The Internet features more than its share of negativity and snark—sometimes you’ve just gotta vent. But there’s plenty of room for love, too. With Fan Up, we ask pop-culture people we admire to tell us about something they really, really like.
The fan: In his post-Harry Potter life, English actor Daniel Radcliffe has been building a unique, exciting resume of films, stage plays, and TV projects that push both his own image and the audience. He’ll turn up in a classy, classic ghost story like The Woman In Black, or he’ll do something slightly edgier with Kill Your Darlings. And all that’s to say nothing of his work in the crazed TV adaptation of A Young Doctor’s Notebook. Now, Radcliffe is trying his hand at romantic comedies, in the Canadian film What If, out in theaters this week. The movie stars Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan as two friends who probably should just get together already, and if it’s not the most original premise in the world, it makes up for it with low-key charm and a refreshing honesty about its characters and their motivations. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Radcliffe is effortlessly enjoyable in the lead role, or that he and Kazan have terrific chemistry.
The A.V. Club: What’s a movie romance you’ve really loved?
Daniel Radcliffe: You know what? It’s not so much a movie romance as a TV romance, and I think I speak for a lot of people when I say Jim and Pam from The Office. And then by extension, their English equivalents of Tim and Dawn as well. I’m just coming toward the end of the [American] series now, the last series, I’m re-watching them all, and I just think the way it’s acted is obviously brilliant. The two actors that play those parts are fantastic. But the way its written and the complexities of the relationship, the way they are taken into account—it’s just a really beautifully written relationship. And one where, even when the couple fights and have arguments about things, you root for both sides, because both those characters mean so much to you. So yeah, I suppose that would be one of my favorites, very much.
AVC: The British Office ends with Tim and Dawn getting together. With the American Office, you go on and see what happens with their relationship. Do you have a particular approach you prefer?
DR: It’s a really interesting thing, because I think I used to use The Office as sort of the classic example of British self-restraint. There’s two series and Christmas specials and that was it. I remember when the idea of an American Office first came out when I was younger. I was sort of horrified by the idea. And now, I actually think it’s an even better show than was made in Britain. It’s a very different show—but it is, and as you say, being able to follow that relationship for eight years, and it’s such a wonderful privilege to get the chance to do that for all those writers and those actors. And I’m sure they loved the challenge of showing the whole arc of a relationship, rather than just the beginning or just the end. There’s something beautiful about that. It means they never had to rush. It’s written beautifully.
AVC: Do you think that reflects any wider cultural differences between the two countries?
DR: I mean, I think there’s maybe a sense of, first of all, it’s important to say that the British and American TV systems work in completely different ways. And British TV doesn’t have nearly the kind of same structure that American network TV does. Here’s what I think reflects the difference in culture more than anything else, actually, because of the fact that when something is successful in Britain, we go, “Okay, let’s stop it before we screw it up.” And when something is successful over here, they go, “Okay, let’s keep making this a success until it’s not a success.” And I think that it is a kind of very different attitude, but I’m actually really glad for that, because as I said, when the idea of an American version of that program came out, it sounded like sacrilege. And now, frankly, I look at those final episodes and they are so emotionally satisfying and grounded in a way that I don’t think the British Office ever got the chance to be. So I’m incredibly glad that the show over here was able to carry on and run and run and run.
AVC: Do you have some favorite moments from those couples?
DR: There was an amazing moment in the British version I remember: I think it was in the Christmas episode, where Dawn gets in the car and opens the present that Tim’s got her and realizes that he’s got her a set of art equipment and realizes that he’s the only person that actually would ever think to get her something like that—that she actually really cares about. I always thought that was a beautiful moment. Then she goes back to the party. Then there was another moment the other day, where Pam in the American Office sort of hugs Jim because their relationship is going in a really bad patch and then they get to a moment where they embrace and she just has this flashback to their wedding and their vows, and it’s just a really impactful, beautiful moment.
AVC: The Office, both versions, really captured an improvisatory nature in a lot of ways, and What If does that as well, even though it’s based on a play. How did you skew toward having that feel of improvisation, while keeping the structure of the script?
DR: A lot of it is brilliant of our director, Michael Dowd. He was very, very encouraging of us to improvise. Although we had—as you said—a fantastic script to start off with, I think Mike wanted to use the fact that Zoe [Kazan] and I really did in real life make each other laugh quite a lot. And actually capture some of that on-screen. It’s a testament, because a very, very small percentage of what ended up in the film is improvised. I think as actors, having the option to improvise there relaxes you. For me at least, it makes me feel even more natural and relaxed and at home on set if I know I can throw stuff out there at any time. Generally speaking, it’s all the script and it’s a testament to the writing that it sounds improvised because it’s very natural dialogue.
AVC: Is there a moment when you’re meeting with an actor when you can sense that you’re going to be able to improvise and work with this person really well, or is that something that you build over time?
DR: I mean, I suppose it’s something you do. I haven’t done an awful lot of it, but definitely as soon as I met Zoe and as soon as I met Adam [Driver] I was like, okay, yeah, these people are brilliant improvisers. And yeah, I guess you can tell pretty quickly if someone is going to enter into it with you, but I also would say that I’ve never really had situation where I was improvising with someone who was really bad at it and who I don’t enjoy it with, so I don’t really know how that would go.
AVC: This movie really holds the characters responsible for their actions and for their choices. What about that appealed to you?
DR: I mean, you’re absolutely right. I feel that this is a romantic comedy where the actual complexities of life are taken into account. Where in a normal romantic comedy when Wallace flies to Dublin and gets on a plane, a gesture that romantic and that big—in most romantic comedies that would sort of solve all the problems. And here it just creates more problems—which it would in real life, because it’s a really extreme thing to do and you would question somebody’s reasons for doing it. There’s plenty of things like that in the film. The fact that Rafe Spall’s character isn’t a complete dickhead. Normally, the boyfriend of the girl the main guy is in love with is just such a archetypical nasty piece of work. He’s really got very little depth to him. And in this film, it’s a much harder decision because Rafe is a great guy and he’s handsome and successful and treats her well. And there’s no reason for her to leave him, other than the fact that she suddenly finds herself falling in love with someone else. Which I think is much truer to life. Because it’s a film, because it’s a romantic comedy, you kind of know from the outset that these characters are going to get together at some stage. But the tension in the film comes from, under what circumstances is that going to happen?
AVC: This movie is also really perceptive about male and female friendship, in addition to the potential of romance. And that’s another thing we see especially with Jim and Pam in The Office. What intrigues you about the idea of men and women just being friends?
DR: I think it’s something different. I think men and women absolutely can be friends, but I think the dynamic of two people who are maintaining a friendship because one of them is in a relationship and that’s all they can do is a really interesting one, and is one that’s fraught with a lot of flirtation and danger, and you’re constantly trying to work out what the boundary. Like, can I make this joke, or would that be inappropriate? Can I make a joke about us being together or would that be awkward? As you say, with the Jim and Pam thing and with Zoe and myself, it’s a really interesting dynamic to explore, because you’re getting two people who want to say everything to each other but always are having to hold something back. There’s an automatic tension there.
AVC: If you had to go out to dinner with either Tim and Dawn or Jim and Pam, which couple would you want to go and have an evening with?
DR: [Laughs.] Only because I’ve been watching it more recently, I’d have to say Jim and Pam. I don’t know. I honestly couldn’t tell you why. In this hypothetical, I’m going on that date with them.