Anyone who has had the same job for more than nine years can certainly understand why it might get frustrating seeing the same people day-in day-out and that certainly is no different for actors, not that many actors have had the opportunity to play the same character as long as Daniel Radcliffe has played J.K. Rowling’s “boy wizard” Harry Potter.
It’s quite impressive how Radcliffe has stuck things out through the previous six movies, bringing us to the grand finale or at least the first part of it, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1, which leads up to Harry Potter’s final conflict with Ralph Fiennes’ Lord Voldemort.
We spoke to the 21-year-old actor at the end of a brisk series of roundtable interviews, saving the best for last as they say, and while we weren’t surprised how eloquent Daniel has become for the “Potter” franchise, we were somewhat shocked when Daniel told us that he was unsatisfied with his performance in the previous movie, “Half-Blood Prince,” despite getting many compliments in his acting for that one. Read on!
Q: We just talked with Emma about how Chris Columbus and David Barron got all of you when you were very young and that you’re still able to play the parts. In a lot of movies, they change actors. What are your thoughts on that and how you’ve been able to keep doing this and no one’s gotten fat or anything?
Daniel Radcliffe: (laughs) I don’t know. I think they probably saw my mother and thought, “Oh this boy isn’t going to grow that much.” Because she’s like five foot and my grandmother is four foot nine, so they presumably just thought, “Ah, he’s not going to get too tall for the role, that’s for sure.” To be honest with you, I think studios have a reputation for being quite cutthroat, and I don’t think they have been on “Potter” at all. There was definitely a sense of loyalty and there was never a sense that we were going to be screwed over by studio in any way. They were always very, very supportive and I think they always realized, particularly in the early days, that they were dealing with young kids, whose hearts would be broken if suddenly they said, “We’re replacing you.” I think that’s why the casting process took so long, because they wanted to find people that would not only be right for the first film, but also sort of durable enough to last, hopefully, for quite a few years. It was certainly talked about from all our points of view. I mean, I had moments where I thought, “Well, maybe after three that would be the time to walk away because that will give somebody else a run before the end.” I know Emma (Watson) was sort of deliberating to sort of stay or go before she did #6. So we’ve all had those moments, but ultimately, we all thought we’re so lucky to get these parts. The thing is, no matter how big you get with one series, if you’re like fourteen or fifteen, and then you walk away from that part, there are very few good parts for fifteen, sixteen-year-olds that would take you a step up from where you’ve been with the part. So it just wouldn’t have made much sense for us to walk away. I think we just got very lucky because they didn’t want to replace us and we didn’t want to leave. (laughs) So it was very good fortune.
Q: It’s kind of an anomaly and it does set somewhat of a precedent for studios.
Radcliffe: I think so. I certainly think a lot of studios could learn from how Warner Bros. have dealt with this franchise in that they have just put total faith in the filmmakers and the producers and the people that know best and the people that are over here and gone, “We trust you,” and giving them that freedom. Normally, there are other films, some of which are filming currently, that you just hear stories about studios giving so many notes all the time on every rushes delivered. I think the first time I ever become aware of any studio notes that come down is when I was doing ADR for the first screening for the studio, after we finished filming. That’s when they’ll start to say, “Oh, I don’t think that part of the story is clear enough.” ‘Cause there’s one guy in Warners who’s amazing because he’s never read a single book, so he watches the films and goes, “Well, who’s that?” The fact that we’ve got somebody who’s that objective means that we go, “Oh yeah. That’s not clear at all unless you’ve read all the books.” So yeah, I think a lot of studios could learn a lot from the way Warners has handled these films.
Q: How was it for you as a budding actor growing up on screen having different directors come along for each new movie? You’ve had David Yates for the last several, but during your formative years, they were changing.
Radcliffe: Yeah, I think it was great to be honest with you, because I remember when Chris told me he was leaving on #2, I was very upset and I thought, “Oh no, that’s a terrible thing.” But actually, it proved the best thing for the series because it opened it up to different creative ideas and different people came on board. I think the fact that Alfonso (Cuaron) came along to the film was not just for him, but really, really smart from our producers, particularly David Heyman, who was very instrumental in that. (Alfonso) had just directed “Y Tu Mama Tambien” and for such a mainstream movie franchise, it gives you a bit of weight with the critics, to have somebody who’s had such an indie (hit) suddenly working on the film. (laughs) So I think that made people see us in a slightly different light, and I think the fact that David Yates got the job on #5 was fantastic because it shows that we’re not afraid of taking risks, because a lot of people saw it as a risk. I think the thing that sold David to us all was his TV series, “State of Play,” because if you watch that, it’s over six episodes, and the level of storytelling is amazing. And that’s what you need for a Potter film. I’ve always said about David, that it’s like he can see the whole film in one frame in front of him, and that’s his great advantage as a filmmaker, is his ability to tell stories so, so well. So yeah, I think it was vital that they changed directors, but it was interesting, because once David had done #5 and then it looked like he was going to do #6, I think you have to have the same person do seven as did six, because that would have been too big a risk. If somebody had come in and not known what they’re doing and not have known the set up of “Potter” and how everything works… you need somebody who’s already familiar with how everything works on “Potter” to provide a sense of continuity in the films, because six is such a set up for seven. I think that would have been a mistake to get someone new for the last movies because that would have seemed weird.
