Daniel Radcliffe interview: Swiss Army Man, quiz shows

Daniel Radcliffe chats to us about his quiz show addiction, Imperium, Swiss Army Man, and fake erections...

Pretty much every young actor in Hollywood must be pretty jealous of Daniel Radcliffe’s position. It’s been five years since he finished up being a boy wizard, and he’s now deep into the next stage of his career. Coming off one of the biggest franchises of all time, he’s basically been able to cherry pick whatever strange and interesting roles he wants. His latest two movies show the breadth of projects he’s taking on. Last week saw him go undercover as an FBI agent infiltrating Neo-Nazis in Imperium, and this week the notorious ‘Daniel Radcliffe plays a farting corpse’ movie Swiss Army Man finally makes its way to UK cinemas, following acclaim at film festivals around the world.

The first feature from music video directing duo The Daniels, it stars Paul Dano as Hank, a young man stranded on a desert island, until a corpse called Manny (Radcliffe) washes up ashore. Despite being deceased, Manny offers Hank the companionship he needs. But Manny is no ordinary corpse. He can talk, and has superpowers that include rocket-power farts. It’s a wonderful, unique and genuinely touching piece of indie cinema that defies description. We spoke to Radcliffe about the challenges of playing an inanimate character, his love for BBC quiz shows and why he wants to guest-star on Rick And Morty.

So are you the luckiest actor in the world right now? Basically able to pick your movies, and do roles as weird as Swiss Army Man or as challenging as Imperium?

Quite possibly. It’s such a unique place to be in, to be 27 and have a decent amount of control over your career. It’s really rare. I’m really lucky. And I’m lucky in that weird tends to beget more weird. I think doing things like Equus and Horns are the reason that people send me Swiss Army Man. They think: “He likes weird stuff.”

Ad – content continues below

Let’s not beat about the bush — the first thing I’ve got ask you is how did they do the erections in the film? (Throughout Swiss Army Man, Manny the corpse gets very awkwardly and prominently ‘excited’ at pivotal moments.)

So there were two versions of it. There was one that was the most insanely complex looking hydraulic rig that I’ve ever seen.You know the levers they have next to train tracks, to operate signals and stuff? It looked like it was operated by that. They were wrenching those about to make this animatronic dick move. But then before that was ready, we had one scene to film where we need the moving dick. So it was just a broomstick up the back of the trousers, with one of the directors wiggling it about.

The role must have been one of the most physical challenges you can have as an actor, playing an inanimate corpse — you’re constantly tumbling over and rolling about, unable to support your own bodyweight. Did you get many bumps and bruises?

I think I did, but I quite enjoyed getting them. It’s very rare that as an actor you actually feel like you’re earning your money, so it’s quite nice to be physically invested in something. I love the physical side of it. One of the things I said to the directors when we first met was ask if I could do as much of my own stunts as possible. Because that’s such a huge part of the role and I didn’t want to hand it over to a stunt double, as it would have been them doing half the film. I did a lot of the stunts and I loved doing that.

It was also fun to work out the choreography of the scenes, particularly when my character can’t move. So if I start the scene looking one way, and I need to look the other way by the end of it, I was talking to Paul Dano about if there was a moment he could move my head. Working all that out was really good fun.

Ad – content continues below

How was a film like Swiss Army Man pitched to you?

Everyone thinks I must have taken some real persuading to do this film, but I really didn’t. Everyone says it’s a really crazy idea, but I’ve read a lot crazy ideas and most of them are shit! And this is a crazy idea executed brilliantly. I mean, my first contact with the script was just a log line, that was something like “Suicidal Man has to convince a dead body that life is worth living.” And I though that sounded amazing. We don’t really use the term ‘Magical Realism’ in film, as we tend to lump it all in under ‘Fantasy’, but I’m a big Magical Realism fan and to me that’s what this film is.

That’s interesting, because the log line people started using to describe it after it debuted at Sundance was ‘Harry Potter plays a farting corpse’ — which is conjures up a slightly different image.

