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Why gothic horror is a wizard idea

DECISIONS, decisions. Daniel Radcliffe, the actor previously known as Harry Potter, has been making some major ones lately.

Among them, which political party to back. As revealed this week, he is going cold on the LibDems and warming to Ed Miliband's Labour instead. Besides that, there's the not inconsiderable matter of what to do now he is no longer appearing in the most successful franchise in cinema history.

His answer, The Woman in Black, opens in cinemas tomorrow. Though the adaptation of Susan Hill's classic ghost story hails from Hammer, makers of many a gothic chiller, Radcliffe is hoping for a happy beginning to the rest of his life PP – post Potter. If the first weekend's takings of $22 million at the US box office are any guide, he might just have found one.

Yet it could all have been so different. Among the other parts he was once offered was a remake of The Wizard of Oz. "I would play the cowardly lion. But this was a karate-kicking cowardly lion." He pauses to let the full horror of it sink in once again.

Besides timorous felines, anything bidding to be the next big fantasy franchise was similarly given a body swerve. Instead, he has opted to play Arthur Kipps, a grief-stricken London lawyer exiled to a remote village on the English coast to sort out an estate. Once there, Kipps finds more waiting for him than a pile of unsorted bills.

Though horror is not a genre he is naturally drawn to, the script by Jane Goldman, who wrote Kick-Ass, gripped him from the off. He was also attracted by the notion of playing a father, though there were reservations too.

"It was something I was a little bit nervous about because of people having seen me in a schoolboy outfit for 10 years. I was wondering if they would buy into that."

To make him feel more at ease in the role, he asked the director, James Watkins, to audition his godson, Misha, for the part of his five-year-old son. Part secured, all was well, then Radcliffe found his parental instincts kicking in for real.

"I felt slightly awful on his first night. I was really excited to have him in the film, his first job, and then his first day of shooting was a night shoot. It was cold and horrible." When 9.30pm rolled around, Misha said it was the latest he had ever been up in his life. "There's a point where it doesn't matter how many sweets or iPad apps you offer him, nothing can be done. But he was a trouper and very, very sweet."

Radcliffe was on his own learning curve when it came to the character of Kipps, a man who, like Harry Potter, has known sorrow in his life. But whereas Harry had a "have a go" attitude to life, much like Radcliffe himself, Kipps required a different, lower key acting style.

"My default reaction whenever I don't know quite what to do with something is to push and just give it everything I've got. Those instincts really had to be curbed and that was something that took quite a lot of time to get my head around."

As do Radcliffe's earnings to date. Like his two co-stars, Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) and Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), 22-year-old Radcliffe is a millionaire many times over. One newspaper guesstimated his wealth at £30m. Whatever the figure, Radcliffe, if he chose, need never work again.

That's not an option for him, though. He says David Yates, one of his directors on Potter, used to joke that Radcliffe was conditioned to work. "If that's the flaw I have, that I'm impossible to stop from working, that's fine with me."

He hasn't stopped since Potter. From wrapping Deathly Hallows he went to Broadway to star in the musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. His next gig is playing Allen Ginsberg in Kill Your Darlings. Harry Potter growing up to become a beat poet? What weird magic is this?

"I love Ginsberg," he laughs. "Not all of it. I feel about Allen Ginsberg the way I feel about Bob Dylan, which is when it's great it's incredible and when it's bad it's just awful."

He has tried to choose projects that, like Kill Your Darlings, offer the chance to work with directors he finds interesting. On The Woman in Black it was James Watkins, helmer of the critically acclaimed British thriller, Eden Lake. On Darlings, due for release next year, it will be John Krokidas.

"I love working with these young, ambitious, hungry directors. Everyone wants to work with Scorsese and Spielberg and, of course, why wouldn't you, but I really want to work with the next Scorsese, the next Spielberg. That to me is as exciting."

He knew it was going to be all eyes on him once Potter ended, but he doesn't want to be swayed by that. "I get it, I understand there is a lot of interest to see what I'm going to do next but I don't think I'll be letting that inform choices," he says.

As much as anything else it's about showing people you have good taste, he adds. People go to see a Brad Pitt or a George Clooney film because they know these actors make smart choices. He wants to be thought of in the same way.

But what about that missed childhood, about running away to university to study archaeology or ancient languages? You won't find Radcliffe hankering after any of that.

"I obviously want to keep reading and educating myself as much as I can but I don't want to stop working. I've been on film sets since I was 10, I can't imagine what my life would be without them."

Doesn't he feel that he missed out? "No. All the growing up moments happened to me anyway, but they just happened on set. Yes I missed out on a normal education at school but I still got a very good education. It wasn't like I was home schooled and separated from other children, I still had a lot of interaction. It was just a different way of growing up."

Relaxed about his choices, the only thing that has got his goat recently was when someone snapped his picture on their phone while he was in a New York restaurant having dinner with his girlfriend.

"If they asked me, the chances are I'd say yes. But when they don't ask, I just find that rude," he says.

Having seen Radcliffe with fans on the red carpet, signing autographs, posing for photos, you can see why he has so many of them. Asked if he doesn't feel pressure to be always "on", he replies: "It's not about being 'on', it's just about being a nice human being."

Having such a huge fan base makes him, in turn, hot cinematic property. Where he goes, the fans go. Hence why he opted to introduce the trailers for Woman In Black with a cheery "Hi guys!" Decisions, decisions. So far, Radcliffe is making the right ones.

The Woman in Black opens tomorrow.

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