Mr. Radcliffe, is there a certain thrill in the moments before the cameras start rolling on a film set?
There isn’t really! You don’t ever just get that adrenaline naturally handed to you — maybe if you’re doing a stunt or if you’re doing a really pumped up scene, but it’s not in the same way that you do when you step on a stage. With movies, you’re also helped by the fact that you can do multiple takes or even very long takes, so sometimes you can work yourself into that state of frenzy or adrenaline… But normally you don’t feel that in film.
You once said that you have a kind of stillness that can be really good for certain roles — is that where it’s most useful?
I think that was something I said in regards to my earliest Harry Potter auditions, right? I never really rated myself as a child actor at all. And I still don’t, particularly! So when I look back on that, I don’t see myself feeling like I have to overact. I could have done with a bit of overacting at times probably but that was the one thing I think I can see in my young self where I’m like, “Yeah, you’re not terrible at that.” (Laughs) But stillness, I think… That’s the joy of being on film. You can be really subtle and the camera will see that. It will certainly see if you’re not doing that, as well, but it does have a way of capturing that stillness.
“You’ve got to give yourself somewhere to go in those moments.”
Do you experience that kind of stillness in your life outside of acting?
Probably not nearly as much as I should. My parents meditate, but I don’t think I can operate at that kind of chill pace. I’m not very good at just slowing down! So for me, I try to just take deep breaths, focus on my breathing… It’s funny, in Beast of Burden, I was sort of doing the opposite because one of the challenges of the film is that my character is in this perpetual state of panic, so keeping that up for the whole film… You’ve got to give yourself somewhere to go in those moments, mentally.
Kevin Kline said he feels most alive when he’s acting, that it’s like capturing lightning in a bottle.
On stage, you definitely get this great adrenaline rush because of the pure fear of stepping out in front of people… It’s so acute that I think you will always have that. When it comes doing something like a song and dance number — like, I danced at the Oscars and that was terrifying — you sort of just have to remind yourself that you know how to do this. You’ve been rehearsing, so just do it. Stop thinking about it. Those are the moments I get the most nervous about because it’s both terrifying and exciting. And the feeling of making it through every night is what’s unique to theater.
There are no second takes when you’ve got an audience.
Exactly, absolutely. And that feeling never goes away! The last thing I’m thinking every night before I go on stage is about how wrong it could all go! (Laughs) Every time I do a play, I’m like, “Ugh, why do I do this? This is so scary!” And then you start doing it and you’re like, “Oh, this is why,” because when it goes well, it’s really, really fun. And there’s something really exhilarating about overpowering those fears and getting through the entire performance and being like, “Okay, we did it. Everyone’s alive.”
“There is something incredibly powerful about the first time you are on stage when something goes wrong.”
Is it just as exhilarating when something does go wrong?
You know, actually, there is something incredibly powerful about the first time you are on stage when something really does go wrong and somebody forgets a line and you get like 10 seconds of utter silence on stage… It happens and then it’s over and you’re like, “Oh. We just carried on.” Maybe the audience noticed but frankly, maybe they didn’t. It’s a good thing.
Most of your previous roles have been more physical — how does these kinds of mentally grueling roles compare? Is it just as exhausting?
It is, but it’s in a different way. You certainly aren’t going home and socializing in the evenings, you know? You have to have your wits about you because it can be really long spells of concentration.
Do you think that kind of mental strength or calmness is the most important quality for an actor?
No, I don’t know if I think that! You know, I think for me in my life, the most useful thing that I aspire to be is just being as self-aware and as honest with myself as possible. I think if you’re doing that then probably everything else will follow, you know? I realized sometime in my twenties that that calmness will come if this sort of self-awareness is your natural state of being.
What do you mean?
Okay, so it probably had a lot to do with my quitting drinking and then quitting drinking for the second time, which is the time it actually stuck. Alcohol is a very quick and easy way to go about not addressing your feelings or your self or what worries you. And so, removing that made me go, “Oh, I have to actually ask and answer some questions I have about myself! What am I actually like? And what do I want to be like?” And I think I’ve got closer to finding some of that stuff in more recent years, which has been nice! I have definitely felt that I’m letting people down at times… But recently, I feel like released of a lot of the pressure of having to try to be something that I think I’m not, and that’s what I felt a lot when I was in my late teens, early twenties.
“If a regret is something I wish I didn’t do or that if I could go back and change it, I would… Then I don’t really have any regrets.”
Has it gotten easier to trust yourself since then?
Yeah, I do think I’ve gotten better at trusting myself a little more but I don’t think I ever particularly had a problem with that. I always kind of went on instinct! I’m comfortable with who I am now though… And now that I’m a little older, I have more of a sense of what I want to do and what I don’t want to do. I think I’ve got firmer in my beliefs about what I want to do with my career and how I want to pick things.
So there are no regrets about the roles you’ve turned down?
If a regret is something I wish I didn’t do or that if I could go back and change it, I would… Then I don’t really have any regrets. Everything I’ve done has at the very least been something I’ve learned something very valuable from. I wouldn’t change anything. I have to say — and I’m sure, now that I’ve said this, something I’ve turned down will go on to win massive awards — but over the years, I’ve been right about the scripts I’ve turned down… So far so good.
Audio Files from Article
Getting through the entire performance