For Esquire Magazine, March 2012
The Amazing Boring Life of Daniel Radcliffe
He's 22. He's worth close to 50 million pounds. He's among the most recognisable film stars in the world. On a stroll through Manhattan's West Village, Britain's most unassuming household name reflects on quitting drink, finally finding a woman of his own age, coming to terms with his great wealth and why he still rolls his own.
“Mate, I’m gagging for a smoke.” At the back corner table of the Hudson Inn, in the West Village of Manhattan, Daniel Radcliffe pulls a packet of Golden Virginia from the pocket of his black parkha and starts rolling up. “I have to ship this in from home,” he says. “Because you can’t get good rolling tobacco here. It’s all dry and crappy like you’ve emptied out a cigarette.”
It’s about three in the afternoon and the place is empty but for lunch stragglers—a bustling American diner easing into its siesta. Lunch with England’s highest earning actor could so easily have meant a bijou bistro with a drizzle of jus, but instead he picked the greasy spoon with the plastic menus and a breakfast special. This is Radcliffe—parkhas, roll-ups and ketchup on the table.
It’s singing that brought him here in the first place—the former Harry Potter is now the lead in an old-fashioned Broadway musical called How to Succeed In Business Without Trying. If you didn’t know that Radcliffe could sing and dance, then well, that’s probably the point. Since the end of the Age of Potter, he’s been doing everything he can to change his image from that of an earnest schoolboy with a wand. A case in point, the newly released horror movie The Woman In Black, in which he sports stubble and period sideburns.
“At least with roll-ups you can keep tabs on what you put in, so I don’t have to have a big fat cigarette every time. But that’s just the way addicts rationalize - oh this is much better for me!”
This is probably the biggest dent in his Potterness, to date. The fresh-faced, clear-skinned, sprightly young actor before me actually knows something about addiction. Earlier this year, he admitted to having a drinking problem and quit the stuff outright. Lately he’s also decided to cut back on caffeine after developing a bit of a Red Bull habit: “I was drinking three 16oz cans a day!"
He doesn’t need the Red Bull, that’s for sure. He comes naturally caffeinated - fully animated and forever tumbling forwards with the next thought in his breathless Hogwarts accent. This lack of rolling tobacco, for instance, has already sparked off a list of other things that bother him about living in America: the patriotism, the national anthem at football games, those homophobic right wingers…
“And they also pronounce things like the French,” he says. “They say filet instead of fillet. What’s that about? And ‘erb. They leave off the h. If it was one person saying it, it’d be…”
“Right! But when it’s the whole fucking nation… Oh God. There’s your headline: Americans Are Pretentious. That’s going to look just great!”
He pops the roll-up in his mouth and nods towards the door. “Shall we?”
We’ve mulled a few possible headlines for this story already. So far, the one he likes best is, “The Amazing Boring Life of Daniel Radcliffe.” He’s doing that celebrity thing of pretending that his extraordinary life is actually quite humdrum. I’m not buying it.
After all, this is a guy who has spent a decade—over half his life—as the star of the most successful film franchise in history, one that has generated over $20 billion dollars, equivalent to the annual GDPs of Iceland and Madagascar put together. He’s known from Kuala Lumpur to the Outer Hebrides and back again. At the age of 22, he’s worth at least 22 times his weight in gold. And the role that did it, the only role he’s known for really, has now come to an end, leaving him in the most curious position—sitting atop a mountain of money, at the cusp of adulthood, with the world’s eyes upon him, grappling as best he can with what has happened to him, who he has become and what on earth he’s supposed to do next. And he’s on his own. There’s no precedent for this, no rule-book - no other child star can relate to what Radcliffe has gone through.
‘Boring’ doesn’t come into it.
