Question: what do you do when you’re one of the richest people under 25 and known all over the world as a fictional character that will never be forgotten? Answer: whatever the hell you want.
With his Harry Potter years well behind him, Daniel Radcliffe has just finished a successful Broadway run with The Cripple of Inishmaan. He’s hitting Toronto the day before his 25th birthday to talk about The F Word, a new romantic comedy opening here Friday (August 22). In the lighthearted film, he plays a nebbishy med-school dropout named Wallace, opposite Zoe Kazan as a young artist seemingly made for him. Her boyfriend, played by fellow Brit Rafe Spall, disagrees. If the guy only knew who he was dealing with!
“The fact is that I am in a position almost no other young actors are,” declares Radcliffe, during a wide-ranging phone chat with the Georgia Straight. “I actually have some control over what I do. Most actors who get shit scripts that pay well are going to do them, no questions asked. In a way, I was freed from all that career stress when Potter was done. I mean, that is the most successful film series of all time, and it’s something I’m immensely proud of. But I also know that I’ll never be part of something that big again, and so I don’t have to worry about it.”
In the last couple of years, Radcliffe starred in the spooky Woman in Black, played Allen Ginsberg in Kill Your Darlings, and even did an episode of The Simpsons. He’ll be the devilish lead in this fall’s Horns, and has the ultimate supporting role, under James McAvoy, as lab assistant Igor in a new version of Frankenstein. He’ll also appear in Judd Apatow’s upcoming Trainwreck. (“I have no idea what it’s about,” he allows, “because I’m only in a movie-within-the-movie.”) But the youngster admits his new, Canadian-made effort hits closer to home than do most of his roles so far.
“This is the first time I’ve played a modern character in a natural setting. I’ve done lots of period work, and Potter, of course, is in a world apart. It was fun to play a character that doesn’t have to weep, get covered in blood, or lose a child. You know, you get an almost sadistic thrill out of filming something like The Woman in Black, because you’re sure it will really scare people later on. It’s like that, in reverse, with this, in that you can tell it will make people happy, without being overly manipulative or sentimental. It’s just very cheerful, and you’d be hard-pressed to leave this film in a bad mood.”
Part of the fun, for sure, was in playing someone who’s not quite put together.
“A lot of Wallace’s sense of humour is similar to mine. I’m not as good with living with uncertainty as he is, but it is a bit of a relief to play a nerdy little guy much like myself. The last few years have been very much about me trying different things. Really, I’m trying to find out what I’m good at and what kind of actor I’m going to be. Others may worry about the work drying up, but the only thing that scares me is the idea of losing the autonomy I have now—of losing the luxury of saying no.”
For someone who’s been working since the age of five, The F Word (known as What If in some censorious quarters) was in fact something of a holiday. The film was shot quickly, in a Toronto glamorously playing itself, and was directed by Michael Dowse, responsible for the Fubar flicks and the goofy hockey drama Goon. It was written by Elan Mastai, a long-time Vancouverite who moved to Toronto a few years back, and is best known for scripting genre items like The Samaritan and Alone in the Dark.
“The process was very simple, really,” Radcliffe recalls, his thoughts punctuated by the kind of self-deprecating pauses you associate with Hugh Grant. “I was sent the script along with a very nice note from Michael Dowse, saying why I was right for the part. I had seen [It’s All Gone] Pete Tong, and what I love about Michael is that he’s so unpredictable. Fans of Fubar will really be blindsided by this one. If you look carefully at Goon, it’s a very violent movie but has a sweet, romantic subplot. He has a very light touch for that sort of thing. He used to be in the CFL, you know, and I always say he’s the most romantic former offensive lineman in the world.”
The actual script was the other selling point. Along with much clever banter and warmly developed characters, there are also a notable number of toilet jokes in Mastai’s handiwork.
“It’s not my go-to form of humour,” the actor says, with a quick snort, “but I can be roped into some shit talk. There’s one scene in particular that ended up being improvised, with Michael and Elan off-camera, yelling at me to keep going and getting grosser. It was the kind of thing where you’re trying to make someone else laugh without cracking up yourself. But it says a lot about the freshness of this script, overall, that people think more of it is improvised than it is.”
Wait—the writer was on the set?
“Elan was there all the time, and we were so lucky to have him. Michael is a writer as well, so to have two very funny men shouting at you to improvise more was great fun. I try to learn something on every set. If I’m not needed on-camera right then, I hang out with the people making the movie, to pick their brains about the process. I talked to Elan a lot, particularly because he’s such an easy person to talk to, and a lovely person as well.
“Mike runs a very happy set and a very efficient one. You find that some directors aren’t really sure what they want, but when Mike gets what he needs, he absolutely lets you know it. That gives you a lot more confidence as an actor. It also helps to be working with someone like Zoe, because she is so funny and generous and ferociously fucking smart. You know you have a good job when your task every day is to go to work and make Zoe Kazan laugh. If I ever do write and direct my own film, I just want it to be something as good as this.”
So maybe it won’t be too painful, then, for Radcliffe to mark the end of his first quarter-century by not doing whatever the hell he wants. Instead, the newly mature star will be engaging in another round of TV and print promotion.
“I really should have thought more about when I’d have my birthday this year,” the erstwhile mop top muses. “But I’m lucky enough to be travelling with a small group of friends, who I also work with, and we will make it fun. I always used to laugh at people who have entourages, but when you travel as much as I do, it becomes vital to have some kind of continuity around you. There is not, however, a Daniel Radcliffe team uniform. Not yet, anyway.”