If The Script Says ‘Have Sex’, I Have Sex
By Helen Pidd for The Guardian, 7th September 2007
Daniel Radcliffe talks to Helen Pidd about making his first non-Harry Potter film, kissing for the camera, dealing with rabid fans and – at last – being able to buy a round of drinks
He may be an 18-year-old heartthrob whose every move is soundtracked by the thuds of swooning girls, but there is something very dad-like about Daniel Radcliffe. How many other teenagers would interrupt a conversation to admonish themselves for chewing gum? “Wait a minute!” he suddenly says, jumping up from his chair and heading over to the bin. “I’m going to throw out my chewing gum. I don’t like seeing people chew gum. I remember watching an interview with someone, I can’t remember who, and seeing them chewing gum the whole way through, and I was thinking – gaaaaaah!” He makes the sort of exasperated noise fathers make when you ask them to mend your bike puncture.
“I know, I know,” he says, as he sits back down. “I’m just an old person in a young person’s husk.” Despite his born-40 outlook and a pair of surprisingly Gallagheresque eyebrows, Radcliffe looks younger than he is. Now that he is finally old enough to buy a pint, he must get asked for proof of age all the time. Whatever – it’s just a relief not having to worry about the flash of a camera any more, he says, and also finally being able to buy a round. “You suddenly feel like you’re one of the adult group, and it’s a really nice feeling I’ve not had before.” Radcliffe felt even more prematurely aged than usual on the set of his first non-Harry Potter film, December Boys, which he filmed in Australia. After four years of being the youngest principal cast member in the Harry Potter series, here he was the oldest, at 16, playing the most senior of four orphan boys who have an adventure one summer.
It was a total role reversal, he says. “I was the oldest and I did feel a certain …” He pauses, as if trying on the next word for size. “Paternal instinct. I wanted to protect them.” And out comes dad again. “There were times when it was towards the end of the day and I was really tired, and they” – he means those pesky kids – “had almost as much energy as they had at one o’clock in the afternoon. And I found myself saying things like, ‘PLEASE stop shouting so loudly in my ear.’”
But he mostly felt protective. “My experience of being on a film set at that age had been totally joyous, and I wanted to make sure that it was the same for them.”
Radcliffe was only 11 when he beat off competition from thousands of other children to take the role of Harry Potter in the film adaptations of JK Rowling’s blockbuster series. Six out of eight have already been released, and it was in between numbers four and five that Radcliffe sneaked off to Australia to make December Boys.
The main appeal, he says, was that his character, Maps, wasn’t Harry Potter. “But also it was the fact that he didn’t talk much that was interesting to me,” he says. “Whereas with Harry, so much of a) the plot and b) his emotions is told through the dialogue, here was the chance for me to do something where it’s more of a challenge because you’ve got less to communicate with. I wanted to prove it to myself that I could do it, as much as anything else.”
There was an enormous hoo-ha earlier this year when Radcliffe, then 17, got naked on the London stage when starring in Peter Schaffer’s Equus. In fact he had filmed his first sex scene some time previously, in December Boys: a believably fumbling teenage encounter in a cave with a hot, leggy blonde (Teresa Palmer).
“I love that scene!” he says. “It was so totally clumsy.” He is delighted to hear that it made me laugh out loud. “Did you? Good. It’s so totally malcoordinated when she asks him to kiss her neck and play with her tits at the same time. It’s that first time experience when you’re like, ‘OK. What’s this hand doing? What’s that hand doing?’ Trying to coordinate all those things at once the first time is an absolute nightmare. What I quite liked about that scene was that it’s not sexy. It’s a sex scene that’s not sexy. It’s clumsy and sweet.”
And yes, he did touch the actress’s breast. Wasn’t it a bit weird? He gives an uncharacteristically teenage, duh-like “Nooo!” But contrary to his adolescent expectations, it wasn’t at all sexy. “Kissing someone on camera is just not sexy, no matter how attracted to them you are. And Teresa is beautiful, so I was … I was sort of worried about … you know,” – he lowers his voice slightly – “certain things. But it was OK. No matter how beautiful they are, when you’re surrounded by crew who are taking measurements on the focus and making sure you’re in the right light, it becomes totally clinical. And clinical is not a word I would associate with any good sexual experience.”
Just as in Equus, Radcliffe smokes in December Boys. He says he doesn’t “really” smoke, but has been obsessed with James Dean for so long that he just copied his technique. “The first question I was asked on Equus was did I inhale, because there’s a smoking scene in that,” he says. “And I said, ‘Well, yes, because if you don’t inhale then you blow out about a ton more smoke than you would if you did.’” He found the fuss wearisome and ridiculous, especially given that his character did something genuinely shocking: blinding six horses. “But the RSPCA wasn’t up in arms about that. It was a very bizarre, double-standards thing which sort of frustrates me.
