Daniel Radcliffe plays a classic British bad guy in Now You See Me 2

Even though the star of the Harry Potter movies plays a villain who is terrible at magic tricks in Now You See Me 2

Now You See Me 2 stars (from left) Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Daniel Radcliffe, Lizzy Caplan and Jesse Eisenberg.
Now You See Me 2 stars (from left) Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Daniel Radcliffe, Lizzy Caplan and Jesse Eisenberg.PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

If there was going to be a handbook on how to survive playing a boy wizard for 10 years, Daniel Radcliffe would be the one to write it, although it might still be a work in progress.

Five years after the eighth and last Harry Potter film came out in 2011, the 26-year-old British actor has still not found a role as indelible as that character, which made him the star of the second highest- grossing franchise of all time, with US$7.7 billion (S$10.4 billion) in takings worldwide. The cinematic universe of Marvel superheroes is at No. 1.

Yet the star seems to have a strategy for getting people to forget Potter and take him seriously as an adult performer, which seems to involve doing projects as far removed as possible from the wholesome fantasy world dreamt up by J.K. Rowling in the books that inspired the series.

Thus, in 2007, Radcliffe decided to shock Potter fans by embracing full-frontal nudity in the edgy stage play Equus while, on screen, he has gravitated towards small, independent films, including the upcoming Swiss Army Man, a surreal arthouse flick in which he portrays a flatulent corpse.

And opening in Singapore tomorrow is his first blockbuster film since Potter, Now You See Me 2, a magic heist thriller that casts him as a character who, in some ways, is the antithesis of Harry Potter: a man who is terrible at magic tricks.

Speaking to The Straits Times and other press in New York, Radcliffe says this was part of the appeal of playing Walter Mabry, a technology billionaire who forces an elite group of illusionists known as the Horsemen to steal a valuable computer chip.

"It was one of the things that I thought was definitely funny. I thought, you know, if I'm going to be in a big film about magic, that's kind of the role that I should probably have in it nowadays."

I’m very lucky to be associated with a franchise of films that people love and still have a lot of affection for.And so when you have people coming up to you and saying you were a huge part of their childhood, that’s amazing. That really doesn’t get old.

ACTOR DANIEL RADCLIFFE, on being part of the Harry Potter films

But he hastens to point out that the card tricks and David Copperfield-like illusions in the film represent a very different kind of magic from the sorcery of the fictional school of magic that is Hogwarts.

"This world and the type of magic is so different that it didn't feel like a clash of interests."

It was also nice getting to be the villain of the piece. "I'm fulfilling the rite of passage of playing a British bad guy," he says, smiling. "Finally, I was due for this. Give me my Jaguar advert."

Actor Tom Hiddleston, who plays key antagonist Loki in the Marvel superhero films, did a clip on the art of villainy for a Jaguar coupe advertisement.

Radcliffe adds: "The idea of playing a bad guy was a lot of fun and to do it with these other actors around you, that was really fun."

He appears alongside Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, who reprise their roles from the first movie in 2013.

Overall, his goal with his career is to "just keep making it as diverse as I possibly can and mixing it up".

"Like every actor, I want to write and direct at some point. And just keep working. I love my job and just want to keep doing it."

As they promote Now You See Me 2 across the world, Radcliffe's co-stars have had to look on as he is quizzed ad nauseam about his most famous role. Many reporters are determined to get a soundbite or quote about Harry Potter, if not from him, then from his co-stars.

This can make for some bizarre and cringe-worthy moments. Franco - who plays one of the Horsemen - says several reporters have actually asked him, in all seriousness, what Radcliffe taught him about magic.

The star himself cracks up when told this. "That's very funny. I'm grateful that Dave has been saying that he hasn't learnt any magic from me rather than saying, 'Oh yeah, he taught me everything.'

"There's always going to be something to correlate. With pretty much any film I do, somebody has found a link between that and Potter. This is the most direct one yet, obviously, because magic is involved."

But Radcliffe is good-natured about this line of questioning, courteously answering every query, including that old chestnut: Will he ever play a magician or wizard again?

"Well, the thing is, I don't want to say never, because I'll forget I said this and I'll end up doing the (American illusionist) David Blaine story," he quips.

He also has a ready answer to another common question, saying that cinema is the closest thing to magic he has experienced himself.

"When you see a really good film, it inspires you. When I see a good film, I want to go and make more films - I want to go find a new script or create something. I think the potential to inspire somebody into action is a very real application of a magical feeling."

Without prompting, he also trots out the typical statement of gratitude that many franchise stars often deliver, lest anyone think they do not appreciate their good fortune - which, in Radcliffe's case, made him one of the highest-paid young actors in Hollywood at the height of Potter mania, with a net worth estimated at US$110 million.

"I'm very lucky to be associated with a franchise of films that people love and still have a lot of affection for. And so when you have people coming up to you and saying you were a huge part of their childhood, that's amazing. That really doesn't get old."

And he has never regretted his choice of profession. "There was never a moment when I didn't enjoy being on set. I mean, there are days that are less comfortable. But there's never a day where I say I wish I hadn't done this with my life."

Still, he hints that there may have been some growing pains when he was younger and adjusting to his fame. "There were moments as a teenager when I was coming to terms with the life that goes with it and resisting that.

"Like when you're a teenager and going, 'No, I can still live a totally normal life and go down to the pub and no one will care.' It doesn't work like that and you have to recognise it at some point."

Asked if he has any advice for the young stars of today, Radcliffe - who is dating actress Erin Darke, 26 - says: "Don't be on Twitter. Because you don't have to be.

"I think there's an enormous amount of pressure on young actors to think that's how you build your career. With almost every job I do, somebody at some point says, 'Will you please set up a Twitter account and start tweeting.' Because people promote stuff through it."

The actor, who says he rarely reads reviews of his work and feels that the comments sections of sites such as YouTube paint "a terrible picture of humanity", draws the line at engaging on social media this way. And he adds that he would probably become one of those Twitter users who "would just get angry and get into fights if somebody tweeted something annoying".

This, then, would be a key chapter in Radcliffe's survival guide for young stars. "If that's your thing, then go for it. But if people are saying it's essential for your career, I would say you don't have to and to keep as much of your private life private as you can."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 15, 2016, with the headline 'Cinema is magic for Daniel Radcliffe'. Print Edition | Subscribe