Daniel Radcliffe’s drive to move on from the role of Harry Potter has never been more pronounced than in Alexandre Aja’s Horns, which hit cinemas a couple of weeks ago.
Horns isn’t quite the horror film that the trailers are making out – it’s more like a murder mystery film, a very dark comedy or a modern fairytale, in that order. The leaden pace and various tangents draw it out beyond a more optimum 90 minute running time, but in its best moments, it’s like someone tried to make Twilight into a Woody Allen movie.
After some eclectic role choices in recent years, it’s unsurprising that the most consistent ingredient in the film’s volatile genre cocktail is Radcliffe as Iggy, a young man wrongly accused of raping and murdering his girlfriend, who suddenly and mysteriously finds himself imbued with Satanic powers and a pair of indestructible horns on his forehead.
Iggy drinks, takes drugs and swears up a storm – it might have seemed like any other child star was protesting too much, but Radcliffe has blazed an interesting trail since casting off his school robes and rounded glasses. Between genre flicks and subversive indie fare, he’s quickly moved through his Hogwarts post-graduate phase into more distinctive work.
It’s entirely possible for child stars to shake off their early roles as they grow into adulthood. One example that comes to mind is Neil Patrick Harris, who only lingered in the American pop culture consciousness for years as kid doctor Doogie Howser. Now he’s better known for any number of roles, whether as Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother, as his alternate self in the Harold & Kumar movies or as Billy/Dr. Horrible. There was even some recent buzz about his supporting role in Gone Girl getting recognition at the Oscars next year – he’s also hosting the ceremony.
But Doogie Howser was never as huge as Harry Potter, so even by saying Horns‘ Iggy Perrish is nothing like the Boy Who Lived, that’s likely to keep coming up. There are usually small aspects that are reminiscent of his time at Hogwarts too, like Iggy’s inevitable affinity with snakes or Arthur Kipps’ tendency to explore the haunted Eel Marsh House by night in The Woman In Black (Radcliffe’s biggest post-Potter hit) – if darkened stairs could be converted into air miles, he’d definitely have racked up a few flights by now.
Aside from grabbing the bull by the proverbial and playing another supernaturally tormented young man in Horns, he’s also had roles in indie fare like Kill Your Darlings and What If. In the former, he played poet Allen Ginsberg in a dramatisation of some of the Beat generation’s college days and a grisly murder connected to the period. By equally diverse measure, he played a lovesick young writer in the latter, which was ostensibly another friendy-sexy romcom a la No Strings Attached or Friends With Benefits, but had some hidden depths.
A recent list of the richest Britons under 30 clocked Radcliffe at number 2 (apparently, One Direction counts as one entity in the top spot) and he undoubtedly has enough money to retire on already. But to his immense credit, he’s continued to seek out projects that interest him and lend them whatever box office clout he possesses.
Then there’s his work on stage, which proves how the drive to move on from Harry began even before the franchise had finished. The 2007 revival of Equus, in which Radcliffe played the troubled Alan Strang, was heavily publicised for the drastic departure marked by its lead, to the tune of £1.7 million in advance box office sales. The publicity didn’t measurably help or hinder the performance of the fifth Potter instalment, The Order Of The Phoenix, when it was released that summer, but it proved Radcliffe’s mettle as an actor.
His next big stage role after completing a decade’s worth of filming on Harry Potter was in the 2011 Broadway revival of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, arguably finding the quickest way to establish himself as a triple threat on stage right off the bat.
All of this is to say nothing of his work on TV, particularly in comedy. As with his progress on stage, he memorably sent up his child star image in an episode of Extras before he was done with the films and then afterwards moved onto A Young Doctor’s Notebook, playing the younger version of Jon Hamm’s morphine-addicted doctor.
The dark comedy aired on Sky Arts for two seasons and again showed off his range, but he’s also shown off his comic chops by hosting Have I Got News For You in the UK and Saturday Night Live in the States. Last week, while promoting Horns, he got up on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon and busted out Blackalicious’ Alphabet Aerobics to the tune of 21 million YouTube views.
In interviews, he seems enthusiastic about the screen projects he’s actively pursuing, such as the Seb Coe biopic Gold, for which he’s been training as a runner for the last couple of years, and Tokyo Vice, based on American journalist Jake Adelstein’s experiences in Japan, tangling with human traffickers and the Yakuza.
Coming up next, he’s in the fêted Victor Frankenstein, written by Max Landis and directed by Sherlock‘s Paul McGuigan, as Igor to James McAvoy’s Dr. Frankenstein. The casting alone suggests an entirely different take on previous cinematic versions of Frankenstein’s devoted assistant, but Radcliffe and various others who have read the script have promised that it takes the story of the Modern Prometheus as “The Social Network, but set in the 18th century.”
As is fairly common with actors who succeeded from a young age, he’s also eyeing a move behind the camera, telling Variety earlier this year: “I would love to direct. I do it in my head when I’m watching other directors direct. ‘No, don’t say that to them!’ I think I’m quite good with people. Part of being a director is knowing how different actors work in different ways.”
Harry Potter is a big enough role that Radcliffe may never fully shake off the label, but thus far, he’s earning himself a reputation as a hard-working young actor in a diverse range of projects.
It’s doubtful that the cumulative gross of every film he’s in for the rest of his life will match up to even one of his early, high-grossing works, but you can tell he’s on track to have a good body of work nonetheless. He has spoken about a desire to direct in the future rather than act, but for now and the foreseeable future, it’s gratifying to watch him break into Muggle movies so prominently.
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