everything else that I do, but in my work I’m a little more adventurous.
What are you looking for when selecting a new project and what made BEAST OF BURDEN stand out to you?
I’m looking for something that I find interesting. Just going by the test of 'I want to make things that I think I would want to watch as an audience member'. But I also never want to repeat myself. I want to find new things for myself to do, either in terms of genres or different kinds of acting challenges or styles or whatever it is. But also, as it very much was with this, I really liked the script, love this director and I thought the combination of this script and director could be something very very interesting. That was what drew me into Beast of Burden.
With the exception of the climax and a number of flashbacks, you are confined to a single location, i.e. your plane, and only interact with other actors by way of aviation communication. How do you prepare for a part in which your co-stars are not physically present? Did you have someone to react off of?
[Laughs] I don’t think it’s something that I really factored into my preparation for the film. I was very lucky that Grace Gummer was actually there on set for a huge amount of filming and was kind enough to do on camera work for me.
But yeah, it’s definitely a strange one, being in the one location the whole time, but what it also meant is we were able to film very, very long takes, which I’d never done before. We were doing 25 to 30 minute takes and it meant that after a while you really did forget that the cameras were even there and what else was going on. You just became a person reacting to whatever was being phoned at them. That was a really fun way of working.
Without giving away too much, the film sort of plays like a riff on ‘how far would you go to save a loved one?’. An important part of the film is the relationship between Sean, your character, and Jill, Grace Gummer's character. If the audience is ever to care about your mission, we sort of have to be willing to root for this couple. How do you go about building a believable relationship in a movie if you only have one or two scenes with the actress playing your girlfriend?
Yeah, those are the moments where it’s really important to know or have sort of thought about some sort of backstory, so you know for yourself what’s going on. So Grace and I had a couple of days of rehearsal where we could talk about that kind of stuff. And I think I was sort of lucky on this film ’cause she’s a fantastic actress and a lovely person and she came to set to … We both came to set with a similar mindset, which is that we were going to have to build up and sort of discover this relationship very quickly. I think we both came in with an attitude of ‘let’s just be really open with each other’. Grace is an incredibly generous actress and I hope I was the same way with her. It made it easy to kind of try and build that chemistry quite quickly.
You’re something of a risk-taker it seems because KILL YOUR DARLINGS, THE WOMAN IN BLACK, SWISS ARMY MAN, IMPERIUM, THE GAME CHANGERS, these are all films that were directed by relatively inexperienced people when it came to helming a feature length project. All of your recent films, including BEAST OF BURDEN, have been indies as opposed to big budget productions. Ever worried that such creative risks might not pay off artistically?
Well yeah, that is the worry … that the gamble won’t pay off artistically, but you’re probably not gonna get to very many interesting places without taking any risks. Swiss Army Man is a great example of something that in the wrong hands, yeah, would’ve been terrible but when you meet the Daniels, the directors, you just know immediately that these guys are gonna make something amazing.
I think when you can sense that off somebody it doesn't particularly matter if it’s a first-time or whatever it is; you just get a sense. So far I’ve been very lucky. Certainly all the first-time filmmakers I’ve worked with have been amazing and actually some of the most fantastic experiences I’ve had on set have been with first-time filmmakers. So I’m definitely not shy about working with people like that.
Of all the post-POTTER films, is there one that you feel didn’t get a fair shake? Either because it didn’t perform well at the box office or because it sort of flew below the radar.
Not particularly, but there’s still a part of me that thinks ... I did a movie called What If that was also called The F Word and I think that’s one where the trailer did it a bit a of a disservice and made it look like a very cheesy, corny romantic comedy and I don’t think it was that. That’s one where I go like ‘oh, I wish more people had seen that’ because I think it’s a lovely film.
There's some films I make like Swiss Army Man or Kill Your Darlings, to a certain extent, you know there’s a certain audience for this and you don’t expect it to particularly go beyond that, but What If is one where I was hoping that it would find a bit more of an audience. I think the change of title, which was forced because of very silly reasons in my opinion, and some of the trailer maybe didn’t do justice to it. [...] It’s a very trivial thing to think that a title could make that much difference but I actually do think that on that occasion the title does make a difference. What If is not what I would’ve chosen.
One final question about one of your upcoming projects. Is there anything at all you can tell us about GUNS AKIMBO and the character you’ll be playing in it?
[Laughs] I don’t wanna say too much about it because I’m sort of very superstitious about these things and, you know, until we’re actually on set, making it, I just don’t wanna jinx it in case it falls through, but it is looking good … Hopefully, I’m gonna get to that later this year and I’m very excited by it. It’s a crazy script that’s incredibly funny and absolutely mad. I have never done a film like it before in terms of the amount of pure action there is in it. So I’m really hoping it happens ’cause I love the script, I love the director [Deathgasm's Jason Lei Howden] [...] I'm excited about the prospect of making it and fingers crossed that you’ll hear more about that later in the year.
Beast of Burden opens in select theaters and on various Video on Demand platforms on February 23, 2018.