Once heading up a major fantasy tentpole blockbuster, over the course of 20 years, Daniel Radcliffe has transformed his persona from ‘the boy who lived’ into ‘the man who innovates’, elevating himself above his iconic childhood character Harry Potter.
His journey from young wizard to established contemporary character actor has been a rocky one, with each new step in the industry progressively shaking off his old Hogwarts identity which sparked to life in 2001s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. “This is what I want. This is Harry Potter,” director Chris Columbus recalled after seeing Daniel Radcliffe in an early role in the TV movie David Copperfield. It was a case of being the right face at the right time, with Daniel Radcliffe’s young podgy appearance and inquisitive disposition making him the perfect actor for the sensitive hero Harry Potter.
For ten years, from 2001 to 2011, and eight separate feature films, the identities of Harry Potter and Daniel Radcliffe were fused together, as the actor carried the torch for the entire franchise on his shoulders, appearing in very few other projects during that time. Though in 2007, Daniel Radcliffe would make several creative choices that would forever change his industry identity, sowing the seeds for future endeavours whilst still locked into the wizarding world.
December Boys, directed by Rod Hardy, was his first venture. An independent film project that was a significant shift into the cinematic world outside of Harry Potter, though his appearance on stage in Equus may well have been his most crucial decision. Famously appearing nude in the play, advance sales for the performance topped £1.7 million, with Radcliffe’s role widely acclaimed for its dramatic power and electrifying stage presence. Although this critical acclaim was welcomed by the actor, it was the intentions behind the performance itself that left a lasting impression, announcing to the public that he was a serious actor capable of more dynamic, challenging roles.
Announcing in an interview with Time Out, once the fantasy franchise had finally come to a close with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Daniel Radcliffe asserted: “I’ve been given a much better perspective on life by doing Potter”. Entering into one of cinema’s largest-ever franchises as a child and leaving it a man, Radcliffe quickly developed an emotional maturity, using his newfound creative freedom to take on a range of diverse roles.
Having saved up a considerable amount of money during his time filming the Harry Potter franchise meant that these experiments could be easily facilitated, with the actor having since established himself as a purveyor of Avante-Garde genre cinema. 2016s Swiss Army Man saw him appear alongside Paul Dano as a strange, half-living farting corpse, whilst more recently he has fused two guns to his hands in the bombastic action movie Guns Akimbo.
“I pick things based on what I find exciting, which sounds so simplistic as to be almost a lie, but it’s not,” Radcliffe told Vanity Fair. Continuing, the actor added, “Basically, it’s about what excites me, and I’m in a position at the moment where I don’t have to do something unless I really love it. And I don’t know if I’ll be in that position forever, so it seems just sensible to get as much weird, cool stuff in as you can”.
Daniel Radcliffe is an actor simply enjoying the fruits of his labour, taking the chance to explore the complexities and joys of acting whilst he still has the freedom to do so.
Hats off to ‘the man that’s living’.