You were 12 years old when the first Harry Potter film came out. At what point did you realize the role was going to follow you for the rest of your life?
It may have become clear to me only in the past few years. In your head, you imagine it will all go away once the series is over. When I was first going out to bars and pubs, I was trying to pretend I could have a normal existence. Then you realize that people know who you are, and when you’re in a bar they take out their camera phones. Eventually you accept that you have to adapt how you live.
The Potter series is over. Has the attention gone away?
It feels like I get recognized more now. Here’s what’s scary: If you were 14 when the first film came out, you’d now be almost in your 30s and could well have a child under 10 whom you’re now introducing to Harry Potter. We’re already getting the next generation. That’s just bizarre. It’s never going away.
Why hasn’t the appeal faded?
Because the stories are great! A huge part of our culture now is that if something becomes successful there’s a backlash. Harry Potter didn’t have that. There are people who don’t want to read it, but the number of people who actively dislike it is very low. The books are great, and they came along at the perfect moment, when there was a fear, because of the rise of computer games, that reading was going to become a thing of the past. When kids suddenly found these books, it was something everyone could get behind as a global populace.
You’ve been very forthright about the fact that you drank heavily between the ages of 18 and 20. Was that a reaction to public scrutiny?
Anytime I’d go out to dance, camera phones would come out. That would make me very self-conscious, and what’s the easiest way to escape being self-conscious? Alcohol is a quick way of doing that. So it was related in that way. A few years ago there was a TV ad that showed a lot of inventors, including a guy who invented the camera phone. He was smiling smugly into the camera, and I was just like, Fuck you. What have you wrought? [laughs] Camera phones are definitely not my favorite.
You’ve said you were an “annoying, loud, inappropriate, messy drunk.” Can you tell us in what ways you were messy?
No, no, no. I’ve given way too much. It becomes painful to watch your personal issues that you’ve tried to be sincere about get turned into fodder for TV gossip shows. I was forthright about it, as you said, but once you start talking about this, that’s all you talk about. I can say lots of well-meaning stuff—why it happened and how I stopped—for three hours, and the headline would be DRUNK ON THE SET OF HARRY POTTER. So I don’t talk about it as much now.
In the new movie Victor Frankenstein, you play the hunchbacked assistant Igor. As an actor, what’s the appeal of playing someone malformed?
It’s not like, Oh great, how can I give myself terrible back pain for the next few months? It’s more that you embrace the physical challenge. If you do something that puts you in a little bit of pain, it makes you feel as though you’re working slightly harder than you normally do as an actor. I did the play The Cripple of Inishmaan for four months in London and never had any physical problems. Doing what I did on Frankenstein for three weeks was a fucker. There’s a crick in my neck now that was not there before.
You’re a small guy. Does your size limit the roles you can play?
I don’t think so. Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise have very different careers, and they’re both about the same height as I am. I could play a soldier. The minimum height for a marine is five feet, and I’m well above that. If you’re asking, “Can you play a really fucking tall person?” No, obviously not. [laughs] Can I play a black guy? For similar reasons, no. I couldn’t play something I wouldn’t take myself seriously in. I wouldn’t be able to take myself seriously as the quarterback in a football movie, which is my one legitimate gripe. I would love to be in a football movie. The only part I would get is the general manager.
You’ve said that your performance in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth movie in the series, was your best, but you hate watching yourself in the sixth, The Half-Blood Prince. How did your best and worst performances come back-to-back?
In every movie up to the sixth one, you can see a big step forward in my acting. And then it stopped, or went backward maybe, in the sixth film. I really enjoyed my performance in the fifth—part of it was how much I worked with people like Gary Oldman and David Thewlis. On the sixth, I remember watching it and thinking, Wow, there’s been no growth. You’re watching a mistake you made every day for 11 months—that’s the way I saw it. I had the idea that Harry was like a soldier traumatized by war, and as a result of that, he shuts down emotionally. That’s not a bad idea, but it’s not the most interesting thing to watch for two and a half hours.
You met your girlfriend, Erin Darke, when you were both in the movie Kill Your Darlings. There’s a scene in which her character gives your character a blow job in a library. Were you already dating at that point?
No. That’s a wonderful record of us flirting for the first time. There’s no acting going on—not from my end, anyway. There’s a moment when she makes me laugh, and I’m laughing as me and not as my character. She was incredibly funny and smart. I knew I was in trouble.
How did her father end up telling the press that you weren’t engaged to his daughter?
When I visited her home last Christmas, there was a media storm in Michigan. We were sitting in her dad’s living room, and the phone rang. Her dad said, “Um, it’s the Detroit Free Press.” They were calling about a rumor that we had gone there to get married on the shores of Lake Michigan. What was great was they got his number because he’s a subscriber. [laughs] I suddenly had that moment of, Oh, my weird life is now impacting your life. I felt really bad. Wonderfully, they found it funny. I have to say, I don’t normally read articles about me, but I read all of them because they were so nice. “He ate at a Bob Evans! He bought a T-shirt in downtown Flint!” These journalists in Michigan were so happy that I had a nice time there. Normally I deal with the British tabloids, so this was the sweetest media thing that ever happened to me.
