Recently ACED sat down and had a quick chat with Daniel Radcliffe, the 22 year-old star of the upcoming Hammer horror film The Woman In Black (due out this Friday February 3rd). He had a lot to say about the legacy of Hammer films and what makes this particular one unique to that legacy. He even let us in on which moments in the film genuinely scared the crap out of him. Read on to find out …
Radcliffe was running late and pressed for time as his schedule had him literally all over New York promoting his new film The Woman In Black. Despite the time constraint, he showed off his now-famous easy-going charm and attentiveness as he began to expound on what it means to be involved in a Hammer Film Production.
“It’s interesting because the Hammer banner is wonderful. It’s a fantastic thing for us – well for me particularly because having been in the British film industry all my life, if you’re not working with people who actually worked on the (Hammer) films, you’re working with their kids. So the person who did the makeup on all the Potter films, her dad Eddie Knight did all the original Hammer makeup. Growing up in the industry in England you’re always very aware of those films and the importance they had and what they did for the industry.”
Hammer Film Productions, which have been around since the 1930s, are best known for their series of Gothic horror films such as Dracula, The Mummy, and Frankenstein.
This latest offering from the renowned UK production company, The Woman In Black, stars Radcliffe as a young widowed lawyer named Arthur Kipps. Kipps is a father who lost his wife in childbirth, the resultant grief of which has put his career in jeopardy. As a last ditch effort to keep his job, he agrees to an assignment in a remote village, away from his son, where he must attempt to settle the affairs of a recently deceased eccentric woman. In proper Hammer fashion, there are plenty of mysteries to be solved upon his arrival.
Director James Watkins (Eden Lake) and screenwriter Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass) build the tension nicely as Arthur faces the unsettling questions of why the townspeople refuse to help him, why the children keep dying tragically and who is the mysterious and feared Woman In Black?
Radcliffe commented on the tone and structure Watkins orchestrated for the film:
“It’s interesting because I think it’s a film of sort of two halves. The first forty five minutes are – we were looking at films like The Others and The Orphanage in terms of the tone and then after that it just sort of gets a lot more bombastic. Once we get into the house and it’s just James playing with the audience, you know he worked out so many of those scares and knew that he could just take over from there.”
Speaking of scares, we asked Radcliffe which of the many scares in the film actually made him jump when he saw the final cut:
“Well I love all the stupid fake ones at the beginning. Which is just James going ‘Yeah, I can do a scare like that and I’m going to be doing them whenever I like over the next hour and a half.’ What scared me the most I think was the hand going up to the window when I touch the it and a face appears. That was one I knew was there, and it still got me! I’d completely forgotten about it. When I was filming it, that shot, which was brilliant, I had no idea what was going to happen with that. So when I saw the trailer for the first time I did go (oh!) and jump because I was properly freaked by it.”
He went on to add his thoughts on what Hammer Film Productions actually mean to the horror genre in relation to The Woman In Black:
“We can push the horror thing a little more and we can go back to old standards like creepy toys and an old house and all those things that recur, and because it’s Hammer nobody questions it. It feels right within the frame of the film I think.”
Getting audiences to understand that this latest addition to the Hammer series offers so much more that your typical gratuitous gore and violence shouldn’t be difficult according to Radcliffe. His stand is that the characters, story and tension push it worlds apart from those types of films.
“One of the things I loved about it was that it felt unusual for the genre. It’s unashamedly a horror film, but it is character driven and does have some really strong themes. For me, the film is about what happens if we don’t or can’t move on from a loss. Arthur is somebody who has been devastated by his loss and become completely disconnected from the world and his son and his life. The Woman In Black has had a terrible wrong done to her during her life and of course has been unable to move on from that and been consumed by grief and rage and has carried that desire for revenge into the afterlife with her. Everybody is reacting to grief in a different way in this film.
If you like, the battle in this film as it were between Arthur and The Woman In Black is a fight for closure. A fight for who can move on first. They are the two most extreme reactions to a death.”
He does admit, though, that he may be biased as he isn’t the type of horror fan that couldn’t abide the gory fair of the genre regardless.
“I would consider myself a fan, but I wouldn’t consider myself an aficionado in any way. I’m not one of those guys that will just see a trailer and go ‘oh I’m going to go see that then’ just so I can rate it against all the other horror films I know. I’m like that about some things, but not about horror. I’ve never had that obsessiveness about this particular genre. Which comes in part because I could never cope with gore.”
The Woman In Black is based on a novel written by Susan Hill in 1983 which has seen a number of adaptations, most notable of which is the long running stage play. When asked whether he’d read Susan Hill’s novel and took the literary character into account while filming, Radcliffe explained:
“I did read the book, and we are very different in terms of how the story is framed. This is a very different adaptation, but also I take comfort in the fact that every adaptation of this book has been very different or had to be changed in some way to make it fit into the medium it’s going into.”
