Anyone who was in Daniel Radcliffe’s shoes a few years back when he wrapped up the last of his eight Harry Potter movies, presumably with a nice amount of money in his bank account, might have taken some time off or relaxed on a beach somewhere for the rest of their lives. Instead, Radcliffe has proven that he’s as serious about his career as an actor as Harry Potter fans are about their favorite magician. He followed up Potter by taking on a number of unconventional roles on screen and stage. Some of these included playing Allan Ginsberg in Kill Your Darlings, a fairly angry and evil person in Horns, and even doing a cameo as “The Dogwalker” in Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck last year.
That brings us to Swiss Army Man, the first feature from the directing collaborative known as Daniels, a movie which was cleverly dubbed “the Daniel Radcliffe farting corpse movie” when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. It’s a fairly accurate description, because Radcliffe plays Manny, a corpse that washes ashore on the island where Paul Dano’s Hank is stranded all alone. When Hank realizes how useful Manny is in helping him get home, the two of them form an unconventional friendship where they can learn from each other.
At the same time, Radcliffe is currently in rehearsals for a new play at New York’s Public Theater about the internet, Privacy (a somewhat ironic title, since Radcliffe is famous for his avoidance of social media) which opens next month.
Den of Geek sat down with Radcliffe at the offices of A24, the film’s distributor, for the following interview:
Den of Geek: I wasn’t aware of Daniels, the directors, before seeing Swiss Army Man the first time, and I probably was in the minority in that.
Daniel Radcliffe: Oh no. I didn’t before I started researching them for this.
For some reason, I thought that both you and Paul knew of their work before doing this.
No, Paul was very familiar with their stuff. I was less so. I looked it up after we started working on it, but just like, loved it immediately. I was like, “Oh, these guys are amazing.” Yeah, they are, as I’m sure you’ve found. They’re incredibly fun and they’re exactly the kind of people that you’re like, “Oh yeah, you would make this movie.”
After talking to them and watching their videos, I saw the movie again and I was like, “Oh yeah, I sort of get what they’re doing,” because when you watch Swiss Army Man the first time, you’re getting so…
Exactly, bombarded, but then you watch it again and you’re like, “This is pretty amazing.”
That’s why I feel like… Were you at the first screening?
I was at the very first one at Sundance, yeah.
So that was amazing, like that Q ‘n’ A, I don’t know if you remember that. It was a super fucking awkward Q ‘n’ A. It was nuts because we got up on stage and when you first see that film, it’s a kind of sensory visual overload. There’s so much going on you just need time, especially if you didn’t know what to expect going in.
We had the final shot of the movie, credits roll… We started late, so they cut the credits really early and we were just suddenly saying, “Hey guys, what’d you think? Any questions?” It was a room full of people who were sort of stunned.
Then all the hands go up.
No, no hands. It was a lot of people going like (makes a blank stare) … or occasionally a hand would just be like, “What was that?” Everyone was just in stunned silence in a rather wonderful way.
After seeing the movie and some of the Daniels’ other stuff, I feel like in the theatrical roll out, they should have some of their videos shown as shorts before the movie, so you can watch them and then go, “Okay, now let’s see their first feature.”
Yeah, that’d be cool. You’re right, actually. I mean, that would be really, really cool. I do feel like you could probably do a Daniels day of music videos at a cinema and it would be really fun, yeah.
What was your reaction when you first read the script?
I got the script and I read it and I loved it and it was really that simple. I think everyone asked me that and I always get the sense that everyone’s like, “Hey, it must’ve just been so weird. Were you freaking out?” And it’s always just like, “No.”
It read really, really funny. It read like a really funny, bizarre kind of buddy movie, where one of the buddies is just dead. The only thing that I wasn’t sure, I was like, “Okay, I know this movie can be funny, I’m pretty sure it can be moving as well, and bizarrely, can it be as epic as they want it to be?” It is. T
hat’s what I was amazed that they were able to pull off a combination of how they shot it and the music just creates something really fucking majestic as well, which it doesn’t feel like you should be able to do in a film about a farting corpse. To hold all those completely insane images in the same world as the more profound and sort of sublime moments of the film, that’s crazy that that works.
I was thinking maybe you’d read a section of the script and be like, “How are they going to do this?”
Oh yeah. I mean, I would think that a lot. I would think, “How are we going to do this?” a lot, but I would always assume that, “Ah, they’ve got it. They must know, otherwise they wouldn’t be making it.” And they had, in fact, by that point, I feel like they’d tested out a lot of this stuff with Dan Kwan playing Manny.
Did you see any of those videos?
I didn’t see any of the videos, but I saw them doing it on set. They would occasionally, in order to show us exactly how they wanted something to be, Dan would get on the other Dan’s back and they’d show us. Pretty much every day I got to set being like, “How is this going to work?” but every day, they would come up with some amazing solution.
When you consider that we shot the film in 23 days, and it’s an action movie. Coming from Potter, I sort of had the reaction to go, “Okay, I know how we’d do this if we had $200 million to spare, but how are we going to do it?” They are just super-creative and brilliantly resourceful and actually, to be honest, are better technically than most directors I’ve worked with. They have a better understanding of the technical side of the film industry and not just cameras, but like visual effects, than most directors that I’ve worked with, to be honest.