Well I think after Sundance we got another name: The Daniel Radclife Farting Boner Corpse Movie. But reading the script it was so obviously to me that yes, part of it was gross and stupid and weird, but it was also really beautiful and profound. And to me there was something so fucking exciting about a world where all of that is held together, and isn’t in conflict with each other. Where the grossness supplements the beauty.

Manny also has quite a distinctive voice — where did that come from?

Ad – content continues below

That was a lot of just taking videos of myself talking in weird ways and sending them to the Daniels, and seeing what they thought. It was a case of what looking what had happened to Manny. He’d died, rigor mortis had probably set in, it would be hard to move his jaw and his muscles. It would just be air rushing over the vocal chords. So we came up with this thing where he could probably only talk if you were pumping him. And then you fill in the gaps. A little bit of my pseudo-scientific understanding of what happens to people after they die, coupled with your imagination filling in the rest.

So when I was researching for this interview, I found people saying that you wrote questions for the BBC quiz show Only Connect. Is that true?

I did! I wrote one question for it, I did a board for the connecting wall.

Reddit seems to think it was a question about the Sex Pistols

Oh actually, I think I originally had made a board, and then [Only Connect question editor] Alan Connor had decided that one of them worked better as a single question. That was one of them, but there was another one a question I did about inanimate objects in films that have names — like Wilson in Castway and the doll from Lars And The Real Girl.

How did that come about then?

Ad – content continues below

Alan Connor is a friend of mine and was one of the writers on A Young Doctor’s Notebook. I always asked him: “If I make up a board and it’s going enough, will you put it on the show?” And he let me! I did not ask for a credit by the way! And that’s why if you’re ever watching Only Connect, that’s why I get shout-outs sometimes. There was a Missing Vowels round subject once that was ‘Daniel Radcliffe Films’.

Are you a big quiz show fan? Is that why when you guested on BoJack Horseman they had you be a contestant on Mr Peanutbutter’s game show?

It wasn’t, but I was very happy when I found out that was the [episode I was going to be in], because I love quizzes. But that just came out of me liking the first series of the show so much, and just talking about it in every interview, hoping that they would get me in it! Which I’m now going to have to start doing with Rick And Morty.

How great is Rick And Morty though?

Amazing. I’m so excited about the third series coming out. It does a similar thing to BoJack Horseman where it dares to be really fucking sad sometimes.

Ad – content continues below

But going back, you like quiz shows then?

Yeah, I love quiz shows. I’m obsessed with Pointless. In fact, this is slightly embarrassing to admit, and everyone who reads this is going to think I’m a terrible friend, but I had a friend over last night who I hadn’t seen in six months, and for the first half hour after they got there, I said they had to sit down and be quiet as I’m going to watch University Challenge. So I watched that, and then Only Connect came on straight after, so we watched that as well.

Could you not just watch it later on iPlayer?

No, I had to watch it live. It’s very sad.

What’s your favourite quiz show?

Pointless. I love Pointless, I love Only Connect. I watch The Chase as well, but I particularly love the BBC quizzes, because so little money is won. I do feel like that it’s something in Britain, the harder the quiz is, the shitter the prize you get. There was an amazing moment on Only Connect last night where one of the girls on it had also been on University Challenge, and for me that’s a sign of what kind of show it is. The contestants are pulled from being good on other quiz shows.

Ad – content continues below

So what else do you want you want to do in your career?

I really want to direct. Ideally direct something that I’ve written, because I feel I’d have a better understanding of it. And also because if it goes terribly wrong I’ve only screwed up my work, not someone else’s. That’s it really, and just to keeping working as long as I can. I want to be an actor for the rest of my life basically.

What sort of thing would you like to write and direct?

Sort of a dark comedy, I think that’s the area I’m most interested in. I keep trying to write things that are serious, and mistakenly writing jokes. The people I look up to are writer-directors like the Coen Brothers, and Martin McDonagh, and Wes Anderson, and Quentin Tarantino.

Finally, what have you got coming up next?

There might be something happening this year, but I’m not sure yet. And then hopefully more theatre at the beginning of next year, which is going to be announced very soon.

Ad – content continues below