AWFJ Women On Film – Daniel Radcliffe On Growing Up As Harry Potter – Jennifer Merin

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We’ve all taken great pleasure in watching Harry Potter — the character and the actor who plays him — evolve on the big screen. As larger than life beings, Harry Potter is firmly rooted in our modern mythology and Daniel Radcliffe shines in our firmament of celebrities. With the release of “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince,” sixth in the eight-film franchise, Radcliffe, who began this acting odyssey when he was just eight years old, celebrates his 20th birthday (on July 23) and talks about growing up as Harry Potter.

Your characterization of Harry began years ago, when you were just a boy. You were starring in a film for the first time and Harry was heading off to Hogwarts for the first time — simultaneously. Now you’re a twenty year old, and Harry’s an accomplished wizard who is assuming the responsibilities of manhood. Have you watched yourself grow up in the earlier films? And, how do you feel about them?

RADCLIFFE: Frankly, I haven’t watched any of the films after their release. I think it would be an almost entirely destructive experience for me. I’m so self critical anyway, watching my earlier work would probably make it hard for me to work now.

I remember we were having a discussion about this while we were working on the fourth film because I just happened to see some of the first film, and I said something like, “I can’t believe how bad I was. I wonder, why on earth did they cast me?” I remember that it was on the forth film that this happened because I heard Mike Newell’s massive, booming voice come at me from across the room–and I have to lean back when I say this because his voice was really loud: “BECAUSE YOU WERE ABSOLUTELY BLOODY CHARMING.”

But, seriously, in answer to your question, I never go back and watch any of the past films.

How about looking into Harry’s future then? I assume you’ve read all the books as they’ve been published, and so you know what’s going to happen to Harry long term before you even start working on the next film. Has this helped you to prepare for each of the films or has it made it harder?

RADCLIFFE: First of all, my frist reaction to reading the books is always oh, God, another one is dead or oh, no, there’s another death scene. It’s hard to know that’s coming. But I’d say that my tendency when I read the books as they came out was always to get nervous about whether I could do justice to certain aspects of them–which was probably not the healthiest mindset to be in when reading them. But, I dunno, I couldn’t help it.

“Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” seems to begin a new chapter in Harry’s evolution and, in a way a big leap forward for you. Can you comment on the differences from the previous five films?

RADCLIFFE: The big change for Harry this year is in his relationship with Dumbledore. Previously it was that of mentor to student. Now it’s more that Harry’s a foot soldier in the general’s army.

Also, in the previous films, Harry was always talking a lot about killing Voldemort, but this time, he’s more proactive in actually trying to find the way to bring about the ultimate destruction of Voldemort. That’s the biggest difference in Harry this year.

And another big difference seems to be the high hormonal status of Harry and his pals, grappling with the onset of teenage romance and sexuality. As these young wizards take charge of their magical powers, they seem to lose control of their raging hormones…

RADCLIFFE: I think it’s a wonderfully endearing quality that Harry has that he’s an accomplished and skilled wizard, but he’s crap with girls.

I think there’re two types of teenage relationships. One which is like mine with Ginny (Bonnie Wright), when you’re a teenager and you’re just in love and it’s pure and innocent and all that matters in your life is when you’re together. That’s when you’re fourteen and you fall in love, and that love is all that exists for you. The other kind is sort of much more carnal and energetic. Which is the one that Rupert (Grint, as Ron Weasly) was lucky enough to experience in this film. I think most teenagers have a complete inability to control hormones or their desires…and there’s no difference with wizard children.

Still, ten years worth of developing sexual tensions and hormones erupt in one moment with Harry’s first onscreen kiss. Was that a difficult moment to film or a relief?

RADCLIFFE: Filming it was rather technical, actually, so it was really just another day on set, although we were naturally a bit apprehensive and awkward about it.

But I have to say that when I saw the movie, I was horrified. And I thought I have to apologize to Bonnie Wright, who was my partner in this moment, because I saw that the bottom half of my lips looked like they belonged to a horse. They were distending away from face in search of hers and it was alarming. So, I apologize to Bonnie. See, that’s the reason why I shouldn’t watch the films once they’re done.

How is it with you and dating? Does Dan manage well with girls without the benefit of Harry’s magical potions and spells?

RADCLIFFE: I’m not really doing the dating thing. I just don’t feel I’m a part of that young 20-something world of dating. I’m working. It’s not that I don’t have time to find a girlfriend — well, I do actually, but I was eight when I started with Harry and I don’t know what it is like to get girls without having been Harry. So I guess I don’t really know the answer to that question.

Were there any other moments on “Half Blood Prince” that were particularly challenging or memorable for you?