Gary Oldman did a Playboy Interview last year in which he said, “Daniel Radcliffe, now he’s got fuck-you money.” Have you experienced resentment on sets about your success?
Gary introduced me to that expression. When I did my first non-Potter film, December Boys, I became good friends with one of the makeup and hair teams. After a few weeks, I said, “So, honestly, what did you expect when you were going to get me?” And they said, “We thought you were going to be a dick.” Because that’s the notion people have in their heads of child stars. People expect me to be an absolute asshole. And when I’m not, that always plays in my favor.
People expect child stars to be dicks because so many of them are. What has been different about your experience?
The most underrated way I and all the producers on Potter got lucky was that I fucking loved the work. I’ve seen kids on set who are bored, and I’m like, “What are you doing? This is the best place on Earth.” I loved it from the word go. I loved being on set. I loved the hours. I loved the people. I loved the crazy, weird shit I got to do every day. Acting was the focus for me, and I wasn’t going to do anything to jeopardize being an actor.
You’ve focused mainly on low-budget independent films since playing Potter. Will people ever not think of you as Harry?
One of the positive by-products of celebrity culture for actors like me who’ve been stuck with one character for a long time is the opportunity for people to get to know me. I don’t think Mark Hamill, for example, had the same opportunities for people to get to know him. When I went on Jimmy Fallon and rapped a Blackalicious song, I got a job off that—playing Sam Houser in Game Changer, the movie about Grand Theft Auto. It made the guy in charge go, “Oh, he’s interested in hip-hop. He’s not just a typical posh white boy.”
What was the last thing you googled?
This is slightly embarrassing, because I referenced it earlier in our conversation, and it looked like a piece of information I knew: the minimum height for a marine. I was reading a script where I would be playing somebody who says he’s a marine, so I was like, Oh, I’ll look that up. Most of my googling and internetting is spent on NFL.com, Deadspin and other sports websites. I foisted it on my girlfriend, and now when I’m away it helps her not miss me if she looks at Deadspin.
You spent all your teenage years making the Harry Potter movies. For most teenage boys, their lives revolve around finding a chance to masturbate. Is there time for that on a movie set?
Yeah, I was like every other teenager in that sense. My favorite line about masturbation is Louis C.K.’s, something like “I found out about it when I was 11, and I didn’t skip a day.” I think I started very early—before my teens. But not when I was on set. I wasn’t going, When is Alan Rickman going to nail this scene so I can run back to my trailer? There’s another feeling, again perfectly described by Louis C.K.: that fear just after you’ve jerked off that everyone knows what you did. It would have been embarrassing to walk back on set and look the dignitaries of British acting royalty in the eye, knowing what I’d been doing.
You’re an atheist, but you also identify as a Jew. What was the last Jewish thing you did?
The last Jewish thing I did was visit my grandmother. [laughs] Does that count? My mum’s Jewish; my dad is Protestant. We were terrible Jews. I grew up with Christmas trees. We eat bacon. My grandmother is kosher, but she’s polite before she’s kosher. If she goes to someone else’s house and they cook bacon, she’ll be like, “I don’t want to make a fuss.” Maybe she’s not polite—maybe she secretly really wants bacon.
When you were doing Equus on Broadway, you were naked for much of the play. Did you do any fluffing? Dude, there was no opportunity for fluffing. I was onstage for the entire show, and I ran around naked for 10 minutes in a scene that’s about sexual failure and horse blinding. But I’ve heard stories about actors putting an elastic band around their dick. If you wank and then put elastic around the base of it, it keeps the blood in there, and then you whip it off and go onstage. I would have had to do it an hour and a half in advance. I’m pretty sure I would have castrated myself. I was shit-scared and 17 when I did Equus, which is the age when you’re most self-conscious. And I was very aware that a certain percentage of that audience was coming to look at my dick every night. Looking back, that was mental. I have a lot of respect for myself for having the balls to do it, so to speak.
You’re an only child, and you’ve said you want to have lots of kids. Was your childhood lonely?
Not at all. You mature so much quicker—I became amazingly good at entertaining myself. For selfish reasons, I like the idea of lots of kids. I want a sort of Ocean’s Eleven of children.
They’re going to rob a casino?
And the Asian one’s going to be flexible and a great gymnast. [laughs] It would be great if I could raise enough kids to do that. You can probably do that with fewer than 11 if you start their training early enough.
You’re 26, which means you’ve been famous for more than half your life. Do strangers feel they’ve known you since childhood?
Getting recognized on the street teaches you that most people are polite and nice and just want a quick picture. Then you get an occasional asshole. Normally they’re drunk. The assholes want a picture as well, but they want to be an asshole as they take the picture with you. They’ll start off, “Just so you know, I never really liked the Harry Potter movies.” Thanks, dickhead; that’s 10 fucking years of my life. One time, a girl came up to me and said, “Could I have a picture?” I said, “Yeah, sure, if you want to.” And she goes, “Well, I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t want to.” What the fuck? [laughs] And of course, me being me, I’m just like, “Sorry, that’s silly of me.” Then she walks off and Erin says to me, “That girl was a dick to you. You don’t have to be nice if someone’s rude.” But I’m better at saying no than [Potter co-star] Rupert Grint. He ended up going back to a fan’s house because he couldn’t say no to anything they asked. That’s when it’s gone too far.