Before Daniel Radcliffe became the most famous child actor in history, he was just a child: an only child, a poor sleeper, a nonstop talker, a picky eater. He was also disarmingly sweet. In the screen test he took at age 10, in 2000, for the first Harry Potter film, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” he smiles brightly, ebullient, his delight in being there apparent; he is concentrating, concentrating so hard at one point that he mouths words under his breath while waiting to deliver a line, but even still, when he does finally speak, he is all natural sincerity. His face is a flawless little-boy face, his eyes huge and cerulean blue. One eye occasionally blinks more slowly than the other, but no matter. He turns, compliantly, this way and that when asked. About four minutes into the footage, someone places the iconic round glasses on him, and there he is: Harry Potter, boy wizard, the chosen one. The adult voice on the video says: “Those look good.”
Within weeks, Radcliffe, officially cast as Harry Potter, was sitting at a news conference before a roomful of cameras and reporters. One of his first questions from the media: “How do you feel about becoming famous?” Radcliffe brightened: “It’ll be cool!” The crowd laughed.
Thirteen years later, on Sept. 2, Radcliffe was on a small boat in Venice, speeding along the Grand Canal toward the Rialto Bridge. The bridge, a 16th-century stone marvel, is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Venice, but on that day, it was merely a convenient viewing station from which wildly waving fans could await Radcliffe’s arrival. Radcliffe was making his way from the Lido, a small resort island that hosts the Venice Film Festival, to a department store that had agreed to publicize, with huge banners, the independent film, “Kill Your Darlings,” that Radcliffe was in town to promote. Young people, mostly girls but a few boys, had been lining up outside the store since the evening before for an autograph-signing. Radcliffe was hoping to lure at least some of his Harry Potter following to see his new film, in which he plays a youth icon of a different order: the poet Allen Ginsberg, during his rebellious late-teenage years.
Everywhere Radcliffe looked, on tiny side streets opening out to the water, on lacy balconies overhead, people were crammed in close, screaming his name — “Donyell! Donyell!” — and blowing kisses. From the deck, a manager with the film’s Italian distributor called to Radcliffe, “Come up top!” The day was beautiful, with that warm Venetian light bouncing off the water. “I’ve been told not to — sorry!” Radcliffe called back. Radcliffe, who is 24, looked mortified by this precaution, which was not to protect his safety but someone else’s labor. “I’m sorry I’m acting like I care about my hair,” he told me, “but Dan"— his hairstylist — “gave me strict instructions not to make him look like an ass.”
Radcliffe, in person, generally vibrates at a faster frequency than the character that made him famous, but looking out at the awaiting throng, he seemed quiet and focused. After so many years, he is accustomed to the frenzied desire, the crazed crush of fans wanting to see him, capture him on film or claim his autograph; if he was feeling some dread, it was because he already knew that he would be disappointing so many people. “I’m more nervous about the anticipation of feeling bad,” he said. “When you’ve got thousands of people who’ve gotten up at 4 in the morning and think they’re going to get something and they won’t. . . .”
Now the boat inched its way around a tight bend and pulled up to a dock the crowd could not access. Radcliffe’s bodyguard, Sam, never more than an arm’s length away, led him up some stairs and into the glaring artificial light of the department store, which smelled of perfume and wool. From a balcony, Radcliffe took in the view — some 1,500 people, packing the street. A sofa had been set up in one of the in-store boutiques, and a few feet away, behind a barrier, a phalanx of young girls pressed up against one another to get closer to Radcliffe as he, Sam and his publicist tried to get their bearings. In the absence of a clear plan, Radcliffe walked up to the barricade and began signing cellphones, books and T-shirts, but the crowd started to heave and surge — “Che bello!” cried a girl — at which point Sam pulled Radcliffe away. (Laconic, 6 foot 3 and movie-star handsome, Sam — who agreed to be identified by only his first name — alternates monthly with another bodyguard; one or the other accompanies Radcliffe everywhere.)
Once an orderly line formed, Radcliffe stood and signed autographs, as one of the 12 security guards hired for the event pushed the girls along to keep things moving. “Can I get a hug?” one girl asked. “No, but it’s lovely meeting you!” Radcliffe said. Another young woman was shaking with emotion. “Are you O.K.?” he nervously asked. (“It only makes it worse if you’re nice,” he later observed, miserably.) At one point, he scrawled an autograph on a piece of paper, then threw it away quickly. “That one’s no good.” A vein in his forehead had become more visible than usual.
