Has Daniel Radcliffe finally cast off the shackles of child stardom?

Imperium and Swiss Army Man mark a turning point in the actor’s career.

Words

James Luxford

It’s a little over five years since Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 brought the preeminent millennial movie franchise to a close, capping a decade-long journey for its cast and an avid fanbase. To those of us who grew up with the books and films, Daniel Radcliffe will forever be synonymous with his breakout starring role. Yet this month alone there’s been two intriguing developments in the 27-year-old actor’s post-Potter career, the neo-Nazi crime-thriller Imperium and Swiss Army Man, where The Boy Who Lived plays a corpse. Both roles could not be further from the magical universe Radcliffe was immersed in during his formative years.

At just 22, Radcliffe emerged from the global phenomenon created by JK Rowling determined to make his mark as an adult actor. The process of loosening the shackles of his child stardom had already begun mid-Potter when Radcliffe appeared naked in a 2007 stage revival of ‘Equus’ and as himself in Ricky Gervais’ Extras. But it was on the big screen where the public’s perception was really challenged. Radcliffe’s second film following The Deathly Hallows was Kill Your Darlings, in which he plays the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg in his early college days. Reviews were mixed, and while headlines obsessed over the film’s central love scene, Radcliffe was quick to speak out against playing it safe.

“I don’t like repeating myself,” he told The Daily Beast in 2013. “It’s more fun to test yourself and see what you can do rather than fall back on the thing you know you can do. And I’m at that stage of my career where I want to find out what I can do, because I’ve only started to be tested in new ways since finishing Potter. So far, at least, I’m very happy with the way things are going. It is a unique trajectory, but hopefully I can capitalise on its uniqueness.”

And capitalise he did. From wide-eyed novice to tortured anti-hero, 2014’s Horns allowed Radcliffe to show a very different side of himself as Ig Perrish, a man accused of murder who gains the power to learn people’s secrets. Skip ahead to today and Imperium sees a skinhead Radcliffe saying just about every racial epithet one can think off, part of a convincing transformation as an undercover FBI agent. The theme here is not one of ego or contrivance; it’s not Radcliffe doing something different for different’s sake. These interesting choices speak volumes of a talented actor who is fully prepared to exploit his star power in order to pursue only the projects that interest him. Indeed, Radcliffe’s post-Potter career has only wobbled when he’s appeared in slicker studio fare – his character in 2015’s Victor Frankenstein, the traditionally hunchbacked Igor, was swiftly (and puzzlingly) turned into a romantic hero, while his role as a villainous tech-prodigy in Now You See Me 2 didn’t really seem to suit him.

It seems that stepping outside his comfort zone is where Radcliffe is, conversely, most comfortable. He has been praised for his performance in Swiss Army Man alongside Paul Dano, and his next role in an adaptation of Israeli adventurer Yossi Ghinsberg’s memoir ‘Jungle’ suggests he won’t be taking the easy route any time soon. Of course, questions as to whether Radcliffe will return to his most famous role are likely to persist, especially with ‘Harry Potter and The Cursed Child’ seemingly ripe for cinematic adaptation. But moving on doesn’t necessarily mean forgetting the past.

“I’m never going to close the door [on the Harry Potter franchise],” Radcliffe told The Hollywood Reporter recently, “that would be a stupid thing to do. There’s a part of me that’s like, ‘Some things are better left untouched’. If we went back to Potter, there’s a chance we’d make Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but there’s also a chance we’d make The Phantom Menace!” In an ever-widened cultural landscape, perhaps the best course of action would be to find space for both the old Harry Potter and the new Daniel Radcliffe.

Published 29 Sep 2016

Tags: Daniel Radcliffe Harry Potter Paul Dano

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