“Ultimately, I really want to do a bungee jump,” he tells me over Diet Cokes in a Manhattan café. He grins. “But not for a while.”
No, not for a while. Not, at least, while Radcliffe is still the very valuable centerpiece of Warner Brothers’ gigantic Harry Potter franchise, whose five films to date have earned almost $4.5 billion (that’s billion with a “b”) worldwide. The sixth installment, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, premieres next month, and the series’ two-part finale—Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, currently in production in England—finishes shooting next spring. By that time, Daniel Radcliffe will be close to 21 and will have spent half his life portraying Harry.
What better way to celebrate a great run than a big jump?
Prior to beginning Deathly Hallows, Radcliffe made a physically less perilous but no less daring leap: starring in the Broadway revival of Peter Shaffer’s dark, disturbing play Equus. Radcliffe portrayed an unbalanced stable boy with a religious and sexual fascination with horses. He also had a nude love scene.
Of course, it wasn’t the subtle, dramatic structure of Shaffer’s play that drew all the headlines. People were initially shocked and titillated by the prospect of Harry Potter taking it all off. Then they weren’t.
“As soon as we started doing the show, people went, ‘Oh! So this is not pornography—this is a play,’ ” Radcliffe says matter-of-factly. “It was mainly hyped beforehand.”
Still, the mere sight of him, dressed or undressed, is enough to stir up some of his fans. At one performance, four girls sitting in the gallery above the stage caused a scene.
“From the moment I walked onstage, I could hear them talking and getting very excited,” Radcliffe recalls, shaking his head. “Then they started talking to me: ‘Dan! Dan! Look over here, Dan!’ ” He pauses. “I’m not somebody who particularly gets angry about stuff like that. In my professional life, I rarely get angry at all. And yet, I came offstage seeing blood. I was so furious!”
It will shock nobody that Radcliffe is a spectacularly sensible and articulate young man. Just like Harry. Over the years, he admits, it’s been hard to tell where Harry leaves off and he begins. “When I started out at the age of 10 or 11,” he says, “I was essentially saying the lines as I myself would say them. When I became aware that that’s what I was doing, at 13 or 14, it didn’t make sense to change, because it would suddenly be a dramatic shift in the character.” He smiles. When his mother read the sixth Harry Potter book, he remembers, she noticed that “Harry argues in the kind of irritating, pedantic way that I argue. She thought Harry and I were getting closer and closer together at that point.”
But not at this point. Significantly, Radcliffe’s smooth cheeks show a haze of dark whiskers. Gossip columns have linked him with a succession of slightly older actresses, and he doesn’t deny his taste in women: “Girls my own age are not really an option,” he tells me. “I find, generally speaking, they have to be entertained more than older girls do. So most of the girls I have had serious things with are generally sort of in their 20s.”
Perhaps most portentously, when a magazine photographer recently asked the actor to pose holding a magic wand and wearing the trademark Potter spectacles, he politely declined.
“I’ve now reached a stage in my career where I am starting to break away,” he says. “I just think I’m a bit too old for that now.”
So was Equus his declaration of independence?
“I didn’t set out to shock people. I set out to do something different from Potter. If I had wanted to shock people,” Radcliffe says, “I would have played, you know, a gay drug dealer. But, equally, you have to tread a very fine line. If, say, my next film was another fantasy film, everyone would just go, ‘Well, he’s not stretching himself.’ Then, if I played some drug dealer, everyone would turn around and go, ‘Oh, this smacks of desperation to stop being typecast.’ ”
Still, he hasn’t cut the cord just yet. Radcliffe is—as might be expected—extremely respectful of the Potter story, its creator J.K. Rowling, and all that the franchise has done for him. “I’ve had a happy and very healthy, really enjoyable childhood, and a fantastically interesting one,” he says. “I genuinely think I am a better person for having done these films than I possibly would have been had I not.”
Not to mention a much richer one. His salary for the most recent Potter picture was a reported $25 million; overall, he’s said to be worth at least twice that. He’s been declared England’s richest teenager.
“I think it’s amazing,” Radcliffe says. “I have been very, very fortunate. But I’m not going to spend it on flashy cars or particular extravagances. What it does in terms of my career, which is how I like to look at it—it gives me the thing that George Clooney has, where he can go off and do a big-budget movie like Ocean’s Eleven, make a lot of money for it, and then go and do stuff that won’t pay as much. It gives you room to maneuver, basically. It means I can relax, and I think that’s the best thing it can do. It’s one thing in my life that I am incredibly fortunate not to have to worry about. Money will never be the focus for me. That’s not how I’ve been brought up.”
The only child of Marcia Gresham and Alan Radcliffe, a casting director and an actor turned literary agent, Daniel grew up in show business: He was a veteran of two films before he was cast for Potter. As a middle-class Londoner, he was sent to private schools, but then, as acting consumed his schedule, on-set tutors took over his education. He never looked back.
“I wasn’t very good in school at all,” Radcliffe says. “I was kind of useless. I found the work really, really difficult.”
I ask him to imagine what his life might have been like if it had taken a more conventional turn.
“I think, on the whole, I wouldn’t have half the confidence that I have,” he tells me. “I’m not saying that I’m a
brazenly confident person. But I’m kind of sure of myself intellectually. And I know I wouldn’t have been if I had stayed in school because, before I did Potter, my confidence had been more or less destroyed by a couple of teachers. So I had it all restored by the people who taught me on the films.”
But confidence never turned to cockiness—or worse. “In England, you’re treated as a kid first, then an actor,” he says. “I think in America it’s the other way around. You’re more likely to get inflated ideas about yourself because it’s happening during your formative years. If I ever got too big for my boots in England when I was growing up on the films, someone would let me know. I’ve been surrounded by very honest, good people the whole time.”
Not so many people these days, though. A few months ago, Radcliffe quietly moved out of his parents’ house and into a place of his own in London. “It’s a bit weird,” he admits. “The first few weeks you’re getting used to living alone, which is bizarre, but I really enjoy it now, actually.”
And what about the prospect of—gulp—turning 20 next month?
“I’ve noticed I make noises when I get up and sit down now,” Radcliffe says in all seriousness. “I mean, my knees are rotten bad—I refused to wear knee pads too many times when I was doing stunts, and I just clobbered them up a bit. I am an old man in a young man’s body.”
But then, we kind of knew that all along, didn’t we?
picture source: Justin Stephens