“It’s actually a thrill to be talking about something else,” Daniel Radcliffe chuckles, pausing to consider a question about his new movie The Woman in Black. He is, of course, referring to the ubiquitous presence of a certain blockbuster franchise that has consumed almost half of his life on the planet. Radcliffe was just an untested 11-year-old when cast as the eponymous hero of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone way back in 2001; now, having triumphantly wrapped the series with last year’s Deathly Hallows, he’s a seasoned 22 and ready to spirit himself into the realm that lies beyond Hogwarts.
“To be honest,” Radcliffe admits, “I want to just cram in as many, and as diverse a range, of parts in films as I possibly can in the next few years — while I’m in this stage of transition from out of the world of Potter.”
Though he’s done a couple of small films between his wizarding gig (and received praise for his stage work in Equus), The Woman in Black represents the first significant step in the actor’s post-Potter direction. Based on a popular English novel and produced under the vintage Hammer label, the Gothic horror is set in a remote village whose children are being terrorized by the specter of dead woman. Radcliffe plays the young lawyer dispatched to investigate — and it’s a role the actor hopes will help cultivate a new screen image.
“The fact that the part is different, in that I’m playing older and I’m playing a father; there’s stuff that will physically separate me from Harry in people’s minds,” he explains. “But what’s more important to me is that the story of this film is so compelling — that even if people go in thinking, “Oh let’s see how he does in his next thing,” within, like, 15 minutes they’re going to be, hopefully, wrapped up in the story; because it’s a great story, and really compelling and scary.”
Audiences will have their chance to see Radcliffe’s transformation (and marvel at his dashing new accoutrements) when The Woman in Black opens in theaters this week. In the meantime, we asked him to talk through his all-time five favorite films.
12 Angry Men (Sidney Lumet, 1957; 100% Tomatometer)
My five favorite films change all the time. Well, no — the top three never change, but the last two are kind of up for grabs constantly. 12 Angry Men is, I think, a feat of writing. It’s brilliant. The fact that it all takes place in one room — I think there’s maybe two minutes, three minutes of screen time that is not in the one room in that film — and yet it is one of the most compelling things I’ve ever seen. I mean, you can’t look away. You’re gripped by the dynamics between the people, by what’s gonna happen, and by the fact that it’s a whodunit, based in one room, which is brilliant.
I think A Matter of Life and Death is one of the great works of imagination in cinema. It’s a brilliant story. David Niven could not be more charming in it if he tried. He starts off, you know, as a World War II pilot about to crash his plane whilst quoting Andrew Marvell down the phone to the mayday operator, who he then falls in love with. There is one shot in it, actually, of the heavenly court before it goes into session, which we absolutely — and I haven’t actually spoken to Mike Newell about this — but we lifted almost identically for the start of the Triwizard tournament in Potter, in the fourth film. There is one shot — because I think I watched Matter of Life and Death shortly after we finished that film — which I watched and went, “Oh my god, we’ve just stolen that!”
Well if you’re gonna steal, steal from the Archers.
Absolutely; if you’re gonna steal, you can’t do much better than those guys. So that would be one of my favorite films. Possibly — possibly — even more than 12 Angry Men.
Dr. Strangelove showed me, I suppose taught me, a lot about comedy. The stuff that’s funniest is the stuff that scares us most — because all good comedy comes out of fear of death, fear of humiliation, fear of public awkwardness, fear of, you know, all those kinds of things. To have truly, really dark comedy where at the end of the film everyone in the world dies, that was very funny to me. I went to the Kubrick exhibition and there was this whole section on how originally the film had ended with a gigantic pie fight, and it was cut; but in a way I get what that might have been going for — the fact that it is all so ridiculous.
Little Miss Sunshine: I find it to be the sweetest, funniest… it’s a modern classic, I think. And I think Steve Carell is brilliant in it; heartbreaking. Also the fact that it came out of nowhere — that I went to the cinema knowing nothing about it.
The fifth, because it is the film of my childhood, and I still think the skeleton sequence is one of the scariest effects sequences ever, is Jason and the Argonauts. That is the film that, within the first six months of a relationship of any girl that I’m with, I have to make her watch that film — and if she doesn’t react the way I’d like, then that’s kind of a deal-breaker. If you don’t like Harryhausen’s stop-motion then you are not going to be in my life. [Laughs]
Has it ever come to that?
No, fortunately not. Fortunately I think that they all picked up that the stakes were quite high — so at least they pretended to like it.
Really, what kind of awful person wouldn’t like it?
You really have to kind of just have a heart of stone to not be able to get into that film, ’cause it’s just brilliant. You know the other film I like? The Vikings, that Tony Curtis-Kirk Douglas one. It’s really good, just because it’s… well, it’s Vikings; but I think Ernest Borgnine plays, like, Ragnar, the king of the Vikings, and it’s a hysterical film — ’cause made in the ’50s, and there are these shots where they’re panning down the rows of Vikings and they’ve all got horned helmets and scraggly hair, and then you get to Tony Curtis and Kirk Douglas who’re just perfectly coiffed, beautiful men still. [Laughs]
The Woman in Black opens in theaters this week.