Once he hit the 500 mark, after about an hour, Radcliffe spoke to a video camera, apologizing to all those who were still in line outside and would not get to meet him and thanking them for coming. As someone broke the news to the waiting girls that Radcliffe was leaving, wails broke out; Radcliffe was ushered, with Sam just behind him, back down the stairwell. He ducked around a corner, finally alone. He lighted a cigarette. “Are you all right?” his publicist asked. Radcliffe, pale, prone to headaches, nodded.
A 25-minute boat ride later, he was back at the Lido and being rushed into a black car. He had barely settled in when the driver turned to him: “I’m so sorry, sir, can I ask you to sign for my sons?” Radcliffe did not hesitate. “Oh, yes, of course!” he said, and the driver passed him a napkin and a pen.
Since the Potter movies ended, Radcliffe has thrown himself into a frenzy of projects, at times working 90-hour weeks and rarely taking vacations. He seems intent on proving that he is, if not worthy of the golden ticket he received at age 10 (because who could be), at least working as hard as anyone could to show he won’t squander his fame. In 2010, while he was finishing the last Potter films, he trained with a choreographer and learned how to dance so he could star in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” on Broadway. In addition to “Kill Your Darlings,” he has finished two other movies: “Horns,” an adaptation of the Joe Hill novel, and “The F Word,” a romantic comedy with Zoe Kazan. This summer, he played the lead role in “The Cripple of Inishmaan” in London’s West End. During the last month of the play’s run, he filmed, during the day, the title role in the second season of a television series called “A Young Doctor’s Notebook,” based on a book by the Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov; already a success on British television, the first season began airing in the United States this month on Ovation, an arts television network.
In the show, Radcliffe plays a young, morphine-addicted doctor who often appears alongside an older version of himself, played by Jon Hamm. The material, set in early-20th-century Russia, is obscure, at times comically obscene and absurdist. When Hamm approached Radcliffe about the project, showing him an outline of the script, he said yes right away. “The Master and Margarita,” Bulgakov’s best-known book, is one of Radcliffe’s favorite novels — on his 21st birthday, he treated himself to a trip to Moscow to visit the author’s onetime home.
As the writers started working on the script, they were not sure whether Radcliffe would feel comfortable with physical comedy or humor that played on his height (he’s 5 foot 5). To their relief, he embraced it, banging his head on low-hanging lights, allowing Hamm to pick him up or body-slam him, enduring a steady stream of asides about his size. Three days before leaving for Venice, Radcliffe was finishing the last scenes for the second season, including one in which he was wrestling with a pharmacist over a forged prescription for morphine. The two actors tugged at the piece of paper for a moment, and then Radcliffe, like a small, feral animal, stood on his toes and sank his teeth into the pharmacist’s hand, pulling the paper away in triumph.
That final touch with the teeth, dark and antic, was Radcliffe’s improvisation. It went over well. “That was like: What if I was in a situation, and I really needed it?” Radcliffe said. “I’d bite the sucker.”
He had five minutes after the scene to take a break and quickly walked outside to smoke a cigarette; he rolls them, a habit he picked up from the Harry Potter wardrobe dresser, a father of three now in his 40s, whom Radcliffe considers one of his best friends from the days on the set. Among the wealthiest men under 30 in his country, Radcliffe, particularly when he smokes, has the pallid, slightly starved look of an artist who might live in a garret. He has a pointy chin but wide, dramatic cheekbones and those surprisingly blue eyes. If it weren’t for the eyebrows, which are caricatures of eyebrows, exceptionally dark and heavy, Radcliffe might be pretty rather than what he is, which is handsome in a vaguely gothic way. Occasionally, and more so when he is tired, he still shows the same slow, one-eyed blink he did on his screen test. “It’s what Homer Simpson’s eyes do when he’s drunk,” Radcliffe said. “I listen to too many directors’ commentaries from ‘The Simpsons,’ that’s why I know that.” (lol wut is that description)
At times in his professional life, Radcliffe said, he has felt self-conscious about other idiosyncrasies of his face, particularly when he was acting in his first post-Potter movie, a horror film called the “The Woman in Black.” During filming, he said, “I was struggling in vain to not come close to making a face that would make people think of Harry.” And how would he characterize a Harry face? “There isn’t,” he said, exhaling smoke and shaking his head. “It’s just my face. I have to accept the fact that my face is going to remind people of Harry because I played that character. If I try to avoid being expressive in that same way, all I’ll do is stop being expressive, and I won’t be any farther away from that character.”
