'I can't tell you what kind of drunk I was' - Daniel Radcliffe on why he had to give up alcohol
Early stardom and a huge fortune came at a price for Daniel Radcliffe. But the former child star has met his challenges - drink, stalkers, stage fright - with charm and startling honesty
Published 11/07/2016 | 02:30
As Daniel Radcliffe first walks in I can't believe how terrible he looks: sallow-faced, dark smudges under his eyes, long beard. And so thin. At least a stone lighter than when we met four years ago. And he wasn't remotely big then.
It quickly becomes obvious that he's starving himself. He tells me he is subsisting on a daily diet of one chicken breast and a protein bar, boosted by coffee and cigarettes.
Radcliffe has been getting into character for his role in Jungle, a film adapted from a true story, where he plays Yossi Ghinsberg, a young adventurer who gets lost in the Bolivian jungle. He has a few more 'skinny scenes' to shoot and then plans to celebrate with a chocolate bar.
It's not the first time he's gone to extremes for a role. As Harry Potter, for example, he spent 41 hours being filmed under water (in The Goblet of Fire) when he couldn't swim. In the comedy musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, staged on Broadway in 2011, he showcased a range of handstands, black-flips and knee-slides, which were all the more astonishing as he's dyspraxic and couldn't dance a step beforehand.
He's been submerged in a bog for the film The Woman in Black, based on the novel by Susan Hill. He spent several weeks road-testing a prosthetic hump for his role as Igor, the hunch-backed assistant in the film Victor Frankenstein , and once said he'd spent so long studying medicine for his part as a graduate doctor in the TV series A Young Doctor's Notebook, 'I could probably perform a tracheotomy.'
Harry Potter is the second biggest movie franchise of all time, taking £5bn in worldwide box-office sales. Radcliffe has added to his fortune since. He is estimated to be worth £74m - significantly more than his co-stars Emma Watson (£35m), who played Hermione, and Rupert Grint (£26m), who played Ron. Radcliffe invested in property in 2000, and since then has seen his assets rise by nearly £2m in the last year alone (2014-2015). Radcliffe could have just sat back after Potter. Instead he's made nine films, a TV series, had an 11-month stretch on Broadway and appeared in the play The Cripple of Inishmaan - agreed by critics to be one of his greatest performances - which ran on both sides of the Atlantic. His determination to extend his range beyond the exploits of the schoolboy wizard that made him famous is extraordinary.
"Let's face it, I did have a lot to prove," he says. "As anyone who gets famous young will feel at some point, you have to prove that you deserve the luck you got."
He is in LA (he lives in New York and London) to publicise Now You See Me 2, the sequel to the Hollywood blockbuster Now You See Me, in which he stars as a billionaire tech prodigy, alongside Michael Caine, Mark Ruffalo and Jesse Eisenberg. Directed by Jon M Chu, the film reunites the professional magicians who perform as the Four Horsemen before big crowds in Las Vegas for another adventure, this time to expose a corrupt businessman whose software secretly steals private data from its users.
Radcliffe is having his photo taken inside a borrowed wooden cabin, overlooking a canyon in the Mount Washington district just northeast of Los Angeles city.
I am immediately struck by a change in him. At 26 he is still full of boyish enthusiasm, still understated (a big part of his appeal is how determined he is to not be starry) dressed in black Levi's, black T-shirt and a hoodie he picked up at a photo shoot the day before; still amiable in the extreme. But he is less manic than when I last interviewed him and he was adjusting to life after Potter.
He has a girlfriend and says that has made a big difference. He met the American actress Erin Darke on the set of Kill Your Darlings, in which he played the beat poet Alan Ginsberg, in the spring of 2012. "People always say, 'How does it feel to have grown up on screen?' And my answer has always been, I didn't. Yes, I grew up on film sets, but my first kiss, my first girlfriend - that all happened very privately off camera. But that scene with Erin where we meet is genuinely a really lovely recording of us flirting with each other, us falling in love."
Along with being enormously driven, Radcliffe has always had self-doubt and neurosis but he now admits to feeling more confident. "Sitting down for the rehearsals for The Cripple of Inishmaan, I thought, no, I belong here. I've done a play that transferred to Broadway. I've done a musical on Broadway. I don't think anybody is going to be questioning my position here - which they probably weren't anyway, but sometimes what's in your head can count for more than what's really going on, unfortunately."
