Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe In ‘My Boy Jack’
By John Crook for am New York, 20th April 2008
As the star of the ” Harry Potter” movies, Daniel Radcliffe has eluded supernatural danger and even near-death at the hands of Lord Voldemort and his minions, but the actor faces the very real horrors of World War I in “My Boy Jack,” a wrenching “Masterpiece Theatre” drama premiering Sunday at 9 p.m. on WNET/13.
Radcliffe stars as John “Jack” Kipling, the only son of Rudyard Kipling, the jingoistic British author of “Gunga Din,” who loudly thumped the military drums for the British Empire and exhorted young men to fight for king and country, even though he himself never had seen combat.
Underage and woefully nearsighted when World War I breaks out in 1914, Jack yearns to join the combat, not realizing the horrors that are unfolding on the killing fields of France. Rudyard (David Haig), who yearns to live out his own frustrated military fantasies through Jack, ultimately pulls a series of strings to get his myopic son an officer’s commission to the Irish Guards, over the angry objections of his American-born wife, Carrie ( Kim Cattrall), who sees all too clearly that Rudyard’s patriotic mania is putting their son in grave danger.
In 1915, shortly after turning 18, Jack is reported missing in combat, driving Carrie to rage against her husband, who is tormented by his own sense of guilt. “Jack does believe in the king and country thing,” Radcliffe says during a break in filming “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” “but I think he also wants very much to prove himself to be a man, both in the eyes of his father and to himself, and also to escape from a situation that makes him feel horribly trapped.
“Rudyard wants the best for his son, but it’s what he considers best. That’s the crux of it. He had very firm, immutable beliefs about what being a young man is all about, and in some ways they were quite old-fashioned and romantic even way back then – all his ideas about pride and manhood. It may be a simplistic way to think of it, but Rudyard in some respects was a pushy parent who wanted to live out his dreams through Jack.”
Beating his gun phobia
Preparing to play the combat-ready Jack Kipling meant that Radcliffe had to master his intense phobia of guns, putting in long hours of training with experts on the set.
“I think I was the most nervous person around firearms that they had ever seen,” the actor says. “I wasn’t going to pull a trigger, even if there were blanks in the gun, without asking someone twice if they were sure it was safe. It took me a while to get comfortable with holding a gun, because I’ve never done that in my life, except a BB gun. I found it very frightening, actually. I hadn’t realized that blanks can do a hell of a lot of damage, which sort of makes me think twice about the end of ‘Crash.’”
There also wasn’t a lot of glamour waiting for Radcliffe as he filmed the combat scenes (with Ireland standing in for France) that required him and his co-stars to spend hours being pelted with freezing rain.
“Actually, it was absolutely glorious,” Radcliffe says. “All the actors took it upon themselves that they could hack it as well as the army boys could, and indeed we did. It was so cold and so wet because they were using rain machines, and the rain that comes out is doubly heavy to normal rain because it reads better on camera. A couple of the army boys actually ended up getting hypothermia and pneumonia.
“When people occasionally would bring trays of tea and coffee down into the trenches where we were filming, I just took it and poured it over my hands to warm them up. I’m not sure whether that is actually advisable, but it did keep me much warmer than I would have been otherwise. It stopped mattering very quickly that I had played Harry Potter. After a while no one cared because we were all soaked through and freezing, and we were just trying to make each other laugh. It was totally life-affirming and great fun.”
A ‘Harry’ two-parter
Producers of the “Harry Potter” movie series recently confirmed that J.K. Rowling’s climactic book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” would come to the screen as two movies, which Radcliffe found very good news, and not just from a payday perspective.
“I had had an inkling that was going to be the case, and I am thrilled that that has come to fruition,” he says. “You would have lost a lot of stuff that you couldn’t really afford to lose if you had had to do it as one movie. In the fourth and fifth films, there was quite a bit of stuff you could get rid of without actually changing the story. In the seventh film, there is no really obvious subplot that you can do away with and keep the story going along the route it has to. I was struggling to see how they could do it as one film.
“Of course, the challenge now – and this is up to people who are much cleverer than me – is to find the breaking point, because there isn’t an obvious breaking point halfway through the story where you go, ‘Ah, here is where we can start the second film.’ There is a gradual and relentless building up of momentum in the story and not really a place where you can leave the audience, but I am sure they will find one.”