EXCLUSIVE: THE ACTOR SAYS GOODBYE TO HARRY AND HELLO TO HAMMER
Daniel Radcliffe’s next magic trick will be his hardest — can he successfully disappear into a new starring film role after a decade as Harry Potter?
On Monday, just three days removed from his 21st birthday, the actor
seemed eager for the challenge even though his thoughts kept drifting
back to Hogwarts.
"Working is how I will best get through a very weird time,” Radcliffe
said. "I know it’s the most constructive thing I can do because
otherwise I’d be moping around and being a bit like, ‘Oh, I miss everyone ... ’ So I'm quite pleased to go on to the next thing and the next challenge.”
The "next challenge” is actually a list of things. Radcliffe will appear on Broadway in the spring in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”
(he was fresh from dance class, in fact, when he spoke by phone from
London), and he is attached to three film projects. First among these
movies to reach the screen will be the just-announced adaptation of "The Woman in Black,” the spooky 1983 suspense novel by Susan Hill
that is best known for inspiring a popular stage version — it's been
playing on London’s West End since June 1989 and, yes, that means the
production is a month older than Radcliffe.
The novel presents a small English town where terrible things happen
to children and they always follow the appearance of a spectral woman in
widow’s garb. Radcliffe said the script by Jane Goldman"Kick-Ass,” "Stardust”) digs up beyond-the-grave themes that are far more unnerving than Halloween visions of the "Potter” films and that director James Watkins ("Eden Lake”) is intent on finding the heartache inside the horror. (
"When I met first met James Watkins, our director, he told me about a quote of Stanley Kubrick’s,
which was that all films about the afterlife or ghosts are innately
consoling,” Radcliffe said. "I think there’s something about that that
is very true to our story. While it is a horror story and it is very
frightening, it’s also about loss and grief. I read it on a plane, and I
don’t know what the people around me must have thought. I kept jumping
Radcliffe, who begins shooting the film this fall, will be on screen
in almost every scene of the film, and it will be the first true test of
his ability to carry a movie in which he doesn’t wave a wand. "People
really have only ever seen my face with glasses on it ... that’s going
to change in this movie,” said Radcliffe, who’s also attached to a new
version of "All Quiet on the Western Front” as well as "The Journey Is the Destination,” the story of slain photojournalist Dan Eldon.
It might be hard for some moviegoers to see Radcliffe as another
character, with or without the spectacles. The six "Harry Potter” films
to date have pulled in $5.3 billion in worldwide box office, and there
are still two installments left, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”
in November and "Part 2” in July 2011. Radcliffe says his preparations
for "The Woman in Black” have helped him avoid the full emotional impact
of leaving his decade-long role and costars Emma Watson and Rupert Grint.
"We, all three of us — me, Rupert and Emma — we just wept,” Radcliffe
said of June 12, the final day on the set of the last "Potter” film.
As Radcliffe walks away from the last decade’s shining success of
the British film community — the "Potter” movies were filmed in England
by local crews and starred several generations of top British and Irish
actors — he steps into a project that taps into an older and edgier part
of U.K. cinema lore: "The Woman in Black” is being made under the
banner of Hammer Film Productions, the most revered
brand name in European horror, which is coming back from the grave after
three decades without a feature-film release.
Radcliffe, a devoted student of the British stage and film, is eager
to be part of the resurrection of Hammer. The studio dates back to 1937
but really began carving out its reputation with the release of "The
Curse of Frankenstein” in 1957 and "Horror of Dracula” the following
"It does bring a smile to my face, and it’s an absolutely genuine
smile,” Radcliffe said. "Hammer is the company that everybody wants to
see succeed. It’s such a part of our film heritage. It was a massive
producer of films in its heyday — they were really prolific, there were
tons of them — and with actors like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. It’s wonderful to see that company, that name, in a resurgence.”
That resurgence begins with the October release of the wintry vampire tale "Let Me In,” directed by Matt ReevesCloverfield”) and starring Chloe Moretz ("Kick-Ass”) and Kodi Smit-McPhee ("The Road”). Hammer also recently wrapped production on "The Resident,” which stars two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank and Jeffrey Dean MorganWatchmen”) and was directed by Finnish filmmaker Antti Jokinen. In a bridge to the Hammer past, Lee also appears in the film. (" ("
Hammer Chief Executive Simon Oakes said some recent compass points for the reconstituted Hammer and its ethos might be "The Sixth Sense,” "The Others,” "The Orphanage” and "Let the Right One In,”
the Swedish film that is being remade in English as "Let Me In.” He
said that sets the horror-house apart from the shock-and-splatter "Saw” and "Hostel” crowd of today.
"We’d like to try to re-ennoble the horror film — it’s ‘smart’
horror, if you like, intelligent films that are not gore-nography, as I
call it, and have good story lines that attract talent and are relevant
to a modern audience,” Oakes said. "It’s a much-loved and revered brand,
certainly in the U.K., but like many of these things, people have a
nostalgic love affair with it and they’re not entirely sure why. There
are some people who are not old enough to remember the films, and some
are old enough but only remember the good ones and don’t remember the
Hammer’s "Woman in Black” will get a major spotlight due to its star,
but some of it will be the glare of skepticism. Will Radcliffe’s face —
so familiar after a decade of "Potter” lunch boxes, pajamas and action
figures — make some moviegoers snicker when they should shiver?
Radcliffe points out that in this film he plays a troubled father,
not a magic orphan, and that gives him a foothold to step up and away
from the "Potter” image that has dominated his public persona.
worries me, but the challenge is to look like a dad and a young father.
If I get that right, that is something that immediately separates me
from Harry,” Radcliffe said. "The script is so good and the characters
are so clear, there is actually reduced pressure on me to be constantly
‘different,’ if you know what I mean; in other words, once people are
into the story, they’ll be watching this really compelling movie and
will stop — I hope — thinking about me.”
Goldman, who calls the Hill novel "the perfect ghost story, a fresh
and original story that has the literary touchstones of Victorian
literature,” says the movie will be remembered as the project that drew a
line between Radcliffe’s youthful past and his mature future.
"I think there’s a clear-cut demarcation,” Goldman said. "He was
playing a boy in the ‘Potter’ films or perhaps a young adult. Here, he’s
playing a man. Also I think in general today audiences know actors much
more as individuals, there’s an awareness of them apart from their
roles. Dan is a brilliant actor, and he’s much more than the person who
played Harry Potter.”
-- Geoff Boucher
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At top, Daniel Radcliffe portrait by Ethan Hill.
Second, Radcliffe at the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
at Universal Orlando theme park in June (John Raoux/AP). Third,
Radcliffe in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" (Warner Bros).
Fourth, Simon Oakes of Hammer Films (Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times).
Fifth, promotional poster for "Let Me In." Sixth, Radcliffe in Harry
Potter role. (Warner Bros.)