Daniel Radcliffe on Swiss Army Man & Imperium

With two releases in as many weeks, former Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe discusses what he is looking for in his future

Article by Joseph Walsh | 28 Sep 2016
  • Swiss Army Man

Ever since 2012, when Daniel Radcliffe starred as Arthur Kipps in the film adaptation of Susan Hill’s Woman in Black, the former Harry Potter star has taken an eclectic approach to chosen roles in the hopes of staving off the dreaded fate of many a child star – obscurity.

It's become clear that he needn't have worried, as since the Harry Potter series drew to a close in 2011 he has never been short of work. Radcliffe's starred in nine films (including Kill Your Darlings and Victor Frankenstein), a TV movie (My Boy Jack), and featured alongside John Hamm in the BBC’s adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s A Young Doctor's Notebook. That's not to mention the rave reviews from critics for his theatre work, most notably in 2007 (at the time of peak Potter fame) when he appeared in an adaptation of Peter Shaffer’s Equus sans clothes.

His latest roles, in films being released back-to-back, could not be more different. Imperium, his most overtly political big screen work to date, sees Radcliffe star as an undercover FBI agent tasked by his boss (Toni Collette) with infiltrating a white supremacist group believed to be planning a terrorist attack. In preparation for the role, the actor had the unfavourable task of ploughing through a wealth of Nazi literature and darker corners of internet message boards to research these extreme right-wing groups.

“It was draining because you are reading a lot of hate,” explains Radcliffe. “I would look on these internet message boards and observe these bizarre mental gymnastics that these people put themselves through. Any argument feeds into a wider conspiracy they have convinced themselves exists, anything and everything is twisted for or against to support their worldview. It was the intransigence of it. You are constantly against the brick wall with these people, and you will never change their minds.”

In contrast, his turn as a farting corpse that is reimagined back to life in The Daniels’ Sundance hit black-comedy Swiss Army Man presented a different set of challenges. “The fact that my character, Manny, is restricted in his movements was part of the appeal,” says Radcliffe. “I love all that physical stuff.” The challenge for Radcliffe is that while he has small movements in the film, he is far from animated, dependent on his co-star Paul Dano to move his limbs and carry him from A to B, meaning that the duo had to work closely together.

“On, I think it was the second day, [Paul] spat on his hand and wiped it all over my face,” recalls Radcliffe. “After that moment we knew we were in; there was no time for prudishness. Paul is also exactly the type of actor where you want to jump right in. He is a lovely human being and totally unprecious.”

With another two disparate roles under his belt, Radcliffe explains what he’s looking for from his career: “It is about originality, and whether I have seen it before or if I have done it before, or it's new for me in some way – as well as who I get to work with.” Since his movie studio days, Radcliffe has sought to work on more independent titles because, for him, that's where the interesting work is being done. “I am in a position where I have the luxury of being incredibly picky with my roles, which I think annoys the shit out of my agent,” he laughs.

Radcliffe knows that his years as 'The Boy Who Lived' have given him a rare opportunity most child actors are never afforded, and that things may not be the same in the future. In the meantime, he wants to find projects that excite him, including more theatre work, revealing that he will be back on stage in the UK next year.

The 27-year-old has recently finished a run of James Graham’s Privacy that transferred from London’s Donmar Warehouse to off-Broadway. For Radcliffe, it's stage work that helps develop his acting style: “There has never been a play that I have done where I haven't felt a better actor afterwards.” The play, a docu-drama about online privacy, gave us an opportunity to discuss whether the media attention is something that he struggles with.

“A friend of mine refers to it as ‘cutting’,” says Radcliffe, talking about actors and directors reading reviews or gossip columns about themselves, a habit that took Radcliffe lots of effort to break. “It took a long time for me to realise that I don’t have to fit people’s perception of me and people will either follow that or they won’t, but that doesn’t have to concern me.” Fame is something that came quickly for the young Radcliffe: “I think one of the hardest things about growing up being famous isn’t drugs or temptation, it is trying to find out who you are while people already have an impression of you.” His solution: stay off social media and keep private whenever he's able to.

And next? For a time, he was attached to Shane Carruth’s upcoming project The Modern Ocean, which Radcliffe described as “the most ambitious script” he has ever read. The duo met on the set of Swiss Army Man where Carruth stars as a background coroner. Unfortunately, Radcliffe is no longer involved in the project, but he will appear in Jungle, an adaptation of Yossi Ghinsberg’s novel about a fraudulent guide that leads a group of trekkers deep into the wilds of the Bolivian Jungle.

As well as acting, the former child star has another trick up his sleeve with ambitions of moving into directing, and has written a project that is going into development. “I don’t ever want to completely step away from acting, but I do definitely want to direct, and I would love it if eventually, I could split my career between directing and acting 50-50.” Perhaps we should start calling him 'The Boy Who Did'.


Swiss Army Man is released 30 Sep by Picturehouse Entertainment – read our review

Imperium was released 23 Sep by Signature Entertainment