Soldier Of Fortune

Source: Telegraph, 10th November 2007

As Daniel Radcliffe stars in ITV1’s First World War drama My Boy Jack, he talks to Sam Richards about the Army, fame and his Harry Potter millions

Daniel Radcliffe is relieved that 18-year-olds are no longer compelled to do National Service. “I’m not sure I’d make a particularly good soldier,” he says. “I don’t like the idea of being told I have to use a weapon. I don’t think I’d be able to kill someone.”

The Harry Potter star was compelled to consider these issues for his latest part, the title role in David Haig’s adaptation for ITV1 of his own stage play, My Boy Jack. The one-off drama, which airs on Remembrance Sunday, tells the true story of Jack Kipling, an 18-year-old stationed at Loos in France.

Jack’s father, the poet Rudyard Kipling, who was originally a supporter of the Great War, pulled strings to get Jack fast-tracked to the front line, despite his chronic myopia. Jack was killed on his first campaign at Loos. Kipling refused to accept that he was dead until 1919. The grief and guilt consumed him for the rest of his life.

“It’s a heartbreaking but beautifully told story,” says Radcliffe. “I knew some of Rudyard Kipling’s poetry – If, obviously, which you’re taught at school – but I had no idea that he was such an advocate of Britain’s involvement in the First World War, or that there was this incredible story about his son. And I think that anybody who watches My Boy Jack won’t see a story of this hallowed literary figure, they’ll see a man trying to deal with the terrible loss of his son.”

The early scenes were filmed at Bateman’s, Kipling’s old East Sussex residence. In one scene, Jack leaves for war on his 18th birthday.

“Every time I walked out of the house,” Radcliffe says, “I could see out of the corner of my eye a stone in the arch where Jack had carved his initials. It was really moving.” For additional inspiration, Radcliffe pinned up in his trailer a photo of his own great-uncle Ernie, who also perished at Loos.

A keen historian, having scored an A for the subject at AS Level, Radcliffe says he appreciated the opportunity to learn about the war from a human perspective. “History can sometimes feel like a list of facts,” he says. “It becomes interesting to me when you can envisage what an individual might have been thinking at the time of a momentous event. The First World War is one of the most grotesque things to have happened to the human race, but the one thing you can take from it is that it tells us something about human beings’ capacity for survival and the desire to live.”

While Haig himself reprises his stage role as Rudyard in the TV version, Jack’s mother Carrie is played by Kim Cattrall, an actress cemented in most viewers’ minds as the brazen, sassy Samantha from Sex and the City.

“She’s lovely,” says Radcliffe, blushing a little. “But obviously Samantha is very much a character and I tried not to think of Kim in those terms, because she was playing my mother.”

When you meet him, Radcliffe comes across as exactly the gallant young gentleman you might imagine him to be. With his neat shirt and corduroy blazer, you could even say he seems a little old before his time: after our interview, his first thought is to find out the latest cricket score. He says he likes indie music, but his favourite band are the paunchy Bruce Springsteen-alikes The Hold Steady.

The tabloids are full of errant former child stars partying away their trust funds, but Radcliffe says he has yet to spend any of his Harry Potter riches, which are estimated to be around £20m.

“It was reported that I came into all this money on my 18th birthday but I’ve actually had access to it since I was 17,” he says. “Everyone’s a bit surprised to learn that, because I haven’t really done anything with it.”

He says he isn’t into cars and his only major purchases have been artworks by Jim Hodges and Craigie Aitchison, which he talks about with wide-eyed enthusiasm. Having stripped naked on the Gielgud Theatre stage as Alan Strang in Equus, a role that made Radcliffe feel “more legitimate” as an actor, his next project is more familiar – the resumption in filming of the Harry Potter heptalogy. He says he’s filled with fresh excitement now that he knows how the series ends.

“I don’t know how they’re going to do Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows because it’s massive,” he says. “I was reading it and thinking, ‘What in here can they possibly edit out for the film?’”

He only discovered how the saga concluded at the same time as everyone else did, after the book went on sale in July. “I asked Jo [JK Rowling] a question about it once and she gave me a very cryptic answer, so I did have an inkling,” he says. “Everyone was saying, ‘Two characters are going to die’ but I always thought it would be way more than that. And I was right – it was a bloodbath! I loved it.”

But Radcliffe will be into his twenties by the time filming for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows comes around, so is he confident he can still convince as the fresh-faced Hogwarts pupil? “I think so,” he says. “If they’ll have me. I’m not going to grow that much.”

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