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'What If' Star Daniel Radcliffe Talks Superfans, Football, Lazy Journalists, and Much More

Kevin Polowy
Senior Editor
August 8, 2014

Daniel Radcliffe is known for being one of the most calm and candid actors in show business — especially when it comes to dealing with the press. But toward the end of his decade-long run as Harry Potter, there was one oft-repeated question that tried his patience: Do you feel like your best years are behind you? “That’s all people wanted to talk about,” the 25-year-old actor tells Yahoo Movies. “I was always very determined that there would be a life after Potter for me.”

Post-Potter life for the British actor has included a wide range of roles in films, from the period-horror flick The Woman in Black to the Allen Ginsberg biographical drama Kill Your Darlings. It’s also found Radcliffe drawing strong reviews for his work on stage, including starring roles in the revivals of both Equus (in which he went full monty) and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (in which he proved his mettle as a song-and-dance man).

But Radcliffe’s latest film, What If, may be one of his most unconventional choices yet: A rom-com that attempts to please both starry-eyed optimists and eye-rolling cynics. “It’s romantic, without being too sappy, and it’s genuinely funny,” says Radcliffe says of the film, in which he stars as a man struggling to keep from falling in love with his friend, played by (Ruby Sparks’ Zoe Kazan). We talked to Radcliffe about What If and a variety of other subjects, from bacon to Bieber. 

What makes a good romantic comedy?
I think sometimes people skimp on the comedy and that’s kind of boring. And in most romantic comedies, problems of the heart are always sort of solvable by grand gestures of romance. In real life, it doesn’t really happen that way… In some ways, [What If] is a very traditional romantic comedy, but it also undercuts the tropes of romantic comedy that people fall into a lot.

Do you agree with the argument that Hollywood’s forgotten how to make good romantic comedies?
Yeah, I suppose so. There have been some great films that have come out. When Harry Met Sally is such an iconic movie, and, for a lot of people, it’s like the quintessential romantic comedy. Like with everything in this industry, people struggle with originality. And people get lazy: They think that if you market a film correctly, and if the trailer’s funny enough, then that’s all that counts.

If this film does well, it’s a triumph of good writing. We try and tell both [the male and female] sides of their story. I think there’s a tendency in cinema to not want to show that men go through hurt in [relationships]. There’s pressure on men to not be vulnerable, and that’s why I think it’s hard for men to talk to other men about problems in their life. And that makes it hard in life, because, as a man, most of your friends are men. So if you can’t talk to anybody around you about the stuff going on in your mind, that can be very hard. [In this movie], it’s nice to be able to show both sides of the story.

Do you think you’re a good communicator?
Sometimes. I’m very good at listening to other people’s stuff, but not very good at sharing my own problems, just because I don’t want people worrying about me.

Elvis Presley figures prominently into this movie — or, at least, his favorite sandwich does [Ed. Note: That would be The king’s preferred snack, a peanut butter-banana-and-bacon concoction called Fool’s Gold]. Are you an Elvis fan?
I love his sandwiches [Laughs]. I like the music a lot. But I think it’s one of those things where you have to be there at the time to really appreciate what a star he was. There are other [artists] I’d much rather spend a lot of time listening to, for sure.

Such as?
The Beatles. The Sex Pistols. The Pixies. The Libertines. I’m not saying they’re all better than Elvis, I’m just saying I prefer them.

Let’s move on to your feelings about bacon.
I am like probably 75 percent bacon, in terms of my body mass. I eat a stupid amount of bacon. There’s a line in What If where Zoe says, “Bacon’s not even food. It’s just pure fat.” And I was like, “Is it? That’s terrible, ‘cause I eat a lot of it.” Anytime I have mac n’ cheese, there’s gotta be bacon in it. Bacon makes everything better.

Well, except for chewing gum. That’s where you have to draw the line.
Yeah, I can see that. That’s like coffee-flavored chewing gum you can get, which always confused me. That’s like cigarette-flavored chewing gum, or weed-smelling incense. That’s a real thing, by the way: You can get cannabis incense. My friend bought it for his house and I was like, “Why do you have that?”

That makes sense. Especially if you’re in college and you get busted, you can blame it on the incense.
I suppose so. But that seems even more suspicious. Like, “You’re obviously covering it up.” That was like me when I first started smoking and hiding it from my parents, they’d say [sarcastically], “Dan, you smell wonderful this evening. Why’d you put so much cologne on?”

I was fascinated by this recent video where you rattled off almost every active quarterback in the NFL. When did become such a big fan of American football?
When I did Equus [on Broadway], the guys in theater crew gave me a Giants shirt and said, “You’ve gotta be a Giants fan now. You’ve gotta get into football since you’re over here.” And I wasn’t really interested. I was more into cricket and I didn’t love [football]. But when I did How to Succeed, people were starting fantasy leagues. I’d been doing the show for eight months, and to be honest, you’re looking for any diversion or anything to distract yourself. So I said, “Oh yeah, I’ll join your fantasy league.” [At first], I got so annoyed, like, “I don’t like losing, even if it’s something I don’t understand at all.” So I just started watching and got really into it.

At your recent Comic-Con panel for Horns, you also mentioned the press — and not glowingly. Does your relationship with journalists ever get contentious?
Not contentious. It’s just that I wish people didn’t care when something happened, or when I do something. Sometimes I do interviews with people. And I’ll be sitting next to another actor, and I’ll hear them say something and think, “If I f——king said that, that would be a story. It would be put everywhere.”

