Though it wasn't actually his first film role, playing Harry Potter in the titular franchise of movies is unquestionably what shot Beasts of Burden star Daniel Radcliffe to international fame. But since the final Potter movie debuted in 2011, Radcliffe has starred in a variety of projects since then that are known for being, well, weird, from Swiss Army Man (aka the "farting corpse movie") to Horns, (aka the one where he sprouts devil horns). Whether that's a compliment or not, as the actor tells me over the phone one Thursday morning, he's chosen to take it as one.
"You kind of have to, because people have kept saying it," he says with a laugh. "I don’t ever particularly see them as weird at the time." And, he adds, he'd never do a movie if "weird" was the only thing that could be said about it. "Anything that feels like it’s weird for weird’s sake, I really don’t enjoy. Particularly like Horns and Swiss Army Man," he explains. "I think of those movies as being magical realism or absurd comedy stuff. I think that’s the cool thing about film. You can have a dead body that talks, and you can have a man that turns into a demon because it’s a movie. You don’t have to be true to reality. You can find weird, fantastical... ways of discussing an idea."
Radcliffe's latest film, Beasts of Burden, which comes out on Feb. 23, is neither magical realism nor absurd comedy. In it, the actor stars as Sean Haggerty, a pilot and drug smuggler on one last run to pay for medicine for his sick wife. Unlike in most movies, Radcliffe spends most of the runtime acting alone; Sean's almost always in a plane with nothing but the voices of his wife, the DEA, or the drug cartel members for company.
As you might imagine, that unusual setup is exactly what attracted the actor to the project. "I thought it would be a chance to do something cool in the process of how we made the film and how we did those things," Radcliffe says. "I’ll probably never make another film in that way."
After a childhood spent making not one, but eight movies in the same franchise, it makes sense that the actor would have a strong desire to do something different with every new project. When it comes to scripts, Radcliffe looks for stories that he considers unique — and in the wake of performing in works like Equus (a play that's kind of about a boy who has sex with horses), Swiss Army Man, and more, that's exactly what he's been getting.
"I feel like I’ve been getting really interesting scripts because people know I’m not closed off to that," Radcliffe says. "I think it’s a combination of looking for something I haven’t done before or that I think will be a risky kind of challenge in terms of how it gets made."
While "weird" wouldn't be the first word that Radcliffe chooses to describe his work, it doesn't bother him. At least not as much as it would bother him for his movies to be called boring. "I guess the worst thing you could say about a film is that it’s the worst film ever made and everyone is it is just terrible," he says. "But in terms of describing my body of work, [someone] being like, 'Eh, he kind of does boring films that don't really say much' — that would be really infuriating and I wouldn't want to do that."
And so far, he hasn't. In addition to the clearly compelling Horns, Swiss Army Man, and Equus, Radcliffe has starred inWoman In Black, a horror movie about the sins of our past; Kill Your Darlings, a historical film about toxic friendships and beat poetry; and Now You See Me 2, a heist movie sequel about stage magicians. And of course, there's Harry Potter, a film series with too many themes and meanings to explore in a single paragraph. And there's only more to come.
"I’m in this really fortunate position at the moment... where I can be really choosy about the projects that I want to do and just do the things that I think are interesting and fun for me to do," says Radcliffe. "I’m going to use that for as long as I can."
So, yeah, call these movies unique or call them weird, if you must. But the last thing you can say about Radcliffe's broad range of projects is that they're boring. After all, the franchise that shot him to fame ended seven years ago, and you're still talking about him, aren't you?