In his movie roles, Daniel Radcliffe has saved a magical world from unspeakable evil (the Harry Potter films), battled a vengeful ghost ( The Woman in Black) and become embroiled in a murder among the Beat Poets ( Kill Your Darlings).
And now — finally — he gets to be funny.
In the romantic comedy What If, which opens Friday in South Florida, Radcliffe plays Wallace, a med school dropout who falls for an animator ( Zoe Kazan) who’s already got a boyfriend ( Rafe Spall). The movie revisits the age-old question: Can men and women just be friends?
Radcliffe reveled in the chance to try some lighter material.
“It was really lovely,” he says. “I’m sure if you talk to people who do light comedies all the time they’re dying to get on the set of a drama. And I like the dark stuff, too — I’ll do more of it. I just didn’t realize how lovely it would be to leave an audience with a happy, warm feeling.”
Director Michael Dowse allowed the cast (which includes Adam Driver from HBO’s Girls) a little freedom to improvise. Radcliffe says the finished film sticks mostly to the script, but improvising helped shape the characters and build camaraderie on the set.
“What makes improvisation so wonderful is it makes you focus on the other person,” he says. “My job every day was making Zoe Kazan laugh on camera.”
Radcliffe, 25, has a history of choosing projects that take him out of his comfort zone. The danger of playing a character like Harry Potter is getting typecast, and he’s careful to choose roles far from the boy wizard — like that of poet Allen Ginsberg, hopelessly in love with another man in Kill Your Darlings.
“I would never preclude myself from any genre,” Radcliffe says. “I don’t want to repeat myself. That’s how I enjoy my job most, not doing just one thing but doing very different things. Playing Harry for so long, it kind of builds up in you that you want to play as many different parts as you can.”
The stage veteran — he starred in Equus with its famous nude scene in 2007 and the musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in 2011 — wouldn’t rule out doing another romantic comedy or even returning to the theater.
“I’ve never done a brand new play,” he says, “but those are hard to come by. I’d like that experience.”
He’d also like to write and direct but concedes that will most likely happen down the road. His next film, due out in the fall, is an adaptation of Joe Hill’s dark horror novel Horns, about a guy who wakes up one day to discover horns growing from his head.
“As soon as I read the script, I said, ‘I can’t let anybody else play this part,’ ” Radcliffe says, laughing. “I wanted it so badly! There’s madness, and it’s also incredibly sad. It’s a great part in terms of the range you get.”
As for Harry Potter, the series and its lessons will stick with Radcliffe for a long time.
“It gave me a lot of stamina — I didn’t realize not all films shot for 11 months at a time. That’s what I was used to. On about day 18 of shooting for Kill Your Darlings, someone asked me, ‘Are you tired?’ And I was like, ‘No! We’ve just started!’ It’s natural for me to be on a film set. I feel at home there. And if you find out at 10 or 11 what you want to dedicate your life to, then that’s a blessing.”
As for people talking to him about Harry?
“It’s something you never grow tired of. It holds such a special place in my heart. I’m proud of those films. I always will be.”