Daniel Radcliffe is a major geek, but not quite in the way most people are geeks about him. He's never seen an episode of Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad; instead, he's been bingeing the works of esteemed author Haruki Murakami. "He's incredibly prolific," Radcliffe told BuzzFeed News while sitting inside a largely empty hotel ballroom at San Diego Comic-Con last July. "So I'll be reading for at least another year and a half to get through all his stuff."
The 26-year-old actor was awaiting his panel for the horror thriller Victor Frankenstein, opening Nov. 25, in which he plays Igor, the humpbacked assistant to the titular mad scientist, played by James McAvoy. It was Radcliffe’s second appearance at Comic-Con, and befitting the 26-year-old actor's reputation for being an enchantingly earnest young man, he was, as the Brits say, genuinely chuffed to be there. "I feel like most of the time, studios are competing to make the most money, but at Comic-Con, everyone is competing to see who can make the strongest connection with their own fans. And that's cool,” he said. “I can definitely associate with being a fan of books and poetry and being made to feel like that's a bit weird or whatever, but whatever you're passionate about, you don't have to apologize for being passionate about it."
To embrace Comic-Con's spirit of supreme pop culture geekery, Radcliffe chose to wear a loose-fitting dark blue T-shirt with a big orange circle in the center and the word "Monkey" in a vaguely Chinese font across his chest in black. "It's [for] an amazingly so-bad-it's-good TV show that I never watched a huge amount of, but I watched it with my friend who then bought me this T-shirt," Radcliffe said. "It's badly dubbed Japanese, crap effects, crap makeup, and there's this line I remember from the opening credits: 'The nature of Monkey was irrepressible!' I've always found that the funniest thing, and I don't know why. It also had a great '70s theme, too." His giant blue eyes lit up and his hands began to dance as he started to sing the show's theme. "Monkey magic! Monkey magic!"
It’s hard not to react when this particular actor says “magic.” It's been four years since he last played the world's most famous wizard, when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 opened in over 4,300 theaters in North America, breaking box office records en route to grossing $1.3 billion worldwide.
After that, Radcliffe worked hard to shake off Harry's robes with three wildly different films that showcased three very different aspects of Radcliffe's acting ability. He won wide acclaim for playing the famed gay Beat poet Allen Ginsberg in 2013's Kill Your Darlings; he proved himself to be a winsome romantic leading man in the 2014 rom-com What If (originally titled The F Word); and in the 2014 horror thriller Horns, Radcliffe demonstrated a willingness to go to some very dark and sinister places. None of those films, however, played in more than 800 theaters. And the total global box office for all three films combined? $13.1 million.
So, although Radcliffe's name has been connected to several upcoming independent films — most recently, Shane Carruth's The Modern Ocean with Anne Hathaway, Keanu Reeves, and Chloë Grace Moretz — his next two features are much more down-the-middle-of-the-plate studio movies: Victor Frankenstein this month, and Now You See Me 2 next June. But rather than chasing after some of his old box office magic, Radcliffe makes clear that he is often the last person to even think of Harry Potter, let alone imagine that he should ever try to match that success — or worry about how the fame that success has brought will keep him from living his life.
What are the things that hook you in when you are looking for a movie now?
Daniel Radcliffe: In this one, there was definitely a challenge of creating a character that everyone has an impression of and thinks that they know, but trying to do something that is your own with it, and fits in this world that we're creating. Somebody asked me the other day, "What's more important to you: plot or character?" And I'd never really thought about it before, but it became apparent to me very quickly that plot is more important than character. I'd rather be a semi-interesting character in a fantastic story than [have] an incredible, showy part in a film that no one cares about, in a story that's irrelevant. Ideally, I'd like both, obviously.
Now You See Me 2, what was attractive about that was the cast. The first movie's really fun. It's great. But, like, the thing that made me want to do it was the fact that I would get scenes with Mark Ruffalo and Michael Caine and Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg.
Will you be doing any magic in that movie?
DR: I don't want say too much of what I'm doing, but I feel anyone who knows me generally will have known that I'm not going straight back into, like, a full-on magical role. I did get to learn a couple of cool card tricks, just from hanging around on set. But I don't really have a reason to apply them in the movie.
When you were approached about that film, did a part of you think, Well, it's about magic…?
DR: It didn't. Like, it fucking should. But it didn't until later, and I was like, oh, it's magic. Everyone's going to ask about that. Oh well.
It's funny. I don't have as much of a sense of that as everyone else does. When I did Kill Your Darlings, the first scene in that film was me sweeping the floor, and I never fucking thought anything of that until somebody in an interview was like, "So, first scene, you've got glasses on and you have a broomstick." I went, "Ugh."
And then in Horns, you know, my character wore Gryffindor colors. I was like, I should have thought of that said, "Don't do that!" But I don't think about things like that. In a way, I'm glad I don't think in those terms, because then I probably would have gone, "Oh no, I can't do Now You See Me." And I had a fantastic time on that movie.
How did you feel about how Kill Your Darlings, What If, and Horns ended up doing at the box office?
DR: It is what it is. Kill Your Darlings did exactly what I expected it to do. A gay murder movie is never going to be, like, breaking box office records. And you know, it was an indie movie that was made for nothing, so there was never a pressure for it to do anything.
F Word, if it had been allowed to be called The F Word… I actually think the title change makes a huge difference. I think F Word is a fantastic title. I think What If is, you know, not a fantastic title. It's a title. It's fine. It's words. It's funny that kind of thing can make a difference.
You've got to bear in mind, like, those films all came at a time when people were like, "Can he even act? Will he even do anything after Potter?" And so those films did what I needed [them] to do. I was good in them, and they showed different sides of me. I can't control what happens at the box office. Frankenstein, I don't know if it's going to do anything. Who knows?