Radcliffe has been most successful, outside the Potter franchise, in roles in which the physicality of the character helps him over the hurdle of his past on-camera self. When he was 18, he starred in “Equus” on Broadway, playing a disturbed adolescent, a role that required extensive nudity. He performed with an Irish accent and portrayed a disabled young man in “The Cripple of Inishmaan.” In “Kill Your Darlings,” he plays a gay, sexually active aspiring poet attending Columbia University. A touch of Hogwarts hovers over the film, but the earnest, solemn, blue-eyed schoolboy has been replaced by a hyperverbal, occasionally manic Jewish adolescent from Paterson, N.J.
The range of roles reflects Radcliffe’s ambition and his desire to prove, as quickly as he can, that he can genuinely act. “I have a massive chip on my shoulder,” he told me. “When you fall into something at age 11 and get paid incredible amounts of money for your entire teenage years for doing a job anyone would want, there is a part of you that thinks everybody is just saying, ‘He got there because he fell into it; he’s not really an actor.’ ” The possibility that those people might be right plagued him as well. “I feel it less nowadays,” he said. “It has taken a long time to feel like I’ve earned the place that I’m at.”
Radcliffe says he grew up on the comedy of embarrassment, a particularly British form of humor with which he identifies closely. The day he learned he got the part of Harry Potter, his parents rewarded him by letting him stay up late and watch an extra episode of “Fawlty Towers,” perhaps the apex of a genre built, as Radcliffe says, “on fear and anxiety and awkwardness.”
“A Young Doctor’s Notebook” revels in that queasy-making humor. In one episode, he hacks away at a young girl’s leg with a saw as blood spurts tragicomically, and in the second season he humiliates himself with his sleazy wooing of a beautiful young woman named Natasha.
On the “Doctor” set that day, Radcliffe changed into a Harlequin-style clown suit for a daydream sequence that called for him to leap, dancerlike, as he exited the scene. He chatted with the sound technician fixing his microphone. “You like Pavement?” he said. “A lot of sound guys like Pavement.”
“Don’t do that,” the technician deadpanned. “You’ve worked with other sound guys?”
“No, no, none of them even compare to you,” Radcliffe said. He generally seemed to enjoy the small talk and the camaraderie among the crew as much as the acting. He looked down at his costume and laughed. “I love this job,” he said to no one in particular. “It’s so stupid and weird.” He had already asked the young woman in wardrobe to take a photograph of him in the costume, so he could send it to his girlfriend, Erin Darke, an actress he met on the set of “Kill Your Darlings.” “She is going to find me sooo attractive in this,” he said.
When rehearsal kicked in, he practiced the leap. “I can do it better than that,” he promised the director. Midair, he pointed his toes into a classic jeté. The director sniggered appreciatively: shame, embarrassment. It was perfect.
In Venice, two days later, Radcliffe and the director of “Kill Your Darlings,” John Krokidas, were doing interviews from a temporary structure on a plaza overlooking the beach on the Lido. Outside, hundreds of girls pressed against the glass doors, screaming the appropriate summoning spell from Harry Potter — ‘'Accio! Accio!” — blowing kisses and pounding so hard on the walls that the building vibrated. When Radcliffe needed to use the bathroom around the corner, an event that required precision planning between Sam and the film festival’s publicists, the quick trip triggered a stampede as the girls followed, racing to take a shortcut through a terrace restaurant, startling the coffee-drinkers and flaneurs in their midst.
Over the course of the day, Radcliffe spoke to easily 100 reporters about the film, which is based on the story of Ginsberg’s youthful infatuation with Lucien Carr, a fellow Columbia student who eventually murders another friend in their circle. Radcliffe’s manners were unfailingly polite as he fielded questions; he moves through the world like a royal who not only embraces his responsibility to his public but also obsesses about it. “I meet hundreds of people, and I’m not going to remember them,” he said. “But every single one of them will remember their interaction with me.”
