Daniel Radcliffe interview: The Woman In Black, Hammer, the British film industry and Harry Potter
With The Woman In Black out in the UK on Friday, we spoke to star Daniel Radcliffe about his role in the film, leaving Harry Potter behind and more...
The Woman In Black marks a few firsts. One, it’s the first foray into the gothic ghost story for the revived Hammer, a studio famous for its classic, gory interpretations of Dracula and Frankenstein. Two, it marks the cinema debut for Susan Hill’s 1983 novel of the same name, having already conquered the West End as the second longest-running stage play in its history.
Three, this is the first post-Potter outing for Daniel Radcliffe, who stars as Arthur Kipps, a young lawyer haunted by both the recent death of his wife and the terrifying ghost of the film’s title. Having already made a successful debut weekend at the US, The Woman In Black arrives in UK cinemas this Friday, and in the run-up, we spoke to Radcliffe about Hammer movies, the British film industry, and what it's like to move on from the Harry Potter franchise...
So, you read the script for The Woman In Black on the plane just after you’d finished Harry Potter, is that right?
That’s correct, we finished filming on the 29th of June and I read the script on the plane going to America that night four hours after we did the last shot, and it was amazing. I think one of the reasons I was so excited by the script was because I’d never imagined myself doing horror, it was never something that I gravitated towards myself particularly.
Also, Jane’s writing (Jane Goldman, screenwriter) is kind of amazing. It’s a testament to her writing that I read the script in an hour, it’s mainly stage directions and there’s not much dialogue, but it’s written so well and so compelling that I just raced through it.
Then I met the director, James (Watkins), and I immediately felt that we shared a vision for the film, that it was not just a horror film but something where the characters aren’t just an excuse to scare people but actually characters who have real relationships, and it’s got real heart as well. So it was a chance to do something different, great script, great part, great director, the holy trinity!
What intrigued you about the nature of your role in The Woman In Black? Did you see that as a way of making a statement about where you want to go next?
I was never under any illusions that this would be the one film that I would do and everyone would say “Oh, he’s no longer Harry Potter”. I don’t think that’s going to happen, but I think it will start that. I think I look very different in this film, I think it’s a very different type of performance that I give.
When you play Harry my own natural energy and attack is very useful because that’s kind of how Harry is as well, but, with a part like this it was all about trying to completely suppress and deaden my own natural energy and give the look of somebody who had had the vitality taken out of him by the circumstances of his life.
I think that even if people go with Harry Potter in mind, after the first ten minutes they’re just going to be involved in the story and not be thinking about other things, but, you know I could be wrong…
Did you ever see The Woman In Black stage play?
No, I never went on that school trip, everyone else I know has seen it on a school trip, and for reasons I need not go into I wasn’t at school very much. So I missed out on that one, and I never read the book at AS level either. My friends have either studied the book, or went to see the play at school but I never did either of those things.
I read the book, obviously, once I’d finished the script and knew I was meeting James. I still haven’t seen the play. I know will, but I couldn’t see it before for the same reason I didn’t watch the TV movie that was made, just because I copy, that’s what I do, that’s why I have to stay away from older interpretations of a part if I want to make it my own.
You’ve a link to the TV movie of The Woman In Black too haven’t you?
I know! Adrian Rawlins who played my dad in Potter played my part in the original The Woman In Black TV movie. I like the idea that the Potter family has the monopoly on this character.
How did you go about preparing for the role of Arthur Kipps in the film?
Thankfully I’ve never been bereaved. It’s something that you’re never going to fully be able to imagine yourself into that mind-set. So I spoke to a grief counsellor, and particularly I was interested in whether, if your wife dies during childbirth, what kind of relationship would that mean that you had with your son. Would there be resentment there? The answer I got was a definitive yes.
Then I read a couple of books, one called A Grief Observed by CS Lewis and there was another one called Get Over It, it was an amazing book about the grieving process.
What direction do you want to take next?