All I can do is do my best work in the movie that I can, and promote the hell out of it as much as I can. What people go and spend money to see is up to them. My friends have a great motto, which is, “I'd rather be nine people's favorite thing than 100 people's ninth favorite thing.” I feel like that's absolutely true.
After having spent so much of your life in movies that were engineered to make ungodly amounts of money, is there something nice about being in films that don't?
DR: That's the thing that everyone thinks. Like, "Surely, you want to match [Harry Potter]." It's like, nothing's going to match that. Like, Star Wars is going to match that, but nothing I'll probably do in the rest of my career is going to come close financially to that mark. So in a way, that's an incredible release of pressure. Because a lot of my friends are looking for that franchise, looking for that role. And I'm like, well, I don't have to do that.
In a 2013 New York Times Magazine profile about you by Susan Dominus, you said that there was at least a period after Potter where you had a chip on your shoulder about proving yourself as an actor. Do you still feel like you have that?
DR: I mean, I think I'll always have that a little bit. I think maybe it's a combination of various chips. Like, it's a bit of the, like, Child Star and He's Not Going to Make It Beyond That chip. There were a lot of people nearing the end of [Potter] that said I wouldn't have a career, that child stars are always doomed to fail. The way I see it, every single film I make, and every year I keep doing it, it's like proving them wrong for another year. The feeling of having shown someone to be idiotic in their opinion, when it's about you and negative, that never gets old. So I'll keep that chip.
That is the thing with being an actor so young — you've basically never not known what it's like to be famous. Not to keep referencing that article, but it really did capture that…
DR: The one thing that I would say about that New York Times story is that Susan is fantastic, but she joined me at a crazy intense week, during the Venice Film Festival. I really liked the article, but I felt like it made me seem really sad. Like, it made me feel very sad about my life. And I'm not that all the time. Other people look at my life and go, "I don't know how you deal with that." And for me, in a way, I think it's easier when you start doing this young. When people come up to me in a restaurant, or outside, it bothers people around me much more than it bothers me, because it's been happening to me all my life. So there's nothing I don't know how to deal with.
So yeah, I don't feel the weight of my fame all the time. Like, occasionally I do. Occasionally, you'll have a moment of going, I feel like this is all getting to me a bit. But, like, everyone has that. You have that in your job sometimes when you've got loads of shit to do. There's a mistake I think we can all make, particularly actors, particularly actors doing interviews and talking about our lives, that the circumstances of our lives which are very different from everyone else's mean that everything we feel and experience is just different. And it's not. We all essentially have the same experience of the world, I think.
You're nominally attached to several independent films that don't yet have financing — Brooklyn Bridge with Brie Larson, Young Americans with Dane DeHaan, a Yakuza thriller called Tokyo Vice.
DR: I've learned over the years that it is harder to get these films made, but they are the things that I love doing. I never want to become one of those actors who's on set and hates their fucking job. So I've got to keep myself entertained.
Even among actors that I really like as people, and they're good people, there's a tendency en masse when they all get together to moan and complain. The worst day on a film set is still better than the best day on most jobs, in my opinion. I'm not saying actors aren't entitled to have bad days. But, like, you never see one of the camera guys come in and be like, "Oh, I'm just having a terrible day. I'm not sure if I can do this today." It's like, fuck off. He'd be fired. And actors, because our job has an emotional bent to it, they take it as an excuse to sort of be like, This is all therapy. And it's not. If you're having a bad day, get on with your job, because you having a bad day can affect everyone around you.
Do you think in terms of five years ahead, ten years ahead?
DR: I mean, like, ish? Vague goals. I would like to have directed something in the next five years, before I'm 30, I guess. Like, I've written something, and I want to try and in the future get that to be something more than just a vague idea that I have.
Did you write it for yourself?
DR: I wrote it for myself to direct. I don't want to be in it. I don't think I'd be able to do both.
Is it a character piece?
DR: Uh, no. It's a black comedy. Well, I guess it's a character piece. It's just horrible. [laughs] It's horribly funny. I don't know if it's going to happen, but I'm really starting to try to get it going, which is great fun, and it's fun for me to be experiencing the industry in a new way as a writer.
So given how busy you are, do you have, like, a home base?
DR: I'm split between London and New York. But I'd say that… Whenever you see on credits "Personal assistant to" or "Personal dresser to," "Security to," I always think, Wanker. And now I have all that. [laughs] It's Sam there in the white shirt, and Spencer in the cap behind him. Like, those guys are the guys I'm with all the time, and if I didn't have them, there would be no sense of continuity in my life. It would just be a procession of hotel rooms and interviews.
How much of a personal life are you able to have?
DR: I've managed pretty well. Everyone's always like, "Are you going to go on holiday after you've finished?" And you're like, "No, I'm going to go home and see my friends." I've got better recently at saying no to some things when I feel like I can. There were a couple of things that came up to do in June that I was like, you know, my girlfriend's doing a play, I haven't seen her for a while, I haven't spent this much time in New York for a while, I'm going to say no to those things. And initially, I felt kind of bad about that. But ultimately, it was fantastic and it was great for all aspects of my life.
It is nice to hear that you are allowing space in your life for yourself.
DR: I still have issues around forgetting that it's my life and if I want to do something, I can do it. But it's taken me a while to come to that. I think it comes from the fact that everyone views child stars as being dicks. I feel like if I'd say no to something growing up, everyone would've been immediately, "Well, it's happened. He made it for six years, but he's a diva now." I didn't want to give people the excuse to say that about me. But now I'm going, "No, it's not being diva-ish; it's having a rest. It's fine."
This interview has been edited and condensed.