by Bill Keith
photographs by warwick saint | April 28, 2011 | People
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Daniel Radcliffe admits he’s terrified. At the time of this interview he’s two months away from opening his first Broadway musical, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and on the eve of his first rehearsal he knows he has much to prove. “When you see a musical, it’s so complete, so massive that I can’t personally imagine where you could possibly start!” he says before realizing how funny that might sound coming from the star of one of the most fantastical film franchises ever. “Harry Potter is wizardry on film. It’s a certain amount of technical effects, and I know how that works, whereas in Broadway musicals, there are no effects. It’s just manpower and technical skill that create all that enormity.”
When Radcliffe explains himself there’s no hint of false modesty, and the word precocious has finally been retired as a way to characterize the 21-year-old, who has grown up considerably even since his Broadway debut in 2008’s Equus, for which he famously had to strip down every night. The London native plans to perform in How to Succeed in Business into 2012, and he’s pleased to restore his status as Englishman in New York. “There is something very special about being English in this city, because there’s a certain fascination with British culture,” he says. “I don’t know what it is, but I feel a lot cooler here than I do in England.”
Radcliffe in New York
Though he admits that “Page Six” won’t likely be reporting stories of his late nights at Avenue (“I’m much happier at home in front of the History Channel”), he does have a penchant for La Esquina dinners, ping-pong in Battery Park and anonymous walks in the West Village. “It’s quite good being this short; you just put your hood up and no one gives you a second glance really,” he says. The work is what makes him uniquely happy in New York. “I’ve never felt better about myself as an actor than when I was on Broadway doing Equus, because I felt part of an artistic community. And I’m not slagging off London, because I love it, but the interplay and the amount of socializing between the shows in New York—it’s just glorious and doesn’t happen in the West End as far as I can tell.”
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It was during the run of Equus that Radcliffe considered doing a musical for the first time. Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who produced the film versions of Hairspray and Chicago, paid him a backstage visit to ask him about working together after hearing him sing briefly, and they knew they were onto something. “They were quite persistent; every few days my agent or my dad would get an e-mail—I don’t use e-mail—but they’d get an e-mail for me with a different idea.” Eventually they settled on How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
How to Succeed
The 1961 show, which earned Matthew Broderick a Tony in its 1995 revival, follows the improbably rapid ascent of J. Pierrepont Finch from window washer to corporate executive. When asked what sets his Finch apart from Broderick’s or Robert Morse’s original, Radcliffe offers: “Finch’s age has never been pinned down, but it’s never been played by someone as young as me. I think it changes the show when you’ve got someone my age playing him, versus someone in his 30s, doing things that can come off as nasty and manipulative. There’s an element of Falstaff to him—everything he does is morally reprehensible, but you love him and you back him.” When it’s suggested that it’s better to have an actor his age in the role, he politely corrects me, “It’s just easier,” providing another answer that’s humble and insightful all in one.
So why is he terrified? “I have no doubt this will be the hardest I’ve ever worked in my entire life,” he muses. “I’ve been training really hard because I don’t want [director] Rob Ashford to feel like he has to censor himself for me. I want him to be able to treat me as much like a dancer as he can.” For that reason, Radcliffe has been in singing and dance training here and in London for two years, which he recognizes is also part of the fun. “When I did Equus I had to talk to myself and get my cock out every night for five months, but this will actually be quite good fun!”
And he can’t deny relishing some of the trappings that come with being arguably the most famous Brit in New York. “There was this amazing moment after the show when the crowd was packed across the street from the stage door at Equus and traffic was being held. On one night I called my then-girlfriend and said, ‘I just want you to know, and you can tell all of your friends, that your boyfriend has just stopped traffic on Broadway,’” he says with a laugh. “That was personally quite a cool moment in my life. You’ve got to be able to enjoy that stuff and take it for what it is. I will spend more years of my life without that than with it.”