Daniel Radcliffe: From Boy Wizard to Social Warrior

By Jase Peeples
Originally published: The Advocate 8/8/14

A generation of LGBT fans grew up rooting for Daniel Radcliffe and the wand-wielding character he played for a decade in the Harry Potter films. And fairly early on, everyone’s favorite boy wizard made it known he was rooting for the LGBT community as well.

He’s spoken out against homophobia in public service announcements, stood up for marriage equality in interviews, and donated his time, celebrity, and money to numerous LGBT charities over the years. His passion for furthering civil rights shines through in both his words and actions. It’s this dedication to the cause that not only earned him the Trevor Project’s Hero Award in 2011, but it’s also why he’s considered one of the fiercest straight allies currently working in Hollywood.

As we discuss his latest role in the romantic comedy What If, I realize how much I’m still rooting for the 25-year-old actor who’s working so hard to leave the halls of Hogwarts behind and move beyond the shadow of a single character. “I know I can’t make one film that will immediately make the world stop seeing me as Harry Potter,” he says. “But hopefully film by film, bit by bit, slowly but surely, I will be seen as just an actor rather than a character. All I can do is what I’m doing now – a nice range of projects that showcase different sides of my ability as an actor, and the wider the range they are, the better.”

His plight is perhaps relatable to those of us in his LGBT fan base. After all, working to overcome expectations and prove a person is more than a single stereotype, or in Radcliffe’s case a single character, is familiar territory for many in our community – and another reason why we continue to cheer him on.

LGBT viewers may also find a similar connection with Radcliffe’s latest character Wallace in What If, a young man who finds himself falling in love with his best friend Chantry (played by Zoe Kazan), despite his best efforts to keep their relationship strictly platonic. But while Radcliffe knows Wallace’s situation is one many of his queer fans have experienced themselves, he’s hopeful the day isn’t far away when films like What If feature same-sex couples, and when LGBT people are able to see more than simple parallels to their own life in mainstream romantic comedies.

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“I still think we’ve got a ways to go before we see more types of films like What If made with same-sex couples,” he says. “I say that because I was quite shocked when I did all the press for Kill Your Darlings and how much of a talking point it was for people that I was playing a gay character. Because my mom and dad were involved in the same industry and had a lot of gay friends who I grew up around, it was always normal to me.”

He says he realizes not everyone has had the same upbringing, but he acknowledges cultural and societal awareness are improving, which allows richer LGBT characters in popular culture.

“The way gay people have been depicted [in entertainment] has changed so much in the last few years and hopefully that is what is normalizing it for everyone,” he says. “Just look at characters like Cam and Mitch from Modern Family. They are hugely successful and get to every region of the country. Stories are now beginning to be told that include all different types and kinds of sexuality and characters who aren’t there for the sake of being gay, they just happen to be gay. It’s actually the stories around their lives that are what keep us interested. I do think that in the next generation we will see an even bigger difference in how gay people are shown in the media and in film because people are getting over it, finally.”

Along with the movies Horns and Kill Your Darlings, What If was one of three projects Radcliffe filmed in the same year, and he credits the challenges and experience gained from each with helping him refine his craft.

“I feel like that year was instrumental for me in moving on to the next step,” he says. “Each time I take something away, but on this film I really learned a lot about improvisation and comedy. I had a fantastic time filming What If because we’d always start off filming a scene totally sticking to the script for a few takes before [director] Michael Dowse would let us go off, experiment, and try stuff out. I learned I actually really like that as a way of working and find it very freeing.”

Radcliffe admits he also “felt free” of any inhibitions while filming a scene in which he and Kazan have a spontaneous skinny dipping adventure.

“Once you’ve done Equus that really shakes any inhibitions you have out of you,” he says of the role that required him to perform a 10-minute scene completely nude before a live audience. “Other actors might get to a scene like that and say, ‘Actually, I’d like to not be naked in that part,’ but because I’ve done it once on stage, it doesn’t really hold fears for me anymore.”

Ditching his clothes for the camera is becoming a frequent occurrence in Radcliffe’s films. Each of the three he filmed in the same year include scenes requiring a serving of skin and when I joke with him that he may soon be typecast as the guy who gets naked in all of films, he lets out a long laugh before he responds. “I would like to say at this point that I am not picking projects so I can get naked,” he says. “It just so happens that in all the ones that have been released so far — and in fact the next two that will be released as well — I do show a bit of skin.”

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While some actors have voiced concern in the past over the pressure Hollywood places on actors to stay in shape, Radcliffe embraces it. “To be honest I think it’s important for an actor to have some sort of connection with his body and to have that physicality available to him as an actor,” he says. “Of course there’s the knowledge that at some point you’re going to take your top off, it’ll end up online, and then people will have opinions. But I enjoy keeping fit and going to the gym. So yes, there is a bit of pressure that goes along with all that, but if it’s a pressure which ends up keeping me healthy than that’s fine with me.”

Radcliffe considers the current level of objectification of men in film a healthy evolution in entertainment; one that is more inclusive than the decades-long practice which depicted women as the sole object of desire and ignored both straight female and gay male moviegoers. It’s a direction he’s confident will soon extend to LGBT visibility and inclusion in all forms of entertainment.

“Just look at Michael Sam and what happened when he came out,” he says of the first openly gay athlete to be signed to a team in the NFL. “All the people that said there would be a problem were much older, and I didn’t get that because the players at Michael Sam’s college — who were between 18 and 24 — none of them had a problem with it. So [LGBT] inclusion is something we’re only going to see evolve more with this generational shift.”