“To me, the thought that stuff might upset Harry Potter fans didn’t really come into it, because the reason I act is first and foremost for myself because I enjoy it, and second to serve the script. So if the script says smoke, I smoke. If the script says have sex, I have sex. So that’s just what you do as an actor.”
Radcliffe says he has no regrets about becoming an actor so young, and rejects the idea that it has warped his idea of normality. In fact, he says, being on film sets and “meeting so many different people from so many different backgrounds” has probably kept him a lot more grounded than had he stayed at his private school, City of London, full time, instead of nipping in and out between films until he left after his AS Levels last year. “I would have become like a lot of other public school boys,” he says, adding, “which isn’t a thing I necessarily want to become or like.” He does seem very grounded: eloquent, self-deprecating, fun to be with. More “normal”, in fact, than most 18-year-old boys.
With acting, he says, “you meet people from totally different walks of life. And the people I’m best friends with on the films are not generally the actors. I mean, I get on well with all the cast, but my best friend is a 41-year-old guy who works in costume and has got two kids. You do meet a lot of different people and that’s what I love about it. That’s why I don’t understand why actors become arrogant and are completely unapproachable – because as an actor, the most valuable thing you can do is talk to people and hear their stories, because it’ll all come in handy.”
Radcliffe says he enjoyed City of London – much more than his two posh prep schools, at which, he says, teachers really knocked his confidence. But he did get hassled by some of the boys. They were just “idiots”, he says. “And as soon as you realise that these people are stupid, it doesn’t matter any more. Eddie Izzard has this great line: that generally people who take the piss out of other people hang around in groups of five, because they have a fifth of a personality each. As soon as I heard that line, it made everything a lot easier at school.”
He loves being an actor, even if it does mean he occasionally misses out on stuff his friends are doing, such as attending the Reading festival. Radcliffe couldn’t go this year, as he was filming a TV drama, My Boy Jack, in Ireland. He was looking forward to seeing his favourite band, the Hold Steady, as well as Klaxons, Kate Nash and the Smashing Pumpkins.
He particularly relishes an experience he had at Reading two years ago, when Arctic Monkeys played the festival’s smallest stage. “I’m going to be like one of those old guys who sits around saying, ‘I was in the 100 Club when the Clash played.’ But I was there and it was amazing,” he says. “I had downloaded all their songs from LiveWire and was singing along to them, and some of the other people hadn’t really heard that many of the songs and were turning around saying, ‘How do YOU know the words?’”
Radcliffe’s outspoken views on music got him into a tabloid spat a few years ago, when he declared he didn’t like punky guitar band McFly. The band retaliated. “He’s got a lot to learn about music, hasn’t he? He’s about 11,” one member sneered. So is it true that his mum phoned up McFly’s management and told them to stop being so nasty to her son? Radcliffe is outraged. “NO! Where on earth did you get that from?” The Daily Mail. “Pah. That bastion of truth.”
He says his fans aren’t quite as weird as those dedicated to boy bands – Busted used to tell stories about how fans would Sellotape their pubic hair to greetings cards – but that some do push the boundaries. “I’ve never had stuff that’s actually freaked me out. But I did have a moment where you’ve got to laugh at it. ‘Mrs Radcliffe’, as she called herself, followed us around New York. I was on the publicity tour for the fourth Potter film and we pulled up at traffic lights next to her car. She leant out of the window and left her legs in her car and flung herself over and tried to get into our car. It was one of those moments when you think, ‘You are REALLY devoted – but you’re a little bit scary as well.’ I think she was being carted around by her dad, and you think, ‘You should know better, sir!’”
Knowing his love of music, I ask whether he would prefer to be a rock star or a Hollywood actor. He says he would rather play cricket for England. Cricket is a new obsession, but Radcliffe says he is “one of those people who when they find something they love become totally obsessed with it and read every book about it – I’m just Mr Thorough”. He recently met Shane Warne face to face, he says. Or face to chin: “He was so tall and I’m so short!” He claims to be 5ft 5in or 5ft 6in, but with small parents – his mum, casting agent Marcia Gresham, is only 5ft tall, and his dad, literary agent Alan Radcliffe, is 5ft 8in – he isn’t holding out much hope.
The other day he texted AQA, the question answering service beloved of pub quiz cheats, to ask them at what point boys are supposed to stop growing, and was told in reply that boys have a final growth spurt at 21. That lifted him, metaphorically. He is also cheered to be reminded that his hero James Dean was a shortie. “A lot of actors are. Also Sachin Tendulkar, arguably the greatest cricket player of modern times in terms of batting, is 5ft 5in, and he has got the most Test centuries to his name. So there’s hope yet.”
· December Boys is released on September 14