After hanging up Harry Potter’s wand and leaving Hogwarts far behind, Daniel Radcliffe remains positively spellbinding.
Watching Daniel Radcliffe play a sociopath trying to impress his megalomaniac father in Now You See Me 2 (opening June 10) is a thrill. In the magic-filled action caper, a sequel to the 2013 blockbuster, his character possesses charm and enthusiasm, but this tech genius obsessed with the Four Horsemen, a group of magicians, is also dark and vengeful. “There’s something desperately sad about him,” says Radcliffe. “I think, even though you are playing very much an antagonistic role, you want to make him as real as possible, and try and show where this slightly broken, psychotic nature is coming from.”
The 26-year-old London-born actor, an only child to a literary agent and casting director, is no stranger to extraordinary characters. Radcliffe made his professional debut at age 10, as young David in the BBC miniseries David Copperfield. The following year, with only one film project under his belt (he played the son of Jamie Lee Curtis and Geoffrey Rush in The Tailor of Panama), Radcliffe was picked by director Chris Columbus to play an orphan who, on his 11th birthday, discovers he is a wizard, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Portraying the title character from J.K. Rowling’s best-selling book series, of course, catapulted the adolescent Brit into life in the spotlight, where he’s remained ever since.
The eighth and final Harry Potter movie (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2) came out in 2011. Post-Potter, Radcliffe continues to work steadily in film and television, employing his personal selection process when considering each new project. “It’s, ‘Will I have fun doing this?’ And by fun, I don’t necessarily mean just have a blast the whole time and being totally relaxed, but will I be fulfilled?” he says. “Over the last year or so, that’s really become my guiding principle. ‘Will it make me happy to do this? Yes. Fantastic. Let’s do it.’”
Now You See Me 2, the fast-paced heist movie, met his criteria and has audiences constantly trying to decipher the characters’ sleight of hand while enjoying a wild ride through Macau, the Las Vegas of China. “It was fantastic fun,” raves Radcliffe, who traveled to Macau for some of his scenes. “I confess, I may not have worked as hard as everybody else did in Macau. I had maybe four scenes to shoot in those two weeks. I just ended up hanging out a lot and exploring.”
The biggest thrill of making Now You See Me 2, continues Radcliffe, was not only working alongside co-stars Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg, but also playing the son of his long-time hero: “Michael Caine had been one of those people that, as somebody who grew up on film sets in England, you hear about a lot. Everyone has worked with him. When I want inspiration, he’s one of those whose IMDB pages I look up,” he says. “He’s 83 now. And to watch him on set at 4 o’clock in the morning doing very long speeches outside, and it’s cold, and he’s completely unflappable and having an amazing attitude. … To see that up close was really inspirational. That’s what I want to be when I grow up.”
Given Radcliffe’s impressive résumé, which now includes both theater and film, his goal seems highly attainable. His dramatic intensity is most evident when portraying unique characters. In 2013’s Kill Your Darlings, he played Allen Ginsberg, the Beat Generation poet and counterculture icon. The same year, in Horns, he was Ig, a young man, accused of his girlfriend’s murder, who grows a pair of horns that give him supernatural powers. In the British series A Young Doctor’s Notebook, Radcliffe was a Russian doctor struggling with his morphine addiction in the middle of the tundra. Then came Igor, the creepy hunchback medical assistant, in Victor Frankenstein. And this month, in addition to his Now You See Me 2 character, Walter, a rich kid who enjoys a cup of tea with his early evening execution, the actor also has screen time as the flatulent corpse in Swiss Army Man (opening June 17). “I guess those characters are often more complicated and that always seems more exciting,” Radcliffe admits. “It’s definitely not something that I think about—like, ‘Oh, good, another outsider.’ You connect with what you connect with. And I don’t see myself particularly in that way.”
Radcliffe is currently in Bogota, Colombia, finishing up filming on his next starring vehicle, Jungle, the survival story of Israeli adventurer and author Yossi Ghinsberg, who was lost for three weeks in the Bolivian rain forest. “It’s a very challenging film in what are some of the more challenging conditions that I’ve ever worked in,” he says. “By the same token, it’s really exciting. When you make a film about this sort of subject matter, it should be hard. You shouldn’t be ridiculously comfortable every day. It would seem sort of dishonest to make that film in that way.” Filming in the rugged Amazon terrain is particularly difficult for the crew, who had to rally after three locations disappeared overnight due to torrential rain and a rising river. “It is in those moments of stress and pressure that you’ll see people just being fantastic at their jobs,” Radcliffe continues. “And it’s what I love about working in film.”
The young industry vet acknowledges that he and his fellow actors have “a phenomenal job. We are in the incredible position of being able to go to work and to do something that we love every day.” Again, he points to Caine as his role model. “Literally, the only moment I saw him express even the smallest amount of displeasure was when he got hit on the head by the crane camera.” Some of Radcliffe’s contemporaries “become reliant on fame as part of their identity, and I think that’s the danger,” he adds. “Fame is fleeting.”
Would he contemplate any other career? “Never,” says the former child actor. “When you’re a kid and you’re in films, all you get asked is, ‘So, what’s going to happen to you?’ You’re constantly being forced up against the expectation that your career has a very, very short shelf life and that you’re going to fade away. That attitude of, ‘You’re not going to last,’ is really impressed upon you at a young age when you’re a kid actor doing interviews. I don’t want to be that.”
Still, Radcliffe does think about what he would like to do next should the roles ever taper off. “I’m interested in writing. I’m interested in directing. So if it’s just acting going away, I’d probably do those two things,” he says. “But it’s very unwise to try and make five-year plans in the film industry because you don’t know what’s happening. Unless you’re going on to a massive franchise. Then you have to make a five-year, 10-year plan. But for me, it’s what works for me right now.”
Radcliffe, who turns 27 next month, is articulate, disarming, polite and very savvy about revealing only as much personal information as he wants during interviews. “Hold on!” he declares, when the conversation begins to shift to Erin Darke, his girlfriend of four years. “You can say I brought Erin up, but you also did ask me.” He is, of course, right. Implicit in this brief disruption in our conversation is the fact that he’s aware whatever he says next could take on a life of its own, so his words are measured.
“There isn’t a moment that I’m stressed out that Erin can’t make me feel more relaxed or calm. There’s not a moment that I’m sad that she can’t make me laugh. And we have a huge amount of fun together,” he says. “Occasionally, it is a long-distance relationship, and we just Skype and stuff like that. But I think there is something to the fact that you’re always either missing that person or you’re excited to see them that makes things always seem incredibly special and fresh.” And, just to be clear, there are no impending nuptials, contrary to occasional tabloid reports. “No, I have no plans to get married soon,” he says with a laugh. “We’re just very, very happy together.”
He’s happy in general, he says. Surrounded by good friends, working with people he admires and traveling the world, Radcliffe has everything that his younger self, who was still in the throes of the world’s biggest franchise, could have wished for. “I would [have bitten] your hand off if you’d offered this [life],” he says. “I would be thrilled to still be working and doing the films that I’ve been able to do, and [having] the fun of working with these really amazing people. Yeah, it’s incredible.”
Grooming by Jacqueline Bush for René Furterer USA
Digital tech: Dominic Escalante | Photo assistants: Tyson Lee and Marc McClanahan