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Daniel Radcliffe feels at home in 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince'

As he leaves his teens behind, Radcliffe also has taken steps toward an acting career that moves beyond the 'Potter' franchise.

July 05, 2009

While working on the series' sixth film, the actors talk to Times writer Geoff Boucher about 'The Half-Blood Prince,' music, friendship and getting older.

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'Potter' trio looks beyond graduation

There were so many faces. "Thousands. It felt like every kid in England wanted to be in the first 'Harry Potter' film." That's how producer David Heyman remembers the crush of casting options a decade ago when the Hollywood's massive and magical spellbinding franchise began with the key decision of picking its young wizards. They found their Hermione in the daughter of two attorneys who seemed as driven as the character. Ron was discovered in a videotape audition plucked from a mailroom mountain. The future Harry himself was spotted by Heyman in the audience of a theatrical production and encouraged to try out. "It was kismet," Heyman said. It led to the biggest and best show-biz decision of the past decade. The little children are now young adults and, somehow miraculously, they have thrived in the face of fame, fortune and relentless pressure. "There wasn't a Britney in the bunch," one Warner Bros exec said with unceasing relief. Interviewed more than a year ago on the Watford, England, set of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" (the film, due July 15), was postponed to position it in the summer marketplace) the three stars -- Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson -- talked to staff writer Geoff Boucher about the past and the future and, most of all, all the magic.

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Most movie sets are flimsy facades -- the walls usually move when you lean against them -- but not the airplane factory in Watford, England, that a decade ago was transformed into the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and built to last. The floors and walls are real stone, and no one knows their cracks and echoes better than Daniel Radcliffe.

Well, maybe that's not entirely true. "I still get turned around in here," Radcliffe said as he wandered through an especially dim corridor. "I couldn't tell you the name of this set, but I know my way to all the sets. Well, pretty much."

Radcliffe was wearing a black suit with a shirt and tie the color of a dark red wine, his costume for a holiday party scene in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." In person, he has a quick smile and the same chipper enthusiasm as his world-famous character, but the actor also possesses a sly wit and calculating eye that quickly sets him apart from the puppyish boy wizard he plays.

Radcliffe, who turns 20 this month, has been wearing the Hogwarts robes since summer 2000, when "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling signed off on his casting.

In the subsequent years, Radcliffe has been called the world's richest working teen (he made $25 million just last year, according to Forbes, and also inked a $43 million deal for two more "Potter" films) and at age 16 he became the youngest nonroyal to have an individual portrait put on display at Britain's 153-year-old National Portrait Gallery.

"I started this when I was about 10 or 11; it's quite mad if you think about it," Radcliffe said with a serene expression that suggested he is accustomed to the bedlam. That eighth and last "Potter" film is scheduled to be released in 2011 and will close out one of the most massive undertakings in mainstream film history.

No one would begrudge Radcliffe for taking a long break afterward, but no one who knows him actually expects that to happen. The actor performed to strong reviews in London and New York in Peter Shaffer's play "Equus," and the harrowing spiritual and sexual themes (along with the nude scenes for the star) were an emphatic declaration that Radcliffe wants to be more than Rowling's magical orphan.

"He's an extremely focused young man and keen to learn as much as he can at all times," "Half-Blood" director David Yates said. "He's pursuing a career that will carry him far beyond this role and these films. I have seen very few people his age with such purpose in them."

Radcliffe said the "Potter" soundstage has been a second home and a one-of-a-kind acting academy. Several generations of the best from British and Irish stage and cinema have passed through the franchise, such as Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Michael Gambon, Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson and the late Richard Harris, and Radcliffe tried to learn something from each of them.

Asked for an example, he points out that Richard Griffiths, who plays Harry's sour uncle, was raised by deaf parents and, attuned to nonverbal expression, approaches his work with a more internal strategy than most actors. He first learns what his character is thinking in each scene as opposed to what he is saying.

Griffiths also once advised Radcliffe to never let the camera catch him when he wasn't thinking because the void would be read in his eyes; the veteran prefaced that counsel by saying it was told to him by Lee Marvin, who heard it from Spencer Tracy.

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