by Zoe Stagg
photography Robert Ascroft
After eight films and more than a decade, separating Daniel Radcliffe from the Boy Who Lived would take some serious magic. Luckily, the artist formerly known as Harry Potter doesn’t see any need for one to die so the other shall live. “Why I don’t just say ‘Don’t ask me about Potter?’ I don’t want to do that, because that would be turning my back on something that made me. It gave me the things the outside world thinks about, in terms of a job and fame and money — and it gave me confidence and purpose and belonging and community. Those things are valuable, so I’d never want to turn my back on them.” He’s earnest and genial, but make no mistake — it’s no trick of public relations, it’s just his nature. “It’s definitely easier for me to be nice about something than it is to be a dick about it.”
Nature aside, Harry was never just his, and he knows it. “There are so many people out there who do still have that very real emotional connection to those books and films.” Listening carefully to the lilt that’s both familiar and exotic, it becomes apparent that this is really why Daniel preserves that legacy, long after he’s moved on personally. “I am somebody who has had less-than-brilliant experiences when I’ve met people I’ve really admired, or people I was a fan of, and I know how disappointing that can be, so you never want to give somebody that experience.” At that moment it’s clear that even if you’ve been known as a beloved character for almost half your life, no one is impervious to bad behavior. It’s also clear he’s had exactly that long to learn how to avoid the same. He deftly relates the story, shows how relatable he is, and avoids throwing anyone under the Hogwarts Express.
“It was a musician that I just loved and had always thought was… I’m very into music and you feel you relate to somebody’s music and so if you have a chance to meet them, then you’re going to go, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to get on so well!’ And then you meet them and they’re just quite dour and indifferent and sort of any kind of compliment you were trying to give… Yeah, it’s shitty. And it’s unfortunate and I feel like it happens to a lot of people.” It’s as if at 24, perhaps the responsibility of having to portray an icon has helped him gather more wisdom about what that means than his age might otherwise warrant. “It’s why they say you should never meet your heroes. I think I have an awareness, as weird as it is — I meet a lot of people and I’m not going to remember every single person that I meet, but many of the people who meet me will remember meeting me, so you want to make that experience good.”
And now, four years and dozens of projects beyond the Potterverse, that benevolence is reflected back in his fans’ willingness to let him grow. “It’s totally possible for me to always uphold and be very proud of the memory of playing Potter and what those films were for me and everyone who watched them, at the same time as doing my own thing.” That path started early on with his head-turning run in the harrowing Equus, and continued through a line of bold projects including The Woman in Black, Horns, and Kill Your Darlings, playing characters he’s drawn to, and not necessarily what’s expected. “I don’t factor into my decision making about my career, ‘Oh, what will fans think of this,’ at all, it’s not how I guide my career in any way. I just think… sorry to use language, but I don’t think you have to shit all over your past in order to move away from it.”
But move, he is. Huge projects loom, including a creative take on the Frankenstein story he’s said might well be called “Not Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,” as it stitches together pieces of tellings gone before, and focuses on a time and relationship not usually explored. “In sort of contrast to most Frankenstein movies where the monster and Victor is sort of the main relationship, this film takes place mostly prior to the creation of the monster. This focuses on the relationship between Igor and Victor, and is about two young men propelling science forward.” Not to awaken the monster that is the term “Bromance,” but the emphasis on Victor and Igor’s relationship joins a list of fascinating platonics in popular culture. He muses as to why the seemingly sudden fervor — “I think maybe that what’s interesting is that so many more films and particularly TV now seems to be incredibly character-driven. Rather than sort of focusing on spectacle or something like that, people have, I think, realized that being privy to an exciting relationship, either between two men or between a guy and a woman or two women or whatever it is, is one of the most exciting things you can see on a screen.”
Though he’s certainly received an unwelcome bit of excitement about his recent portrayal of Allen Ginsberg’s same-sex relationship in Kill Your Darlings. “Everyone was shocked — or at least pretended to be shocked so they could write articles about it.” His voice teases upward in a wry understanding of the media cycle. “What amazed me was the reaction, I have to say particularly in Britain, and maybe it’s because I’m British and there’s a familiarity, but we had one interviewer who came in to interview me and Dane at the same time, whose first question was-“
He shifts into bro-speak, as if by magic.
“‘So, guys, don’t want to have to bring it up, but you KISSED in the movie.’ And then he sort of looked away from us as if he was pretending to be embarrassed or something about it? I found that quite shocking, to be honest. I expected a little bit of reaction, obviously, because there was when I did Equus, and because I’m mainly famous for kids’ films, anytime I do something that is not kid-friendly, it’s ‘news’ or whatever. I’d like to think that more and more straight actors playing gay characters — and not giving a shit about it, because it really isn’t a big deal — you’re just playing a character, and you approach it like you approach any other scene, and that’s all there is to it.” Here, his youth affords him an optimistic perspective that intolerance is a problem that society will literally outgrow. “I do think in the next couple of generations it will become less and less of an issue —“ He pauses and affects a bit of cynical whimsy. “And then people will get to play gay parts whenever they like, and no one will ask them annoying questions. I got much more annoyed about those questions than I did about Harry Potter ones.”
Daniel puts his time and effort where his annoyance is, doing work for The Trevor Project, an organization focused on suicide prevention among LGTBQ teenagers. “The people who work on those front lines, who give up their time, are incredibly highly-trained. They do just an amazing, scary job, talking to very, very troubled teenagers on the phone, sometimes in near life-and-death situations. And just the fact that the charity exists and it didn’t before and people knew that it needed to and the fact that it helps countless teens…” He searches for words. “Something is only dangerous in the world when it isn’t talked about and when it can’t be talked about. If you’re living in a community in the middle of nowhere, where there are apparently no gay people and you don’t have anyone to talk to, it is presumably a horrible thing. I’ve been lonely, and it’s a horrible feeling.”
That’s not the only thing motivating his need to give back. He doesn’t see it as just a nice extra — it’s an essential. “Because if you get ridiculous amounts of money at any point in your life for doing a job that people would fucking die to get a chance to do, it’s fair to say that you’ve got luckier than most people so, I dunno. It seems if you don’t do anything charitable with that then that’s just obscene. I think anyone who is in a position to help something like that, they probably should.”
It hasn’t been all dark, twisting characters and passionate philanthropy since Potter, he’s back on Broadway for the third time, reprising his role in The Cripple of Inishmaan, after calling his turn in How to Succeed in Business “one of the best professional experiences I’ve ever had.” And he’s starring opposite Zoe Kazan in the romantic comedy What If. The movie pokes at the dreaded limbo of being in an unrequited pair of “just friends.” “I think it’s a universal thing, I think everybody at some point has ended up wondering if they’re maybe falling in love with somebody who maybe is their friend, or their best friend.” Has he had the displeasure? “I have a very good friend who, years ago, we had crushes on each other, and now we both think, ‘Oh, isn’t it good that we never did anything, that would have been…’ It is a peculiar mix of excitement and frustration and hope and despair kind of all the time because if they’re a very good friend, you end up spending a lot of time with that person. Every time you spend time with them, you fall more in love. And yeah, every time you see them it feels more futile.”
He pauses and considers the enormous messiness of this feeling that sometimes must not be named. “Maybe it’s not just to do with being in love with a friend, maybe it’s just being in love.”
Though just maybe love is the closest thing we get to experiencing magic in this world?
“I think that’s almost certainly true.”