Radcliffe told me he tries to dispel the image of a spoiled child star within the first 10 seconds of meeting someone; sometimes he does that by extending his hand and introducing himself — “Hi, I’m Dan” — but as often as not, he finds something, anything, for which he can apologize. At one point, a TV reporter in Venice teared up while telling Radcliffe, whom she interviewed 10 years before, that he made her feel “like an old aunt.” Radcliffe looked stricken. “I’m so sorry, it’s not my intention,” he said, “but I know I have that effect on people, I’m terribly sorry.”
About midway through the morning, a European reporter asked, “Your childhood — was it normal?” For some reason, the question, a familiar one to Radcliffe, seemed to throw him. “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know what I’m missing. No, I’ve . . . I can’t sit around thinking of all the things I’ve. . . .” He drifted for a moment, then something seemed to kick into gear. “Because actually, no, it was an amazing childhood! People always ask if I missed out on childhood — actually, kids who are abused, that’s a missed childhood, those kids have stuff taken away.”
It was a nonanswer — a lot of anguish and ambivalence lies between a normal childhood and an abused one. In the last year of filming Harry Potter, Emma Watson, who played Hermione Granger, told Entertainment Weekly magazine that she was finding the experience “horrible” and complained bitterly about the tightly controlled routine on set: “I get told what time I get picked up, I get told what time I can eat, when I have time to go to the bathroom. Every single second of my day is not in my power.” Rupert Grint, who played Ron Weasley, Harry Potter’s best friend, recently described the long, drawn-out experience of appearing in the films as “quite suffocating.”
Radcliffe, however, rarely betrayed any strain. “If he was feeling good, bad, indifferent or terrible,” says David Yates, who directed the last four Potter films over six and a half years, “he carried the perception that everything was lovely and great, even though the pressures were really intense.”
As Radcliffe explained it: “The second you seem down, everyone’s very concerned. It affects the set.” Temporarily suppressing a mood was easier than bringing a crew of hundreds of people to a halt — it was just another skill he learned on the job, part of keeping the vast machinery around him moving smoothly. “If I ever was feeling ill,” he said, “it was: ‘Get a doctor on set!’ ‘No, I’m fine.’ . . . That feeling makes me not want to worry people.”
Radcliffe still doesn’t complain about his experience on Potter, at least not publicly; to do so would be to appear ungrateful and to risk being mocked by the tabloid press: Poor Dan, with his $80 million fortune! (That’s one common estimate; Radcliffe says that he doesn’t actually know how much money he has and leaves financial matters to his mother, who is a casting agent, and his accountant.) Watson has called the set a “bubble” from which she eventually wanted out; Radcliffe, though, describes it as his comfort zone, a place where he evolved into who he is, where he learned to love working in film, for better or for worse. Cuba Gooding Jr., on a British talk show, once teased Radcliffe about being so rich he never had to work again. “I’ve worked every day since I was 10,” Radcliffe protested. “I don’t know how to do anything else.” He added, a moment, later, “There is nothing else I’d rather be doing.”
Radcliffe’s father, Alan Radcliffe, a former literary agent who left his job to chaperon his son on the set, had a phrase he used if Radcliffe ever did appear put upon: “You’re not down in the mines.” It was shorthand for: You are incredibly lucky, and you are being well compensated, and your worst day, in many ways, is better than most people’s best. After Potter was over and Radcliffe, then 21, went to shoot “The Woman in Black,” the first time he wouldn’t be accompanied by a parent, his father wrote him a letter. “On a film set there’s always going to be somebody who’s going to be causing a delay,” Radcliffe recalls the letter saying. “Try and make sure it’s never you.” For 11 years, Radcliffe had done just that, every day, by all accounts; why spell it out? “Constant vigilance,” Radcliffe said, “is kind of our motto.”
