The boy who grew up

The boy who grew up

POTTER MANIA

The boy who grew up

IN THE MUGGLE WORLD: (From left) British actors Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe at the world premiere of ‘Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince’ in London. Photo AP

If you are the world’s most famous teenager, the speculation that swirls around you is often less interesting than the reality. For instance, Daniel Radcliffe is not gay, but he does have an interest in cross-dressing: “The one piece of advice I would give to any actor is, if you want to go out on the street without being recognised, without even being looked at, go out with a 6 feet, 8 inches beautiful transsexual,” he says, eyes wide. “No one gives you a second glance. Especially when you’re 5 feet, 5 inches. I’d love to play a drag queen or transvestite, but not just because of the costumes. Wait, what am I saying? Yes, because of the costumes! If the script was good — I wouldn’t just do it because I got to dress up. Although I maintain that I look good with eye make-up. And I’m not going to be an emo kid, so the only other option is drag queen.”

It is no surprise that Radcliffe, now 19, is a target for the tabloids. Last year he reportedly signed a contract worth £25.6m for the final two Harry Potter films, and was ranked as the world’s highest-earning tween, alongside Disney star Miley Cyrus. Has he ever had to sue the press for defamation, or threaten to? “We’ve got involved a couple of times,” he says carefully, “but it’s never got to court. We’ve had to be very vigilant.” He also has to be alert to entrapment, though it helps that he’s not a regular club-goer, preferring “old man’s pubs” and the odd gig. (He loves indie music, from Radiohead to the Hold Steady.)

“There have been people who have tried to exploit me. You get chancers out there who just want to make a quick buck, but as long as you tune into them and who they are. The best thing I’ve learned is, if you’re going out, never go out alone — you leave yourself vulnerable. If you’ve got someone else there you trust, they can say, be wary of that person. I probably used to be too trusting of people.” A while back (he thinks it was when he was 14), Radcliffe made a choice that he definitely did want to be an actor when he grew up. “When you’re in the position I’m in, you have two options: You can either shut yourself off from everybody, from the world, and not live a full life. Or you welcome everybody into your life and occasionally somebody will try to take advantage. And I’d much rather be that person who lets people in. Because, as an actor, people are your greatest resources.”

This is why, on the evening I meet Radcliffe — Dan to everyone he knows — I find him busy people-watching. He’s arrived early for our interview, at a private London club (his PR is a member, he’s not), and has been taking in the clientele, trying not to gawp at Christopher Biggins. “And there was this wonderful man downstairs who was flirting so overtly with any female waitress that passed him by. It was fantastically funny to watch. And one day, when I’m 40 or 50, I hope to be playing that part. I’ll remember this...”

Despite all the pressure, it seems that Radcliffe is growing up sensibly. Normally, even. He loves cricket, likes a drink and a furtive smoke, and watching bad TV on a Friday night in his underpants. He has a girlfriend he met at work. He’s bought a flat near his parents’ home in Fulham, and has lived alone for 18 months. Mostly, it’s going well: he keeps his flat fairly tidy, although he’s still taking washing to his mum. “Is that shameful?” he asks. “Not every time! But occasionally, if it’s a big sheet or something.” He’s not fond of ironing, as his scruffy outfit suggests. “The thing is, I think things look good creased. Scruffy is in now,” he says hopefully. “Ironing boards are a classic example of something I find horrible about modern society: the excitementation, for want of a better word, of mundane things. Funny ironing board covers — I hate them.”

Radcliffe is a thinker. Referring to the Potter films, which have overtaken James Bond as the most successful movie series in film history, he prefers a different comparison. “You know what I take pride in more than anything else about these films? They’re the only films since Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel series that have featured one character going from about the age of 11 to 20. To be in Truffaut’s company, I’m happy with that.”

He is also a fan of modern art. For his 18th birthday in July 2007, when his protective parents notionally handed him financial freedom, he thought about treating himself to a car (nothing too flash — a Toyota Prius, say, or a Golf GTI); two years on, he hasn’t even had a driving lesson, much less splashed out on some wheels. Instead, he bought a work by New York-based artist Jim Hodges, which is how he was introduced to the world of transvestites.

He’s a big reader, too, and talks enthusiastically of a project in his dressing room, a wall-mounted display of “the most important authors from the 1700s, 1800s, 1900s and a few from the 21st century. It was fantastic — Jo (Rowling) walked in, and the first people she picked out were George Eliot and Joseph Conrad. And Nabokov.” He is also a keen poet, though admits that his early verses were all about quantity — “Now I’m lucky if I write one thing a month or every two months. But when I do write, it’s of a much higher quality. It’s more considered, more concise, I’ve got less time for the... pretension I had early on.”

He’s published some poems under a pen name, and although he doesn’t tell me what it is, he provides so many clues even Dobby the house-elf could solve it. It seems to be Jacob Gershon: Jacob is his middle name, Gershon the Jewish version of Gresham, his mother’s anglicised maiden name. Modern poetry and free verse “irritates me”, he says. “I love people like Simon Armitage. He has such an immaculate grasp of metre and rhyme, if he wanted to do poems like that, he could. But sometimes free verse, for me, is for people who can’t do structure.”

Why does he like writing poetry? “As an actor, there is room for a certain amount of creativity, but you’re always ultimately going to be saying somebody else’s words. I don’t think I’d have the stamina, skill or ability to write a novel, but I’d love to write short stories and poetry, because those are my two passions. There is an art to a short story. I love Raymond Carver, and Chekhov — without making myself sound more highbrow than I am!” he blusters.

We’ve met to mark the imminent release of Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, the sixth film in the franchise based on JK Rowling’s books. Radcliffe signed up for the series in 2001, when he was 11, and is now four months into the 19-month shoot for films seven and eight (the sprawling final book in the series, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, has been split into two parts). In The Half-Blood Prince, the Potter saga suffers its first loss of a major character, with the death of Professor Dumbledore, played by Michael Gambon. Was that difficult to film? “The whole film was quite difficult, but particularly that scene. I’d never been bereaved until the end of last year, when I lost my grandmother — before that, I’d never experienced any kind of sadness. So it was very tricky.”

The film also marks Harry’s second kiss, with Ginny Weasley, sister of best friend Ron. Was that enjoyable? “It was quite weird for me because I’ve known Bonnie (Wright, who plays Ginny) since she was nine and I was 11. Very strange. But we got through it. It was good. And it’ll get a bit of a cheer from the Potter fans. “

And finally, Radcliffe admits that as a boy actor he’s had some “quite sexy mums over the years. Jamie Lee Curtis in (big screen debut) The Tailor Of Panama and Emilia Fox (in David Copperfield). Both good,” he says eagerly. He asks if I’ve met Rowling. “She is fantastically attractive. Very, very beautiful. And so intelligent, it’s frightening.” Now, with the hour ticking on, the boy wizard must disappear. He has a 6 am pick-up for a 7 am start. It’s just another day on the Harry Potter set — the Obamas are visiting.

Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince
will release in India on July 16.

The Guardian

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