And it’s not even the American media. To the British media, we’re just a joke. Any actor, anyone who does well for themselves, is just there to be made fun of. I think the people who write those stories are just kind of scummy. For example, last year in the UK, I was doing [the play] Cripple of Inishmaan. Towards the end of the show, [Each night], I was sweaty and bedraggled, and I’d go out to meet fans, and every night, the paparazzi would take photos of me. And five or six different times, one paper ran a story [with those photos] that amounted to, “Why is Daniel Radcliffe so pale and so thin? He obviously needs help. His fans are worried about him.”

Whenever people start just making stuff up, [I assume it’s] because they’re too lazy to do their job well. I hate lazy actors. I hate lazy journalists. I’ve been interviewed by countless journalists who I’ve had fantastic conversations with. Who ask interesting questions and who write really well. But unfortunately, that’s not what most people think of as journalism now. Most people think of journalism as a kind of literary gossip-mongering [device] now, which is a shame.

It’s a vicious cycle that feeds on itself.
It’s always implied that celebrities enjoy the celebrity culture, because they are the beneficiaries of it. Because they get everything they want and doors open for them or whatever. But I would much prefer it if I could just release a film every few months, and people would just go and see it without me having to tell anyone anything about my personal life.

Like, the other day, I’m getting asked loads of questions about when I lost my virginity. And it’s because I was sort of ambushed about it in an interview and just answered. And then somebody in an Extra interview came up to me and was asking me about the time I lost my virginity, and I was just like, “Well, you tell me about yours.” It’s one of those things where I was suddenly like, “No I don’t have to answer that.” That is personal information. That’s the interesting thing about celebrities is that when you are famous, people forget how they would normally act around another non-famous person. And all the sort of things that we agree upon in society that are polite to not to ask or ask, they’re sort of thrown out the window.

Plus, everyone wants selfies now. Are you okay with that?
Well I ended up taking a load of selfies at the stage door of Cripple of Inishmaan, because nobody else knows how to work their camera. I know how to work their camera better than everyone else. I was just like, “Give me your phone.”

It’s an interesting thing: The internet isn’t about having a good time — it’s about showing people you’re having a good time. When you go out to bars and clubs, nobody’s actually dancing or enjoying themselves; they’re all taking photos of themselves at the bar so that later on they can say, “I was there, wasn’t it great?” It’s crazy.

You’ve dealt with some extreme fans, thanks of the Harry Potter films. Do you think there’s a line people cross where their fandom is taken too far?
Look, I’m never going to make anyone feel embarrassed for how much they like something, because I get like that, too. There’s nobody I would’ve waited outside in the rain for hours and hours, but there’s definitely stuff I get that into that I’m very embarrassingly excited about. But there are fans that you see again and again and again, particularly with teenagers, and you have to ask, “Do your parents know you come here everyday?” You do worry sometimes, particularly with some letters you get, when someone’s basically saying, “You are all I have in my life.” That is a bit scary. ‘Cause you [think], “I can’t deal with that responsibility or that pressure.” It’s a load.

A few years ago, we talked about the fact that people are generally surprised that you achieved worldwide fame and huge wealth at such a young age, but were able to stay grounded and stay out of trouble. Now that you’re older, when you see young celebrities who aren’t handling it so well — people like Justin Bieber — do you empathize with them?
I do, because everyone makes a judgment and nobody knows what it’s like. The version of growing up in the spotlight that I did is different from Justin Bieber’s or Miley Cyrus . I have amazing parents. And, growing up in England, there is a natural tendency to want to take the piss out of people. People say that’s why Hitler would never come to power in Britain, because we would’ve just sort of laughed at him. And there is something to that.

But I have come to the conclusion now that fame doesn’t make you an a—hole. I got to meet Jennifer Lawrence, and she is one of the most famous people in the f—king world, and could not have been nicer. It’s in you or it isn’t in you. And basically, we are in an industry which facilitates and enables people to be d—-kheads if they want to be, and actually sometimes rewards it. The crazier you are, the more attention you get, or the more leeway you’re granted.

But, yeah, I feel sorry for anyone who is having stuff written about them that might or might not be true. It’s not an easy thing to know that there are so many people out there that want to see you f—k up. It’s a very odd feeling, because you sort of feel a certain group of people are hoping for it. And to be 18 or 19, and to know there’s a section of people out there that want you to fail, is very odd. I can see how that might make people a little crazy.  

Finally: You just turned 25, and were serenaded by all 6,000-plus fans in Hall H at Comic-Con. Do you celebrate birthdays, or try to ignore them?
I celebrate them, absolutely. I don’t go over the top. It’s always something that I kind of forget to organize until like the week before. But it was lovely this year, I had a group of people get together in New York and we just all went out for dinner. And it was just a lovely mix of my dresser from the two previous shows I’ve done in New York, and some of the people from How to Succeed and some of the people from Equus, and people from Kill Your Darlings and Horns. It was all people I met through work. But we didn’t talk shop at all. That’s not what we do when get together.

The film industry is quite a hard industry to make and remain friends with people in. You’re always being pulled away from people, and you have these fleeting relationships [in the industry], it can be hard to actually stay in touch with people and really form great friendships. But I was sort of looking around the table at my birthday going, “I’ve done really well, actually. I have a really wonderful group of friends who really care about me.” So I felt very lucky, like, “If all these people like me, then I can’t be too much of an a—hole.” 

Want to see What If? Visit our Showtimes page to get tickets.

Photos: AP (2), CBS Films