A few weeks ago, I was invited to speak with Daniel Radcliffe about his new film, Beast of Burden. That film (which arrives tomorrow) finds Radcliffe playing a guy who gets in way over his head while smuggling drugs for a contingent of deeply unpleasant people, and I'd been curious to see it ... but let's be honest: I'd have spoken to Daniel Radcliffe even if he'd been promoting an upcoming snuff film starring my grandmother. Radcliffe is a young legend, a guy who literally grew up before our eyes on film and has built a career on compelling, left-field choices ever since. I had a million questions for him.
Unfortunately, I also had only fifteen minutes with him, and my preferred interview style (read: letting a conversation unfold naturally and seeing where it takes you) meant that we spent more time talking about Radcliffe's life and interests than Beast of Burden. Or Swiss Army Man. Or Harry Potter. Or Horns. Or a dozen other projects I would've loved to ask him about. This was the rare interview where I wish I'd had more time: Radcliffe was a warm, funny, legitimately interesting dude, and if I ever get another round with him, I'm absolutely gonna beg for more minutes.
Anyway, here's how our chat went. Enjoy.
Hello, Daniel. Should I call you Daniel?
Let's go with Dan!
I can roll with Dan. I'm excited to talk to you. Your reputation precedes you.
Yeah. I'm told you're one of the good ones.
Oh, haha. Well, that's very nice to hear! I don't ever really know what to do with compliments like that, but that's very nice of you to say. To be fair, there seems to be an incredibly low bar that actors have to pass, and I kinda think that - as a by-product of me having gotten famous when I was young - people expect me to be a raging maniac, or some kinda terrible human being. So just by being, y'know, vaguely normal and not terrible, people maybe make more of a fuss over me than they should.
How do you feel like you avoided that, by the way?
It's hard to say. I do think there's definitely something to [having filmed the Harry Potter films] in London rather than Los Angeles. Switching between the two at an early age would've been a crazy adjustment for me to make, because when you're in L.A. movies are all anyone talks about. They are the be-all, end-all of existence. I feel like I was prevented from developing that perspective by being kept in London. I was also very conscious early on of the reputation that some movie stars had, and I knew I didn't want to be that. I've also got really good parents who never would've let me be a git to people, or get away with behaving like that.
Y'know, I'm almost in awe of actors who are horrible people on set, because it's amazing to watch someone fuck up something that should be so easy. This is an open goal you should have here. In terms of enjoying your job, acting is an open goal. You come into work every day, and you just gotta do the thing and you'll have a fun time. If you want.
But people who, say, go to work in a mine every day have to work really hard to have a good time. We don't, and yet there are some actors you see on set who are actively ruining what should be a nice existence, not just for themselves but everyone around them. How is that more fun for you? How is that better, making a film while knowing that you're isolated from the crew who secretly resent you rather than just being a part of it and having a good time? I don't get it.
I won't ask you to name names, but how often do you actually encounter that?
I've been very, very lucky. I've seen what I'd consider some bad behavior, but moreover it's stuff I've heard about on other sets. It's also worth pointing out that I've been the lead on most of the [films] I've done - which I know sounds very conceited but I've just been very lucky in that sense - and that gives you the chance to set the tone. As the lead, if you're not being a dick, no one else is gonna do it ... well, I guess some people might, but on the whole, if you're cool and the director's cool and the DP is cool, no one's gonna get too [dickish]. But I've heard stories from other sets that are just insanity, people being incredibly rude to other actors or the background crew. I really rail against that stuff.
Do you ... I'm trying to think how to phrase this. You have an unbelievable amount of fame. You're known all over the world. Is your life just weird as fuck?
Haha, well, probably. Like if we suddenly Freaky Friday'd, I'm sure we'd find each other's lives weird. I don't really find my life weird, but I also think you'd find my life weird in unexpected ways. It's probably more boring than you'd think.
