September 16, 2008

Radcliffe Grows Up, Quite Nicely

By Sarah Lyall

Dressed in a leather jacket and hunched antisocially over his cellphone, Daniel Radcliffe could have been any other disaffected teenager adrift in gadget-world. But suddenly he looked up and leapt to his feet as if prodded by Emily Post herself.

"Sorry," he said. "Sorry! I'm just checking on the cricket scores. They're about to start for the day."

"They" were the members of the England cricket team, Radcliffe explained. He held forth for a few minutes about the sport's subtle joys and then observed, "It is a concept that Americans can't get hold of, cricket."

It was early in the summer. Filming had just finished for "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," the sixth in the blockbuster movie series. A year earlier Radcliffe had ended his West End run as Alan Strang, the highly troubled (and, for a time, stark naked) main character in a revival of the 1970s psychosexual drama "Equus." Rehearsals for the play's transfer to Broadway - it is to open Sept. 25 at the Broadhurst Theater - had not yet begun.

Radcliffe, who turned 19 in July, was enjoying a much-needed break, one of the longest stretches of free time he has had since he starred in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" at the age of 12 and became the world's best-known child actor. He was spending the time, it appeared, hanging out, obsessing about cricket and marshaling his views. He has a catholic array of deeply held opinions - on sloppy diction, on whining actors, on male competitiveness, on the changing-of-the-guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace, on the spelling of "aluminum" - and in several conversations over the summer he was more than happy to disseminate them. But although he says his chatty forthrightness makes him "an intensely annoying person," it comes across instead as an endearing sign of post-adolescent normality.

Radcliffe appears to be negotiating the tricky transition from child star to adult actor without falling prey to drug-addled delusion, insufferable narcissism or late-night reality television.

His experience in "Equus," which played to sellout crowds last year, has a lot to do with his confidence. Despite early grumbles that his casting was a cynical ploy, audiences loved him; even London's jaded critics were impressed.

Radcliffe looks nothing like Harry Potter. He wears no glasses; he has no scar on his forehead. He talks rapidly, with a streetwise London accent. He is buff from "Equus"-related exercise. He is 5 feet 5 inches, or 1.65 meters, shorter than you would think (as so many actors are) but comfortable enough to joke ruefully about it. In London in June he was wearing jeans, a black T-shirt with an indeterminate artsy picture on the front and a leather biker's jacket. He was compellingly polite.

"Equus" is a momentous play for people who came of age in the 1970s. Revelatory, even revolutionary, at the time, it now somewhat quaintly recalls that era's debates about sanity and madness, with lengthy discussions of the virtues and limitations of therapy. Older friends had talked to Radcliffe about what the play meant to them, he said, and the role was a way to prove that he could put aside childish things without being too obvious about it.

"If I went off and did another fantasy film, everyone would say, 'He's not even trying,' but if I went off and played a drug dealer, they'd say, 'God, he's trying way too hard,'" he said.

"It's also the fact that he's very different from Harry, a very violent character - he's mentally unstable, that's the long and short of it," he said of his character. Alan Strang is a tortured soul with a deep connection to horses who, having blinded six of them in a night of misguided religious and sexual ecstasy, is stripped of his defenses and possibly his soul in a series of grueling sessions with a psychiatrist, played by Richard Griffiths. (Griffiths is reprising his role from the West End show; the other actors are new to the cast.)

The Harry Potter role has been so all-consuming that it has left Radcliffe with little time for anything else. In recent years he has appeared in "December Boys," a coming-of-age film, and "My Boy Jack," a television movie, and sent himself up deliciously as a awkwardly pseudo-worldly, sex-mad teenager in an episode of the Ricky Gervais BBC-HBO comedy series "Extras." But mostly it has been all Harry all the time, and Radcliffe has had to grow up on screen, in full public view, braving the twin perils of adolescence and the forces of Voldemort.

Before "Equus," he had never appeared onstage, unless you count his performance, at the age of 5, as a monkey in a school play. He nervously resolved, before the "Equus" rehearsals began, not to act out "the stereotype of the child actor who's going to be a nightmare," he said. But the director, Thea Sharrock, said he was far from nightmarish.

"When I first met him, I felt very impressed by his level of discipline and professionalism," she said. "We all could finally see, you know, he's not Harry Potter - he's Daniel Radcliffe. I felt excited to find this character with him and to prove to the world that this was something he could do."

The play requires Radcliffe to appear full-frontally nude in a prolonged scene, but it did not bother him particularly, he said. "It never really was an issue," he said. "I don't know why, it probably should have been. I am terribly self-conscious. Although I remember I did look at my dad once and say, 'Do you think I could wear pants?'" (No, he could not.)

Radcliffe found he suffered onstage from what he called Michelangelo's David Effect.

He explained. "He" - meaning David - "wasn't very well endowed, because he was fighting Goliath. There was very much of that effect.

"You tighten up like a hamster. The first time it happened, I turned around and went, 'You know, there's a thousand people here, and I don't think even one of them would expect you to look your best in this situation.'"

Radcliffe is as private as he is voluble. In a recent magazine interview he suggested that he lost his virginity several years ago to an older woman, and he may or may not be currently involved with a girlfriend, but he is not going to talk about it. He can generally walk down the street without getting noticed. But like any show business figure in Britain he has to contend with the British news media and their fanciful stories.

"Do you want the Top 5?" he asked. He reeled them off. "One of them was how I had grown 2-foot in about five weeks," he said. "The next was that I had a stalker, which again was utter fiction. One of them was that I had asked two former SAS guards to walk my dogs," referring to an elite British military branch. "One of them was that I ordered a special beer that was brewed in a monastery in Belgium by monks. And I hate beer. And then, the best one was the fact that they said that I was having a sculpture made for the middle of my living room of me in 'Equus.'"

Nude, of course.

Originally published by The New York Times Media Group.

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