Exclusive Interview: Daniel Radcliffe
By Guy Davis for Moviehole.net, 18th September 2007
When it came to playing teenage orphan ‘Maps’ in the new Australian film ‘’December Boys’’, Daniel Radcliffe – you might know him better as Harry Potter – wanted to do right by the local accent. “I heard a story once about an actor, who shall remain nameless, who used to pride himself on his accents,” he said. “And he was playing an Irish guy. He’d been taught this lilting Irish accent but he was playing this character from inner-city Dublin. And the inner-city Dublin accent is rough. It’s not romantic, it’s not particularly pleasant on the ear, it’s really harsh. So I didn’t want to be one of those guys who turned up and did what everyone else hears. I wanted to do an Australian accent for Australians rather than an Australian accent for the rest of the world.
“And the thing I’d taken to saying was if anyone pointed out a few English vowels creeping in was ‘Yeah, I was trying to do an Adelaide accent’,” he added with a laugh.
But that’s only a small part of the effort Radcliffe put into his role in the coming-of-age drama about four young orphans who spend an eventful summer away from the institution that has housed them all their lives. For Radcliffe’s character, it’s a bittersweet time that sees love bloom and illusions shattered. “I think it’s a really sweet film,” said the young actor, who was recently in Australia to promote December Boys. “It doesn’t have any pretensions. It doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not. It’s a very sweet and simple story.” And while the low-budget production may be a marked contrast to the mega-budgeted Harry Potter blockbusters that have made Radcliffe a star, it gave him the chance to explore a new character and try a few new acting techniques.
Radcliffe named “the fact that he doesn’t say much” as one of the main attractions of his character. “Coming from Potter, that’s a world where so much of the plot and the characters’ emotions are told through the dialogue. So it was nice to have an opportunity to communicate just as much without saying that much for a lot of the film,” he said. “I connected with Maps because I liked him as a character – I thought he was interesting and kind of mysterious – and also because we were at very similar times in our lives. I was 16 when I was filming it, he was 16, and we were both on the cusp of knowing that in a few years you’ll be considered an adult and not knowing what that means or how you do that.”
Radcliffe comes across as a charming combination of down-to-earth young man and polished, professional performer. He’s clearly dedicated to constantly refining his talents as an actor, discussing his technique with the clarity of someone twice his age, but he’s quick to throw in a quip or give warning when he’s on the verge of being pretentious. These qualities held him in good stead when filming December Boys opposite his three younger co-stars, all of whom were around three or four years his junior.
“I’ve always been relatively focused working on Potter but I became more so working on December Boys because I realised early on that I was dossing around on the set, messing about and stuff, they’d do the same thing. Whereas if I was focused and concentrating, they’d at least endeavour to do the same thing,” said Radcliffe. “Weirdly, I think the fact that I was older made more of a difference than being on Harry Potter for so long. I think that was the thing they responded to more.”
In terms of research of his own research into his character, “the main stuff I was doing involved obviously looking into Catholic orphanages and things like that but it mainly involved coming up with Maps’ backstory,” said Radcliffe. “I wrote a couple of little essays from his point of view about how he would have grown up, things he would have done. But a lot of my preparation involved music. Music is a big thing for me in my life and my career – it really helps me tap into things. So I made a couple of CDs that I actually gave to Rod [Hardy, the film’s director], songs that I felt represented certain stages of Maps’ psychology. It was quite dark…Elliott Smith and Willy Mason – lots of troubled, guitar-wielding singer-songwriters, really.”
Clearly this is an actor with a strong grasp on the mechanics of his craft. “Someone said to me the other day ‘Do you want to go to drama school?’ Well, I have essentially,” he said. “I have a belief that acting is something that can’t be taught. Skills can be improved and technical things can be taught – I’m studying them separately; it took me 18 months to learn how to project for a stage performance and that’s an ongoing process. So I’ll be doing drama school but in a one-on-one fashion. In terms of just being able to watch people act, though, I think the most influential time in my whole career has been working with Gary Oldman and Imelda Staunton on the fifth Potter. Because they’re two people I look up to for a number of reasons. Not only are they great actors, they’re both consummate professionals and I think that’s the most important thing you can be. I think actors should just think of themselves as part of the crew. They have as much responsibility to turn up on time and know what they’re doing as anyone on the camera crew or any make-up artist. To watch these guys, who have that mindset, is a master class for me.”
Radcliffe continues to branch out from his boy wizard role – he has plans to take the London stage production of the controversial play Equus to Broadway next year – but Harry Potter will be a big part of his life for the next couple of years at least. Filming began Monday on the sixth film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. After that, he’ll either find “a really good script” for the limited time before Equus’s New York run “or I might have a rest, which would be nice. I haven’t had that in a while!”
Production will then begin on the seventh and final film in the series, ‘’Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’’. “And after that, I’m out into the big, wide world,” he said. “It will be strange,” he admitted. “It will be very odd and I imagine I’ll be quite emotional about it. But in a way it’ll be welcome. When I was reading the last book, I realised ‘This is it, this is the last time I’ll take a journey with this character’.
“And I’ll admit it,” Radcliffe said with a smile. “I did cry a bit at the end.”
December Boys opens in cinemas September 20.