Ghostly tale spells a new phase for Radcliffe

[30 July 2010]

By Geoff Boucher

Los Angeles Times (MCT)

Daniel Radcliffe’s next magic trick will be his hardest — can he successfully disappear into a new starring film role after a decade as Harry Potter? On July 26, just three days removed from his 21st birthday, the actor seemed eager for the challenge even though his thoughts kept drifting back to Hogwarts.

“Working is how I will best get through a very weird time,” Radcliffe said. “I know it’s the most constructive thing I can do because otherwise I’d be moping around and being a bit like, ‘Oh, I miss everyone ... ’ So I’m quite pleased to go on to the next thing and the next challenge.”

The “next challenge” is actually a list of things. Radcliffe will appear on Broadway in the spring in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” (he was fresh from dance class, in fact, when he spoke by phone from London), and he is attached to three film projects. First among these movies to reach the screen will be the just-announced adaptation of “The Woman in Black,” the spooky 1983 suspense novel by Susan Hill that is best known for inspiring a popular stage version — it’s been playing on London’s West End since June 1989 and, yes, that means the production is a month older than Radcliffe.

The novel presents a small English town where terrible things happen to children, and they always follow the appearance of a spectral woman in widow’s garb. Radcliffe said the script by Jane Goldman (“Kick-Ass,” “Stardust”) digs up beyond-the-grave themes that are far more unnerving than Halloween visions of the “Potter” films and that director James Watkins (“Eden Lake”) is intent on finding the heartache inside the horror.

“When I met first met James Watkins, our director, he told me about a quote of Stanley Kubrick’s, which was that all films about the afterlife or ghosts are innately consoling,” Radcliffe said. “I think there’s something about that that is very true to our story. While it is a horror story and it is very frightening, it’s also about loss and grief. I read it on a plane, and I don’t know what the people around me must have thought. I kept jumping and gasping.”

Radcliffe, who begins shooting the film this fall, will be on-screen in almost every scene, and it will be the first true test of his ability to carry a movie in which he doesn’t wave a wand.

“People really have only ever seen my face with glasses on it ... that’s going to change in this movie,” said Radcliffe, who’s also attached to a new version of “All Quiet on the Western Front” as well as “The Journey Is the Destination,” the story of slain photojournalist Dan Eldon.

It might be hard for some to see Radcliffe as another character, with or without spectacles. The six “Harry Potter” films to date have pulled in $5.3 billion in worldwide box office, and there are two installments left, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” in November and “Part 2” in July 2011. Radcliffe says his preparations for “The Woman in Black” have helped him avoid the full emotional impact of leaving his decade-long role and costars Emma Watson and Rupert Grint.

“We, all three of us — me, Rupert and Emma — we just wept,” Radcliffe said of June 12, the final day on the set of the last “Potter” film.

As Radcliffe walks away from the last decade’s shining success of the British film community — the “Potter” movies were filmed in England by local crews and starred several generations of top British and Irish actors — he steps into a project that taps into an older and edgier part of U.K. cinema lore: “The Woman in Black” is being made under the banner of Hammer Film Productions, the most revered brand name in European horror, which is coming back from the grave after three decades without a feature-film release.

Radcliffe, a student of British stage and film, is eager to be part of the resurrection of Hammer. The studio dates back to 1937 but really began carving out its reputation with the release of “The Curse of Frankenstein” in 1957 and “Horror of Dracula” the following year.

“It does bring a smile to my face, and it’s an absolutely genuine smile,” Radcliffe said. “Hammer is the company that everybody wants to see succeed. It’s such a part of our film heritage. It was a massive producer of films in its heyday — they were really prolific, there were tons of them — and with actors like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. It’s wonderful to see that company, that name, in a resurgence.”

The resurgence begins with the October release of the wintry vampire tale “Let Me In,” directed by Matt Reeves (“Cloverfield”) and starring Chloe Moretz (“Kick-Ass”) and Kodi Smit-McPhee (“The Road”). Hammer also recently wrapped production on “The Resident,” which stars two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (“Watchmen”). (Lee also appears in the film.)

Hammer Chief Executive Simon Oakes said some recent compass points for the reconstituted Hammer and its ethos might be “The Sixth Sense,” “The Others,” “The Orphanage” and “Let the Right One In,” the Swedish film that is being remade in English as “Let Me In.” He said that sets the horror-house apart from the shock-and-splatter “Saw” and “Hostel” crowd of today.

“We’d like to try to re-ennoble the horror film — it’s ‘smart’ horror, if you like, intelligent films that are not gore-nography, as I call it, and have good story lines that attract talent and are relevant to a modern audience,” Oakes said.

“It’s a much-loved and revered brand, certainly in the U.K., but like many of these things, people have a nostalgic love affair with it and they’re not entirely sure why. There are some people who are not old enough to remember the films, and some are old enough but only remember the good ones and don’t remember the not-so-good ones.”

Hammer’s “Woman in Black” will get a major spotlight due to its star, but some of it will be the glare of skepticism. Will Radcliffe’s face — so familiar after a decade of “Potter” lunch boxes, pajamas and action figures — make some moviegoers snicker when they should shiver?

Radcliffe points out that he plays a troubled father, not a magic orphan, and that gives him a foothold to step away from the “Potter” image that has dominated his public persona.

“It worries me, but the challenge is to look like a dad and a young father. If I get that right, that is something that immediately separates me from Harry,” Radcliffe said. “The script is so good and the characters are so clear, there is actually reduced pressure on me to be constantly ‘different,’ if you know what I mean; in other words, once people are into the story, they’ll be watching this really compelling movie and will stop — I hope — thinking about me.”

Goldman, who calls the Hill novel “the perfect ghost story, a fresh and original story that has the literary touchstones of Victorian literature,” says the movie will be remembered as the project that drew a line between Radcliffe’s youthful past and his mature future.

“I think there’s a clear-cut demarcation,” Goldman said. “He was playing a boy in the ‘Potter’ films, or perhaps a young adult. Here, he’s playing a man. Also I think in general today audiences know actors much more as individuals; there’s an awareness of them apart from their roles. Dan is a brilliant actor, and he’s much more than the person who played Harry Potter.”

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/128924-ghostly-tale-spells-a-new-phase-for-radcliffe/