Guest of Honor

Daniel Radcliffe and the History of Everything

Daniel Radcliffe is best known for playing the title role in the "Harry Potter" movie franchise, but he's since earned praise for some very un-Harry-like roles, including one we talked to him about in 2013. His latest movie is "What If" (now in theaters), in which he and co-star Zoe Kazan portray a couple trying to be platonic friends, even as they're falling in love.

of 'Horns' poses at the Guess Portrait Studio during 2013 Toronto International Film Festival on September 6, 2013 in Toronto, Canada.

Rico Gagliano: Why did you choose this as your first romantic comedy role, when rom-coms generally… fail?

Daniel Radcliffe: I think the reason a lot of them fail is because people don’t realize that you can’t just have pretty people and write them jokes. Like, you have to actually get the audience to invest in them. And I think that one of the things that’s very hard to do — and I don’t know if you’re married or have a girlfriend — but if you were writing the story of you and your girlfriend’s life, and you had to pick the moment where you fell in love, and you could only show one scene where the audience sees that immediate connection, and understands why you go through what you go through with that person… it’s a very hard scene to write without beating people over the head with it.  Often because those moments are very quiet and introspective in some way.

Rico Gagliano: And you only maybe really realize it in retrospect.

Daniel Radcliffe: Yeah, absolutely.  But there is… at the beginning of this film, I loved the scene where they first meet and they talk to each other. It was so well-written.  Because you go, “Yeah these guys should be together. This is awesome. They’re a bright couple.”

Rico Gagliano: Actually, I wanted to ask you about that first scene. You have said that you were drawn to it because in it, your character corrects your not-yet-love interest’s pronunciation of a word. The last time you were on the show you also told us about a pronunciation: “Ye” is actually pronounced “the” — The word “ye” is actually something called a thorn and it’s pronounced differently. Why are you so interested in pronunciation?

Daniel Radcliffe: It is ridiculous, but I love it because I think etymology and pronunciation of things is the story of us. You can trace all of human society and history and things through [words]. They can even work out things like where certain foods are native to, by what language they’re in. Because if you have corn in the country you’re from, you just call it “corn” — you have a word for that. Whereas if you bring it to another country, they don’t have a word for it, because it’s new.  So they call it whatever you call it. So etymology is the root of everything, and you can sort of trace everything through it, I find. I just find it fascinating.

Rico Gagliano: So maybe did you see, in that scene, yourself in there?

Daniel Radcliffe: Yeah, I absolutely was like, “Oh, I can play this guy.” This guy who stands around talking about etymology at parties, that’s me.  Which is, you know… people have different reactions.

FW-00652RPhoto credit: Caitlin Cronenberg. (Left to right) Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan in WHAT IF to be released by CBS Films. Copyright 2013 F Word Productions Inc. PFC F-Word The Movie Inc. & Kelcom Limited T/A Fastnet Films. All Rights Reserved.

Rico Gagliano: I’m happy to do that. Do you have any recent etymological discoveries?

Daniel Radcliffe: Not apart from the fact that I read a thing recently about words that were hated at the time; that were like the “LOL” and “jk” of their day. “Optimism” was a word that people thought was, like, an invention of Latin. “Television” is another word people hated because it was Latin and Greek that had been pushed together. There’s a quote from somebody in the ’30s, some guy who worked in England, who said, “The word is half Latin and half Greek — no good can come of it.”

Rico Gagliano: Complete other side of the spectrum, movie-wise:  You were just at Comic-Con. Apparently you dressed as Spiderman so you could go incognito.

Daniel Radcliffe: Yes.

Rico Gagliano: Which several stars have done at Comic-Con. But what interested me about it, is… you’re also known to be into comic books and superheroes, and I realized you could play Peter Parker.  Or some similar kind of hero.  But my question is, would you? After having gone through the Harry Potter films, would you do another big franchise?

Daniel Radcliffe: I would love to do another big franchise film, but I don’t know if I’d like to be the lead in it. Like, I would love to pop up in a franchise or something.

One of the first things I was offered after Potter was a TV series with a really interesting script, but as soon as they said to me, “If this goes, you’ll be signing up for seven years,” I was like, “OK, no. I’m done.”

I think doing a film like Potter for so long builds up in you that desire to play as many different types of parts as you can, and I’ve really been enjoying it since being able to, so I wouldn’t rush back.

FWORD_DAY05-0177.tifPhoto credit: Caitlin Cronenberg (Left to right) Zoe Kazan and Daniel Radcliffe in WHAT IF to be released by CBS Films. Copyright 2013 F Word Productions Inc. PFC F-Word The Movie Inc. & Kelcom Limited T/A Fastnet Films. All Rights Reserved.

Rico Gagliano: I do have to wonder though — was there, at the end of that series, was there fear too? I mean that’s a steady gig, and that’s something rare for an actor, which you had from a very early age.

Daniel Radcliffe: Yeah. I mean, if you look at the footage of us on the last day [of filming “Potter”] and you see me crying, those are tears of: “I don’t know what I’m gonna do next. I don’t know where I’m gonna go. This has been my family and my life.” There was a moment of real heartbreak.

But there was never a time where I was like, “I don’t think I’ll make it.”  There were times where you doubt it, and there’s times where you worry about it… but actually the thing that really hammers it home is journalists — not ones like you, but other ones – coming in and saying things like, “Do you think your best years are behind you? Have you peaked at 21?”  And you go, “Fuck, have I?” And that’s terrifying.

But I always knew that I had a piece of information that none of them had about me.  Which was that I was harder-working than any of them could have ever predicted or known. And you know, there’s a lot to hard work. Like, it’ll get you far.

Rico Gagliano: We normally ask two questions of every guest of honor on this show. You’ve actually answered one of them, which is “What question do you least like to be asked?” It’s apparently, “Are your best years behind you?”

Daniel Radcliffe: Yeah, “Are your best years behind you?” Anything like that.  You are officially a terrible person if you ever say that to a young person.

Rico Gagliano: All right, let’s go to our second question.  Which is kind of the flip of that, and it is: Tell us something we don’t know. And this can be about anything — about yourself that you haven’t mentioned in an interview, or it can be a piece of trivia.

Daniel Radcliffe: So… blue whales have massive mouths.  And you would expect that they would be able to swallow huge things whole, but they actually can’t. The biggest thing they can swallow is about the size of – their throat is about the size of a grapefruit.  Which is like us having a throat the size of a belly button.  Because they’re just used to sifting krill and plankton all the time, and that’s all they eat, just like gallons of it. So there’s that — there you go.

Rico Gagliano: Where did you learn that?!

Daniel Radcliffe: I think that was on “QI” again, which is probably where I got the thorn thing from as well. “QI,” for anyone who doesn’t know, is a program Stephen Fry hosts in England, the “Quite Interesting” program.

I’m also learning Japanese at the moment, which is another fun thing which people don’t know about me: I’m trying to start learning Japanese for a role.  And the Japanese language is my new favorite thing.  Just because the words are amazing and onomatopoeic, but also there are some words for things that don’t have Japanese equivalents. So sometimes to say something in Japanese, you just have to say the word in English, in what sounds like a horrendously racist accent.  Like, literally the word for “granola bar” is “garanolabah.”

So there’s two facts you didn’t know before a minute ago.