In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
Since finishing the Harry Potter film series, Daniel Radcliffe has been busily carving out a career for himself on both the stage and screen, alternating time in plays and films, often to critical acclaim. Mixing a variety of bold indie cinema (Swiss Army Man, Kill Your Darlings) with big-budget crowd-pleasers (Now You See Me 2), horror (The Woman In Black), and even the oddball cameo here and there (his black-and-white dog walker movie-within-the-movie in Trainwreck), Radcliffe has evolved into a strong performer unafraid of taking big chances. In his new film Jungle (opening in theaters on available On Demand October 20), he takes on the real-life tale of a former Israeli soldier who makes a fateful decision to journey into the Bolivian jungle, only for things to go horribly awry. He spoke with The A.V. Club recently and opened up about his fear of the Yellowstone volcano, not making a big deal out of birthdays, and his fondness for the expression “Sweating like a glassblower’s asshole” and another bit of colorful language.
Daniel Radcliffe: The first thing that comes to mind is The Simpsons. Because that was a very—it’s a pretty happy place, on the whole. Stuff gets resolved. The Simpsons or the Sherlock Holmes series with Jeremy Brett.
The A.V. Club: The one from the ’80s, right?
DR: Yes! From the ’80s to the ’90s. I’m a big fan of Sherlock and what they’ve done with the sort of modern adaptation. I think it’s very, very clever. But as a straight adaptation of those books and short stories, it [the Jeremy Brett series] is so brilliant. And there’s something very comforting about it to me. At the time I found it in my life—there’s something very nostalgic and cozy about that sort of world, even though it’s obviously terrifying at times as well. I don’t know if I would actually choose that one or if I’m just thinking of things I would really like. But I think I would like it, yeah—maybe out of the two of them, I would go live in The Simpsons. This is a very rambling answer, I’m sorry.
AVC: So Simpsons in terms of actual comfort, but in terms of the joy that it brought you, the Sherlock Holmes—maybe that would be the difference?
DR: Yes, I think that’s it. That’s a much more concise and articulate version of what I was saying, so thank you. I do want to give myself the slight excuse that I got off a plane a few hours ago and so I’m just kicking myself awake with coffee, so I’m slightly delirious, probably, at this point.
2. Do you have a favorite swear word or phrase, and how often do you use it and in what circumstances?
DR: I think I use all the normal swear words in fairly normal circumstances—if I stub my toe, you know, or if I’m really happy. My favorite phrase, that a friend of mine who worked on the Potter films and was a lot older than me would use in front of me, and I picked up from him many great phrases—the English have a lot of great idioms for sweating. I don’t know why that is. But that’s what we do. I feel like it’s particularly our country; probably everywhere has a lot of idioms for sweating. He always said, “I’m sweating like a glassblower’s asshole,” which I always found an incredibly strange and yet vivid image.
AVC: Yeah, that is not a typical point of reference.
DR: “Sweating like a glassblower’s asshole.” That’s something once you hear it, it [sticks] with you, and I heard it when I was probably slightly younger than I should have been to hear it. But that’s essentially growing up on set.
AVC: Those are the ones you remember, the swears you learn when you were probably a little too young.
DR: I remember, actually, when I was about 12, I had an Ali G video and I was watching it and there was a bit in the video where there’s this big buildup, and it’s Sacha Baron Cohen talking to a camera, and he does this big buildup. I can’t remember exactly what he says, but it’s something like, “I’m going to use the worst word in the world now.” I won’t say it, but the word was the C-word. And he says it, and I don’t think I’d ever heard the word before. I must have been, like, 13. But I thought that the joke—because he’d done this big buildup—was that the word wasn’t actually that bad. Like it was a joke of, like, I’m going to do this big buildup and then the word isn’t actually—but I still hadn’t heard the word. So about a minute after this sketch ended, my dad walked into the room, and I turned around to him and said, “What does the C-word mean?” And I remember his face went gray and I saw his knees buckle slightly. And he goes, “Yeah, we’re gonna have a serious talk now about that word and why you’re never going to use it again.” That was definitely—I remember distinctly the first time and the circumstances where I heard that word, definitely.
AVC: And, as your father tried to make sure, the last time you used that word.
DR: [Laughs.] Yeah, I was at the age where I was just about old enough to convince them to let me watch stuff maybe from, like, I don’t know, South Park. Stuff that was slightly edgier. And then that happened, and that set me back a few months in terms of what I was allowed to view.
DR: I’m not terribly big on birthdays. It was a Sunday, and Sundays are fairly sacred to me. Not in any kind of religious sense, but in the sense that I like to try and keep them devoid of any kind of responsibilities or things that I have to do. For me, the stress of planning a party would outweigh any fun I would have at that party. I went out and got a late breakfast with a few friends and then… What did I do? I think I went and saw a movie with one of them and then just chilled out. That was it, really.
