Daniel Radcliffe is a wizard no more. After headlining the Harry Potter franchise for a decade, he’s done anything but play it safe, appearing in such varied films as The Woman in Black, Kill Your Darlings and The F Word. And his current movie, the fantasy thriller Horns, proves to be yet another departure for the 25-year-old actor.
Opening today nationwide, director Alexandre Aja’s adaptation of the bestselling Joe Hill novel centers on Ig Parrish (Radcliffe), who’s accused in the brutal murder of his girlfriend Merrin. He awakens one day to discover he’s manifested horns and the ability to compel people to reveal their darkest secrets. Armed with this new power, Ig sets out to clear his name and find the real killer.
Radcliffe spoke with Spinoff Online about transforming into a demon for Horns, why love conquers all and life after Harry Potter.
Spinoff Online: Horns is unlike anything you’ve done. What grabbed you about the concept and your character Ig?
Daniel Radcliffe: Mostly it was the originality. There’s the fact it rampages through so many genres. We live in an era of obsessive categorization of films, media and arts. There’s something old-fashioned and thrilling about doing a film that’s hard to pin down. It makes my job on a press tour harder, because you want to explain the movie in four words, but you can’t do that with Horns.
With a title like Horns, moviegoers are probably expecting this to be horror. How would you describe the tone of this film?
That’s the thing. The first third is very fun. I’ve said you can’t make a film about a guy with horns unless you have a sense of humor about yourself. The first third is like the absurdist comedy. Then it becomes a revenge thriller. The whole movie really depends on this wonderful, moving and tragic love story between Ig and Merrin [Juno Temple]. It’s one of the best love stories I’ve ever read. It’s very hard to write an idealized, perfect relationship without making it feel corny or cheesy in some way, or not real. That’s what I love about Ig and Merrin’s relationship. As it is in the book and the script, it’s a really beautiful relationship that you completely believe in, despite the fact it is almost an ideal.
You’re no stranger to movie adaptations. Was it helpful having Joe Hill’s novel as a point of reference?
Yeah, absolutely. I find a novel is useful to look at early on before we start filming. Once you start filming, it’s kind of a case of, “Speak now or forever hold your peace.” You don’t want to be that guy coming on set every day going, “Oh, I just read this in the book.” You should do that before, so you can stop being that annoying guy. It’s obviously a fantastic book. I read it after the script. I went away and read the book and loved it. I thought it was so witty, as well as being emotional. Joe is a great writer and it’s fun to be involved with what was essentially his first screenplay adaptation. Locke & Key had a pilot done, but this was the first full-fledged thing to come out. It was amazing to be working with Hill, because I think he’s going to be a very important creative force in the film industry for a long time.
Ig does some pretty terrible things in Horns. How important was it making him likeable and accessible before his descent into darkness?
It’s important. You want people to even like him when he’s doing those terrible things. You kind of want people to be rooting for him, or rooting for him to stop doing those terrible things, because you care about him. You don’t want to see him go beyond the point of redemption. To me, that’s the thrust of the end of the film. That’s the finale. You can figure out fairly early on who the murderer is, as Ig does. The dramatic tension revolves around will he or won’t he redeem himself. Or will he give into more violence and hatred? Or will he break the cycle and be saved? Essentially, he’s a very good person and a good character.
Merrin is really Ig’s only beacon of light. How does that relationship carry him through the movie?
To me, that is what the film is about. Certainly you can look at the horns as being an allegory for what becomes of us when we lose the love of our life, or have that love ripped away from us. Merrin was everything to Ig. They met when he was 12. It’s some version of when we first fall in love and that first love affair that is carried on into a wonderful existence, which they share. If you imagine what it must be like to feel that complete at such a young age and then to have that torn away from you with the prospect of never getting it back — that was something I kept at the forefront of my mind. That informs the whole movie.
I think the reason Ig tries to redeem himself instead of giving in to more violence is it’s her memory he’s trying to honor and live for. This is not the way she would want him to be living. She’s a guiding force and the biggest influence on his character.
It’s easy to read “Ig sprouts horns” on a page, but how it’s realized is a whole other matter. What was your first impression of the horns? Did they have to tinker around with them?
They really didn’t, and you’re right. When I read that line, I kind of went, “That could either look great or it could look a bit silly.” We wanted this to be present the entire film, so we wanted it to look great, but not distracting. It’s a tough thing to design. Alex was very keen on them being traditional ram horns, rather than anything Hellboy-ish, if you will. My initial reaction to seeing them was a great deal of relief, as well as excitement.
How hellish was that makeup process in the final act when Ig transforms into a full demon?
It was so much better than it could have been. I’ve heard of makeup that extensive taking four or five hours. Mike McCarthy and Mike Fields are the names of the guys who did it. I feel I have to give them a shoutout in every interview I do because they made my life so much easier than it had any right being. People have a tough time in prosthetics. It’s a very weird experience. You go into a slightly Zen mode, where you conserve all the energy you have so you can use it on screen.
How did director Alexandre Aja help you tap into the darker side and impulses of your character?
Just through talking about the character and working on stuff together. We rehearsed a little bit before the shoot, but it was mainly us talking about Ig and his situation. We tried to understand things from his perspective, like the things that were upsetting him and how fucked up his world is at this moment. There was also a fair amount of music used on this shoot. Music is a big part of Alex’s and my life. It’s a big part of Ig’s life as well. It’s touched on in the film that he’s a DJ, but it’s not really ever gone into.
Generally, the thing Alex did more than focusing on the horror element and the darkness of it was he really helped balance the tones of the movie. If we were doing one scene that is funny and black humor, the way he directed the scene and the way he was on set that day was very different than a scene with me and Merrin at the diner. You trust your director to guide you.
You’ve made some interesting and bold choices since finishing your run on Harry Potter. What’s gone into your post-Potter game plan?
It’s really whatever I like. You can’t base your career on what you think other people would expect you to do, or what you think other people think you should do. You can do it based on your taste. I’m in a very fortunate position where I don’t have to be involved with anything I don’t like. Most actors my age, if they get a job on something that they really hate, they still have to do it. It’s money and it’s a job. I’m in a position where I can pick and choose a bit more what I want to do, which is incredibly fortunate and lucky.
Looking ahead, what has you excited about Igor and the movie’s take on the classic Frankenstein tale?
I’ve seen it recently. It’s not the finished version, but it’s great fun and a great adventure movie. The main difference between this and other Frankenstein movies is in a lot of Frankenstein movies, the main relationship is between Victor and the Monster that he creates. In this, it’s much more between Igor and Victor. When people say, “Igor,” you obviously have certain ideas in your head or certain images of who that is. When you play that part, you want to pay homage to what everyone knows about the character. Hopefully we’ve managed to do something unexpected and different and a lot of fun too. James McAvoy is just stunning and is going to become the quintessential Frankenstein for our generation.
Lastly, you created a lot of buzz when you playfully announced you wanted to play Robin.
It was very playful. I was never serious about that. I would like to make that very clear.
Marvel and DC recently unveiled their movie slate for the next gazillion years. Are you a fan of those blockbuster superhero sagas? Is there a franchise you would actually be interested in being a part of?
I love them. I grew up making those kinds of movies. I would never balk at returning to them at all. It’s just about trying to find the right thing. There are no immediate plans. I haven’t actually looked and what they’ve announced. I’m sure there would be multiple things in there that it would be cool to be part of.
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