While Radcliffe himself doesn’t personally believe in ghosts or the supernatural, he explain his process of understanding why his character Kipps vacillates back and forth between a person who simply has to get a job done to save his career, and a person who is very curious about the existence of the supernatural:
“One of the things I first said to James when I met him was why does he stay there? The moment you read the first page, you know it’s going to end badly. There’s that great line where I say to Daily (Ciarán Hinds) ‘Oh no it’s fine, I’ll just work through the night.’ You think: what? So I said to James why does he stay in the house, what’s that about? And James said ‘well here is a young man who’s lost his wife and he goes to this house and suddenly starts seeing what he thinks is the ghost of a dead woman. To have any kind of confirmation that that is what he’s seeing would mean that he would be able to confirm the fact that there is an afterlife and that he will one day see his wife again.’”
Actor Ciarán Hinds, who worked with Radcliffe on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 as Dumbeldore’s brother Aberforth, was both Radcliffe and Watkins’ first pick for the character of Daily. Daily, who is an ally and the voice of reason and sanity in the film for Kipps, is also instrumental in helping him try to rid the village of the specter before his own son arrives into the danger.
Kipps’ son is played by Misha Handley. Handley, the young son of Thea Sharrock, who directed Radcliffe in the controversial play Equus on London’s West End back in 2007, is also Radcliffe’s godson. When asked when everyone realized Misha had an ambition for acting at such a young age, quickly Radcliffe corrected such a notion.
“I don’t think he does now! He’s four! He wants to be everything. He’s changing every day. He has no ambition in this area to my knowledge. I think he had a really good time on the film. I think he’d do it again. But not for any other reason than ‘that got me out of school for a few days.’ It was fantastic having him there. I became totally protective of him and just worried. I was so obsessed with that at the time, that I didn’t notice that he gave a really nice performance in the film.”
That instinctive protectiveness obviously lent to Radcliffe being able to portray Kipps, who is a protective father, all the more convincingly.
“Yeah, I suppose that shows. We have natural chemistry. And there are some very sweet moments. The way I explained it to him is that I’m playing a dad in this and I need you to help me, and so he was just helping Uncle Dan. That was what he thought he was doing.”
He went on to say that the on set experience for his godson was not always fun and games. He took it personally on himself to keep Misha engaged and happy.
“I was hoping that the very first day he stepped on set would be a really nice day and we’d have a fun time. But no. It was a night shoot. It was freezing cold, we were on a train platform somewhere. He had a nice time for the first two hours and then he was like ‘it’s cold, can I go to bed now?’ It was a battle to keep him awake and not crying. After three and half hours he just doesn’t want to do it anymore no matter how many sweets or iPad games you offer him.”
His godson’s role in the film does help Radcliffe seem more grownup. Here is a man playing the part of a father coping with loss and the weight of responsibilities heavy on his shoulders. He pulls it off, as you will see when you watch the film.
Radcliffe himself carries the weight not only of this film but of his own career on his shoulders. The Woman In Black is not the first non-Potter project he’s taken on, but it is the first completely post-Potter project. His critically acclaimed and very successful run in Broadway’s Tony award-winning revival of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying began before the eighth and final Potter was released. The world is watching to see how Radcliffe will continue to do all by himself. So far, and as his demeanor (which swings gently from relaxed confidence to barely concealed excitement) suggests, he’ll do damn fine. Entertainment Weekly didn’t name him Entertainer of the Year (2011) for nothing.
In fact he’s already moving on to another project, the much talked about Kill Your Darlings, where he will play poet Allen Ginsberg. Filming for the project will begin in New York this coming March. When asked how he’d been preparing to portray the Beat-era poet:
“What’s been wonderful so far is doing all the research. It’s been great. Looking into his childhood and his life. I’m reading the journals at the moment and I’m about to read the biography. It’s fantastic. He’s obviously an extremely interesting character. What’s interesting about him the more I learn, is that in his life he seemed like the most placatory person you could ever have met. He was all about trying to keep peace and trying to keep any situation calm and not upset people. His mother had a deep personality disorder so he was at home a lot of the time when he was a kid just watching to make sure everything was okay. Which is why it’s intriguing that he was so confrontational in his poetry. That side that could never come out in any kind of social interaction was suddenly able to be unleashed.
What I’m looking forward to about it is mainly working with the director. It’s his first film, he’s a young guy called John Krokidas. I think he’s going to make a fantastic movie. He’s co-written it as well. He’s a super smart guy.”
The actor already has a dialect coach helping him master Ginsberg’s way of speaking.
“I’m working on my New Jersey Jew at the moment!”
Time will tell whether or not Radcliffe can keep up the momentum he’s been steadily building since even before the last Potter film graced the big screens. His reputation as being one of the hardest working and most pleasant young actors around definitely helps him. As he got up to leave in an apologetic rush, the journalists in the room exchanged warm comments about the man who was the boy wizard.
Excitement about The Woman In Black is palpable. Potter fans and non-fans alike are taking to Twitter to proclaim that Friday February 3rd is going to be date night. The guessing game ponders whether the film will survive Super Bowl weekend. One thing, however, is for certain: Daniel Radcliffe already has two legs up on surviving a post-Potter career.
The Woman In Black opens nationwide this Friday. Go see it.