Harry Potter has become a father at the age of 33, and it’s a big moment for all millennials. Not only does it mark the passage of time for a generation, it also draws our attention to actor Daniel Radcliffe, and how this child star pretty much defied all expectations people had for him.
If history is any guide, the deck was really stacked against Daniel Radcliffe. Child stars are often set up for failure, and Radcliffe became a global icon as Harry Potter at only 11 years old. He grew up in front of the world. Yet while many assumed he’d never really escape just being Harry Potter the rest of his life, not only does Daniel Radcliffe seem extremely well-adjusted, he’s also managed to build a genuinely interesting and eclectic adult acting career. Instead of chasing the highest profile or highest paying options, he’s consciously chosen to pick surprising or strange roles, often in smaller movies. Here’s our take on how Daniel Radcliffe grew into a mature dad and respected actor, by embracing his weird side.
The Boy Who Lived (Through Child Stardom)
By the time Radcliffe was selected to play Harry Potter in 2000, the series was a huge success and global phenomenon, and the search for the Potter actor was highly publicized. Cast at age 11 as the hero in the film adaptations of one of the most popular book series in history, Radcliffe faced a lot of judgment about whether he could do justice to the beloved books. And initially, he was frequently dismissed as just being cast for his Potter-like looks, not widely praised for his acting skills. Still, even as a child, Radcliffe was poised and able to hold his own as part of a global marketing machine, remaining calm and charming during the early interviews surrounding the movies.
Given the profile of the franchise, it was natural to expect that Potter would be all Radcliffe would really ever be known for. After all, that’s happened to plenty of child stars, even those with arguably bigger personalities. But Radcliffe used his years in the Harry Potter movies – which substituted for a normal adolescence and school experience – to learn about the craft of acting, and develop perspective for a career outside of the franchise. In interviews, Radcliffe describes the Harry Potter movies as an environment where he was exposed to talented filmmakers and actors who collectively served as mentors—even if he also didn’t fully start learning how to act until midway through the series.
Radcliffe has always been eager to not let his role as Harry define him. Even while he remains magnanimous and appreciative of the franchise that made him a star, he doesn’t let himself be pigeonholed as Harry Potter, and he’s willing to push back on the Harry Potter fandom when he needs to. In fact, he’s gone so far as to separate himself from the author of the books that made him famous. In 2020, he published an open letter affirming his support for the trans community and pushing back against J.K. Rowling’s controversial remarks.
One explanation for his clarity and resolve is that he made the effort to consciously process the ways in which his life would not be normal. As he told GQ, “Sometimes if you’re denying the reality of what’s going on, that can actually make your life harder to live…my late teens or early 20s was where I was like, ‘You have to accept life is gonna be different for you.’” And another key part of Radcliffe’s graceful transition from being Harry Potter to being outside of it is that he’s been intentional about learning from and giving credit to all of the people he’s worked with over the course of his career. He attributes genuinely enjoying being on set as an actor to Christopher Columbus, the director of the first two Harry Potter movies. And he’s been mindful of just what a gift Harry Potter was in so many ways. Radcliffe recalls a conversation where Harry Potter co-star Gary Oldman told him that the downsides of being typecast could also be benefits: Being tied to this iconic and massively successful role comes with the creative and financial freedom to do whatever he wants—something that you can also see Twilight stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart taking advantage of, and that clearly shines through in the movies and TV shows Radcliffe chooses to do.
How He Actually Built A Successful Adult Career With “Weird” as His Superpower
The transition from child star to adult actor is notoriously difficult. Even people who have done it successfully frequently go through a period of chaos and personal turmoil. But Daniel Radcliffe has, slowly and almost seamlessly, built an adult career. This process started during the release of the Harry Potter movies, when Radcliffe infamously went naked on stage in a starring role in the play Equus. It’s likely that, were Radcliffe a young actress, public nudity would be perceived as titillating and evidence of personal failing rather than an artistic choice. In fact, there was speculation at the time that Radcliffe might not be asked to play Harry Potter in the final movies because of Equus. But he managed to continue on from that as well, going out of his way to do a variety of different roles so that he wouldn’t be put into a narrow box.