I’m really not—when I turn 30 I’ll maybe force myself to do something. But I’m really not that bothered by it. I really enjoy going to other people’s birthdays. I’m just not that into it for myself, I suppose.
AVC: Do you remember what movie it was?
DR: Shit, no, I don’t. It was really good. It might have been the second Guardians. Was it out at that time? God knows. I cannot remember. I did enjoy the second Guardians. If it was that film, that is not a slight on that movie.
AVC: It’s the birthday that wasn’t memorable, not the second Guardians.
DR: Absolutely. But that’s the thing, I hope that doesn’t sound sad. I just don’t care for…
AVC: There’s a large but silent population of people who have that sort of birthday aversion.
DR: The happiest I ever am is spending time with a group of really good friends. That’s all I aspire to in life, really. So it was perfect. I also think—not to bring everything back to the fact that I was on film sets when I was young, but that’s something. I really enjoyed a lot of birthdays on set. There’s a sort of natural—you don’t really have to do anything. Everyone knows it’s your birthday, and everyone’s really cool and says, “Happy birthday,” and you get cards. I think there was something in that. I never had to plan them when I was a kid. I know most people hate—they don’t work on their birthday, but I love my job, and it’s a very fun place to be. So maybe outside of that context, I don’t really know what to do with it.
DR: Somebody I love and have a huge amount of respect for once told me something that, to this day, I don’t really think I understand. It was probably toward the end of Potter, and they were talking to me about afterwards and that kind of stuff. And they were saying, “You need to think of yourself as a brand and you need to protect that brand.” I just don’t understand what that really means in terms of being an actor, and I also think I would find that a slightly soul-destroying way to look at myself. Maybe that’ll work for somebody who’s more—we have different understandings of what that phrase means to us. The person who said this to me is in no way somebody that I would think of as trying to protect anything. They were an old artist. I would never have known how to actually implement that in my life.
AVC: Everybody probably has a different interpretation of what “branding” means to them.
DR: I think it’s a generational thing. I react to that word like, “Ugh! No!”
DR: I wouldn’t, first of all. I will come up with an answer, but I just—I’m relieved that there are people who want to be doctors, that there are people growing up who want to do that and want to have that kind of responsibility, of life and death and helping people, on their hands. I absolutely could not do it. A very good friend of mine’s brother and father are both neurologists. I do find that the brain is fascinating. I’ve probably also over-romanticized—I’ve read, like, Oliver Sacks’ books—so I’ve probably over-romanticized the variety and the extraordinary cases that the average neurologist would see. I still think it’s a fascinating field.
AVC: You partially answered this one in question three.
DR: Yeah! Easy. Now, at this time of year: My perfect Sunday only exists in a certain amount of weeks within the year because it involves the NFL season in a big way. I’m a huge NFL fan. I wake up, go for breakfast—there are a couple of great breakfast places around me in London that serve amazing English breakfasts—so get something like that and sit down in front of the TV and watch seven hours of football. [Laughs.] I normally don’t make the late games because I’m in England. But they start at 6 here and go til 12:30, 1 a.m. with the first sort of two rounds of games.
And then eat a ton of food. I’m fairly—I’m slightly an all-or-nothing kind of person, I’m not very good at half measures, so I eat fairly well during the week because I can’t have little treats here and there. I just contain all my shit eating until Sunday and then eat terrible food.
AVC: Do you have a favorite terrible food?
DR: Several. I suppose pizza and burgers and that kind of stuff. I also love—I feel like no one ever really wants anything else but those things. You just have to have something. I don’t really believe—whenever I see somebody with a salad, I think it. I know there are people who love salads. I do not love salads. I always am like, “You must just secretly really be wanting a burger.” We all are.
DR: When I was a teenager, I was a dick about music. I felt like it was impossible to be—well, for me, I feel like a lot of very teenage things, whatever you believe, you are utterly committed to and incapable of believing there is any other version of things. So I was super opinionated about music when I was a teenager, but I am happy to say I have relaxed about that now and I am no longer. I think the thing I still—sometimes, particularly when you’re filming, you’ll be on location in somebody’s house. Some random person will just turn the house over to a film crew for a few days. I remember one house I was in and there were a lot of books by Jeffrey Archer, and I was very snobby about their book collection. If there’s a lot of Jeffrey Archer, that doesn’t immediately endear me to a household.
AVC: That’s something where, if somebody came up to you and said, “I’m looking for some good books to read,” you’d feel comfortable being like, “Let me tell you what’s good out there”?
DR: That’s the thing. I wouldn’t necessarily. I suppose I read certain things that some people would think I have really boring or weird tastes sometimes. Everyone’s got different tastes. I’m not particularly snobbish about that stuff. It’s more like—I suppose it’s the presence of right-wing conservative authors in a house than anything having to do with snobbery.