Q: It’s been a few months since you wrapped, so how have you acclimate to being done? I know you’ve said that it was pretty devastating your last day of filming. Did you deal with it by shooting another movie? Is that the best way to deal with it?
Radcliffe: Yeah I think so. I was devastated at the actual moment. I was crying for like two hours, but then four hours later I was on a plane and I was reading a script for “The Woman in Black” and now I’m halfway through filming that. So we moved on pretty quickly. (laughs) But it was a very sad moment, and at that particular moment in time you feel pretty desolate, I guess is the word. I was pretty inconsolable for a couple of hours, but then, after that, you realize, “Hold on. I’m on Broadway next year. I’ve got a couple of things… I’m definitely going to do another film before the end of the year. It’s not that bad. It’s okay.” And ten years is a long time with one character. It’s a pleasure to be able to go out on such a high note as I feel we will do. This film seems to be going very well at the moment and then the last film I think will be epic, so yeah, I’m excited to see what people make of it. I felt very lucky to have spent so long with this character, I suppose, and I’m very proud to have been a part of a franchise that has become pretty renowned for the quality of films that we make.
Q: Did the character of Harry Potter continue to challenge you over every film or how did you challenge yourself?
Radcliffe: I think one of the things that happened that was interesting, was that when I saw the sixth film, I was so, so unhappy with my own performance in it that I…
Q: In the sixth film?
Radcliffe: In the sixth film, yeah. That sort of knocked me back a bit. I felt kind of, not inhibited by that, but I saw it and I was so bored by my own performance. There was no variety and nothing particularly interesting about it in an otherwise good film, that I think, when it came to seven, that was the kick in the behind that I sort of needed to spur me on to make seven the best. So I think that was the biggest challenge over the last film, was trying to get over how unhappy I’d been with #6, because there’s two ways to react to a situation like that: You become so fixated by what you’re doing that you try to do less and less and less and you go right into your shell and not react to it. The other way to do it is to sort of come out kicking, and that’s what I tried to do in seven. Just tried to give a more varied, interesting performance as Harry, and try and be a bit more fearless, because that’s what I always admire in actors like Gary Oldman and David Thewlis and people like that is they’re bold enough to think. “I don’t care what I’m going to look like or how I’m going to see this later or how I’m going to feel about this later. I’m going to do what feels right now and not be self-conscious.” So that was the challenge in this film, was trying to get over some of the disappointments.
Q: Well you have a lot of really emotional scenes in this film. One in particular was when you revisit your room under the staircase. What was that moment like?
Radcliffe: It was very sweet. It was very early on when we did that. You’re the fourth journalist in four days of publicity to actually mention that, and I think it’s really sweet but it doesn’t get brought up a lot. Weirdly the first two were kind of older men. (laughs) But no, I really like that scene. It’s very sweet. For all you film students out there, I like the pseudo-symbolism of picking up the little soldier because that’s what Harry knows he’s about to become. It’s a very sweet, slightly nostalgic scene. I’m just disappointed that I didn’t have to crouch more when I went back into that cupboard after ten years!
Q: When you were making the first movie, you obviously didn’t know how the books were going to end or what the sixth or seventh books were going to be like. At some point, they must have said, “Here is the script for “the Deathly Hallows” so did they wait until after you were done with six completely?
Radcliffe: Yes, I don’t think it was even started being written until we were done with six completely.
Q: How much did you know in advance about what you’d be doing next?
Radcliffe: To be honest with you, it’s funny. There is always a lot of chaos on film sets, and sometimes on “Potter,” things were being re-written constantly on the seventh. So scenes would be cut and then reinstated and then changed massively, so you didn’t know what you were doing from one day to the next at certain moments. It was interesting because what you said about that prior knowledge that you have, we’ve always had that to a degree. We never knew how the series would end. When we were filming one, we knew what was happening up to number four. When we were filming three, I was the person who told Gary Oldman that (SPOILER!) Sirius died. So when we were filming all that stuff with Sirius and establishing that relationship, he knew that that character was going to die. But we never let it affect us all the way through, so by the time we got to this book, we were already quite practiced at that, and to a certain extent, it’s a problem that all films could face for an actor. Unless you’re doing a Mike Leigh film or something, you know when you start off what’s going to happen at the end, and you just kind of have to play it without any of that knowledge in mind.
Q: At what point did you know about the dance scene?
Radcliffe: David sort of mentioned it to us. He said, “I want there to be a scene with you and Emma dancing,” and I was like, “Um, okay fine. Was that in the book? Okay, whatever David. Okay fine. (laughs) But then he said we were going to get a choreographer in. I was thinking, “Really? Because if it’s just me and Hermione dancing, it shouldn’t really be choreographed, should it?” It seemed like a bit much for two non-dancers to break into sort of a big dance number. Then we eventually did have a few sessions with a choreographer who gave us a vague idea of how to slow dance. It was helpful to me. Then we just sort of made it up as we went along. When I watched the film for the first time, I watched it with a friend of mine. hen the Nick Cave song came along, I turned to her and said, “That is the coolest Harry Potter has ever been.” (laughter) And she said, “Yeah, but that’s not” when I started doing my little bat at disco dancing… um, yeah. (laughs) I hope I’ve improved by the time I get to Broadway.