Did you have a lot of prosthetics or things like that you had to deal with?
No, I didn’t. I didn’t have much. I mean, I was sort of painted every day to, quote Procol Harum, “to turn a whiter shade of pale,” but then our hair and makeup designer was fantastic. He would add a little bit of veins and just make me look a little bit deader than I naturally do. But no prosthetics, really, because I can do this thing with my eye, where I can make just the top lid go down. So as soon as I said to the Daniels, when I was like, “Is that useful at all? Can you use that?” They were like, “Yes, that’s very good. We’re going to keep that in the movie.”
I assumed they used tape or something to make your eye do that.
Yeah, there was a lot of what I was doing in preparation for the film, but it happened remotely, so I’d send the Daniels video of me making weird fucking faces in the mirror or me trying a weird voice or me trying to crawl across the floor of my apartment. Then just email them and be like, “Is any of this good? Is any of this what you’re looking for?” They’d email back and be like, “Yes, this, this, not that, but this.” So that’s sort of how we worked ahead of time.
I was still freaking out, to be honest. I was like, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” I’d read a line of the script that said, “Manny looks embarrassed,” and I’d be like, “How? I can’t talk. I can’t move my face. I can’t move my body. How am I looking embarrassed?”
It was just about when you get there on set and you’re with Paul and the Daniels and you just find like a physical language to show embarrassment. If you can only be in one position for the whole scene and that position has to show embarrassment, what’s a funny way of doing that? So yeah, it was fun.
But you didn’t do a lot of rehearsals somewhere with Paul?
No, we had like three days probably before we started shooting, which is often more than you get on some jobs. Then we’d also get together once a week at the weekend and sort of go through whatever like the biggest physical stuff coming up of the week was. We’d rehearse in the Daniels’ garden, basically, at the weekend, and we’d just go through some of the biggest stuff so that we weren’t doing that for the first time on set.
Did you know Paul beforehand, because I know you’ve worked with Zoe before in What If?
A little bit, yeah. I worked with Zoe and also my girlfriend Erin (Darke) has worked with Paul on Love and Mercy. So there’s this bizarre, weird—the only combination of me and Paul and Zoe and Erin that haven’t kissed yet are Zoe and Erin, because even me and Paul have kissed in this movie now, so it’s a very incestuous little couple.
Did you have a chance to spend a lot of time with him before or not really? I feel like this is an intimate movie.
Yeah, I think he was on set of What If a little bit–he came out just for a bit, and was really, really nice–but yeah, we got to know each other very well on this. But I think it’s also there’s sort of that thing by association of like Zoe was super cool and I loved working with her and I was like, “I can’t imagine that Paul would be any different than that.” Just by association you go, “Oh, you would be going out with a cool person as well.”
Yeah, but she didn’t carry you around on her back.
No, thank God. I’m not a heavy person, but Zoe Kazan is a teeny tiny person and I think I would’ve given her back problems.
But yeah, Paul was a trooper, man, he really is. He is one of the toughest actors I’ve ever worked with. I’m normally the person on set who’s the most willing to throw myself into something and I’m used to being the one that’s like, “Fuck yeah, I’ll do that! Come on, let me have a go!” But Paul is equal to that and in excess of it in every way.
There were times when I was saying to him, “Are you sure you don’t want the dummy, dude? Because I know it’s only 30, 40 pounds’ difference, but that’s a difference. Are you sure you don’t want the dummy?” He was like, “No, I want the real thing.” So I’d jump up on him and he’d carry me around. He really did carry me around for lots of this film.
I feel he has a similar sensibility as you where you came off of Potter and started looking for interesting roles to do, like in Horns. I think Paul did the same thing, because at one point, he could have been doing studio movies, and he decided, “I’m going to do some interesting indie films instead.”
I think it’s what we both respond to the most. Paul is maybe the most passionate person about film I’ve ever met and the most well-versed. I mean, his knowledge of cinema of all types is way in excess of mine and it’s even in excess of the Daniels, and they know film. But Paul would name shit that they’re like, “What’s that?”
So he’s a fantastic professional, he’s a fantastic actor. He’s a lovely human being. Yeah, it was exactly the kind of person you would want to be stuck in the woods with for four weeks. This would’ve been a very different film had the actors playing these two characters not got on, but fortunately, yeah.
I think we knew from early doors we were like, “Oh, we’re going to be getting physically very close on this film.” There’s a scene on the first day, I think we shot, where he is using my teeth to shave. It’s a very quick shot. But he’s dragging my face down (his). That was the one Manny power that I suggested for the film, was I thought he should be able to use me to shave. So I brought that on myself.
What was the environment like? That’s also an interesting thing. You’re not at a studio with woods being created on a soundstage as you normally would do it. You’re literally in the woods.
