Daniel Radcliffe says he didn’t develop a drinking problem because he was Harry Potter, even though he knows that’s what most people assume.
“What ‘Potter’ did do was put me around people who were older than me, and I heard all of their amazing stories about their drunk nights. I just started thinking, ‘That’s what I want,’” said the actor, 22. “I don’t think I ever had one, great drunk night, but I had heard about them, and that was what I was desperately trying to pursue.”
On an early morning this week, Radcliffe looked bleary-eyed at his hotel, having just flown to Los Angeles to promote his new film, “The Woman in Black.” The movie, released Friday, marks one of the few times in more than a decade that audiences worldwide will see the actor play someone other than the iconic boy wizard on the big screen.
In fact, he’s very much a man in the old-fashioned ghost story, a production of England’s revived Hammer label: His character, lawyer Arthur Kipps, is a forlorn widower in 19th century London who must leave behind his son to take on a job in an isolated village where paranormal activity is afoot. He said he settled on the movie as his first post-”Potter” project because it didn’t feel to him like “a Daniel Radcliffe vehicle” — something that would be sold more on his name value rather than the film’s merits.
But as he opens the next chapter in his film career, Radcliffe also is trying to sort out what it means to be a grown-up offset — one with an obscene amount of money in his bank account. The eight “Harry Potter” films sold a total of $7.7 billion in global ticket sales, making the series the highest-grossing film franchise of all time. As a result of the massive success of the movies, Radcliffe became a very rich young man: He’s worth a reported $75 million.
“Ever since I was 15, I’ve kind of known what people expect when I walk into the room: ‘Oh, he was a child actor. He’s gonna be a … nightmare,’” he said, peppering his speech with expletives. “I try as hard as I can to counteract that image immediately.”
Translation: He tries to hide his wealth. His biggest extravagance is artwork — he has bought pieces by Damien Hirst and Craigie Aitchison — but he doesn’t own a car and doesn’t really go on vacation. He owns a handful of pricey properties, but says the real estate is handled by his mother, who thought he should “invest this stuff so it doesn’t just sit around.”
He also quit drinking alcohol 18 months ago because being a “really annoying, loud, inappropriate, messy drunk” wasn’t exactly thwarting the obnoxious kid actor perception. “I’m very good fun for the first four drinks, and then after that it’s a rapid, rapid decline into where I have to be helped home. Blackout was kind of my thing,” he admitted sheepishly.
Radcliffe says now that newspapers nearly published stories about his bad behavior on multiple occasions, but his public persona has somehow remained essentially flawless. Even a full-frontal nudity scene in his first stage production, 2007′s “Equus,” couldn’t harm his squeaky clean reputation. While news outlets stalked his “Potter” co-star Emma Watson at Brown University — press reports claimed she was taunted by her college classmates for her fame —the media largely ignored Radcliffe’s private troubles.
Instead, papers published sterling reviews of his year-long turn in Broadway’s “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” which concluded in January.
During the show’s run, cast mates often teased the actor about his A-list status, said Rose Hemingway, who played Radcliffe’s love interest in the musical.
“There’s a pillow that they made for the show — this ridiculous pink pillow with his face on it that they sold for $30 at the merchandise stand,” Hemingway, 28, recounted. “I just thought it was absolutely insane that little girls bought those and took them home and slept with a pillow with his head on it. So for his goodbye gift, I made a pink pillow with my face on it, and it’s now prominently featured on his couch.”
James Watkins, the director of “The Woman in Black,” was initially uncertain whether Radcliffe would be able to attract more than just a young female fan base to the PG-13-rated fright flick. To make sure the actor could believably pull off the role of a grieving father, the filmmaker asked him to taper down his manic energy and breathe only through his nose while in character.
Watkins also organized a screen test in which Radcliffe was given period clothing, sideburns and a more mature hairstyle.
“Seeing that, I thought, ‘Wow, absolutely. This is worlds apart from what he’s done before,’” the filmmaker recalled.
“I think often when you’ve known somebody very well for another part, it takes a minute or two to get used to them in something different, but I got used to him very quickly,” added Janet McTeer, who plays a possessed villager in the film and who was recently nominated for an Oscar for her supporting turn in a very different period film, the gender-bending drama “Albert Nobbs.” “And of course, he doesn’t look like a kid anymore. He’s a young man.”
Radcliffe says he knows film fans will likely still identify him with Harry Potter following “The Woman in Black,” but he’s patient. In March, he’ll take on another film challenge, playing gay poet Allen Ginsberg alongside Elizabeth Olsen in “Kill Your Darlings.”
“I would have been incredibly foolish to go into this movie thinking this was it, and people are no longer going to see me as Harry. I think that will take two or three more films. But I think this is a good start.”
If Radcliffe seems confident that moviegoers eventually will accept him without his trademark round glasses and wand, he’s less certain about being understood as a young adult.
“People always say stuff like, ‘You didn’t have a childhood,’” he said, his brow furrowing in frustration. “That’s an insulting thing to say to somebody. Being on a film set is a fantastic place for a 10-year-old boy…. I would just be a nuisance in any other line of work. I think if I was in an office, I might come in one day and kill everyone. I might be one of those guys who just goes crazy.”
– Amy Kaufman
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