How Broadway Improved Daniel Radcliffe’s Acting

We met and grew to love Daniel Radcliffe as the Boy Who Lived, but since his departure from the Harry Potter franchise in 2012, the actor has significantly broadened his acting horizons. He’s taken roles in indie films like Swiss Army Man, blockbusters like The Woman In Black, and perhaps most notably, in several stage productions. He’s appeared on Broadway in Equus, The Cripple of Inishmaan, and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and in the West End in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Now, he’s joining Cherry Jones and Bobby Cannavale in The Lifespan of a Fact at Studio 54, playing an overzealous fact-checker in this play based on John D’Agata and Jim Fingal’s 2012 essay of the same name. Radcliffe sat down with Variety‘s theater podcast Stagecraft with Gordon Cox to talk stage acting and this brand-new production, saying that he enjoys the exciting nature of working on a brand-new play like this one:

I’ve had so many friends who’ve worked on them, and just the experience of really having that degree of ownership over a character and knowing that this has never been done before. And latterly, in the process, that did become a very scary thing because if something has been done before, you at least know it was good.

The play chronicles the battle between fact-checker Jim Fingal and writer John D’Agata (played by Cannavale) as they bicker over D’Agata’s manuscript. Cherry Jones plays the long-suffering editor mediating over their conflict as an argument over facts becomes a war over ideals and morals. Radcliffe’s character is obsessed with correctness, which makes him an excellent fact-checker, but irritates Cannavale’s character, who prefers a sense of poetry over accuracy. Radcliffe says he’s come to understand Fingal’s preoccupation with fact while researching the role:

I think the overall thing I take from it is [that] it is really entirely how you present something. If you are presenting something as fact and you have stretched the truth to a degree that is not acceptable, then that is a problem. I also think there is real value to what my character is saying about the minutia of the seemingly trivial details.

The audience, however, has been less understanding than Radcliffe, often becoming vocal in their frustrations with the character’s precision. Radcliffe takes it in stride, insisting that the annoying minutiae are incredibly important:

I had that thought in my head that this is my character going too far. And actually going in there, I realized, ‘No, it’s not at all. All those details are really important.’ And there’s one particular moment in the play where I talk about the difference in the time that somebody fell. […] He is saying it’s nine seconds, and in reality, it was only eight. And the audience winces at this every night. And now, I feel in myself, ‘No, no, no. That’s important because it is in a coroner’s report, and if somebody goes back to a coroner’s report and sees that you have deliberately changed something, that is an issue.’

Of course, Daniel Radcliffe is not the only Harry Potter on Broadway at the moment. Only a few blocks away, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child entertains hundreds of Potter fans a night. Radcliffe, however, isn’t one of them. He says the character belongs to the fans more than to him, and so he’s left it behind in pursuit of more creative opportunities:

I mean, I think part of it is the fact that I have the freedom to make choices means I feel like I should take advantage of that while and for as long as I can. Most actors just get the roles they get and have to do those things. So the idea that I have any kind of autonomy over my career puts me in 1% of actors. So I feel like I kind of have a duty. And also, I’ve been very lucky, obviously, with Potter and financially. I don’t have to do anything at the moment purely for the money, so for as long as I can, I’m going to not.

It looks like Daniel Radcliffe is on Broadway to stay. He showed a genuine excitement about this and future plays, so it’s likely that we’ll see him take to the stage in parts as diverse as his film roles:

I don’t have the same urge to do Shakespeare or some of those sort of big parts that other people might want you to as an actor. And honestly, I love doing this new play. I would want to do it as much as possible. I do have other plays that I’m thinking of doing in the future. Again, one of them is a real possibility, so I can’t say anything about it. But yeah, in terms of those big sort of Shakespearean roles, I feel very sacrilegious, but I’ve seen Jude Law and Ben Whishaw play Hamlet. I don’t know what I have to add to that. They were both awesome.

The Lifespan of a Fact closes on January 13, so get your tickets while you can!

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Gayané Kaligian

Gayane has been writing about Harry Potter since the fourth grade, when she wrote her first five-paragraph essay on why Percy Weasley’s buffoonery could have led to Voldemort winning. These days, she’s still talking about the Weasley brothers, but it’s mostly about how overlooked Charlie is. In her free time, you can find her researching stunt choreography and geeking out over theater.