The journey of Daniel Radcliffe from Boy Who Lived to man of diversity is a long and storied one that has, by turns, involved a bared soul, a flatulent corpse and Allen Ginsberg. And, no, that isn’t the start of a bad joke.
Indeed, this week his transformation from speccy do-gooder to multi-faceted character player reaches something approaching fruition. The movie is Now You See Me 2, the sequel to the surprise hit of 2013 that has jettisoned Isla Fisher – replacing her with Lizzy Caplan – but retained the rest of its cast, all of its predecessor’s daft plotting and its Vegas-scale, showstopping magical showboating. Here is a heist movie where the gang are the criminal equivalents of David Blaine, Dynamo and Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee. And it’s pretty much as stupid as that sounds.
In it, Radcliffe plays his first ever true bad guy, Walter Maybry (we know he is bad, because he has a beard). And, once again, this is a Radcliffe character with magic on his mind. “It was stupid of me, because I didn’t even make that association – and no-one is going to believe me when I say that,” laughs Radcliffe. “But I really didn’t see that when I read the script, because the magic is so different from anything that is in Potter. And the characters are also very different.”
His is a crackpot billionaire living in Macau, who has kidnapped our Robin Hood-style heroes, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Jesse Eisenberg and Caplan, for a convoluted tale that also brings back Mark Ruffalo (their de facto founder), Morgan Freeman (the man out to debunk their “magical” abilities) and Michael Caine – who was the bad guy last time out and who, in this sequel, plays Radcliffe’s father. “Working with him was just extraordinary,” says Radcliffe. “As a young actor he was all I ever wanted to be.”
When you meet Daniel Radcliffe in the flesh there are two things that immediately spring to your attention. The first, the result of a piece of advice is actual father gave him, is that he will always be the first to extend his hand for shaking when he meets someone. “That’s just good manners,” he explains. The second is, well, just how upbeat and bouncy he is, seemingly incapable of bottling up his enthusiasm – like a kettle trying and failing, spectacularly, to keep its lid on.
It’s an endearing trait – one which may go some way to explaining why you won’t find anyone in the film industry with a bad word to say about him; which is, let’s face it, exceedingly rare when talking about child actors who have grown up in the system. But it’s also one that seems entirely at odds with the roles he has carefully selected to break away from a role so iconic that many actors (looking at you, Mark Hamill, Hayden Christensen and co) would have struggled to escape the weight it thrust upon them.
The soul-baring came when he was still very much in the Potter-verse, with his between-instalments performance in an updated version of Peter Shaffer’s uncompromising stage play from 1973, Equus, in which he played a tortured young man with a pathological desire to mutilate animals. The tabloids, predictably, missed the point, focusing on the role’s more extreme moments as opposed to its intriguing undercurrent – of battling the preconceptions society imposes on the individual. Did Radcliffe ever feel unable to break away from the role people will always associate him with? “Maybe,” he says. “But if that is the case then it wasn’t a conscious thing.”
With Allen Ginsberg, too, Radcliffe embodied a character who fought repression in all its forms. One of the leading figures of the Beat Generation that he, alongside the likes of Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, birthed – and that would go on to pump life into the counterculture of the 1950s – Ginsberg was to Radcliffe a further chance to break free, to stretch. To escape. “I think that was the film where I developed most as an actor,” he says. “It is really special to me.”
There were others in between, not least the trilogy of horrors he nailed with The Woman in Black (2012), Horns (2013) and Victor Frankenstein (2015). But, without a shadow of a doubt the biggest about-turn of his recent departures is in this year’s Swiss Army Man. In which he plays a corpse.
A genuine curio, the feature, from ex-music video directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, sees Paul Dano as Hank, a hopeless man stranded in the wilderness who befriends a dead body (Radcliffe), and together they embark on “a surreal journey to get home”. Some, including Radcliffe, have loved it. Others, like The Independent’s Emma Jones, have observed: “Even the most die-hard Harry Potter fan may turn their nose up at the smell of this”. Safe to say, this might just be the most Marmite movie ever made. Certainly it is his.
Next up for the 28-year-old is Imperium, in which he plays an FBI agent who goes undercover to infiltrate a local terrorist group trying to make a dirty bomb, and Jungle, an action-adventure from Aussie director Greg McLean, the man behind the hardcore Wolf Creek and its sequel (2005 and 2013). And, in the meantime, it’s all about avoiding the role that people continually try to gravitate him back towards, despite the fact he no longer has anything to do with it.
“I don’t know if I would [go],” Radcliffe has said self-deprecatingly of the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play currently wowing the world on London’s West End (in addition to that grown-up-Harry sequel, this November will see the similarly J.K. Rowling-penned Harry Potter prequel, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, hit cinema screens worldwide). “Because I feel like me going to see that show… It might become more about the fact that I was there seeing that show than anything else [and that wouldn’t be right].”
And, as to the future of the character, in all his many incarnations, Radcliffe wishes him nothing but the best. “I’m now in the position of hearing about all this stuff with the rest of everybody. I don’t have an inside track any more. But I will look forward to all of it, like anybody else,” he says. “Always with my career in film, I saw Potter as an amazing beginning to it. I’m sure I’ll never hit that kind of commercial peak again but very, very few people will.”
Of course, no matter how much he will always love that world, and all it gave to him and all that it took away, there will always be the odd thing that wrankles. “Look at you, Eddie, in your brilliant costume,” he exclaimed the first time he saw a picture (courtesy of NME journalist Olly Richards) of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them lead actor Eddie Redmayne in all his new-movie gear. “I got jeans and a zip top for ten years, and you’ve got a greatcoat already?
“It’s funny,” Radcliffe laughs. “I’d always thought in the years after Potter finished that it would die down, but it’s just grown more because the people who were massive Harry Potter fans in their teens are now adults. So you meet them more. They’re not at home with their parents, you know? They’re out there, out in the world…”
What he was paid for the first Harry Potter movie, The Philosopher’s Stone
How old he was when he starred in it
What he is worth now
Movies he has appeared in post-Potter
His height, if you ask him
The number of his favourite Harry Potter book, The Prisoner of Azkaban
Languages he speaks (he also knows Spanish)
Number of episodes of The Simpsons he has appeared in (Treehouse of Horror XXI)
*May not be entirely factual