Even popping out for a smoke is a ‘thing’. We’re meant to walk down to his apartment by the river, about ten minutes tops, but when you’re Daniel Radcliffe, these things must be scheduled, handlers must be consulted. In this case, that means his Shrek-like security detail named Spase (pronounced Spas-ay) who also works for the Olsen twins—clearly an expert in protecting diminutive gazillionaires in the West Village. Spase agreed that on this Thursday afternoon, the the chances of a mobbing were minimal, and Radcliffe was free to go.
“We’ll be fine,” he says, as we head out. It’s a crisp winter’s day in New York, bright and breezy. And sure enough, there’s hardly a soul out, but for a few determined joggers. “I’m 5 foot 5 so no one gives me a second glance. And New Yorkers are quite blasé about celebrities, anyway.”
Nevertheless, he pulls his hood up. He’s been noticed before, he has felt that twinge of anxiety as the people quickly surround you, sealing off all exits. And while Harry Potter crowds don’t tend to pass out at his feet or attempt to undress him—he’s not Robert Pattinson—there are some nutters out there.
“I recently had this woman who wrote to me a couple of times, offering sex,” he says. “She didn’t say it explicitly, but she said, this is my hotel room number, I will be sitting in row C, seat 26 and wearing a red scarf. The craziest one though was when I was twelve and I just got photos of me from a few premieres, with an arrow pointing to my crotch. The guy had just written, “do you have an erection here?” and “did you have a boner here?” again and again.”
Well, did you?
“I was 12, so probably, yes! I think I had one constantly at that age. I didn’t skip a day.”
I’m seeing another headline, something about a wand.
“Oh God. Let’s keep thinking.”
There’s something fearless about Radcliffe. The “brave schoolboy” nature of Potter appears to have rubbed off on him. While his co-stars Rupert Grint and Emma Watson have responded to the end of the Potter era, by taking the traditional paths through movies and endorsements and college, Radcliffe has opted for projects that are frankly terrifying.
It takes some stones to get your stones out on stage, for instance. And yet in 2007, he performed naked in the play, Equus, prompting the expected sniggering of “Harry Gets His Wand Out”. Once the titters had subsided, however, his performance was highly praised in both London and New York, and he still regards it as “the most fulfilled I’ve ever been as an actor”.
A couple of movies followed, December Boys and My Boy Jack - decent, but unremarkable. And then he did it again: He became a song-and-dance man on Broadway, belting out two and a half hours of high energy camp every night, a job he describes as “much scarier than getting your kit off.” It’s not as though he’s a natural dancer—he suffers from mild dyspraxia, which affects his coordination. But Radcliffe put the hours in, a full year of training, and it paid off. “I got nominated for a fucking Astaire Award,” he says. “To me, that’s ridiculous.”
He’s a trooper. He gets stuck in. He’s the type of Englishman who rolls his sleeves up and gives things a bloody good try, and he’s not too fussed about what people think. “I’m trying to challenge myself,” he says. “If there’s not a certain amount of fear—a voice saying ‘you can’t do that’—then I don’t have anything to push against.”
In fact, the only thing that bothers him, it seems, is the shadow of Potter. In The Woman In Black he plays a young lawyer sent to deal with a vengeful ghost that is driving the children of the village to suicide. And he’s perfectly convincing in the part. But at one point, he’s called upon to put the spirit of a dead boy at rest, and he has to wade into a bog, up to his eyeballs, to pull out the corpse and give it a proper burial. The symbolism is irresistible. The boy may as well have had spectacles and a wand. And like a classic horror coda, the haunting continues.
“There’s all these articles about the film saying, ‘still dealing with ghosts, I see…’,” he says, clearly annoyed. “And you just think, ‘Christ you’re fucking lazy!’ Saying that the ghosts in Potter are like the ghosts in Woman in Black is like saying by doing Perks of Being A Wallflower Emma’s still just playing a teenage girl. ‘Still doing that gender thing, I see…’”
It sounds daft to talk about the pressures that bazillionaire Daniel Radcliffe is under, but from his lofty vantage point, he faces a steep drop, one way or the other, and there’s only a limited window in which he can cushion his fall—he has a couple of years, by his own estimation, to prove himself in non-Potter roles.
