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We all know the stories about child actors who never find their way on reaching adulthood. Either they end up hopelessly typecast by the sorts of roles that made them famous in the first place, or they simply sink without trace in the unforgiving world of Hollywood, or worse.
Thankfully, none of these things has happened to Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe. Now in his mid 30s, the British actor’s profile is lower these days than during his time in the Wizarding World, but he has spent the last decade and more appearing in a variety of independent movies, marching to his own tune. Here are 10 of his best post-Potter performances.
10. Victor Frankenstein
This 2015 film tried to do for the Frankenstein story what Young Sherlock Holmes did for fans of Arthur Conan Doyle, and relate the beginnings of the scientist’s fateful journey from curious inventor to creator of life from death. James McAvoy plays the young Frankenstein, with Radcliffe as his servant Igor, and Sherlock star Andrew Scott as the police inspector hellbent on putting a stop to the gruesome experiments. Wearing a wig straight out of Edward Scissorhands, Radcliffe gamely channels John Hurt as the hunch-backed Igor in the first act, but it’s too lightweight to get much mileage out of the promising premise, and bombed at the box office.
9. Beast of Burden
As a meditation on the immorality of the Mexican drug trade, this 2018 thriller aims at gravitas, but despite some spirited work from Radcliffe, it never quite realizes its potential. Radcliffe stars as a pilot who smuggles cocaine across the US-Mexico border in order to enable his wife to get crucial medical treatment. The Breaking Bad-esque premise offers a few twists and turns, especially when Sean finds himself up against the drug cartel for whom he is working and the DEA at the same time, but the somber atmosphere fails to translate into something deeper.
8. Guns Akimbo
2019’s Guns Akimbo has the sort of madcap, one-note premise that sounds like the setup for a bad joke; what would happen if you replaced someone’s hands with guns? In a dystopian near future, Miles (Radcliffe) is assaulted by gangsters and wakes up to find pistols attached to his palms. He learns that he is being forced to act out death matches with others for the amusement of online audiences. The Squid Game-esque setup, however, is played firmly for laughs, with Radcliffe giving his all in the role, and for sheer adrenalin-filled hijinks, Guns Akimbo delivers.
This quirky 2013 film is based on a novel by Joe Hill, and stars Radcliffe as Ignatius Perrish, who wakes up one morning to find horns growing out of his temples that not only provoke religious fervor among some townsfolk, but also cause people to reveal to him their secrets. The plot is convoluted, but Radcliffe sells Ig’s transformation, while slick directing and cinematography make Horns easy to watch, and it remains one of his most committed performances.
6. What If
Released in some markets as The F Word, this rom-com was an early outing for a raft of actors who would later find success, including Adam Driver, Zoe Kazan, Rafe Spall, and Mackenzie Davis. Radcliffe plays Wallace, a lovelorn Brit living in Toronto whose mind is taken off his cheating ex-girlfriend when he meets Chantry (Kazan) – the catch being that she is already in a relationship. While the script visits familiar will-they-won’t-they territory, it makes much hay with the easy chemistry between Kazan and Radcliffe, for whom it represented his first foray into romantic comedy.
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5. Kill Your Darlings
More than 70 years after they burst onto the literary scene, the reputation of the Beat poets continues to precede them, and offers fertile creative ground, with Radcliffe impressing as the soon-to-be literary iconoclast Allen Ginsberg. Dane DeHaan shines as Ginsberg’s brilliant student friend Lucien Carr, and Michael C. Hall pushes hard as David Kammerer, the college English professor who in real life sought a relationship with the much younger Carr. Kill Your Darlings did poorly at the box office, but fared much better among the critics, and underscored Radcliffe’s ease in literary and intellectual roles.
In 1981, Israeli adventurer Yossi Ghinsberg became lost in the Amazonian rainforest for three weeks. Jungle dramatizes his story, with Radcliffe in the lead role and German actor Thomas Kretschmann as Ruprechter, the mysterious Austrian who, as in real life, convinced Ghinsberg to accompany him into the forest to search for gold. The physically demanding role saw Radcliffe filming in the rainforest, with poisonous snakes to match; the actor went on a diet to lose weight during the shoot in an attempt to replicate that aspect of Ghinsberg’s ordeal. The commitment to realism certainly shows in his performance, though critical reaction to the movie as a whole was muted.
3. The Woman In Black
Widely seen as the film that gave Radcliffe credibility post-Potter, this 2012 movie is a slow-burning horror that benefits from excellent performances from Ciarán Hinds and Janet McAteer in supporting roles. Set in Edwardian Britain, Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a young lawyer whose life in rural England is jeopardized by the specter of a jilted woman. The film eschewed blood and guts for a more old-style horror feel, and Radcliffe is evidently at home in his role as the buttoned-up but well-meaning Kipps.
2. Swiss Army Man
Swiss Army Man’s nutty premise got critics talking about Radcliffe’s apparent post-Potter proclivity for outre independent projects, and in many ways, that’s exactly what this – after all, it’s not every day that an actor gets to play a reanimated, erection-prone corpse. For all the laughs that derive from watching Paul Dano’s Hank saving himself from death by using Manny’s (Radcliffe) decomposing, flatulent corpse first as a flotation device and then as a source of potable water, the movie quickly transitions into deeper territory, and hits some unexpectedly tender notes as the pair hit it off, an odd couple to end all odd couples. As the film progresses, Hank recreates everyday situations in an attempt to reacquaint the amnesiac Manny with simple human feelings, and the offbeat ending succeeds in wrong-footing the viewer.
1. Weird: The Al Yankovic Story
Radcliffe slots into the lead role in this 2022 faux biopic so easily that it might have been written for him. True to form, this telling of the life of the king of pop parody is not what it appears to be; as much of it is fiction as is fact. Radcliffe embraces the looniness and knocks it out of the park as Yankovic, whose silly, homespun takes on hit songs made him an unexpected and ubiquitous pop culture icon in the 1980s. So much of Radcliffe’s post-Potter work has a studied quality to it, but his performance as Yankovic has an effortlessness about it that makes him compelling to watch.
It helps that he is surrounded by a slew of actors perfectly cast in their respective roles: Evan Rachel Wood is sultry and cynical as Madonna (who in this reality begins a romance with Yankovic to convince him to parody her), while Rainn Wilson has a whale of a time as real-life DJ Dr. Demento. Radcliffe’s performance earned him his first ever major award nomination for screen work, a BAFTA for Best Male Comedy Performance. A Primetime Emmy nomination followed – and no-one could complain if he takes home the gong in next January’s ceremony.