Next, I’ve got a movie in March which is about a 30 day shoot called Kill Your Darlings. It’s about a murder that’s the catalyst that forms the beat generation. I play a 19-year-old Allan Ginsberg with Dane DeHaan who plays Lucien Carr, my best friend at the time. Jack Huston is playing Jack Kerouac, and Elizabeth Olsen is playing Edie Parker. It’s very exciting, The Women In Black was James’ second film, and this is John Krokidas’ first feature.
Everyone wants to work with Scorsese and Spielberg, but I find the prospect equally exciting that I might be working with the next Scorsese. I think that’s very exciting, to be working with young hungry directors.
Did you have to audition for The Women In Black, or are you one of those actors who’d storm out in a sulk if you were asked to audition?
Oh no absolutely not. Actually, one of the things that I cannot fathom is young actors who will not audition and won’t read. I was talking to a director recently and one of the first things I say when I meet directors is if you want me to read for this I’m more than happy to, because they just don’t expect that because young actors just don’t.
I don’t think it’s the actors themselves – it seems like it’s their agents who don’t want them to be exposed, which I find very strange. But I know that people generally speaking have only seen me in one role, and I need to prove to them that I can do other stuff. If that means auditioning then fine, I’ll audition.
For Kill Your Darlings, I auditioned originally when I was doing Equus on Broadway, was when that first came around I got the part, then I went off to film Harry Potter 6 and the film was like, “Well we’re going now so we have to go without you I’m afraid”, and they cast Jesse Eisenberg and Chris Evans and that was that incarnation of the film. Then the financing fell through that time and now when John started again he came back and said, “Hey look, we’re trying again, you’re now available, do you want to do it again.”
Did the notion that The Woman In Black was going to be made by Hammer appeal to you?
I’m somebody who is very, very proud to have been a part of the British film industry all my life and to have been involved with a very important piece of British film history. So yeah, to be going from something as prestigious as Potter to something as equally prestigious as Hammer was very exciting. There are a few weird links between Potter and Hammer too, in that Amanda who did my makeup for all the Potter films, her dad, Eddie Knight, had done all the makeup for the original Hammers.
I used to watch Dracula as our end-of-term film at school too – we had a copy of it in the telly cupboard, so I used to watch that a lot. I felt I wanted to be fulfilling what I regard as the Peter Cushing role. If The Woman In Black had been made then, Peter Cushing would have beaten me to this part ten times out of ten.
Does it seem weird that you said if you attach yourself to the project that it would get the green light?
This project was already far enough along and had enough people behind it, including the Hammer name to be getting it going, I was just the final thing that was needed.
You’re being modest…
I promise it’s not false modesty though. There are very, very few actors whose name you know… even people like me and Rob Pattinson, who are at the moment big names and bankable - whatever that means - there are very few actors whose saying yes to something would mean a green light for that film. I think probably George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Johnny Depp, are the only three that have that kind of pull, and that comes from how they’ve had very long careers and are universally respected as actors and as professionals. So there’s a long way to go before we’re at that stage.
But it is also a very nice thing to know that you are going to be able to help get films made that otherwise might not get made. Particularly, I’m in a position now where I am very fortunate financially on Potter, so I don’t have to work for the money now, and I can just do things that interest me. I like the idea of not having to do stuff for the money, and if I want to, I can pick indie projects for the rest of my life and be quite happy doing that.
Did you have lots of different scripts sent to you when you were finishing Harry Potter?
There were a few around the end. There were certainly two or three that we were looking at, but this kind of went straight to the top of the pile as soon as it arrived. It was the best, most complete film script that I read. It was also the one with the most realistic chance of filming soon, so everything about it was kind of perfect.
Was there anything that stands out you had to say “No” to?
One of them was a comedy. It wasn’t really about saying no, it was more the fact that they were nowhere near ready to go and The Woman In Black was in a place where it was getting ready to go and if I entered and got attached then it, would probably be the last little boost it needed to get it over the finish line. It wasn’t so much saying no to other things – some of those things are probably on the table, just not in the immediate future.
When you receive scripts to read, are there things that make you think “Oh, that’s something I won’t do”, a pet peeve?
I don’t think there’s anything that I would really balk at doing on screen. I have got certain pet peeves about writing. One pet peeve I have when reading scripts is when they give you a line reading, there will be a line next to your character’s name that says “very angry”, and you think , “Well I’ll decide that, actually”. There are little things like that, that’s a slight pet peeve, but most scripts have them so that’s something all actors have a little issue with.