In one of his first major non-Harry Potter film roles, Radcliffe played a murder suspect grieving the loss of his girlfriend in the 2013 violent horror comedy Horns, embodying a character who, while supernatural, is much less likable and heroic than Harry Potter. Then there’s the role he’s proudest of in 2016’s Swiss Army Man, where he plays… a farting corpse. In Swiss Army Man, directed by the Daniels, Radcliffe plays Manny, a dead body that washes up on an island and eventually serves as a companion to the isolated, depressed Hank. And though the premise seems odd, Radcliffe and his co-star Paul Dano are able to depict a genuine connection between a man and a corpse. Since the TBS anthology series Miracle Workers premiered in 2019, Radcliffe has played a variety of characters as part of a regular troupe of actors, including a naive, socially awkward angel, a sheltered Medieval prince, and a reverend traveling the Oregon Trail. In the upcoming fourth season, he plays a man trying to make his marriage work amid a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
Notably, none of these roles are in big-budget romantic comedies or superhero movies. That’s a conscious choice: As Radcliffe puts it, “I’m in a position where I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to; the only reason I have to do a script is because I’m passionate about it and I’m of the opinion that the majority of the really interesting scripts I read at the moment are not being done by studios.” More than anything, Radcliffe’s filmography is weird, and full of delightful, comedic roles. The closest he’s come to a traditional action hero role is in 2020’s Guns Akimbo, where he plays a computer programmer who has guns surgically attached to his hands. In 2022’s The Lost City, he plays the villain of the movie—an evil billionaire, scheming to steal a long-lost ancient treasure.
Most recently, Radcliffe has literally gone as weird as possible by starring in Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, playing Weird Al himself. Though Weird purports to follow the life of Weird Al Yankovic, Radcliffe plays him as a straightforward parody of music biopic protagonists, meaning he gives a performance that’s closer to Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody. And in fact, Weird Al was interested in having him play the role because he was able to effectively play such a silly character with absolute seriousness.
It’s impossible to truly know how any celebrity acts behind closed doors. But at least from all appearances, Daniel Radcliffe seems like a genuinely kind, thoughtful and grounded person. That seems to be partly because he’s been able to build a satisfying and meaningful career on his own terms, but also because he’s managed to accept that there’s no way anything could truly overshadow Harry Potter. In fact, Weird director Eric Appel remarks on having been able to market the movie with a quip that Weird Al would be, “the most iconic character of [Radcliffe’s] career.” At least for the foreseeable future, it seems like he’ll be in on the joke.
Adler, Shawn. “Harry Potter Will Be Played by Daniel Radcliffe in Final Two Flicks.” Radcliffe Signs On For Final ‘Potter’ Flicks - Movie News Story | MTV Movie News, 2 Mar. 2007, https://web.archive.org/web/20070630170404/http://www.mtv.com/movies/news/articles/1553722/20070302/story.jhtml.
Bergeson, Samantha. “Emily Ratajkowski Quit Acting, Fired Her Team Who ‘All Hate Women’: ‘Hollywood Is f***Ed up’.” IndieWire, IndieWire, 6 Apr. 2023, https://www.indiewire.com/2023/04/emily-ratajkowski-quit-acting-due-to-sexism-1234826325/.
Gordon, Jeremy. “The Weird and Wonderful Daniel Radcliffe.” GQ, 26 Oct. 2022, https://www.gq.com/story/gq-hype-daniel-radcliffe.
Majendie, Paul, and Mirja Spernal. “Potter Star
Radcliffe Bares All in ‘Equus.’” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 27 Feb. 2007, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-arts-potter-idUSL2723314820070227.
Samuelson, Kate. “Daniel Radcliffe Interview on New Indie Survivor Film Jungle.” Time, Time, 20 Oct. 2017, https://time.com/4989362/daniel-radcliffe-jungle-movie-interview/.
Weaver, Josh. “Daniel Radcliffe Responds to J.K. Rowling’s Tweets on Gender Identity.” The Trevor Project, 8 June 2020, https://www.thetrevorproject.org/blog/daniel-radcliffe-responds-to-j-k-rowlings-tweets-on-gender-identity/.