Daniel Radcliffe earned glowing reviews for his performance in David Copperfield, his first role. Radcliffe could never have imagined the Dickensian plot twist that awaited just around the corner in his own life — superstardom as Harry Potter, another magical boy navigating a dangerous world.
In 2001, on the cusp of the first Harry Potter film arriving in theaters, Masterpiece's Louise Weber spoke to Radcliffe about making Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, his favorite books and movies at the time, and his thoughts and experiences as an everyday kid.
Dan, you just recently had a birthday...
Yes, I turned 12 in July (of 2001). We were on holiday at the time; we were in Spain. I opened all my cards and presents... well, most of my presents, before I went on holiday, so I had a chance to play with them a bit ... but I opened cards and things there and it was really, really fun.
Did you have a birthday cake?
I'm not much of a cake person.
Have you always wanted to be an actor?
Well, I haven't really decided what I want to be yet... I'm definitely very interested in it, but there are a number of other things I'm very interested in as well — music, writing... scripts and things, but especially autism which I want to go to the university maybe, and study.
Are you thinking you might want to work with children with autism?
I'd definitely like to learn about it ... to understand more.
Do you play an instrument?
No, I don't play an instrument, but I really want to play the drums.
Were your parents enthusiastic about your acting?
I think that that they were really quite happy for me to do it ... as long as I kept in touch with all my friends and still led a normal life. My mum is a casting director and my dad was a literary agent and now he's my chaperone.
How many callbacks did you have for the role of David Copperfield?
I think it might have been about 5.
Had you done any acting prior to that?
Was the experience of making that film what you expected?
There was a lot more detail than I expected. I didn't realize about the lighting and the set design... and all of those things.
Had you read the Harry Potter books before plans for a film were underway?
I had read the first two, I think starting when I was 8, but I wasn't a big reader around that time. But as soon as I got the part, I read all of the books. I was only planning to read number one first but I got so into them I read one, two, three and four back to back!
Do you have a favorite of the four?
Definitely number two...
How did you end up auditioning for Harry Potter?
It was quite funny actually because apparently the director — Chris Columbus — had asked if I could come audition. But I was doing Tailor of Panama; I couldn't come. But then I met the producer, David Heyman, in the theatre one night by complete coincidence. I was introduced to him in the interval. He seemed really nice. He was with the writer, Steve Kloves. Then we got a call from him. My mum got a call from him sometime the next week asking if I'd just like to meet... not for an audition, but just to meet. We went and he was really nice, really funny. We were interested in a lot of the same things. But then, quite soon after, I was asked if I'd like to come in for an audition and... it was so fun.
What did you have to do in the audition?
It was really, really funny. First of all, we read one of the scenes with Hagrid, and then Chris Columbus got me to improvise about that scene... he kept fumbling the lines... to see what I would do. It was funny.
Did you feel nervous or pressured?
I felt very nervous because I knew that I was about to step into a room with a very famous director. But I didn't feel pressured because I didn't expect to get the part.
Were other kids auditioning at the same time?
The producer, the casting director and Chris were all really good because they would never have two boys auditioning for the same part in at exactly the same time. So, when I went in there, it was me, a boy auditioning for, I think, Dean Thomas, and a boy auditioning for Neville. And that was it.
Do you have any theories or thoughts about why you ended up getting the part?
I have no idea.
Yeah. Absolutely no idea.
When you found out that you got the part, after your Mum and Dad knew, who was the first person that you told?
My granny... both my grannies.
Were they excited?
How did your friends react when they heard?
Well, they all called up and immediately said, "congratulations, congratulations!" They reacted so well and none of them — not one single person — was jealous. It was really good. I didn't actually tell any of my friends. I was going to but they phoned me first because they had seen it on the news.
When you're filming, are you tutored or do you go to school?
I'm tutored on set for a minimum of three hours a day and a maximum of five and I have the most fantastic tutor. One-on-one tutoring really, really works because I got the best exams ever in my life... because of one-on-one.
Do you miss going to school?
Not really, because I see my friends so regularly. This year a couple of my really close friends have gone into this other class so I would hardly see them. But I'll actually see more of them when I'm filming than I do in school because I see them on the weekend.
Have you become a celebrity at your school?
Not at all. They're all acting really normally.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I like listening to music. I like keeping fit. I run, I run a lot. I do pressups and things, I do football and I do all kinds of sports. What else do I do... I play PlayStation a lot. A lot.
Do you like to read more now?
Yes, definitely, because that's what the Harry Potter books really did; they introduced me to reading. At the moment I'm reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. And watching films... films is my biggest of all hobby.
Do you have a favorite movie?
Probably What's Eating Gilbert Grape.
And do you have a favorite book?
It's either Harry Potter number two or a book called Holes by Louis Sachar. It's really good.
There are so many special effects in Harry Potter. You sometimes needed to act or react to something that wasn't really there... did you find that difficult?
It requires quite a lot of concentration. In the case of all the ghosts for example, there's Chris Columbus and another man who are doing the voices for the ghosts and they're doing them so well that you kind of feel that they are there.
When you think back on shooting Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, do you have a best memory?
I think probably the Great Hall scenes. That's a very, very difficult question but I think the Great Hall scenes. All the kids were there, 360 or something extras, and it was really fun to film. Hedwig comes in, carrying the broom...
Any bad experiences?
No. No, I really am trying hard, but I can't think of one.
Did you find it difficult to learn lines?
It's more the movement and the choreography and the facial expressions you use with the line. The lines, you keep going over them... you have to constantly learn them. After a while they really sink in and you have to focus on the other aspects like when to move and what facial expressions to make.
How many hours a day do you normally work?
Four hours probably, filming.
Is it work for you?
No. I really enjoy it. I don't consider it a job at all; it's so fun.
Has your life changed since this all started for you?
Not at all; its really been just the same as usual apart from I don't go to school, and that's the only thing. But I still see my friends just as much and, when I'm on location and I don't see them, I email them.
Do you think that when the movie opens things will change for you?
No, I can't see things changing; I don't want them to. I really don't think they will.