Daniel Radcliffe playing someone other than Harry Potter is one thing, but Daniel Radcliffe starring in a horror film? Shortly after taking his final bow as Harry Potter in The Deathly Hallows - Part 2, Radcliffe is back on the big screen in The Woman in Black.
Radcliffe leads as Arthur Kipps, a young father who’s still reeling from his wife’s passing during childbirth. Now a solo parent, Arthur needs to support his son and that means sorting out the legal affairs of the recently deceased owner of the secluded Eel Marsh House. However, upon arriving in town, Arthur comes to learn that this gig is going to be a tough one, not only because the home is overflowing with paperwork, but also because the house isn’t as empty as he was led to believe.
On the occasion of The Woman in Black’s February 3rd release, Radcliffe sat down to talk all about the transition from Potter to horror, his own unease with the genre, the preparation necessary for embodying such a troubled character and much more. Check it all out in the interview below.
You’ve done a few other things during and after Harry Potter wrapped, but this is really your first starring feature beyond the series. Were you feeling the pressure when it came to choosing that next lead role?
You know, there wasn’t. The pressure was nonexistent in choosing this role, really. It’s only now that I’m kind of feeling the pressure. [Laughs] But no, at the time I read it and it was the easiest decision I’ve made. It was a fantastic script. There were a couple of other things that I was looking at around the same time, but just were not as good and not as polished and not as ready to film as this script was. So, yeah, a very easy decision. I wanted to do it and I knew that as soon as I saw it, because also I hadn’t expected to like a horror film. When somebody handed me the script and said this is horror I said, ‘Really?’ I never envisaged that that would be the first thing I did after Potter would be this horror movie, but when I was reading it, I found such fun in the idea of being in this story that’s really gonna scare the shit out of people; that’s a really fun idea.
Are you into horror movies?
I am and I’m not. I don’t really like a lot of modern horror. It sort of leaves me quite cold. And also I can’t do it. I can’t do the whole genre because I can’t do gore. I really have a problem with very bloody scenes and it just upsets me, which I guess is what it’s meant to do, but I don’t enjoy watching it. But suspenseful, clever, imaginative, playful horror, I love. The Others was a film that we looked at, particularly in reference to this movie because we felt they struck a tone that we really admired and sort of wanted to try and emulate. The Shining is probably my favorite scary movie. I don’t think you can get much more terrifying than that.
There’s a nice amount of blood in that one. The elevator scene?
Yeah, but I don’t know. That’s the thing, when blood’s done right, it’s fine, but when you’re just showing me blood and horrible things happening to people, when I feel it’s gratuitous, I hate it.
You have to earn it.
Yeah, I think so. I was thinking the other day, you ever see a movie called Dog Soldiers?
Really good movie! Very very funny British werewolf movie. It’s about four or five Territorial Army officers who are just on maneuvers and then suddenly they get attacked by werewolves. And like a lot of werewolf films, it’s good until you see the werewolf, but it’s a really really funny film and there’s this one bit where this English actor, I think Sean Pertwee, is lying on the bed and his guts are coming out and somebody else is trying to push them back in and they’re going, ‘They won’t go back in!’ It’s really funny and I remember there’s some pretty gruesome stuff in that and I loved that film. It’s a really good film. Sometimes when it gets gratuitous and tortuous I can’t deal with it.
Obviously you’re not Harry Potter, but you’ve played the character for so many years. Did you have to go through a Harry detox before taking on other projects?
[Laughs] No, not at all. There is a lot between me and Harry; I did live with him for so long. It felt very natural on the first day to step onto a set and be a different character. It didn’t feel like I was having to exorcise that or anything and nor do I want to. I had a fantastic time on those movies and I don’t want to ever cleanse myself entirely of them. I loved them. I think also when I started off playing Harry, because I was so young, there was no character involved. It was just I said the lines as me, the 11-year-old Dan would have said them, and so there was always a lot of my energy in Harry and Harry’s energy in me probably, so it was quite nice to step onto a new set and go, ‘Okay, I’m starting from scratch. There can be nothing of Harry in this character.’ I quite liked that.
And now how about Arthur Kipps? You’re not married, you don’t have a kid and I imagine you’ve never seen a ghost. What kinds of preparation did you do to really get into Arthur’s head?
