There are no second takes in live theater. So when, during his 2011 run in Broadway’s revival of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, Daniel Radcliffe took a spill, the young actor knew his best option was to get back up and keep hoofing.
“I fell over in the middle of a dance number, like really badly and obviously at the front and center of the stage,” Radcliffe recalls. “And, of course, that doesn’t feel great. You’re like, wow, I looked like an idiot right then. But you don’t stop, you still get to the end—and that number was still really good. Nobody’s experience was made less entertaining for one of the actors taking a tumble.”
The actor taking a chance surely did make the evening more interesting, though. Since finding fame and fortune as Harry Potter, risk has been something Radcliffe—who could easily spend the rest of his days starring in vanilla rom-coms if he deigned to work at all—has embraced. Whether it was his birthday suit-baring role in a 2008 production of Equus or his turn as a young, randy Allen Ginsberg in 2013’s Kill Your Darlings, Radcliffe has avoided conventional parts for work with a little more pizazz. His latest project, a Broadway revival of the black comedy The Cripple of Inishmaan opening this month, is another fine example of the 24-year-old star’s taste for offbeat material—and one he’s anxious to unleash on New York audiences.
“The play is very breathtaking cruel at times, and it got a wonderfully vocal reaction from London audiences,” Radcliffe says. “And you know London audiences are a bit more reserved than New York audiences, so I do remember thinking at the time that if this is the reaction we’re getting in London, I will really enjoy doing the show in New York.”
Inishmaan can indeed be nasty. When playwright Martin McDonagh’s 1997 work was revived on the West End last year, Variety wrote, “He’s expert at creating laugh-aloud comedy out of private cruelty,” and referred to his collected work as “wildly successful portraits of dastardly shenanigans in Irish backwaters.”
The show follows Radcliffe’s Billy, a crippled young man on a small Irish island whose sad sack existence—with the requisite unrequited love and endless taunting—is upended when a Hollywood production sets up shop nearby, giving Billy the chance to snag a coveted role and change the course of his life. A movie that changes everything for a young boy? No wonder Billy snagged Radcliffe’s interest.
“I can definitely relate to his love of film, but it’s also safe to say the way that we deal with it is very different,” Radcliffe says with a laugh. “I was lucky enough to become a part of it when I was 9 or 10, but one of the things I enjoy about Billy is that he’s probably the brightest person in the play, but he also has to cope with being constantly underestimated. The gap between how he actually is, how he knows that he is on the inside, and how people actually treat him is the source of great anxiety and despair for him.”
Radcliffe, himself no stronger to the expectations of strangers, adds, “Any character without that kind of edge is probably a bit dull.”
Fortunately, to hear him tell it, dull isn’t something Radcliffe is used to when he’s working on stage. “Broadway is an amazing environment to work in as an actor,” he says. “People talk about it all the time, but it’s a new experience every time, and the community aspect of it is brilliant and amazing and unexpected to me. I’m looking forward to that again.”
That and the nightlife. Despite his high profile and the constant, looming danger of doing something, anything that can be caught by a camera, Radcliffe admits socializing as a New York actor is a beloved perk of the job.
“I love to hang out after shows. On How to Succeed, we had something called Thursday Night on Broadway, because Thursday we’d have an early show, and after we’d all have a party upstairs in one of the dressing rooms,” he says. “That’s the sort of stuff that makes a show, and this company of Cripple, we’re really a close-knit group, we make each other laugh quite a lot so I’m sure I’ll be repeating some of those nights.”
And while Radcliffe says film remains his first love—“It was what I grew up in,” he explains, “I feel like if I had to do one thing forever, that would be it”—working on stage is a constant reminder of how exciting being an actor can be.
“I don’t remember something ever going so wrong on the stage that it ruins a show,” he says. “Even if you do screw up, that’s one of the exhilarating things about being on stage—people jump in and help out, and you always get through it.” It’s the difference, Radcliffe says, between working on camera and putting yourself in front of an audience night after night.
“On film if you do something that you’re not happy with and that tape gets used, you’re stuck with it,” Radcliffe says, “and then there really are no retakes.”
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