He sees himself as a "character lead", and when I ask who he thought he was competing against, he says Jesse Eisenberg. "We're probably on a lot of the same lists, because we are quite similar in some ways, both up for nerdy leading-man roles. So it was fun to be on set with him."
In Now You See Me 2, Radcliffe plays Walter Mabry, the son of a shady insurance billionaire (Michael Caine). The film demonstrates Radcliffe's wish to break with tradition, as he's both a villain and part of an ensemble cast. "This is going to sound really bad, but it's great doing a film where you have no responsibility to be the emotional centre."
Radcliffe first appears silhouetted against the window of a marble-lined apartment in rock-star pose, performing a card trick to the sound of Jimi Hendrix. "Walter is easily the best-dressed character I've ever played. He has an amazing collection of slippers and loafers, like ones in blue velvet with skulls on. And what's great is they actually exist. Some company makes these rich, dickhead loafers. Who would actually go around wearing them? But they are so fantastic for character." The film also shows Radcliffe's skill at flicking playing cards from one hand to the other. He was taught by Andrei Jikh, who specialises in 'cardistry'. "It took 20 seconds to teach me and then about three weeks of doing it," Radcliffe recalls. And when he says doing it, you can bet he tried it again and again, driving his friends mad.
He went straight from Now You See Me 2 to shooting Swiss Army Man, a low-budget independent film in which - suggesting that Radcliffe doesn't flinch from no-go areas - he plays a flatulent dead body. Set on a remote island, it features Paul Dano as a suicidal castaway, who is trapped alone until the corpse washes up. It required Radcliffe, who performed most of his own stunts, to be ridden like a human jet ski and to have a grappling hook shoved down his throat. It took guts and a certain generosity for Radcliffe to be cast like this. "I think it's extraordinary, strangely beautiful," he says, "one of the best films I've ever done, ever been in." The film, which premiered at the recent Sundance festival, divided critics. Some praised its poignancy and profundity, while others condemned it as both "bonkers" and "puerile".
Anyway, he says, he feels content. "I feel a lot more settled mentally, and am more comfortable with what makes me happy. More comfortable with the fact that I am a person that loves just hanging out with my friends. Or watching quiz shows. I am comfortable with the things about myself that I used to think, man, am I really boring? Should I be going out and getting wasted all the time?"
He gave up drinking a month after filming the final Potter film. He'd started taking insane risks, getting blackout-drunk in public places. When we last met he'd been teetotal for 17 months and recited the benefits. "It's lovely. I barely think about it [alcohol]." But he admits he's had a relapse since.
"I can't tell you what kind of drunk I am because I don't remember what kind of drunk I am. I think I'm probably great - while I'm conscious. But then I have to be looked after and ultimately I don't want to wake up to 20 text messages along the lines of, 'Where are you? Dude, are you OK?'" He hasn't had a drop now for three years straight.
I wondered if reports of his "battle with alcohol" were overblown. Binge-drinking, after all, is not uncommon in 20-somethings. No, it's not normal drinking, he says, otherwise he'd still be drinking. It starts as a normal impulse then escalates beyond his control. "I change when I'm drunk. I'm one of those people who changes." He goes on, "There is something in any person who drinks in a way that's clearly not good for them, something that is attracted to that chaos."
I ask how he alters his state of consciousness now. "You can't really," he replies. "I mean I read. I was a really voracious reader in my teens and that was one of the things I found drinking took away from me, bizarrely, as a side-effect. I didn't have the compulsion or energy to read anything. So I've got that back."
He used to take "epic five-hour walks" whenever he felt the urge to drink, "but then I found you just roll around in your head." So now he works out in the gym and goes running. "Like the cliche of anybody who is quitting something, I really got into exercise," he says. "In fact, these are the first two days I haven't trained twice a day for the last two weeks, so I'm slightly having a moment of, oh man" - he slaps his thighs - "It's all going to shit already!"