We’re in the fucking woods, yeah. We were in the woods. The art department on this film was one of the most impressive art departments that I’ve ever been around. They constructed the bus from stuff they found in the woods. Like most of the sets we have on this film, they weren’t made in a studio and shipped out, they were made from stuff they found in the woods.
There’s that much trash in the woods where you shot?
We took a lot of our own trash with us and I’m sure made some, but yeah, it was just amazing. The levels of creativity from all departments on this film, it was really special. It was a special film to be in the middle of, also because everybody loves working with the Daniels so much.
Well, they’ve all worked with them before, including a lot of the stunt people.
They’ve all worked with them before. There’s no hierarchy. Both of our stunt team worked with them before, but one of them–just to give you an idea of how amazing they are to work with–Tim, he plays Preston, Sarah’s husband at the end of the movie in the film, and he was also Paul’s stunt double for a lot of the movie. He had been working on some big Matt Damon movie—he might have been in “Bourne.” He just dropped everything. He said, “If I know the Daniels are shooting something, I drop everything and I come and work with them because it’s the most fun that I ever have.”
And then he’s throwing himself down a mountain over and over again.
Yeah, and then that’s what we made him do, yeah, exactly. But that’s stuntmen. You have to be slightly mad to be a stuntman, in a great way.
I know you’re doing a new play called Privacy pretty soon and it’s an original thing because the theater you’ve done previously…This is the first one, and it’s a really interesting idea.
Yeah, it’s fascinating. It’s going to be really interesting. We are rehearsing at the moment. I’m in a place of sort of pure terror in that I’m doing this today, but I feel like I should be at home learning my lines just because it’s being rewritten a lot, because it’s about technology so there’s no point doing a show about tech if you’re not going to be the most up to date version of that that you can.
Also Rachel Dratch is in the show with you.
Yeah, she’s amazing.
I don’t think I’ve ever thought of her as a dramatic theater actor.
Well, it’s very funny as well. The play’s very funny, and she’s really funny. She’s one of those people that she’ll do something and I can tell that she’s just fucking around, playing with ideas and not even trying to be that funny. You’re like, “You’re so funny. You’re so funny,” without even trying to be, you can make any line.
There was a line that was definitely a joke in the script. I’ll turn around to her and just be like, “Hey, Rachel, if you were doing that, how would you make that funny because I’m definitely failing to make it funny at the moment. Can you help me?” Yeah, she’s great.
But yeah, they all are. I mean, Reg Rogers, Michael Countryman, De’Adre Aziza, Raffi Barsounian, it’s a fantastic company, and Josie and James–James Graham’s the writer, Josie Rourke is the director–are two of the most articulate and intelligent people I’ve ever worked with. I think we could be making a very entertaining play about some really heavy issues. So it’s very rare as an actor you get a chance to be in something that you think of could possibly be important.
I think this play has the potential of being important to the people that see it in terms of it could affect how you behave and how much you protect yourself online.
The ads on the website suggests that the audience leave their phones on, too.
Oh yes, we kind of get people to play along. That’s the idea. There’s a few sort of games we play with people that we want people to be able to be a part of with their phones. We ask you to take a poll and email stuff to us, so yeah, it’s pretty interactive.
You have a bunch of movies you shot already. You’re taking a month off now from making movies to do the play, so do you have any idea when some of the movies you’ve shot might be seen?
No, there’s this one and there’s Imperium, which I think is coming out in August. I don’t know what the release is. I don’t know exactly what’s happening with the release of that.
I guess some of these might be at Toronto like the Brooklyn Bridge movie… did you shoot that already?
Oh no, I don’t know if that’s shooting.
I thought you finished that already, because I thought you were about to shoot it when we spoke previously.
No, God, no. That’s just one of those… I was attached to it for six years and it’s just been trying to make it happen. But there was that and then I shot a movie called Jungle, which I think they’re talking about maybe going to Sundance next year, I think is what they want for it, but who knows where it’ll end up, if it’ll be ready by then? But yeah, we’ll see.
Do you generally have to keep those couple of weeks in September and January off for those festivals?
It’s more like I just make plans there and then they get fucked up. (laughs) But that’s fine. If Sundance is what’s screwing up your holiday plans, then that’s a good reason to have them screwed up.
It’s great seeing you again and congratulations on the movie.
Thank you. Good to see you as well.
I’m just amazed by the marketing they’re doing.
They’re not hiding it. They’re not trying to make it something it’s not and people are going crazy for it.
Dude, we are all so happy. Everybody who made the movie had the same vision… I’m just in love with this company and what they’re doing for it, so it’s very exciting.
I didn’t realize that everyone here is really young. That’s probably why.
Well, yeah. I mean, I don’t know that youth is a guarantee of success, but certainly, because I’ve had films in the past, like What If was an example of a film that I think the people that bought it saw something they liked in it that was totally different from all the people that made it liked. If you look at the trailer for that movie, it’s like a very conventional rom-com thing, whereas with this, you’re like, “Oh, they liked this for the same reason that we like it,” which you can tell in the marketing.
Swiss Army Man opens in select cities on Friday, June 24 and expands nationwide on Friday, July 1.