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He just turned 25. So there’s no calling Daniel Radcliffe “kid” any more.
But there is something of the “kid in a candy store” to his wide-ranging choice of roles in the short time since he hung up Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak.
He played a lawyer contending with a vengeful ghost in The Woman in Black, gay poet Allen Ginsburg during his formative college years in Kill Your Darlings, and paired up with Jon Hamm for the short TV series about physicians in Revolutionary Russia in A Young Doctor’s Notebook.
Every so often, he devotes a few months to the theater, most recently starring as The Cripple of Inishmaan.
“Kid in a candy store — that’s pretty much how I’m looking at it,” he says with a chuckle. “I’m ...kind of trying a little bit of everything. Playing one part for a long time builds up in you a desire to play lots of different roles, see what you’re like, what you might be good at.”
So he donned Horns to play a young man who grows horns after his girlfriend’s mysterious death, a film due out this fall. And he took on his first-ever romantic comedy leading man role, in What If, starring opposite Zoe Kazan, now in theaters.
“I’m still finding out who I am as an actor, what I like doing and what I’m best at,” Radcliffe says. “That’s how I have the most fun, facing the unexpected every time out. If I have the chance, at this stage in my career, I’m going to do the widest variety of roles.”
He has that “chance,” that freedom of choice, because he was in “the most commercially successful film franchise of all time.” There’s no pressure to find another film franchise, or even to star in another blockbuster.
“I’m never going to get that level again, for starters,” Radcliffe says. “But financially, I only have to do things that I’m passionate about. I don’t have to do stuff I’m not interested in just to make a living. For as long as I’m in this position, that’s what I intend to do.”
Estimates of his vast Harry Potter earnings vary widely, but suffice it to say he doesn’t sweat the Monday morning box office figures. If a Woman in Black hits and a Kill Your Darlings doesn’t, it was the interesting work that mattered to Radcliffe.
What If began life as a script titled “The F-Word,” as in “friend,” as in a young man who meets young woman he clicks with (Kazan) only to discover she’s in a long-term, committed relationship. She values his company, but he’s smitten and condemned to “the friend zone.”
“It’s an odd term, a very modern term — ‘the Friend Zone,’ he says. “In a way, being in a relationship with somebody who is your best friend is kind of the ideal. You want that person you fall in love with and marry to be your best friend.
“But if somebody says, ‘That girl put me in ‘The Friend Zone,’ it implies that the only attraction you have for that person is sexual. I don’t think all men are like that. To be honest, we’re not all that shallow.”
So, decades of living with that When Harry Met Sally rule, “Men and women can’t be friends,” was a mistake?
“I just don’t believe that’s the case any more. But the movie’s more about ‘Is it ever right to maintain a relationship that’s a denial of your own feelings?’ My character meets this girl, finds out she has a boyfriend and instead of going, ‘I’ll just move on with my life,’ he chooses to torture himself by being around her because she makes him so happy he can’t not spend time with her.”
Critics have been enthusiastic about Radcliffe and Kazan’s obvious chemistry, their way with witty/flirtatious banter. Peter Rainer of The Christian Science Monitor praised their “nerds-in-clover rapport,” and even though she found What If “too cute for its own good,” The Village Voice’s Stephanie Zacharek said “it’s so enjoyable from moment to moment that it’s easy to forgive.”
One thing the Michael Dowse film uses, to great effect, is a sight gag. The 5-foot-5 Radcliffe and 5-4 Kazan are forever being paired up with Adam Driver (6-3), as Radcliffe’s character’s best friend, and Rafe Spall (6-1) as Kazan’s character’s live-in beau.
“I didn’t care,” Radcliffe says, declaring he’s not touchy about playing a sight-gag. “I have met tall people before. The shot of me and Adam walking down the street, it takes a special lens to keep us both in the frame.”
But ask him who he looks to as a career role model and there’s no hesitation. It’s one of his Horns co-stars, a man of similar stature.
“As I neared the end of Potter, I started paying a lot of attention to what James McAvoy was doing. He’s having an extraordinary career and it’s still only just getting started. He’s done it his own way.”