Radcliffe’s upbringing during the Potter years was at once cloistered and uncensored. His father was on the set every day, providing an unusual amount of oversight in the strange, charmed halls of the drafty, converted aircraft hangar where the movies were shot. But all around him, especially as he became a teenager, the crew and cast were swearing, changing in front of him and regaling him with tales of boozy revels. Although he and Watson and Grint shared an intense experience and are friendly enough, they have barely seen one another since the last film. Radcliffe’s closest friends were always among the crew, people who “were either much older than me and had kids or lived outside of London,” he said. “I didn’t have that normal teenage period when you build up your friends in your area and you have a social circle.” After what was usually a long day on set (which included three to five hours of tutoring), Radcliffe went home and found anarchy where he could: he played the Sex Pistols and the New York Dolls, his childhood bedroom a refuge of rebellion. The weekends were for homework; he almost never went out with peers, self-conscious about having to reassure his parents about his safety or worried about imposing the hassles of celebrity on his friends.
At 17, Radcliffe moved out on his own, something he had been wanting to do for a long time. “Because of the life I’ve had, I’d grown up quicker than most people,” he said. “I felt like I was entitled.” He was also tired of being watched. “I can be honest about this now, because I know my parents know — but I wanted to smoke,” he said. “I was hiding it like a fiend.”
Looking back, he thinks he was too young to have been on his own. “Because when I was unhappy in any way, it made it too easy for me to hide it,” he told me one afternoon over lunch in the New York’s West Village. “I’d done ‘Equus,’ which had gone so well,” he said, “but I still couldn’t get rid of that committee of voices in my head saying that you’re going to fail.” He continued: “I think there was a part in the back of my head that was going: This is all going to end. And you’re going to be left in this nice apartment. Just living here. And being reminded of what you did in your teenage years for the rest of your life.” David Thewlis, who played Professor Lupin in the Potter films, once said that even when Radcliffe was young he would “joke that he’d be in rehab by the time he was 18, and by 27 he’d be hosting a game show called ‘It’s Wizards!’ ”
Not long after Radcliffe moved out on his own, he started drinking. By his own description, this was not casual drinking at parties, but every-night drinking, heavy drinking, drinking to the point of making a scene and then blacking out. “I became a nuisance,” he has said. “I became the person in the group who has to be looked after.” He drank in local bars and eventually alone, because he was too embarrassed to go back to the bars where he had been so drunk on nights past. In August 2010, when he was 21, after awakening from a blackout, bruised and unable to account for the previous eight hours, he decided to stop drinking. He hadn’t talked publicly about the extent of his problem and was worried that he would rise one morning to find photos of his past exploits plastered on the front page of a tabloid. So in 2011, he decided to speak openly about his drinking. Having spent so many years protecting the image of Harry Potter, he felt unknown by the same public that considered him an intimate part of their childhoods.
“I wanted to close the gap between the real me, what was going on in me, and the person that people perceived,” he told me. He talked to reporters about drunk-dialing old girlfriends, the strain drinking put on his relationship with his parents and even, most sensationally, the times he showed up, still drunk, on the set of “Harry Potter.” David Yates said he was not aware of Radcliffe’s drinking, which Radcliffe believes is true; he had carefully hidden his problem from colleagues and many close friends. “I’m not somebody who likes worrying people,” he told me. “So if I know I’m a worrying drinker, would I ever drink in front of people that I would worry?”
The tension between a protected and overexposed life still exists for Radcliffe. When he’s working in New York, he shares his apartment downtown with his personal assistant, Spencer Soloman, a 38-year-old former dancer and camera man, who became close with Radcliffe’s family when he was teaching the actor to dance for “How to Succeed.” Soloman and Sam function, in some ways, like older brothers: fun, but responsible and organized. Soloman plans Radcliffe’s schedule and talks to his father, agents and publicists two or three times a day; he might tell Radcliffe when he needs to shave for a photo shoot or search their apartment for a garment that his stylist wants him to wear for some occasion.
In London, Radcliffe almost never leaves his apartment without a bodyguard, and when he does, he keeps his head down. In New York, which he calls his one “head-up city,” he occasionally goes out solo, in a hoodie and sunglasses. (“New York is the only place in the world where people might say they like your work but they don’t ask you for anything,” he says.)
Radcliffe’s pleasures can veer into compulsions: he often chain-smokes cigarettes, pounds Diet Coke, recently kicked a Red Bull addiction and spends hours, into the early morning, on NFL.com, pursuing an obsession with American football he cultivated during “How to Succeed.” “I probably know every starting player’s name in the league,” he told me. “Actually, I don’t know why I’m being modest, I definitely know every starting player.” He records episodes of “Jeopardy!” when he’s in New York and watches them before he goes to sleep. A former guest on a brainy British quiz show called “QI,” he has an encyclopedic knowledge of music and trivia and a seemingly inexhaustible catalog of jokes.
