After an eight-film run that consumed Daniel Radcliffe’s childhood, teenage and college years, his career is levitating into adulthood quite nicely.
The star of the Harry Potter series has played a brooding widower in the period horror hit “The Woman in Black” and poet Allen Ginsberg in the Beat Generation biography “Kill Your Darlings.”
And now Radcliffe, 25, tackles another new genre with the engaging romantic comedy “What If,” opening Friday in Kansas City. He plays Wallace, a mopey dropout who connects with the delightful Chantry (Zoe Kazan), whose only drawback remains her commitment to a steady boyfriend.
In addition to delivering a nude scene (please, no magic-wand jokes), the actor proves deft at handling bitter comedy and emotional heartache.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
Next, in October, he’ll play an accused murderer who wakes up with horns growing from his head in the dark fantasy “Horns.”
While doing press for the film in Los Angeles, Radcliffe spoke with The Star about friendship, that nude scene, his career plans and his strangely devoted fans.
Q: “What If” debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival under its former title “The F Word,” a nod to being stuck in the “friend zone.” What was the most surprising thing you learned about platonic friendship while making this film?
A: How amazed people are by the fact that it exists. The central question of the film is not “Can men and women really be friends?” It’s actually, “Is it ever wise or advisable to live in denial of your true feelings?”
My character meets this girl at the beginning of the movie, falls for her immediately, then discovers she has a boyfriend. But because she is somebody who makes him very happy, he thinks, “I’m going to try and hang out with her, see how it goes and just try and be friends.”
It’s about how tricky that situation is to navigate. Men and women can’t be friends if they’re really attracted to each other — there’s maybe something in that. I have plenty of female friends who I have not slept with and have no plans to. Maybe that’s changed since “When Harry Met Sally” (that seminal 1989 comedy that asked whether men and women really can be just friends). But I don’t think it’s the black-and-white situation that a lot of people think it is.
Is it possible to not fall in love with Zoe Kazan’s character while watching the movie?
I hope not — not that everyone will fall in love with her. But a lot will. The fact you immediately see why they connect is the most important point. You understand why Wallace and Chantry fall in love and why they are so right for each other.
That’s one of the things that’s exciting for people to watch about the film: You get to see that process of falling in love. When you meet somebody, what you connect over, what jokes you both laugh at and how you flirt with each other. Those are hard things to write without beating the audience over the head with them. That’s something this film does very well.
What is the most misunderstood aspect of filming a nude scene?
It’s that you would prepare for it differently. I got a lot of that in “Kill Your Darlings” with the nude scene and also the kissing scene with Dane (DeHaan). You never get asked what a kissing scene is like with a girl. But because it was with Dane, I got, “How did you prepare for that?”
You get the same question with nude scenes: “How do you prepare for that?” You don’t. You just take your clothes off. You approach it like any other scene. You might spend an extra 10 minutes in the gym a couple days before. Other than that, there’s no preparation.
I wonder if you’d prepare for it differently at 45 than at 25?
Maybe. I’ll tell you in 20 years.
One memorable sequence in the movie riffs on the time it took to name Cool Whip. Did that many hours go into renaming the film “What If”?
I like how you asked that question. I imagine it was done in much the same way: around the campfire at the beach.
Do you know the reason the title was changed? It was the MPAA. You can’t release a film called “The F Word,” even though it’s a phrase you specifically use with children to avoid them hearing the real F word. Or if you’re going to call it that, you have to rate it R, and this is not an R-rated movie.
They chose the title “What If.” And it’s fine. A rose by any other name. It’s still a great movie. And I like it’s still called “The F Word” in Canada because we filmed it there.
Is there more pressure now that your films’ box-office success is based on your marquee value instead of a sure-fire franchise?
Not really. I’ve been in very commercially successful films, like the most successful of all time — until “Star Wars” takes it back in a few years. At the moment the pressure I feel is to do good work consistently. Everything else will fall in place. “The Woman in Black” was a great movie, but I could never have guessed it would make the money it made and did as brilliantly as it did worldwide. It’s not something you can plan for.
I would love for “What If” to capture the imagination of a wide audience. But you don’t know. So all you can focus on is making good movies, the type of movie you as an audience member would like to see. Hopefully, your taste carries over to millions of others.
I live in Lawrence, Kansas, which is where William Burroughs spent the last 16 years of his life. What revelations did you learn about Burroughs while making “Kill Your Darlings?”
Ben Foster, who played Burroughs, was a huge fan. I knew little bits of Burroughs. … But I got shown his dream diary. That was the most amazing thing to me, seeing the inspiration he got from his dreams. I don’t remember my dreams, ever.
The other piece of information that I wish I’d had when I read the book was that “Naked Lunch” is not supposed to be read in order. Somebody said you’re just supposed to hop around the book anywhere you want.
But I actually really enjoyed “Naked Lunch” the first time I read it, because it was the only book I’ve ever read that had a physical effect on me by making me feel ill. That’s the power of writing, to be able to do that with the graphic description of things.
Is your upcoming movie “Horns” as creepy as its poster?
Yes. It’s as creepy as the poster. But it’s also funnier than the poster and more romantic than the poster. That’s what I love about it: It refuses to settle into one genre.
In the hands of a different director, another would have come on and said: “We’ll take out the comedy. We’ll take out the romance. We’ll just make this a horror.” Or whatever. And Alex (Aja) didn’t shy away from mixing those tones and styles effortlessly and fearlessly.
I think it’s going to be one of those films where you’re either going to leave the cinema and go, “What did I just watch?” or that’s going to be your new favorite movie.
Any movie genres you’d like to try next?
I’d like to do more comedy. Maybe something that’s not romantic again. I love Seth Rogen’s stuff. He actually offered me something in “This Is the End.” But in that particular instance it wasn’t for me. But I love his work and those kinds of movies.
I’d also like to do something political-based. That’s always been quite exciting to me. I grew up loving “The West Wing.” There are certainly more directors I’d like to worth with. I have my dream list with the Coen brothers and Christopher Nolan, people like that I look up to.
I read an interview of yours from 2004 where you mentioned you would love to pursue music and writing when the Harry Potter run ended. Ten years later, are those still career interests?
Writing definitely is. I love music. I did a musical in New York a couple years ago (“How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” on Broadway). I hope to do musicals like that and for music to be involved in my acting in the future. But I’m not sure I’d start a band. I was having a conversation about that this morning, funny enough.
But writing is something I still want to do and hopefully will get to at one point. And whatever I write, I would then like to direct.
So far, what’s been your zaniest Harry Potter fan encounter?
We had a mad one the other day in an incredibly sweet way. I was in Mexico City to do promotion for the movie. There was a crowd of a few hundred girls outside the hotel, and they were there for most of the time I was there. It was very surreal. You felt like a Roman emperor when they were all chanting your name. Very odd.
Then toward the end of my stay I was shown a list of all the finances they had chipped in together: 25 pesos here, 50 pesos there. They had all clubbed together to buy a mariachi band to sing to me outside the hotel. That was the most impossibly sweet thing. You never get used to things like that happening.
The other country that was on a par with Mexico intensity was Japan. That’s the only place I’ve had the experience of literally touching somebody and them fainting. I brushed up against a girl by accident as we were moving through this school — our shoulders brushed each other. I turned around and put my hand on her arm and said, “Oh, I’m so sorry.” She went down like a sack of spuds.
Is that the kind of power you wield?
As long as you can laugh at it and don’t take it seriously, like, “I am a person who can make people faint!” Otherwise, that’s the way of becoming a (jerk).