Were you taken aback by the massive amount of affection that the last Potter film generated?
It was wonderful. I’m very proud of the franchise because these are big movies, made ostensibly by an American studio – Warner Brothers – and we manage to keep the integrity and the care, there was never a moment when anyone got complacent, everyone always really cared and wanted to make great films.
To have kept that ethic up for ten years is impressive and is deserving of the affection and love that it generated. It was a wonderful thing, the moment I’ll never forget is standing in the square, I mean somebody said there were 25,000 people there. It was crazy.
What do you remember about your first Potter press junket?
I remember it very clearly. I remember seeing Lizo Mzimba there and thinking, oh my god! Lizo is here, he’s off Newsround, I’m really excited. It was bizarre, I remember Rupert and Emma being really sweet to me. I’d only read the first two books at that point and I’d completely forgotten the second one, and somebody in the interview asked, “Who is Tom Riddle?” and Rupert was writing the answers down for Harry Potter questions I didn’t know the answers to and trying to slide them over to me. I look back on that day with great affection.
Speaking of the last Harry Potter film, you and a few other senior people in the movie have said that you should probably be considered for an Oscar, do you still feel very strongly about that now that we’re in that fever? [NB: Interview took place before the 2012 Oscar nominations were announced.]
I feel very strongly about Alan [Rickman]. I feel it would have been wonderful for him to get some recognition because I think what Alan’s done is an incredible achievement. Obviously, there are a lot of other actors too – Christopher Plummer particularly in Beginners gives an amazing performance. Alan manages to give such an emotive performance in not very much screen time, he tells such a clear story. I thought he just did it wonderfully.
In terms of the rest of it… Do I think we’re the best picture of the year? No, probably not. Do I think we’re a great movie? Absolutely.
How much of a pat on the back do we really want? We’ve made $6 billion worldwide at this point. If you think about that, it’s not just about box office figures which, when they’re quoted, can sound very cold, but what that means is that people not only went and saw the film, but they went back again and again and again to the cinema.
I met someone once after the second film had come out who’d seen the film 20 times at the cinema. That’s mind-blowing to me, but people really love them and it speaks to the affection for what we did, and they go back and back and back. Obviously an Oscar would be lovely, but we’re not desperately in need of it.
Do you ever think you’ll get to the stage of Alec Guinness who advised Star Wars fans not to go and see it again?
I’m just not sure. I always remember there was something Robert Smith (lead singer from The Cure) said about fans which I’ve always remembered, which is that someone asked why he still dresses the way he does on stage and he said it was because people went to his shows dressed like that, and if they look up and saw him not dressed like that it’s somehow a betrayal. So I’m not going to be one of those punks who claims they were never in a band 20 years later who is a stockbroker now.
I’m always going to be very proud of Potter and what it has done for me. There’s no way I would be doing The Woman In Black or would have got to Broadway without it. So I never want to play down my association, it’s something I will always be very proud of and the fandom is a wonderful crazy thing. Maybe in 30 years then I’ll change my mind, but for now I will not discourage anybody from watching those films.
As someone who’s grown up in the British film industry, do you have anything to say about David Cameron’s recent comments about the need to make more commercial films here?
I kind of don’t know where they came from, I think it’s bizarre. I haven’t seen the context yet, I do have to say that. But he’s saying we should make more commercial films and I mean, how much more commercial do you mean than Captain America, War Horse, and Harry Potter [all filmed in the UK]?
We’ve made the most successful commercial franchise in film history here over the last ten years, and last year we had quite a lot of really big films being made here. Also he can’t just offer a decree unless he’s going to offer some incentive. We’re not going to be able to compete with Eastern Europe unless he’s talking about tax breaks or something like that, which I don’t know that he is.
So you can’t just say “We need to make more commercial”, it kind of sounds like someone who doesn’t have an understanding of the industry. But hey, he’s a politician so he must be right. I’m sure they wouldn’t speak so confidently if they were at all ill-informed [Just in case it doesn’t come across, Radcliffe delivers this last line with not a small amount of sarcasm].