RADCLIFFE: Dumbledore’s death was hard for me because I’d never lost anyone close to me…and you can never really imagine what that’s like. So, if I reached half way to those feelings, I’d be happy. And that part is really is sad for me, as well, because the death of Dumbledore means I won’t get to work with Michael Gambon again, and I’ve become quite close to him and really enjoy being with him on the set. I’ll really miss him because we have a great time together.

There’s been a lot of discussion about Harry’s taking Professor Slughorn’s ‘lucky’ potion and the altered state of mind it produces. Was that a particular challenge for you?

RADCLIFFE: To be perfectly honest, I just let the more manic side of myself — the one that I suppress 23 hours a day — lose on set for a couple of days, and I became that kind of uncontrollable, vastly irritating and vaguely amusing person that I usually keep hidden. That’s how that worked.

Then, at the premiere, (producer) David Hayman leaned over to me and said, that’s my favorite bit of acting you do in the film. So, maybe I should just really have been playing Harry slightly more manic all along.

Manic Harry is actually a lot more like me than calm Harry. I’m really quite manic, and if you spent a proper amount of time with me, you might think I’m on drugs. I’m not. I’m just incredibly hyperactive. I can be quite serious at times, but then I get — like at the film’s premiere in England, my God, I was just this kind of beast who’d been unleashed onto the red carpet. I mean, it was incredible.

How has David Yates helped you to channel that energy into the character of Harry and shape your expression of what Harry’s going through?

RADCLIFFE: First, I have nothing but great things to say about David Yates. We get closer every year. We get along very well on and off set, both professionally and personally. And, we’ve become in tune with each other to the extent that he can say ‘cut’ and I know without speaking with him whether what I’ve just done is what he wanted to not–simply because I know what he’s looking for in my performance. I can’t always get there, but he’s always very good at being honest with me, as well, and always saying ‘you can do better than that,’ and that’s a wonderful thing to have, that kind of trust in a director.

David’s a very softly spoken man, so even if you really crapped out it would be very difficult to tell he‘s disappointed. His manner is rather wonderful on set. You would never pick him out as the director — nothing about him screams ‘I AM THE CREATIVE POWERHOUSE OF THIS MOVIE!’

And, what he has as a director, as well — and this is absolutely brilliant — is the ability to see the entire story line in his head in one frame almost, and to be able to encapsulate it in his mind at any given moment. So, he can pick out moments from the end of the fifth film and find a relevance for them at the beginning of the seventh. He will find things and constantly link moments in the story. And also, I will say that his enthusiasm for being on Potter is the same now as it was on day one of the first film he did with us.

Getting back to the books, how strong an influence has JK Rowling been in setting the tone for the films and Harry’s character arc in each? Has she been a presence on the set?

RADCLIFFE: She’s been very good at letting go and realizing that the films are not the same entities as the books, and so she’s not been too precious about anything. She realizes some things have to be cut in order to make them viewable.

On the occasions when she comes out to the set, it’s a pleasure, a rare treat. She doesn‘t come often because she doesn’t want us to feel that she is prying. She’s always been wonderful and she’s an incredibly gracious and lovely woman.

By the way, for the record, the ONLY thing that’s been on screen in the six films that has not been in the books, and she said, I wish I’d thought of that, is the idea that Alphonso Cuaron had on the third film to make the temperature drop when demontors came by so you would see the water freeze over and things like that–the only thing that she said, oh god I wish I’d thought of that–just as a little piece of Potter trivia, for you.

You’re working on the final films now. Are you happy with the way they’re shaping up? Can you preview any of the developments for us?

RADCLIFFE: I couldn’t be happier with how they‘re going. The biggest change is that we‘re no longer in Hogwarts, but out in the world. So everything about the final films — including the structure — will be different.

As you mention, the next films bring Harry Potter’s story –and your childhood career — to a conclusion. Are you sad to see it all coming to an end?

RADCLIFFE: It hadn’t hit me until everybody started pointing out that it’s almost over. I was actually getting along quite nicely until people started saying, well, your dream’s coming to an end!

But, seriously, we’ve got a year of work left on seven, and that’s a long way to go, and then we’ve got publicity and all of the follow up. So, there’s still a long way to go for us before we leave Harry Potter.

Still, when the curtain does fall on your Harry Potter career, do you intend to keep acting in films or theater — as with the production of “Equus” — or try to find something entirely different to do?

RADCLIFFE: I definitely want to go on acting as long as I can find employment. I’m never happier than when on film set. So, long may it continue.

Theatrically, I’ve nothing planned at the moment, but I’d also love to back on stage to do another play within the next few years. Obviously, I’d love to do theater at home in England, but also being back on Broadway would be wonderful.

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is also a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).

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