DR: The Master And Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. It might be the only book I’ve read more than once, to be honest. I’m really bad. I don’t generally reread things or rewatch stuff very often. But it’s amazing. Have you read it?
AVC: I have not.
DR: It’s set in two parallel timelines, one of which involves the devil coming to Moscow in 1925 with his amazingly fun and sinister retinue of characters that follow him around and the havoc he causes there. And then another timeline is the forgiveness of Pontius Pilate for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. They mix, and it’s also about writing, and it’s crazy and incredibly fun. If I could get really nerdy for a second, I don’t know enough about Russian to know what a good translation is. The one I read was by Pevear and Volokhonsky. Whenever I get the book for somebody else, I try to get that one. I don’t know if it’s better or worse than any of the other ones, but I know it’s the one I read and I really liked it.
That book, it’s so beautiful and unexpected, and the circumstances under which it was written are so amazing. He wrote it in secret over a period of, like, 14 years. It’s the classic thing of—at one point, he tried to destroy a lot of it, and his wife saved it, and it was published after his death. Within days, the Russian public was quoting passages from it in the street. It was a satire about life in the Soviet Union and also a deeply—I think Bulgakov was quite a religious man. I am not a religious person at all, but it’s the kind of book, you read it and it almost makes me wish I believed in God more than I do. The faith that comes out of it is very beautiful.
DR: Being buried alive. I don’t know. I genuinely—I’m not just saying this because it’s been out in the news recently. You’ll be able to find me saying this in other interviews, but Yellowstone volcano does scare the shit out of me in a very real way, in the same way that nuclear war did when you were a kid and does now today in a very unfortunately real way. Definitely Yellowstone volcano was something that, when I first heard about it, I was like, “What?! It’s years overdue and it could do what?!” That’s a very panicked moment.
DR: Ooh—I suppose, maybe people would guess this. Some people probably know this because I’ve done one of his songs on television in England once, but Tom Lehrer. I was really heavily brought up on his An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer album. I know a lot of the words to a lot of those songs. I was lucky enough to meet him once and came backstage afterwards, and it was one of the most special moments I’ve ever had. He’s brilliantly funny, and his songs and jokes have aged amazingly well. I feel like he was one of the first things I was listening to, the funniest and smartest people I was listening to, when you’re a kid and you’re like, “This is grown-up stuff and I’m getting it.” It was the first encounters I had with that kind of material.
AVC: One of the first songs I remember learning as a kid was the “Poisoning Pigeons In The Park” song of his.
DR: It’s brilliant. And that was so dark! The jokes—the songs he does about the Cold War, the vicious songs he does about racism. He’s incredible. You can see how he must have pissed a lot of people off in a wonderful way. That’s why I think it all holds up.
DR: I actually think, if I’m remembering Jay Baruchel’s interview correctly at this point, I’m pretty much going to say the same. I think he just said, “Chill. Chill out.” I definitely think that would be the advice I would give my younger self as well. I was quite anxious, I think, in my late teens, early 20s. I wouldn’t give much different advice to my child self, and that was all fine. The late teens, early 20s version of me, I would definitely say, “You could afford to calm down a bit. It’s all going to be okay.”
Bonus 12th question from Steve Guttenberg: If you could go bowling with five people, living or dead, who would it be?
DR: Oh, I’m a terrible bowler. I would definitely take my girlfriend because she’s very good and, obviously, she’s a great bowler and also, I love her, she’s amazing company, so that would be great. And who else? Jesus. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. I know that’s probably an answer a lot of people would give at the moment, but I remember the guy who dressed me on Potter—that was also the guy who used the “glassblower’s asshole” phrase—he dressed The Rock, Dwayne Johnson, on his previous movie just before starting Potter, which I believe was one of the Mummy movies. That was the coolest thing in the world to me. This costume guy, Will, became my immediate hero for having been in proximity to Dwayne Johnson. I was a very, very big WWF fan when I was younger. So him, my girlfriend… five people is tough. Maybe Usain Bolt? Just to see if he’s good at everything? I’m pulling stuff out now. Can they be dead?
AVC: Yeah, they can be dead.
DR: Then also I’ll say Mikhail Bulgakov, the guy who wrote Master And Margarita, because it’s my favorite book and that would be fun. It would be good to talk to him. And Tom Lehrer! There you go. It combines all my other answers.
AVC: What would you like to ask the next person, not knowing who you’re asking?
DR: So… whoa, that’s tough. Do you like your name?
AVC: That’s a great one. It’s simple, and it’s something that everybody thinks about.
DR: Because I’ve always—somebody said to me once as a kid, they were like, “I don’t think anyone likes their own name.” And I was like, “I do like my own name.” “Daniel Radcliffe”—it’s not a terrible name. I don’t hate it. I’m not walking around going, like, “Hey guys, I have the best name.” But I’m fine with it. I wonder what they think of theirs.