Building a career after Harry Potter

PHOTO: NYTIMES

Actor Daniel Radcliffe has starred in seven theatre shows and at least 10 movies since playing the boy wizard

LONDON • English actor Daniel Radcliffe heard he had the coronavirus from his make-up artist.

"We'd just done the matinee," Radcliffe said, referring to his March 10 performance in Endgame at the Old Vic theatre in London. "I was getting my hair done for the evening show and our hair and make-up guy, Rob, turned around and said, 'You've got coronavirus, apparently. My niece just texted me.'"

A rogue tweet, posing as BBC breaking news, had blown up. There were inevitable jokes playing on the role that made him famous (Harry Potter And The Deathly Viruses) and new hashtags (#ExpectoCoronus), and a typically wry quip from Radcliffe himself.

"I think it's because I look ill all the time," he told an Australian radio station.

But the rush to identify the first celebrity infected with the coronavirus would continue. This was fake news.

Still, a scheduled face-to-face interview with Radcliffe seemed inadvisable three days later, given the rapidly shifting ground. The actor can be seen in action comedy Guns Akimbo, showing in cinemas in Singapore, and thriller Escape From Pretoria, which opens here on Thursday.

Instead of meeting at a favourite diner - Radcliffe would not reveal the name, to preserve his privacy - we had a Skype video call at the appointed hour from his dressing room.

"We're on the cutting edge here," he said, just as his features pixelated and froze.

Over the course of 75 minutes, he spoke about his abiding love for The Simpsons, his upcoming turn as a "very posh, stupid prince" in the movie version of Netflix comedy Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (2015 to 2019) and his psychological response mechanism to the tenacious characterisation of child actors as nightmares.

"Knowing that is what people think about young actors made me counteract that to the point where you could be quite rude to me and I would not notice," said Radcliffe, who is now 30. "I would be so paranoid that you could say whatever you liked."

It had, he added, given him an excess of sympathy for celebrities like Canadian singer Justin Bieber.

It has also fuelled Radcliffe's determination to put Harry Potter behind him and be judged for his body of work.

Knowing that is what people think about young actors made me counteract that to the point where you could be quite rude to me and I would not notice. I would be so paranoid that you could say whatever you liked.

DANIEL RADCLIFFE on his response to the characterisation of child actors as nightmares

"I am always going to feel that I got incredibly lucky, but at the same time, I do believe you can justify it a bit retroactively by working really hard," he said.

In the bleakly comic and relentlessly claustrophobic Endgame, a play by Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, he plays the submissive Clov to actor Alan Cumming's cantankerous and blind Hamm.

As with Beckett's other work, it is an existential disquisition on the meaning of life, in which a codependent couple take shelter from a senseless world.

The play, which opened in late January, became more pertinent as the weeks passed.

"It's a funny time to be doing a play about the end of the world," Radcliffe said.

A line repeated several times - "Something is taking its course" - had started eliciting knowing and nervous laughs of recognition, he said.

As it happens, Endgame is not the only project of his to find uneasy parallels with the current global crisis. Miracle Workers: Dark Ages, a TBS comedy by writer Simon Rich in which Radcliffe stars with Steve Buscemi, is set in an era defined by iniquity and stasis.

A plot twist in the Season 2 finale, scheduled for next Tuesday, involves a suspected outbreak of the Plague.

For more than a decade, Radcliffe has used the stage to build a post-Harry Potter career, starting memorably with English playwright Peter Shaffer's homoerotic classic Equus, about a teenage boy who blinds six horses.

"The young wizard has chosen wisely," theatre critic Ben Brantley wrote in The New York Times when the play arrived on Broadway.

That was followed by the musical How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, which Radcliffe said was one of his favourite projects.

In all, he has starred in seven theatre shows and at least 10 movies since graduating from Hogwarts.

Anxiety about life after Potter exacerbated Radcliffe's reliance on alcohol.

He stopped drinking in 2013, helped by his parents and friends as well as other actors, and said the mindset that keeps him from alcohol is helping him navigate the coronavirus anxiety today.

"To really know and understand what it means to take something one day at a time is an attitude that really helps across life," he said. "When you first stop drinking, you have to be convinced that you can ever have fun again."

He was back onstage on March 14 to a crowd, but by last Sunday evening, the Old Vic had become the first theatre in London to close, albeit voluntarily.

To save the theatre from financial crisis, producers of Endgame asked ticket holders to consider accepting a video link to the show in lieu of a refund.

Even before being relieved of his obligations, Radcliffe was eager to reunite with his girlfriend, actress Erin Darke, in New York.

"Honestly, I am desperately trying to get back," he said. "I'm very much aware that this is not the main tragedy of this global pandemic, but I do not want to be not with her through whatever it is that's happening."

Radcliffe met Darke when he was filming Kill Your Darlings (2013), in which he plays Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, and they will celebrate their eighth anniversary in a few weeks. When they are not working, they watch movies or play board games. They are well equipped for quarantine.

"I'm going to make us sound ancient, but we play cribbage," Radcliffe said, visibly blushing on Skype. They also enjoy a game called Welcome To Your Perfect Home. It is about urban planning.

"I can't describe it without making it sound intensely dull, but it's very addictive," he said.

NYTIMES

• Guns Akimbo is showing in cinemas, while Escape From Pretoria opens on Thursday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2020, with the headline 'Building a career after Harry Potter'. Print Edition | Subscribe