Daniel Radcliffe grew up in London, the only child of Alan, a literary agent, and Marcia Gresham, a casting agent. He was educated at Redcliffe pre-prep, Sussex House and City of London School, where he acted in school productions. He made his screen debut at the age of 10 in the BBC's David Copperfield (1999). He auditioned for Harry Potter in June 2000; it was confirmed he had the role just over a month later.
Shooting started on September 29 at Leavesden Studios, near Kings Langley, Hertfordshire. It would end in May 2010, almost a decade later.
Radcliffe has always been critical of his performance in Harry Potter - particularly in the first two films: "just reading the lines" - and claims he got the part because he looked good in glasses. But, he says now, "I've watched my audition since then and the one thing I will say about myself is there's a stillness there, which was good for the role."
He says the single most important thing he did towards the end of his Harry Potter career was to appear on stage, aged 17, in Equus, where he played a disturbed stable boy, with one of the longest nude scenes in theatre. "If you look at interviews from that time, I'm saying, ah, it's fine, whatever, but it was absolutely terrifying. But I've since had a lot of directors say that was the thing that made everyone sit up and go, oh, he's interested in doing other stuff. You don't do a play like Equus unless you want to be an actor."
He is very lucky with his parents. They helped him negotiate fame - "They are incredibly down-to-earth, grounded people" - and contracts. His father gave up his job to become, in effect, Radcliffe's manger. "Dad is in charge of the development of scripts, finding scripts and reading stuff for me, and we do that together." But it's his mother whom he credits with building his financial empire. Radcliffe owns three properties in Manhattan: a townhouse worth £4m, a £6m loft flat that he rents out and a £3.5m flat where he spends time with his girlfriend. "Mum is amazing at all that stuff," he says. "Left to my own devices, I wouldn't be doing anything sensible like investing it [money]. I just wouldn't have got that together." Not that he's extravagant - his most expensive purchase is a Damien Hirst butterfly painting; otherwise, he buys books.
As for his two Potter co-stars, Emma Watson has a portfolio of modelling deals, including make-up firm Lancome and fashion labels Burberry and Chanel. Rupert Grint, on the other hand, opened a boutique hotel, Rigsby's Guest House, in Hertford in 2011. It closed in January having made a profit of only £2,000.
I had assumed that Radcliffe would be encountering fewer Potter fans now he's older. On the contrary. "The people who were my age when we were making the films are now all walking around on the streets. They are not at home with their parents any more. They've grown up and are out and about and so we meet a lot more."
He says that, on the whole, Harry Potter fans are "sweet and respectful and nice." But something comes over Japanese fans in particular. "It's like rushes of people," he says. "Japan is intense." So, too, is South America. In Mexico City, fans clubbed together and hired a mariachi band to sing outside his hotel window.
He also has his share of nutcases. "Creepy is getting a photo of a milk bottle and then another photo of a milk bottle on a doorstep and then another photo of a door and then realising it's your house. Someone is at your house taking photos." He's also received a rock in the post from "some deeply religious family in America. It was to beat myself over the head when I had impure thoughts."
He says he still shops in his local Tesco in London. "It sounds so sad but I love going to the supermarket, doing a shop. I feel I've achieved something, been productive." Not that he cooks. "I order in. A lot." He also likes eating out. "I go to restaurants. I go to the pub - for a bit but then I'm like, OK, if you're all staying and getting drunk then I'm going to go because I can't do that."
Having rather belatedly caught on to the idea of assistants - "I used to look at the credits of films and see personal assistant to the personal dresser, and think, wanker, why do you need that?" - he now travels with an assistant, Spencer, his former dance teacher on How to Succeed in Business, and for the last seven years has employed a bodyguard called Sam. 'If I didn't have those guys I would have no continuity of people in my life and it would feel like an endless procession of hotel rooms and it would be quite lonely, but as it is we've got this little travelling family and it's lovely.'
Future plans include directing - ideally his own material - and "to keep on acting". As soon as he has finished shooting Jungle he's off to New York City to star in the play Privacy. Inspired by Edward Snowden's National Security Agency revelations, Privacy, which originally premiered at the Donmar Warehouse in 2014, explores the digital footprint that we leave online.
"Harry Potter, to a point, will always define me," he says, "but I hope in the same way that Harrison Ford is defined by Star Wars."
'Now You See Me 2' is out now
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