Daniel Radcliffe: a study in versatility?

Seems like someone up there was really doing his best to permanently cast Daniel Radcliffe, him of Hogwarts fame, in the role of cute and misunderstood child. Although the actor only hit it bigtime when J.K. Rowling decided to allow Harry Potter to be taken to the big screen, Radcliffe’s acting debut happened much earlier and, like the very first instalment in the H.P. saga (hands up all those who thought sauce as opposed to sorcery when I mentioned H.P. – thought not) also featured a tiny boy with wide, unhappy eyes. In typical Dickensian tradition, the tale saw Radcliffe’s title character of David Copperfield plunged into poverty and a highly miserable childhood after his mother re-marries an unscrupulous businessman. The BBC production was aired in two instalments, gathering a decent reception and a healthy curiosity about the little boy with the wide eyes.

Some years later Daniel was cast in another minor role in what was to become a massive block-buster: The Tailor of Panama. Naturally, few people associate this movie with the young actor: the John le Carré adaptation was, after all, considered as a vehicle for heavyweight Pierce Brosnan. Still, the bit part of Mark Pendel did gain Radcliffe sufficient attention from the right quarters. That same year the young actor was cast in the role of Harry Potter in the first instalment of the series, Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone. For many cinema-goers this was considered Radcliffe’s debut. Few people outside the UK would have been familiar with the previous BBC production and fewer still would have picked up his name alongside Brosnan’s in his first feature-length movie.

This relative anonymity is likely to have contributed to the casting director’s choice for the Harry Potter series. After all, director Chris Colombus was after a face with a clean slate. A face who, in the fickle land of Hollywood, had the potential of becoming synonymous with the character of Harry Potter himself even in real life. This would certainly not have been possible had another actor who had already enjoyed a significant part in a previous movie, and who would have had audiences and critics associating him with that previous role, been chosen.

Thus Radcliffe morphed into Potter for exactly a whole decade, until late last year, the series wound up with a massive finale that contributed even more to the Potter-fever that seemed to have enslaved all teens throughout these past ten years. For Radcliffe and his co-stars it was really the end of an era. The question begged itself: would the actor, who was still in his prime after all, manage to successfully cast off his wizard’s robes in favour of more well-rounded and adult roles? Hollywood is well-known for unceremoniously throwing actors who have been too strongly type-cast aside without a second thought. And there was also another point to consider: the prognosis for child actors is rarely positive. By the time they reach adulthood, most are either already too fed up of the whole scene or else have completely gone off the rails. Would Radcliffe fall into one of these categories or would he go on to do great things, things that are not necessarily the sole province of young adults with a hunger for magic and fantasy? This was the question on Hollywood’s lips throughout most of 2011.

However, defying the odds, Radcliffe seems to be well on his way to forgetting that he was ever a wizard as he has already taken on the main role in Woman in Black, which is set to be released in Malta shortly. How did the actor manage this, while the other two co-stars in the Harry Potter series seem to be making do with a lot less (Emma Watson recently took on the secondary part of Lucy in Marilyn and I while Rupert Gint will be taking one of the main roles in Into The White, which is being directed by the lesser known Petter Næss).

The secret appears to be the crafty way in which Radcliffe fulfilled his exclusivity obligations for the Harry Potter set while taking on other roles in productions that stayed away from attracting the attention of Hollywood while still being considered assets to an actor’s CV. In fact as early as 2007 Radcliffe had already taken up roles in the film December Boys, an Australian family drama about four orphans that was shot in 2005. Also in 2007 he co-starred with Carey Mulligan in My Boy Jack, a television drama film shown on ITV on Remembrance Day. Both roles earned him the critics’ praise without detracting from the role for which he had become famous and which he was still fulfilling on the big screen.

However, the one that really put him on the ‘anti-Potter’ map was his portrayal of the lead role in the stage production of Equus. Although a massive gamble on Radcliffe’s part, Peter Shaffer’s Equus had a lot of positives going for it. To start off with, it removed Radcliff from the exclusive province of Hollywood, proving that he could do “real” stage acting. There was already a lot of hype surrounding the production, both because it had not been run for the best part of four decades and also because no-one really expected the cherubic wizard to be cast in this dark role. The fact that the play included a scene where Radcliffe appears fully nude also added to the excitement. Both Hollywood and the West End were rife with speculation. Would Radcliffe be fired from the Potter role?

However, the young actor’s portrayal attracted nothing but rave reviews from critics world-wide. Advance sales topped £1.7 million. The gamble paid off, showing everyone that Radcliffe was no longer a child actor. That he was not doomed to be Harry Potter forever. And that his talents extended to far beyond Hollywood. All this while his co-stars were too busy enjoying the hiatus in between the Hogwarts movies.

And now, with the latter firmly behind him, a host of opportunities have opened up for the young actor who seems set to defy all stereotypes by moving straight from successful but dated child actor onto the big leagues in Hollywood. But before that, Radcliffe thought it wise to carry out another foray on the stage, this time in Broadway musical How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. The original production had opened on Broadway in 1961 at the 46th Street Theatre and continued running until 1965, nothing 1,417 performances. Radcliffe starred in the revival for ten months and the production was nominated for nine 2011 Tony Awards, including for director-choreographer Rob Ashford as Best Revival of a Musical. John Larroquette won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. Although Radcliffe’s role gathered no awards, the strength of the production alone was enough to extend the actor’s goodwill to Broadway.

And now, finally, comes Radcliffe’s first attempt at non-typecast acting in a lead role, with this month’s release of The Woman in Black, adapted from the 1983 novel by Susan Hill. The film was released on February 3 in the United States and Canada and is set for a March release locally. Rather wisely, this first post-potter role is as far removed from wizardly and frivolous matters as possible.
Radcliffe portrays a man who has to take care of some legal matters on behalf of a mysterious woman who has just died. The psychological drama starts when he begins to experience strange events and hauntings from the ghost of a woman dressed in bla

As reviews of his role have generally been positive, Radcliffe told the press:
“For many people, this will be a test of my skills and will help me break off from the childlike image of mine. I am playing older than my age and have worked on my looks as well. It was a huge transition indeed. I feel like I’ve landed on my feet with this being the first thing after Harry Potter.”

Radcliffe has no intention of taking it easy even now. The actor will soon star in the indie comedy The Amateur Photographer, a film adaptation of the book of the same name, directed by Christopher Monger. Monger, who also wrote the screenplay and the novel that the film is based on, is best known for scripting HBO’s Temple Grandin, which is also the recipient of numerous TV awards. If his track record is anything to go by, Monger has just handed Radcliffe another golden egg laying goose. However, the production will be a marked departure from Radcliffe’s previous undertakings, which have always been of the mainstream and the blockbuster variety. Monger’s movie will be an indie effort.

As for the plot, The Amateur Photographer follows a young man who discovers his passion for photography after the citizens of a sleepy New England mill town ask him to photograph their most intimate moments. Set in 1970, it can also be described as another “period piece” for the actor, who had to cultivate 19th century mannerisms and colloquialisms to portray his character in The Woman In Black. The movie is currently in pre-production.

This post appeared on The TV Guide (Times of Malta).