Thrown into an adult world early on, Radcliffe nonetheless still clings to some adolescent habits. He subsists on a diet based largely on cheeseburgers and pizza, is the same poor sleeper he was as a child and is an inveterate slob. One friend still teases him about the time he took off a sock to mop up some soda, then put the sock back on.
Mostly his life revolves around work. Radcliffe says he confers with his parents about his career options, but he ultimately makes his own decisions and sets the pace. “He’s addicted to the whole work thing, and he does it brilliantly,” Yates says. “But he does hide things. He can also be very clear about what he likes and doesn’t like, but there is a danger. My fear is that at some point he’s got to stop and reflect and take a breath, and the fact that he hasn’t stopped in all the time since and during Potter — I think it’s important that he does that at some point.”
Inside the dark auditorium in Venice, moments before the screening of “Kill Your Darlings,” Radcliffe sat beside John Krokidas, the film’s director, and waited. “I can’t believe we’re at the Venice Film Festival,” Krokidas whispered to Radcliffe. “I know, me, too,” Radcliffe whispered back. As the film ran, the two bent their heads together, laughing at inside jokes, complimenting each other on their work.
Krokidas, 40, who made only two short films before this one, first approached Radcliffe to do the movie five years ago. “A thought came to me,” he said. “This was a movie about a dutiful son who has only shown the world one side and by the end is an artist and a poet and a rebel.” Radcliffe, his agent and his parents were all immediately taken by the project: “First of all, it’s hard to overstate how much better the script was than everything else we were reading,” Radcliffe said. It was not lost on him, however, that in both “A Young Doctor’s Notebook” and “Kill Your Darlings,” he plays a young person experimenting with mind-altering substances: “When you play characters in whom you recognize parts of yourself, it makes it easier, and it’s kind of cathartic.”
At first, Radcliffe had to let the part go, because he still had two more Harry Potter films to finish. By the time Krokidas cast the movie, lost financing and was putting financing back together again, Radcliffe was finally available. A foreign sales agent told Krokidas it was a bad move, that “Radcliffe couldn’t open a movie without a wand in his hand.” But once Radcliffe signed on, he worked as hard as Krokidas to sell the movie: he personally closed the deal for foreign sales in Germany while he was there promoting “The Woman in Black.”
When filming started, Radcliffe sometimes functioned like a seasoned mentor to Krokidas, counseling him on how to handle the press, establish the tone on the set or think about his next career move. The two have become close friends, the kind who feel comfortable keeping each other in line. After a screening at the Toronto Film Festival last month, when Krokidas decided to celebrate with a dip in a shallow decorative pool at a high-end lounge, it was Radcliffe who let him know that the amusing stunt could end up on the Internet. “John,” he told him, “there’s a fine line between funny and weird, and you are right on that line.” Krokidas got out.
In turn, Krokidas, whom Radcliffe has called “the best director of actors I have ever worked with,” spent many hours with Radcliffe off the set, helping him find an acting method that felt right, an experience, in retrospect, he wishes he had during the Potter movies. “There are simple things that no one sat me down and talked to me about,” Radcliffe told me. “No one had ever explained to me: What do you want out of the scene? It was very much left to our instincts.” Radcliffe, naturally verbal and kinetic, wishes he had not tried so hard in the Potter films to suppress his own “natural weirdness.” He singled out his performance in the sixth film, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” as “a little one-note the whole way through.” He has always felt uncomfortable seeing himself on film. When he appeared on “Inside the Actors Studio,” he told James Lipton that he recalls watching the first film, as a child, with “loathing.”
In “Kill Your Darlings,” Radcliffe displays more range than he did in the Potter films, with a role that defies easy characterization. Radcliffe’s Ginsberg is both socially insecure and sure of his genius; he is, by turns, deeply romantic and sullen and sexual. In Venice, several interviewers asked Radcliffe if he was trying to “put a knife in the back” of Harry Potter by doing an explicit gay sex scene. But Radcliffe simply said it was a part of the story, just as being nude in “Equus” was essential. “I honestly don’t know what the big deal is,” Radcliffe, whose parents had many close gay friends when he was growing up, said in a news conference. “People have been having gay sex for as long as they’ve been having straight sex, period.”