“Just because I worked for ten years doesn’t mean that I’m ten years ahead,” he says. “I’m probably no better or worse than the average actor coming out of drama school at this point.”
You don’t find this kind of humility in actors of his standing, but then Radcliffe isn’t your usual celebrity. He didn’t arrive at his success by the normal passage of hard knocks and so forth—it was thrust upon him. So he now wears it in a very English, self-effacing manner. It has become customary for journalists to note how well he turned out, as child stars go. According to the traditional calculus he ought to be falling out of taxis with a hundred dollar bill shoved up his nose. Either that or getting his tits out for Playboy. But Radcliffe defies all child star cliches - he’s modest, unspoiled and appears to have no demons whatsoever. In fact he’s so self-possessed that when chat shows send him the questions in advance - as they do with all their guests - Radcliffe refuses. “What’s the point?” he says. “I’d rather go in fresh and just answer whatever questions naturally.”
If he proves anything, it’s that film sets are excellent places to grow up, and megastardom through one’s formative years is what every child needs.
“I get why people go crazy,” he says. “On Potter, we were treated very much like kids and then teenagers. But there’s a tendency in America to treat young actors like they’re adults and kowtow to them. And if you’re around older people all day who are talking about how they’re going to get fucked up at the weekend or whatever, then you want to be a part of that. You can’t just go to bed early like a child. You become obsessed with the idea that people expect you to act a certain way and if you don’t, you’re not living your life to the fullest.”
It’s this idea of living up to the expectations of others that prompted Radcliffe to suddenly give up drinking in August of 2010. “I woke up one morning, in my flat in Fulham, after not knowing what I’d done for the last 8 hours,” he says. “That was what happened when I drank. I blacked out. And I realized that I wasn’t enjoying myself.
When he announced his drink problem, it came as a surprise to most everyone around him. Neither Christoper Columbus (the director of the first two Potter movies), nor David Yates (the director of the last four), had noticed that he was in trouble.
“I never drank on set,” he says. “I was always too scared of being caught. But when I got home, I’d start. Then I’d get bored and go out, and by that point, I was one drink away from blacking out.”
It all started when he moved out of home at 17 into his own place in Fulham, not far from his parents. It’s a young age to be independent. And of course, he loved it at first. “I had a huge amount of fun at my local pub. It was fantastic. But after about three or four drinks, I become a nuisance. I become the person in the group that has to be looked after. The chaos takes over, basically, and those places that used to be fun are suddenly tainted by my prior behavior there.”
After four years of this, he realized that he was chasing the wrong thing. “It was all in pursuit of that idea of “this is what young actors do”,” he says. “I’d seen this process make my other friends happy, so why shouldn’t it work for me? So I tried and tried to be successful at it. But drinking just doesn’t work for me. And I never really liked the taste of alcohol anyway. So it was a profound realization. I learned a lot about just accepting myself. I don’t have to pursue someone else’s idea of happiness.”
As we wend through the Village down to the water, he points out a few local spots on the way. Christopher Street is “where you get your porn and smoke shops.” That dog park across the intersection? “Hugh Jackman goes there.” And a little further down, they teach trapeze. “I watch them swinging and catching from my window,” he says. “Look, that’s where I live, up there.”
“I still go - it’s you! I can’t help it. But there’s this weird thing sometimes between celebrities who don’t know each other. You have a shared experience of something, so there’s a kind of obligation to say hello. I was in a coffee shop once and Jack Black came in and sat down and we did a ‘hey mate’. It was so weird, I’ve never even met the guy.”
Part of the shared experience of celebrities is of course, the fact that they’re all minted—Radcliffe more than most. He’s said to be richer than Prince William, and the proud owner of three properties in Manhattan in addition to one in Fulham. According to industry figures, he made roughly $25 million for each of the last three Harry Potter films. I have to ask him. It’s impertinent, but I can’t resist.