Q: A little bit of a technical question. You have a scene where you have to play off multiple versions of yourself. How do you do that? What kind of reference points do you have?
Radcliffe: Basically, it was filmed with a motion control camera, which is a camera controlled by a computer rather than a human so it can recreate exactly the same move every time. We shoot the scene once. Basically there are six of me standing in a semi-circle. And so we shoot the scene once with me there and the shot goes straight to the end every time. And then we’d shoot it again and again and again and then they’d lay them over on top of each other. We did ninety-five takes of that shot because I had to do it in all different positions. Not because I’m terrible. (laughs) And if I was standing an inch too far to my left, I was standing in another theoretical me. So it was quite a technical shot. But that was one of the moments that take a long time to do and a long time to get right, and then when you see it all put together you go, “Oh that’s awesome. That looks so good.”
Q: How was it from an acting standpoint?
Radcliffe: Yeah, what we would do, we’d rehearse it with the real people, the real cast, and we had them video-taped, and then I just sort of did as much mimicry as I could. I’ve had had impressions of Rupert (Grint) and Emma ready to go for like ten years. (laughs) Actually, it’s interesting; there were three people that I got in three takes each, and everyone else took like nine or ten takes. Emma and Andy (Linden) who plays Mundungus, were the two people I got the quickest, and Rupert was a nightmare, an absolute nightmare. Because there is a lot of stuff that’s unexpected about Rupert. Not in that particular scene. In the scene when we arrive at the Burrow and I’m rushing up as Ron going up to Hermione, and I’m doing a sort of run/walk. Rupert walks with a real wiggle in the hips, which is something you wouldn’t expect. (laughter) So that was kind of tricky. And the twins almost stand in, to talk in ballet terms, they stand in second all the time with their feet sort of like that. (toes pointing outwards) There were kind of reference points with all of them, and for Clemence I just sort of did a French thing. (laughs)
Q: Which one did you feel most comfortable as?
Radcliffe: Probably Rupert, even though he’s the hardest one to do. He’s kind of a chilled out guy and when you’re trying to inhabit that physical sort of presence, it does sort of relax you a lot. Despite pretending to be him you’ve got to tone down your anxieties and live in Rupert land for a while, which is a very nice place to be.
(SPOILER WARNING: The next two questions and responses give away some fairly major plot points including the splitpoint of the movie. If you haven’t read the book and/or would prefer to be surprised than read no further!)
Q: You mentioned before about having the script changed while you were working on it, and David mentioned earlier that he didn’t have much time for pre-production and getting the storyboard and everything… even though you had more time [to film seven] did it feel a lot more like you were doing things on the fly?
Radcliffe: Definitely. You know, the thing is, he had no time for pre-production because they moved the sixth film’s release. It was going to be in November in 2009 and suddenly they said, “Let’s tinker with this for another eight months, and David we want you to work on more post for ‘Harry Potter 6’ rather than getting started on ‘Harry Potter 7,'” so he kind of lost eight months of pre-production. And that was one of the reasons that happened. I do, absolutely. You know, this film was one of the most chaotic of any of the films to make. Which I think is understandable when your making two films at once. I think the pressure we felt did at times slightly inhibit us, because we were all so conscious of this is the last one. As a consequence of that we were all thinking we didn’t want to get anything wrong. Sometimes we would sort of hedge our bets and say, “Oh, we might do it this way, we might do it that way. This is where the break point might come.” And other issues besides that one. I think we all sort of shied away from it. “Oh let’s talk about that later.” I think it slightly inhibited us at times. Not David, particularly I’d say. But the rest of us and other aspects of the film were sort of slightly held back by the pressure at times. But ultimately those are worries that you just have to get over, and we did. And actually, speaking specifically about that break point, I think it comes at the perfect point in the film. Originally in the script, the film broke just after they go to Malfoy Manor and they pull my hair back and you see a bit of the scar, but while that has a bit of a suspenseful element, there’s no emotional resolution, where with Dobby’s death scene, it means that you get that emotional sucker punch and then moving on to the scene with Ralph (Fiennes) desecrating the tomb of Dumbledore, you get that sort of thriller moment as well. It’s a very healthy combination.
Q: The death of Dobby must have been a difficult thing, because obviously, Dobby is not real, so what was it like to play? How did you handle it? Were you using a doll at any point?
Radcliffe: I was using a doll and we were also using a little person called Diane who (changes to a raspy voice) talks like that, and she has blonde crewcut hair. She looks a bit like a little Annie Lennox. And it was slightly odd, it was an odd scene to do. When you have Diane in your arms and she’s just lying there, limp, it does sort of weirdly feel like a dead child or something, and was a little bit creepy. It was a disturbing scene.