Interview with Daniel Radcliffe

Eric Scull: So Dan, are you excited? In just a couple of months, your next Broadway show opens!

Daniel Radcliffe: I know! To be honest, I know everyone thinks about the opening night, but as far as I’m concerned, previews start this month. So that’s the main source of both terror and excitement in my life at the moment. The great thing is that we’ve got a really good show starting to come together. The choreography is just insanity

What’s great is that even the dancers are excited. A lot of these guys, Rob [Ashford, director] has worked with before. So he now has a group of dancers that he knows he can throw pretty much anything at, and they’ll be able to do it. Some of them were talking to me the other day, going “even for Rob, this stuff is crazier and more physical than we have ever seen him do before.” So there’s the dancing, the choreography, and the numbers themselves which are kind of amazing. And the scenes are really, really funny. It’s a very funny show.

Also, there are people like John Larroquette, Rob Bartlett and Michael Park being brilliantly funny, all of the time. Being witty. That’s the thing: it’s played real, is what’s beautiful about it. It’s just the funniest stuff. So I think we’re all very excited, as well as being scared and all of that nervousness that obviously goes on. But I think we’re all just excited to show people the show.

Eric: We can’t wait to see it. Now, the show originated on Broadway in 1961, made its West End debut in 1963, and was revived on Broadway in 1995, over 30 years later. That was 16 years ago. How has the show been updated to suit today’s business and economic structure, or how has it not?

Daniel: To be honest, I think it’s more “not” than “has.” There hasn’t really been any change made. You know, when something wins the Pulitzer prize, it’s sort of odd to go “how do we re-write this?” So the show is very much, rather it is Loesser and Burrows’ original show.

I mean, there are references that I didn’t advocate change to, but I certainly went, “No one’s going to get that.” At one point there is a reference to Judith Anderson, which I did not get. And which I’m not sure many people my age would get. But also, it’s not a problem because as it was pointed out to me, it’s a show of that period. So it’s a show with relevance to this period but the relevance is already there. We don’t have to adjust it, or update it to make it more ‘hip’. Because 90% of the show is pretty timeless.

Especially with (somebody we’ve been talking about a lot is) Mark Zuckerberg. And it’s the idea of a kid, or a young person, not being held back by their youth and realizing that they are smarter than everybody else in the room. It’s about somebody who just has that ability to think on another plain than everyone else and is therefore able to navigate through the world with a lot more ease and skill. And that’s Finch. So that’s very much what we’re sort of pitching Finch as, as a sort of 1960 Mark Zuckerberg.

Eric: That’s wonderful. How did you get involved with this project? I believe it was first reported in late 2009 that you had done a read-through.

Daniel: Yes. And that was, it would have been… When we started Equus in September of 2008 in New York, and were in previews, Neil Meron and Craig Zadan [Producers of How to…] came and saw us. And they came back stage afterward, and they were very complimentary and they said to me, “so you can sing?” And for a moment I paused and thought, “What are they talking about?” And of course I realized that I sing the Milky Bar Theme Tune, in Equus. I wasn’t aware that this was a qualification to do a Broadway musical…

Eric: …your audition…

Daniel: …yeah, exactly! And they said, “We’d love to do something with you then.” They’d obviously enjoyed my performance in the show that night, and the fact that I could apparently sing didn’t hurt.

Now by that point I’d been having singing lessons for… a year-and-a-half, maybe? But, you know, just for my own fun really and also after the sense that one day I would like to do a musical. I had absolutely no thought that it would be this early in my career. I thought it would be something I would like to do having grown up with them, and listening to them.

Although, when people come back stage at a musical they are more or less obliged to say nice things to the people they’re visiting… So you don’t take it too much to heart. But a couple of days later they were emailing, and saying “We really want to work on it. We really want to find the right thing. We’ll send you any ideas we have.” And so, like any good producer should be, they were very, very persistent.

Eventually they came to us [Radcliffe and his agent] with “How to Succeed” – it didn’t take them very long to think of it – and then they set up a meeting with Rob Ashford, whom I immediately warmed to, both as a man and a director. We are both of the same opinion that life is too short to work with unpleasant people; hence, there is nobody in the company that I would not happily spend an hour trapped in the lift with. So it just went from there.

And Rob, when I had a meeting with him, I said to him, “look. Acting? Fine. Singing, fine. Dancing? – not gonna happen…”

Eric: Haha. Well, fortunately Finch isn’t doing everything everybody else has to do, right? The production numbers… well, he does do “Brotherhood of Man” at the end, which is amazing, but the other numbers like “A Secretary is Not a Toy,” you’re fortunately spared from!

Daniel: I know! But this is the thing. A lot of the numbers… when I said that to Rob he said, “you know. We’ve got at least a year at this point. So why don’t you really go away, and work?” So I did.

