When he first got cast as Harry Potter seven years ago, at age 11, Daniel Radcliffe was about the same height as his costars. Not any more. ”They’re all taller than me now, which is annoying,” he says with a grin on the set of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix — the fifth film in the series. So does he have to stand on boxes or something? ”Well, I could. But I’m going to have a very complex series of trenches dug. That way all my castmates can walk in them when they’re doing a scene with me.”
He’s joking, of course — part of his surprisingly impish sense of humor. (To see it in full flower, check out Radcliffe in the guest spot he did on Ricky Gervais’ Extras). When it comes to acting, however, Radcliffe is a very serious, ambitious young man. In the course of two separate extended chats — one in September 2006 and another in May 2007 during his ballyhooed run in a stage revival of the drama Equus — EW got Radcliffe’s takes on all sorts of life and career issues, from his own schooling to the challenges of appearing nude onstage to why he thinks Harry Potter is a little bit like Jesus.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’re five-sevenths of the way toward journeying from childhood to adulthood onscreen. It’s like the whole world gets to see your home movies.
DANIEL RADCLIFFE: I saw a bunch of continuity photos from the first film recently. I looked at all of us, and it was quite incredible. We’ve changed so much, it’s unreal.
Is it hard to watch yourself in the Potter films?
I was 11 [when I started]. And I’m not going to look back on it and say I’m not proud of it, ‘cause I am. But it’s like seeing baby photos of yourself. It’s always a bit embarrassing.
In all of movie history, the only other comparable arc that comes to mind is Jean-Pierre Léaud. He played an adolescent named Antoine Doinel in François Truffaut’s autobiographical film The 400 Blows, and then starred in several more movies as a grown-up Doinel over the next 20 years. Have you seen those?
The only one I’ve seen is The 400 Blows. Funny enough, I was asked to see that by Alfonso Cuarón, when he directed the third Harry Potter film. As a reference for Harry and his angst.
You’ll probably be 19 or 20 by the time you finish playing Harry as a 17-year-old in the seventh and final movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Do you think that age difference matters?
What was the thing Luke Perry was in?
Oh — you mean Beverly Hills 90210.
Wasn’t he in his late 20s playing a 19-year-old? And people come up to me and say, ‘Do you not think you’re getting too old for the part?’ It’s lunacy. It always makes me crazy. Most actors don’t play their exact age. The perfect example was Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain. At the beginning of the film, he’s too old to play that young. Well, not too old, but he’s older than his character. At the end of the film, he’s younger than his character. And he plays it the whole way. He doesn’t get asked these questions!
You’ve played an orphan in the Potter series and the upcoming film December Boys, and now a troubled only child in Equus.
And an orphan in David Copperfield [a British TV production] as well.
Yes, of course. Do you think being an only child yourself helps you play these isolated characters?
I have thought about it. I’ve got a good and very accurate imagination, so I find it easy to put myself in someone else’s shoes. Also I’m very, very sensitive to things around me. If I listen to a piece of music and it really strikes me, it will send me these images. I can then use them when it comes to playing a scene. When you begin acting quite young, you’re having to make up a lot of experiences you haven’t actually had yet. And so you find ways of doing that. Also, a couple of the people I’ve worked with have said I’ve got a sort of haunted look about me. Which I think is just to do with my eyes, ‘cause they’re sort of quite big.
Who said you look haunted?
[Director] Chris Columbus, actually. On the first [Potter] film he said it. He said, I know Dan is only 10 or 11, and he’s obviously had a very happy life. But there is something very haunted about him, about the way he looks. [Laughs] Which I took rather as a compliment.
NEXT PAGE: ”Harry Potter’s like Jesus…[Pauses] Oh, God! No, okay, no, um…. [Laughs nervously] God, that’s a real Beatles moment, isn’t it?”