Daniel Radcliffe on poetry, paparazzi and Kill Your Darlings

UNUSUALLY early for my interview with Daniel Radcliffe, I am making my way leisurely up the stairs at the BAFTA offices in Piccadilly, when a smartly dressed young man bounds up past me.

Daniel Radcliffe on poetry, paparazzi and Kill Your Darlings

By the time I reach the top, I see he has been surrounded in the lobby, and I realise he’s my target — the former Harry Potter, no less.

I’m preparing in the interview room minutes later when he appears. “Hi, I’m Dan,” he says, and I remember he prefers this moniker to the more formal ‘Daniel’. The lack of ego or arrogance belies the incredible career this West London lad, now only 23 and one of Britain’s wealthiest young men, has already enjoyed.

From his first major role in David Copperfield, at the age of nine, to his rise to global stardom in the Harry Potter movies, and a string of stunning reviews for almost everything since, he’s the man with the Midas touch.

He is hosting a Q&A for Bafta members after a screening of director John Krokidas’ first full-length feature, Kill Your Darlings, a dark murder-drama based around the colourful lives of Beat Generation poets and writers, like William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac.

Radcliffe plays Allen Ginsberg, the gay author of the epic 1955 poem Howl, which caused major controversy in the US due to its explicitly sexual content, at a time when homosexuality was still illegal.

“It’s incredible that was so recent,” says Radcliffe, referencing the fact that when he was growing up, with two parents in the entertainment industry (a literary agent and a casting director), there were always gay people in his circle.

But he’s quick to add that, judging by Russia today, in some countries, very little has changed.

As this is his first homosexual role, I wonder if he hesitated at all in opting for the part. “Being asked to play a gay man was no more a consideration than being asked to play, say, an American,” he tells me. And he rejects my assertion it would have been seen as ‘career suicide’ for a straight man to take on a gay role, had this been a decade earlier.

“I’m not sure that’s true. Look at Dirk Bogarde — he took on what was probably the first ever homosexual role portrayed in a film.” He’s referring to the 1961 movie Victim — which may have helped to relax attitudes, and even laws, regarding homosexuality in Britain at the time.

“In fact,” he adds, “I think it’s more difficult for gay actors to play straight roles.”

That may be, but there are still going to be a few eyebrows raised when the former Hogwarts wizard is seen in a passionate kiss with the talented Dane deHaan, who plays his lover Lucien Carr.

DeHaan will be known to fans of In Treatment as the very troubled gay teen Jesse, who thoroughly challenged Dr Paul Weston’s (Gabriel Byrne) patience.

The Kill Your Darlings cast also includes Michael C Hall (Dexter, Six Feet Under); Jack Huston (grandson of John); Ben Foster (X Men, 30 Days of Night); David Cross (Arrested Development, Modern Family); Jennifer Jason Leigh (Single White Female, The Hudsucker Proxy) and Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene).

Despite that impressive roll-call, Radcliffe still isn’t expecting any major reaction to what is closer to an art house movie than the blockbusters he is more usually associated with. “It’s not going to have the mass appeal of some other movies, but I still think the Beats can capture the imagination.”

He was always a fan of poetry, so the theme wasn’t totally alien to him. “I was very nerdy, yes,” he says, with a mischievous grin. “In fact, I was ashamedly enthusiastic about it. I loved the rhyme and metre.”

So, when this script was shown to him, he was very slow to let it slip through his hands. “Yes, I did want it. I thought it would give me a chance to show a range I wouldn’t have been able to show before – and the emotional arc of the character was very exciting.”

It is certainly one of his most challenging roles, but the uninitiated would be forgiven for thinking this was Radcliffe’s first foray into dark adult drama. In fact, he received some of the best reviews of his career for his depiction of Cripple Billy in Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan, in the West End during the summer – evidence, if any was needed, he had well and truly thrown off the shackles of being eternally a teenage wizard, and could be instead closer to entering the realm of ‘one of the best character actors of our time’.

Before The Cripple of Inishmaan, he was already familiar with McDonagh’s work, he says, through his films, In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, but it wasn’t until director Michael Grandage encouraged him to see The Cripple of Inishmaan, that he realised McDonagh’s true genius. “It was so incredibly funny, and yet heart-breaking. It was so simple, but had so many twists and turns.”

Radcliffe’s strong affection for Ireland is no surprise: his father is a Northern Ireland Protestant who emigrated years ago, not because of the Troubles, Radcliffe asserts — “really just because he wanted to go to drama school”.

During his childhood, the family spent a couple of weeks in the North every year, and Radcliffe has also worked on “three or four” films over here.

For a young man of 23, Radcliffe is incredibly self-assured, without a hint of cockiness. But he openly admits red carpet events freak him out.

“I feel quite intimidated by them still, all those people shouting your name, flashing cameras everywhere — it’s sensory overload.”

During The Cripple of Inishmaan, the paparazzi attention was particularly unsettling, he remembers. “Almost every other night I was followed home... They took pictures, and of course it was the end of the night, and I still had my make-up on, and I’m naturally pale .. and the stories were ‘he’s mentally and physically in decline, sparking concern for his health’. Of course, the only concern that was being sparked, was by the papers themselves.”

Having given up booze in 2010 (he sips on an iced Coke while we chat), while “cutting down — not out” cigarettes, he is now a confirmed gym regular, going most days for a workout.

“I never thought I’d enjoy it, but I actually do. I have a personal trainer shouting at me, and that helps.”

But back on the street, there’s no getting away from the fact that people all over the globe want to say hello to ‘Harry Potter’.

“I’m still recognised constantly — but that’s what makes me able to make films, so that’s okay. Some people are lovely and some people are obnoxious.

“Generally people are really nice and there is still a huge amount of affection for Harry.

“As long as people are polite, I don’t mind.”

* Kill Your Darlings will be screened tomorrow night at the Cork Opera House as part of the Cork Film Festival

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