The main thing I'm thinking about, the thing that happens on a daily basis, is people coming up to me on the street, or in a shop. I think other people find that weird, but I actually don't. If it happens while I'm out with a girlfriend or some friends it's weirder for them than it is for me. That's been happening to me for a very long time, and people are generally very nice. To me, that's fine, but when I'm with other people they're like, "Yeesh, I don't know how you deal with this all the time." And I say, "Well, it's really not that bad!" Someone comes up to you and says they like a film you did, then they go away. That's 90% of the interactions I have. So, like I said: other people might find my life weird, but I live it every day, and I don't mind.
To be clear, that wasn't meant to sound like a complaint!
No, no - if anything, that was the opposite of a complaint.
Yeah, you're not coming off ungrateful, you're good.
Do you think you're a workaholic? You seem to be working constantly.
The thing about the film and TV industry is, breaks will happen. Sometimes you'll finish one job, and yeah, they're like, "OK, we need you to start this other job on Monday", and I've done that before and it's crazy. But it's more often the case that you'll work on a job and you'll work three months and then maybe you'll have a month off. So, I sorta just plan to work and know that breaks will come naturally. Like, I didn't take a vacation this year - which I should've done and which I promised my girlfriend I'd do - so this year I definitely think I'll take some time off to go somewhere and chill out. I used to not think I'd be able to do that, but I can just do nothing for a few weeks at a time now.
But also, I'm doing a job that I fucking love, and I do see a lot of value in just staying busy. I guess I do see myself as something of a workaholic, in that some of my self-worth is tied up in how much I'm working and the work I do, but I've definitely gotten better at relaxing in the past year.
That's a learned thing, y'know? Being comfortable with doing nothing.
Right! There is definitely a part of me where, if I'm having my first day off in however long, and I'm just sitting there doing nothing and I start to feel guilty, I try and remind myself that that's an unhealthy way to think. And you don't want it the other way 'round, where you're super comfortable doing nothing and then work is the chore. No, I'd definitely rather be wired this way.
Alright, this is a real hack question to ask, but I believe I'm contractually obligated to ask you what drew you to Beast of Burden.
That's a perfectly fine question to ask!
I just assume you've answered some variation on that question 500 times today.
Well, I have, but that's my job, Scott!
So, Beast of Burden. I read the script, and there was something incredibly simple and effective about it. There was this very simple story: we're taking this character from A to B, and we're seeing how much we can throw at him in the middle. I really enjoyed that aspect of it. Then I talked to the director, Jesper [Ganslandt], and I had seen one of his previous movies called The Ape, and I was like, "Whoa. This guy with this script could yield something really interesting."
That previous movie, The Ape, was about a guy who's on a Bluetooth headset all day, and there was no real script - Jesper would just direct him live, through his ear. When I read the Beast of Burden script, the character was on the phone or the radio all the time, so I was thinking he might do a similar thing here. And we kinda did! Jesper would be off-camera doing the lines to me via a walkie-talkie or whatever, and we'd do these super long takes - like, thirty minute takes - that would eat up twenty, twenty-five pages of the script. It felt somewhat like doing a thing that was somewhere in-between doing a play and a film. It was really cool.
The movie reminded me of Locke, or Buried.
Yeah! And I think that kind of thing's a real challenge for a director, as well, in terms of how you film something and edit something and keep something visually interesting when you've basically got one location for the whole thing. Jesper did a really great job with it. Y'know, I rarely watch the final [version of a film I've shot] anymore, but on this one I saw several different cuts on its way to becoming a finalized film, and it was really cool seeing how Jesper changed it [throughout that process].
(Note: At this point in the interview, the publicist hopped in to let me know I had time for one more question)
Alright, I'm guessing you can't say much about this, but I learned you're onboard Shane Carruth's next film, The Modern Ocean. Can you tell me anything about it?
No, because -
(Just then, the signal drops out. I can hear only about every seventh syllable Radcliffe says. I don't want to interrupt him, so I lay low and hope for the issue to go away. It persists, but eventually I can hear that Radcliffe has stopped talking)
I'm sorry, I didn't catch any of that, but -
Well, I was saying that -
(Again, the signal drops out. Radcliffe speaks for another thirty seconds, but I can't make out any of it. Eventually, the line goes silent)
Damn. I'll get you next time, Shane Carruth.