Obviously he’s somebody who’s suffered a loss. He has lost his wife during childbirth a few years ago and has become devastated by it and completely detached and disconnected from his son, from the world, from everything. I spoke to a bereavement counselor for a couple of hours, because obviously as you said, I could never fully imagine myself into the head of somebody who has lost someone. So I met her and I read a couple of books on grief because it was just about giving yourself as much information so that hopefully when you get to set, it just informs your choices and you don’t have to think about it too much. One of the really useful things that I did, I spoke to a couple of friends of mine who both suffer with depression. My friend said the thing he was really kind of pissed off that no one told him about depression because it’s in his family and he’s like, ‘I’m really annoyed no one ever told me about this,’ was that it’s tiring. Psychically and mentally, you’re exhausted. And it is a physical thing as well, so it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning. That’s an effort. So that’s sort of where I started with Arthur, was from a place of complete physical and mental exhaustion and say that’s where he is in the first scene and then sort of built it up around there.
That seems like a very deep seeded way to approach a character. Were you able to snap in and out of it between takes?
Yeah, absolutely! I’ve never worked with a method actor in my entire life. Alan Rickman and Ralph Fiennes both come the closest. Not that they’re method, but they kind of do make an effort to stay in the tone of the character for when they’re not on camera. Michael Gambon will just be chatting shit to you up until the moment of action and then will just go into character. I’ve always watched people do that. And I also think it’s useful because I think if you’re on set the whole time, you can’t possibly stay in character. Okay, maybe some people can, but I can’t and I find it very useful to be able to be totally concentrated for a short period of time while you’re doing the take. The take ends, relax, think about something else, walk away, do something, come back to it and it’ll be different somehow.
And how’d this work with James Watkins’ approach? What kind of actor’s director is he?
He’s great. He’s very practical. He gives very specific, precise notes on what he needs to tell the story. That’s why I particularly enjoyed working with him because I have aspirations to direct and I feel like I learned a huge amount about direction from him in terms of how he uses every opportunity to tell the story, makeup, costume, everything. He’s constantly using it to push the story forward or give detail or nuance to a character or something. And in terms of the relationship I had with him, particularly around the four days that we were in the house and it was just me, that was the time where I had to stick very close to James and just be saying to him all the time, ‘Are you getting what you need?’ You sort of feel like you’re just making the same face again and again and again. No matter how different the thought is or what different intentions you’re giving yourself, I feel like you end up doing the same thing. I would say to him, ‘Are you getting what you need to tell the story?’ And he’ll be like, ‘Yeah, I am, but in the next part, I need you to do this because this is setting up this and this will help us tell that.’ He gives very specific, constructive notes. And he’s a very nice guy, which makes the filming experience very pleasant.
How was it shooting those scene when you’re alone and don’t have any dialogue? So much horror comes out in post with editing and sound. Is James giving you direction during the take?
Yeah, often he’ll be talking through stuff or he’ll just be saying, ‘Okay, now head to your left and now see what’s through that door,’ and he’ll just give me stuff to do so the camera guy knows as well where I’m about to go. You’re right; you’re the first person who hasn’t said to me, ‘Did you get scared during filming,’ because it’s like, ‘No, we don’t because we’re actors and we know there’s a crew there.’ There’s nothing to be scared of. But actually this set was very helpful because it was so detailed and there was so much to explore that you could kind of get lost in it and just find something fascinating and the camera can just observe you.
One thing you could be kind of scared of though is that muddy marsh scene. Or maybe you had a stunt double?
That was all me! There were a couple of parts where Marc [Mailley], my stunt double, who I know very well so I will tell you what he did, he did all the parts where the hydraulic rig, which was the cart, whenever he’s stepping outside of that, but he’s still in the mud and the cart is moving. So for some of the climbing off stuff, it’s Mark, but for all the rest of it, it’s me. It was cold. Basically how that scene looked, is how it was to film. [Laughs] It was sort of a tank about 10-foot long by five-foot wide, five-foot deep and five-foot stops here on me [motions to five feet on his body], so five-foot is a lot. But I like the fact that after the second day, Tim Maurice-Jones, our lights and cameraman, came up to me and said, ‘I don’t know any other actor that would have done that,’ and that made it completely worthwhile. I like that. I like being more willing than most.