Daniel Radcliffe on his dark Broadway return and why a movie-musical could be next

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Image Credit: Johan Persson

Few actors have managed to transcend the roles that made them famous the way Daniel Radcliffe has. Even before he hung up his Harry Potter robes, Radcliffe began undertaking a handful of challenging roles that were, whether intentional or not, significant departures from the boy wizard. Particularly when it comes to his work on stage, Radcliffe’s moves have been brave and bold, baring it all in Equus and charming audiences with surprising musical chops in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

His third time on Broadway is now at hand — he’ll star in Martin McDonagh’s pitch-black comedy The Cripple of Inishmaan, which begins performances April 12 at the Cort Theatre — and Radcliffe is eager to get back to the stage. EW stole a few minutes of his time on the set of Frankenstein to chat about reprising his role, the lessons he’s picked up on Broadway, and what other role is at the top of his wish list.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You must have genuinely loved doing Cripple of Inishmaan in London to reprise it over here. What makes you most excited to pick up Billy’s hat again?
DANIEL RADCLIFFE: It was all in all a really, really great experience last year. I love the play, I’ve worked on Broadway shows twice now, and I love working and living in New York. It’s one of those situations where the chance to spend a lot of time in a city that I love doing a play that I love was really, really exciting.

The playwright, Martin McDonagh, is definitely not for everyone, and this show can get pretty brutal. What’s your experience with dark humor?
I like dark comedy, I think I’ve always liked watching it as well as doing it. I know that Martin is a very dark writer, and actually this is one of his least violent plays. What I think is impressive about the play as a whole is that it manages to be so cruel but also has this heart. When you think about the play at first, you think about it as this dark comedy, but I actually don’t think people expected it to have this really heartbreaking, very beautiful, very tender side to it as well, and I think that’s what makes it work. I feel like the last scene from this play leaves the theater with people when they go.

Billy is optimistic — he’s kind of in love with the bright escape of Hollywood. Did you connect with that? Did you have that picture of Hollywood in mind when you were younger?
There are many huge differences in mine and Billy’s life, but the particular difference is that whereas I was getting to live that life and be on those sets that Billy dreams of when I was 10, 11, 12, Billy is just dreaming of them. But one of the things I love about Billy is how his ambition and his optimism and his compassion for other people is totally undiminished despite the abuse that he suffers constantly. I think what drives him, more than being obsessed with the idea of getting into film, is that the documentary on the neighboring island presents the only way out that he’ll ever see. Whoever gets a part in the film will be taken back to America, and he’s viewed America as everyone did particularly in that time: as a place of opportunity and tolerance. He thinks that somebody with his condition might be able to forge a better life out there.

This is your third time on Broadway. What were the biggest lessons you learned in Equus and How to Succeed?
Equus was a total learning experience, working with Richard Griffiths every day and being able to watch and learn from him. Also, at the same time that we started Equus, there were a couple of shows that I very distinctly remember had big-name casts and were really great plays that didn’t necessarily last very long, and I just remember that as a wake-up call. Not that I was ever being complacent, but I remember thinking it doesn’t matter who you’ve got in your show; it has to be a good show that people want to see, otherwise it won’t survive in New York. And then from How to Succeed, I did that show for 11 months, so that just taught me a lot about stamina onstage and finding ways of keeping a show fresh for 300 performances. It’s a real test and it’s a great test, and it’s one I really, really enjoyed. Who knows if I’ll ever do a run of a play or show that long again? But if I get a 12-week or 14-week or 30-week run, I can go, “Well, I know I can do that, I’ve done that before.”

It has to be a great feeling, knowing it’s already under your belt.
In many ways, I still say that… I think the performance I’m proudest of that I’ve ever given was in Kill Your Darlings or in Cripple of Inishmaan, but in terms of having done a really long run, for some reason I’m proudest of How to Succeed more than anything I’ve done just because of the exertion for a year and the fact that I was able to keep it up. Because at the beginning of the year you do go, “Oh God, will I be able to do this?” So the fact that you get through makes you proud.

And you don’t have to worry about your singing voice every day.
That’s the nicest thing about not doing a musical! The day after you stop, waking up and thinking, “I don’t have to give a sh– what my voice sounds like today” is just the best.

In crafting your theatrical career, are there other actors from past generations whose career you want to emulate in terms of balancing those dual realms of film and stage?
Absolutely. It’s a very interesting thing because I think there was a period, and this could be completely in my imagination, but it seems to me there was a period that ended about 10 years ago where you weren’t viewed as theater or film actors. You had Richard Burton and Richard Harris and Peter O’Toole and all those guys who would go from Oscar-winning films to a two-year run of Hamlet. That was a very, very common thing. That’s how you made your name as an actor, generally, was on the stage first. In terms of my generation, one of my earliest memories of plays is seeing James McAvoy, who I’m working with on film at the moment, in Privates on Parade. I saw Ben Whishaw play Hamlet when he was 21 or 22. I’ve seen Jude Law on stage a bunch of times. I think ages ago I was reading Guy Pearce saying he always goes back to the theater because that’s what keeps him sharp and on his toes. And also, I’m sure, for the rush of it, because it is such an exciting thing to do. There is no reason for it to be in any way exclusive, the idea that you’re a stage or film actor.

You’ve done a musical, you’ve done drama, you’ve done dark comedy, adventure, everything. What other sort of roles are on your bucket list?
Combining two of those things. I would love to do a big film musical. I think when they’re done right, they’re incredibly exciting and fun and cool. Everyone thinks of the ones that come to mind immediately like Grease and things like that, but what was that slightly bizarre but wonderful John Turturro film? Romance & Cigarettes. It’s a bizarre musical, and I love weird, interesting, different stuff like that.

The Cripple of Inishmaan begins previews on April 12 at the Cort Theatre; opening night is set for April 20.

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