“I have no idea how much money I’ve got,” he says with a shrug. “My mom and my accountant handle it.” Most of Radcliffe’s affairs are handled by his parents. His dad’s effectively his manager. “People ask me, “what’s it like?” but I don’t know. I don’t do anything with it. Do I deserve it? Fuck no! No actor does. But at the same time, you wouldn’t turn it down would you?”
But that’s about it. No bling, no McMansion. “I might get a ridiculous car when I pass my test,” he says. “But I doubt it.”
The mention of money seems to have bothered him. He bites his lower lip, and looks up at the sky. “It’s also slightly overwhelming,” he says. “I mean any right minded person with that kind of money would give a lot away. I don’t like to think about it because it makes me feel terribly guilty. Not because I did anything to anybody, but because I got so lucky, at 11, to be cast in this part, I’ve got an amazing career and an amazing job and every morning, someone else is waking up wondering if they’re going to eat that week. And that’s a horrible thought.”
Another burden of wealth is the way it can corrupt potential relationships. Is it hard to make friends when you’re richer than Croesus?
“No, you can buy ‘em!” he laughs. “Seriously, it’s fucking easy to tell if people are genuine or not. Sometimes they’re a bit too interested. If you take a step back and they pursue, then they’re probably just a little bit keen.”
Besides, he meets most of his friends through acting. School was never much fun for Radcliffe—there’s a certain amount of stick that comes with being Harry Potter. But film sets are another matter. He doesn’t much care for actors - “they’re just insufferable. The younger ones just talk shop and the older ones winge.” But there’s also the crew and others. “And they don’t see me as some big celebrity. They know me as the tit running around in glasses all day.”
He’s dating one of the Potter crew members now—Rosie Coker, a 22 year old production assistant, or “runner” as they call them in England. They met on the 6th Potter movie, but were both seeing other people at the time. Radcliffe was with the actress Laura O’Toole, who understudied on Equus. But after three years, they split up. “It was around the end of the 7th film and I started looking at Rosie and going ‘Jesus, I quite fancy you!’ So I plucked up the courage to ask her out on a date.”
A year and some change later, they’re still going strong. He’s not a flighty one, Radcliffe. When he commits, he commits. “I’m very much a serial monogamist,” he says. “I think my shortest relationship’s six months, and my longest was Laura. I’m not one of those people that can date loads of people at the same time, it’s all too complicated.”
Coker is the first girl that Radcliffe’s dated of his own age. O’Toole was four years older. And before that, when he was all of 16, he lost his virginity to a woman whom he only describes as “much older.” It sounds like every 16 year old’s fantasy. “Haha! Yeah, that was a good couple of years.”
We sit on a bench and look out at the river. The red tip of his roll-up glowing in the breeze as he watches the birds swoop and land, his eyes on fresh horizons. Come January 2012, his run on Broadway will end - he’ll be replaced by a Jonas brother - and then it’s “all about movies”. The slow erasure of the image of Potter. Like any other actor, he dreams of having a career like George Clooney or Johnny Depp, and he’d love to direct at some point, like his mentor Gary Oldman. “And I can’t wait to start auditioning,” he says. “I missed out on all that.”
Chances are though, he won’t be here in New York. He misses England. And without the musical, he’ll probably wind up back in Fulham before long. “It’s great here though,” he says. “You see some crazy stuff in this neighborhood. On that corner I saw two guys wearing speedos and backpacks asking for directions. And on that pier they do this aggressive tai chi at the weekends. I was out there late at night, and this guy was looking at me strangely. But it wasn’t like he recognized me. So I called my mate, he said, ‘Dan, you’re the only person on the pier at this hour who’s not looking for sex. You’ve just been cruised.”
I think finally we have our headline.
He tips his head back and laughs. “Perfect!"