Daniel Radcliffe is a thoughtful bundle of nerves and energy, exuding charm and sincerity the moment he walks in the room. On top of that, he’s one of the most conversational actors you could hope to interview, and one of the most quotable.
While he was in Toronto to promote his new film, the horror/thriller, The Woman In Black, Radcliffe sat down with a small group of press to discuss his career. What became obvious chatting with Radcliffe was that he is very eager to learn as much as he can, and he’s eager to push himself to his limits in each new role.
Following his work on stage, most notably in the drama Equus, The Woman In Black was his first pick for his post-Harry Potter career because it had a great story.
“You know, the story was so good and so compelling and I wanted to be a part of telling it. It was quite that simple. Obviously, the part was really interesting and when I met [director] James [Watkins], that became an incentive as well, to work with him. And also, I felt, because of those little art house movies I made, that people would be going in expressly to try and see bits of Harry in the performance, and I thought that a film like this, which has an incredibly strong story, that people would be less–I think, because the story’s so engrossing–people would be, after the first ten minutes, they would forget about maybe what they came in to try and see.”
Radcliffe did his research for the part, but he also avoided seeing The Woman In Black on stage, despite the fact that the play is currently running in England and is based on the book of the same name by Susan Hill.
“Mainly,” he said, “I didn’t see the play because I’m a terrible mimic and I didn’t want to be influenced by that. Generally speaking, I took my cues from James, our director, rather than Susan.”
At the same time though, he wanted to meet with Hill and discuss her vision of the character so he would avoid changing the role of Arthur Kipp in a way she wouldn’t appreciate.
“It’s mainly about just making sure I’m on the right track,” he said, “because obviously the script is an adaptation, and it’s very different both in the character of Arthur and in the entire framing of the story, so I was very keen just to make sure that I wasn’t doing anything that would piss her off, or just, like, ‘What are you doing with my character? Why have you done that? That’s a terrible choice.’ So, I kind of wanted to make sure of that, so I just ran certain things by her.”
Beyond talking to the author, Radcliffe also researched elements that he felt would help him play the character’s depth–in particular, Arthur’s depression from the death of his wife, who died giving birth to their son.
“I spoke to a couple of friends about depression and the nature of depression and one of the things they said to me, which I found fascinating, and in the actor’s mind–the kind of exploitative minds we have–useful, was the fact that they both said how physically exhausting true depression is. How it is a serious effort to get out of bed in the morning–just physically and mentally, so that’s kind of where I started from with Arthur,” Radcliffe said.
“He is completely physically and mentally depleted, and has been for five years, and is just trying to put one foot in front of the other in the hope that something will change, maybe that death will come. He is in no state of mind, and I wanted to just make sure that would kind of tally with the vision of the character that she had, and it did, so I was fine and I was told that I could carry on along those lines.”
To paraphrase Watkins, Radcliffe said that a big goal for his performance was subduing the star’s natural energy. “‘We’re taking the fizz out of the bottle. We’re just letting it go flat,'” Radcliffe said. “It was about stripping away my own natural zeal and the attack I have with everything and actually showing somebody who has been devastated by their lose to the point where they’re sort of in a state of emotional paralysis.”
Throughout the interview the topic of Harry Potter was a common one among the journalists, and it makes you wonder if Radcliffe himself is tired of talking about those films at this point.
One journalist asked how he thought fans would react to The Woman In Black, and he said, “It’s interesting, because somebody said to me the other day. ‘Do you think your Harry Potter fans will stick with in this film?’ And I was like, ‘If they stuck with me through Equus, they won’t mind this, right?’ This is nothing in comparison to that. [Laughs]”
“I was under no illusions that people would see this film and suddenly go, ‘Oh, Christ, he’s no Harry Potter any more. He’s completely transformed.’ You know, I didn’t ever think that was going to happen, but I think this is a good first step in terms of that I look very different–I’m playing a man, rather than a boy.”
“It’s a different type of film to be in,” Radcliffe continued, “and I think all that stuff is very useful for an audience to see that I’m going to be trying to do different stuff. I mean, we all are; me, Emma, and Rupert and Tom and everybody. It’s also interesting, because people ask us those questions a lot. ‘So, why are you searching to be so different?’ Or, ‘Is it intentional that you want to be so diverse?’ And, yes it is, but I don’t think that’s specific to somebody coming out of a franchise. I think any actor worth his salt kind of wants to show as much versatility as they possibly can. So, yeah, I want to, 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.”
Pursuing that thought further, one journalist asked if Radcliffe was catching up to where he wanted to be as an actor now. Radcliffe said, “Possibly, to where I want to be in my head, yeah, but there’s no blueprint to where I should be at this point. I see myself as a young, good actor who still has a lot to learn. That’s where I think most actors my age are. There’s nobody, at any point in there career, who is the finished article. The next couple of years to me is really going to be about finding people to work with who I know are going to push me, because I’ve never trained. The only way I’m going to get better is by taking risks, and working with people who I think are going to improve me.”
For Radcliffe, improving himself includes playing the role of Allen Ginsberg in upcoming the film Kill Your Darlings with first time director John Krokidas. The film starts production in March, and as he said, “I’m terrified, but very excited.”
Ahead of filming, Radcliffe admitted that Krokidas has taught him new tools for acting, which he hopes will make his roles easier since he often finds the emotional context of films difficult compared to the focus an actor can maintain in a play.
Pursuing his career now, on stage and on the big screen, the question remained if any of his former co-stars had offered any advice to help him along the way, and as Radcliffe told us, Alan Rickman was very supportive. Rickman saw Radcliffe’s performance in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying twice, and took him out to dinner, but Radcliffe was reluctant to delve into any advice Rickman may have offered.
“Alan has given me some pieces of advice,” he said, “but you know, some things sound amazing in Alan Rickman’s voice, and if I said them to you, they wouldn’t have nearly the impact, but I promise when you, when he said it to me, it was really quite profound.”
The Woman In Black opens in theatres today, Friday, February 3.