After becoming one of the UK’s most recognised and successful young actors as Harry Potter, the end of the franchise means that Daniel Radcliffe is now embarking on the second stage of his career. He’s already wowed theatre audiences both in The West End and on Broadway in productions like Equus and How To Succeed in Advertising, and is now taking the lead role in James Watkins’ adaptation of Susan Hill’s classic ghost story The Woman in Black. Nikki Baughan caught up with Daniel in New York, to find out whether he’s feeling any post-Potter pressure…
You were James Watkins’ clear choice for Arthur Kipps; did you have to be convinced to take the role?
It was the easiest sell of their entire lives, I think! I read the script and there was something very surprising about it. Towards the end of Potter we were looking around for other things and we’d read a couple of scripts that we really like and were seeing where they were going. And suddenly this script suddenly just appeared and my agent Sue said to me ‘Read it and if you like it you will have a meeting with the director in the next few days.’ I read it and loved it.
It was an interesting script… the reason I also say it was surprising is because, as an audience member, I had never been particularly drawn to horror. So it was a pleasant surprise to find myself suddenly so gripped by this script. I read it very quickly, which is also unusual for me, and it was frightening on the page. And if it’s there on the page, then it stands a good chance of being there in the finished product. Then when I met with James, my enthusiasm doubled because I suddenly saw that we were obviously very much on the same page about the film. We both saw it as being not just an excuse to make people jump and scare people, but also as having the opportunity to tell an emotionally true story about a man who has lost his wife. As well as being a horror film, it’s a comment on grief and on family and the importance of those things. I think what makes James’s relationship with horror so good is because he realises the scary moments are only going to mean something if you care about the character. He realises that those relationships and those people have to be as real as possible for it to have a dramatic effect.
Arthur is a bereaved husband and father; how did you get into the mindset of the character?
It was mainly a matter of just reading the script and trying to figure out certain things that I had questions about. Like, why does he stay in the house once he gets there? There are certain things that I didn’t understand. But James had very good answers for all of those things!
Arthur is an intense character, and the main challenge for me is that I have a lot of energy, I’m quite a hyperactive kind of person and this is a character who has had all that energy and all that vitality has been drained from him by the circumstances of his life and losing his wife. So the main challenge was to try and suppress all that natural energy and try and imbue the character with a sense of exhaustion and fatigue. When I talk to a few friends who have been through serious depressions, the comment that kept coming up, and was the main thing I latched on to, was how exhausting it is, physically. The physical effort to get out of bed in the morning. That was a way in to the character, that sense of exhaustion and detachment from the world. Obviously as the story moves forward, Arthur is forced to become a participant rather than being as passive as he is at the beginning. Throughout filming James always talked about Arthur’s character as being the still centre around which the chaotic events of the film pivot.
It seemed to be quite a challenging film to make, not just in terms of the character but also those wild locations…
I think all film shoots are challenging. All shooting on location, there’s always going to be that time at the end of the day when there’s three shots that you need and you only have 20 minutes and the tide’s coming in! That was the case at the location on the causeway. We couldn’t film on it after a certain point unless we wanted to stay the night there because the tide would come in and block our route home. But every film is challenging to shoot. I actually think this one, as it goes, was pretty well run and well organised. It’s interesting, because every time I now go onto another film set people often say things to me like ‘I bet it wasn’t like this on Harry Potter!’ Because they always think that Harry Potter, because it had so much money, must have been super well run, super well organised… And it wasn’t, it was chaos. It was always chaos.
But the scene that was hard to film [in The Woman in Black] was the scene towards the end of the film where I’m pulling the bodies out of the marsh. Yeah. That was two days, and I kept smiling for the first day and a half, and then it was the last half day… I didn’t complain, but I did just sit there silently shivering under a heated blanket. It’s tough but it was great fun and it was a great sequence in the film.
The film is so immediate and personal and intense, without the need to rely on CGI. It keeps you peering round corners…
That’s something James has done that’s really clever, the way James keeps the camera moving ever so slowly the whole time it just gives you the sense that there’s always somebody else in the room. I think James is a real master at that kind of stuff
Much has been made about this being your first big post-Potter film; did you feel under any pressure to do something completely different?
It was the role and the film and to work with these people [that grabbed me]. I think the moment you start to turn down the chance to do a good film because you don’t think it fits your own career plan… To be honest this film exactly fits my plan because my plan is just to work with people like James and Jane Goldman and Ciaran Hinds. If I can continue to work with people of that calibre for as long as I can, then I’m not going to have any issues. I feel the pressure now, probably because so many people are saying to me, ‘So, how do you feel about this being your first film post-Potter?’ I’m like ‘Well, I was fine until you mentioned it!’ I didn’t feel any pressure while we were making the film at all.
You are now a major player in the British industry. Do you see your future in British cinema, or will you take a good role wherever it might be?
It doesn’t matter. Absolutely. In truth, I’m looking forward to working in England again in theatre, because I haven’t done any stage work over there for a long time. But I’ve never filmed anything in America, so I’m actually looking forward to working on a film over there. It really doesn’t matter where I go. I’ll go anywhere for a part. I’m very proud to be working with such a famous British production company for this film, but my future isn’t country specific.
An edited version of this review appeared in the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of movieScope, available now. You may also be interested in our exclusive piece written by director James Watkins, or our review of the film.
The Woman in Black is out now.
Taken from movieScope magazine, Issue 26 (Jan/Feb 2012) – OUT NOW