Would you be interested in producing your own material and forming your own company?
Down the line, absolutely. I would love to self-generate films, I think it would be amazing. Directing is more what I would like to get into eventually. Frankly I feel like it would be a waste if I didn’t because I’ve spent so much time on film sets and I know how they work and I love them, and I love leading them. I would like to do that as a director definitely.
I’m looking at people at the moment like the guy who wrote Martha Marcy May Marlene, Sean Durkin, and that is a completely self-generated film. He wrote that himself, directed it himself, got the financing and produced it. That kind of filmmaking I think is really exciting and gives a kind of creative freedom that all directors aspire to. I think that’s the way to do it.
How self-critical are you?
Very critical, I hate watching myself. But I know I have to watch it because I know I’m going to be asked about it, so I need to have some semblance of knowing what the film is like. It’s not an enjoyable experience watching yourself. I hate it less than I used to, but I still don’t enjoy it. I am critical but I try not to get to a point where… Being self-critical is good, begin self-hating is destructive. There’s a very fine line there somewhere, and I walk it carefully.
Do you ever Google yourself?
I have. Do you know why I Google myself? I Google myself to find out what it says when you type in Daniel Radcliffe [on autosuggest]. That’s always very amusing. I believe at the moment it’s Daniel Radcliffe, Daniel Radcliffe Gay, Daniel Radcliffe Twitter, Daniel Radcliffe Alcoholic, which is kind of awesome.
What was great was when me and my girlfriend got photographed for the first time together within 48 hours when you typed in ROSA - her name’s Rosanne Coker - she was Google’s third search result between Rosacea and Rosa Parks. I find that quite amusing and also what I love about the gay thing is that really every single person I type into Google, anybody, if you are not being called gay, you don’t have a career.
Playing Allen Ginsberg will help with that one… Do you pay any attention to it or do you just blank it out?
A little bit. Sometimes you can’t help but pay attention to it, because sometimes you’ve got mates texting you going, “What’s this? Tell me!” But you try not to pay too much attention to it because it’s generally not constructive. It can be very funny, and in that case it’s fine to pay attention to it if you’re going to laugh about it.
But if it’s going to get you angry then it’s a big pointless waste of energy, so I try and be selective about what I take an interest in reading about myself. I don’t read articles but occasionally somebody will say, “This has come out. Just so you know, you’ll probably get asked about this so read it!” but generally speaking you just let it wash over you.
You’re often asked to mock yourself and your career on TV, what with Extras and your recent Saturday Night Live performance. When writers come to you with ideas for skits, do you ever think ‘Hang on, that’s actually a bit hurtful’?
Not at all, no. Especially with the Potter sketches on SNL – most of the people writing that are massive Potter fans, so it’s all done with love. I don’t ever see it as taking the piss. The comedian Brendon Burns has got a great line where he says “You’re in the alpha male club, it’s time to sit back and have a fucking sense of humour about yourself”, and I think that’s it. Once you’ve been in the biggest film franchise in the world, people are going to make jokes and that’s fine.
But also I’ve had some great references. I got mentioned in The Thick of It which was one of my favourite mentions ever, I remember the line, it was, “If you resign now, this party will be out of power until Daniel Radcliffe is advertising walk-in baths in People’s Friend.” I was very, very pleased with that, and also there are a couple of great Harry Potter references in South Park. I think you’ve got to be able to laugh at yourself.
Do you have any more plans for theatre?
Absolutely, that’s my next mission, to find a play to do in England. That’s what I want to do. I’ve been in New York for the last couple of shows, and they did talk about [the Broadway musical Radcliffe has been starring in] How To Succeed In Business coming to London, but I was tired and I’d done it for 11 months, which is longer than I’ve ever done a stage run before.
Do you think Potter would work on stage?
Erm… [makes a horrified face]. I’ve been asked. I know Darren Criss did the Very Potter musical, but I don’t think there should ever be an official version of it. I don’t think Jo would sanction that either, I’m pleased to say.
Daniel Radcliffe, thank you very much.
The Woman In Black comes out in the UK this Friday. Our review's here.