After two grueling days in Venice, Notorious Pictures, the Italian film distributor, hosted a dinner for the film at the Centurion Palace, a lavish hotel on the Grand Canal. Arriving in the lobby, Radcliffe and Sam pushed their way through a hot, close crowd so he could do yet another interview, as a bright light shone in his eyes.
The hosts had invited a mixed crowd to the dinner that followed: there was a Venetian prince wandering around and some aspiring filmmakers and a woman known for being an Italian showgirl, hugely tall and pneumatic. A young Italian woman, who had sprinkled some of the glitter from a centerpiece onto her face, asked what the English word for “mago” was, and someone answered, “Wizard.” “Hello, wizard,” she said to Radcliffe when she got close enough. Radcliffe posed for photos, again and again.
During the buffet dinner, a very tall, blond young woman in a white evening gown and heels materialized on the hotel terrace, where Radcliffe was talking fantasy football with Sam and Dan, his hairstylist. The woman, an aspiring actress, started engaging in conversation with Radcliffe, smoking a cigarette beautifully and hanging on his every word. She was the first person his age he had spoken to in days, and it seemed possible that she had been brought there expressly for his enjoyment. (lulz, wut is this fanfiction mess)
Radcliffe was growing more and more animated as they talked. The conversation turned to his stint doing musical theater on Broadway. “Sometimes you’re chasing a laugh, and you’re forgetting to act,” he told her, “and then you strain to get the laugh, and you look like a fool. But you need to never lose faith in what you care about — if you ever get the chance to do live theater, you should.” The young woman said, with a smile, “You’re inspiring me now.” Then she left to get a drink.
As she exited, Radcliffe’s face seemed to lose color, as it sometimes does, like a light that dims without the current of conversation. Maybe she had started to worry about paparazzi or had a boyfriend. But Radcliffe looked crestfallen. It was not that he was trying to score but that this kind of moment played into his worst fears.
“You do sometimes think. . . .” He paused. “Maybe everyone’s just . . . putting up with you, you know,” he told me later. “I talk a lot, and I talk a lot about weird stuff that interests me, and sometimes I’m like, Maybe if you weren’t an actor and someone with a recognizable face, maybe no one would be listening to you, actually, and nobody would find what you have to say interesting or funny.”
Austin Bunn, who wrote “Kill Your Darlings” with Krokidas, asked Radcliffe how he was holding up. He hadn’t quite been expecting that crowd in the hotel lobby, Radcliffe admitted, or that incredibly bright, white light in his eyes. The manager from the Italian distributor, overhearing his comment, leapt to his feet and started apologizing profusely — that was something they could have fixed, he said. Radcliffe blanched. He is as alarmed by other people’s distress as they are alarmed by the fear that they have disappointed him. Radcliffe quickly reassured the manager — “No, no, it was totally fine, really, it was fine"— then looked at me pointedly: Do you see what happens?
Radcliffe left the terrace and found his parents, who were sitting in a corner of an exterior room. (His parents have always made themselves off-limits to the media, which is one reason they continue to be a refuge for Radcliffe.) Around 11:30, everyone lined up and gazed at the sea, waiting for the water taxi to take them to the next event. “In case you were wondering what that convocation in the corner was about,” Radcliffe said, referring to his time with his parents, “I did finally hit a point at which I needed to be somewhere where no one was asking me for anything.”
Everyone on the boat thought they were headed to a small party for people connected to the film: there would be relaxing, there would be laughing, there would be karaoke. But Radcliffe and his group arrived to find that the Italian distributor had opened the party to hundreds of people, none of them familiar, all packed into the space, which was loud with music. Sam led Radcliffe and his entourage, at high speed as usual, to a kind of greenroom in the very back, a corner that at least was on the sea and where two charming bartenders, winners of an international competition to make the best drink, worked an intimate bar.
Radcliffe sat with his back to the water. He would not avail himself of their services, at least not for anything alcoholic, because he’s not drinking these days. His face, worn out and wan by the end of the day, was so pale it looked almost translucent against the darkness, but his blue jacket was merging with the color of the sea behind him, and he seemed to fade into the evening as if, on command, he could make himself magically disappear.