Every day off I had from Potter I would do at least three hours of dance. And when Potter finished in-between doing Potter and The Woman in Black [not yet released] I was doing nine hours of dance a week.

There are a few numbers… obviously “Brotherhood” is the big one, for me. But stuff like, “The Company Way” and “Grand Old Ivy” and “Rosemary” – you know – the dancing is… I’m going to be doing it. And hopefully I will surprise a few people; though nobody more than myself, I assure you.

Eric: So there are two love interests for Finch in this play. Or, it could be said that there are. You know? There’s Rosemary…

Daniel: If you’re going to say what I think you’re going to say, then I am of exactly the same opinion.

Eric: Oh! That it’s pretty cool?

Daniel: Rosemary and Mr. Biggley.

Eric: Oh. Hedy! I was going to say Hedy [La Rue, Mr. Biggley’s secretary].

Daniel: Oh, Hedy! Okay. You see, I’ve always seen it as a love story, a love triangle much like – I remember Ricky Gervais describing “Spinal Tap” as a love story. And I thought that was brilliant. And I think that the love for Finch in this is half with Rosemary and half with Biggley, and the idea of being the president or being in the position of authority at the company.

So he’s half in love with a girl and a life and he realizes that in a moment of, well, as you say when he’s kissing Hedy. And that is the moment when he realizes he’s in love with Rosemary… but also he’s in love with the idea of being a business man. And in a way it is a love triangle because his attention is being split between the two. Rosemary is a slightly unexpected, and not entirely convenient, obstacle.

She’s not a… welcomed obstacle, because he’s looking at her going “I really do have feelings for you.” But rather than being, as most people would be particularly at that stage in their life, kind of overjoyed and in those first young moments of passion, he’s just thinking “this is going to get in the way of my going to the top of this company.” So he sees her, really, as a bit of an obstacle to begin with…

Eric: Speaking of that, there is a song that was in the original production of How to Succeed… that was cut from the ’95 Broadway production. It was called “Cinderella, Darling” and Act Two opened with it. Do you know if that’s in this production?

Daniel: It is very much in this production, and it’s a brilliant number.

Eric: Awesome!

Daniel: That was what I found to be interesting about the 1995 production, also. It became very much about… I think it took the view that the original production was sexist? Or that the original story was in some way sexist. But it made the whole thing more about female empowerment. Which is why “Brotherhood of Man” [finale song] became “Brother and Sisterhood of Man.” And, you know, the original was in no way sexist. It was a comment on sexism. And “Cinderella Darling,” I think, is one of the best numbers in the show. And, again, a big choreography number. Simple, but those girls are working very very hard in that number.

Yeah, it’s one of my favorite numbers in the show and Mary Faber who plays Smitty, who sort of fronts it, is wonderful.

Eric: Wonderful. And how about “I Believe in You”?

Daniel: Funnily enough, it’s a song that I’ve worked on a lot and it’s a song that I’ve worked on with David Chase [Music Director] a lot, and me and Rob have talked about it a lot, but we haven’t actually staged it yet.

I know that Rob knows exactly what he is going to do with it, but because it is not a huge amount of dance for me and it’s more kind of staging sort of stuff. The guys in the background are doing a lot, however.

Eric: They don’t like Finch very much.

Daniel: They don’t. It’s like the senators plotting to kill Julius Caesar. That’s the analogy Rob keeps drawing.

Eric: Do you know how to knit, for the show? [At one point, Finch displays knitting skills to impress his boss, who also knits.]

Daniel: You know what? Stephen Malone who is our rehearsal pianist and is helping out quite a bit – as well as doing this, he has also in the past taught six and seven-year-olds to knit. So if he can teach them, I am convinced that he has to be able to teach me. And also Megan Sikora who is one of our female ensemble and is playing Miss Krumholtz, she knits. So between the two of them, I hope to be able to know how to knit. John Larroquette does a very, very funny ‘pretending-to-know how to knit’, but nor does he actually know how to knit. So I think we’ll have to have lessons at some point. I’m going to concentrate on the dancing first, and hope the knitting can be learned a little later!

Eric: So as a final question here for you, Dan, it is something we were compelled (forgive us) to ask. How exactly does one go about succeeding in Business?

Daniel: Um, well… you know… if you’re like Finch, you have to, kind of… [laughs] be ambitious enough to… sort of… tear stripes off of the competition and sort of walk over everybody. But do it with a smile. I think that’s probably the key. [laughs]

If you can, sort of… if you can charm your way to the top that’s what Finch does but I would not say that Finch is an example to follow, necessarily. Because it relies on being smarter than everybody else around you and I am not smarter than everybody else around me. So I think, for me, if I were to try and succeed in business I would have to be very polite to everybody and quietly get along with my work. That would be my idea.