“Pretty much all my moments are private,” says Daniel Radcliffe—a bold (and almost odd) statement coming from the soon-to-be 27-year-old, who was thrust into the limelight 16 years ago when he was cast as Harry Potter in the famed film franchise based on the popular book series by J.K. Rowling.
Radcliffe calls in at exactly 1:45 PM on July 19—only a few hours after opening the new Off-Broadway drama Privacy, an exposé on the social world we live in and a realization for audiences that, in 2016, virtually nothing is private. Minutes before he rang, he was doing television press.
“Unless I’m going to an event or a premiere or doing press,” he says, “I’m sort of pleased with the fairly low profile I manage to keep. I manage to keep press on the whole to talking about work, and the little bits I talk about my relationship is all fairly common knowledge anyway. Basically, I try to bore the press into submission. I feel like my life is not that… It’s certainly not newsworthy.”
But he’s managed to make headlines for over a decade. It all began with one of the most anticipated castings in film history, when he was revealed as the face of the fearless (but scarred) wizard Harry Potter.
“When I went to Japan for the first time is one of the earliest memories of like, ‘Oh holy sh*t, this is insane!’” he admits. “Because when I went to Japan when I was 12, there were like 5,000 people at the airport waiting for me when I arrived.… I feel like in that situation, as a kid, you react how your parents react, and no matter what they were feeling on the inside, they did a really good job of making it all light—joking [about] how surreal and weird it always is—so I think that gave me quite a healthy perspective on it.”
He was growing up in the public eye, with Harry Potter movies dropping at a consistent rate and charting his adolescent years. By the time Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows—Part 2 was released in 2011, Radcliffe was 22.
Did it scare him to be so exposed? “No, it didn’t,” he says confidently, “and I think that’s a lot of because how my parents handled it with me. I think it could have been a scary thing if they would have been scared by it, but they never were. They were always just like, ‘This is weird—we’re totally safe—it’s just a weird and surreal thing…and not to be taken seriously.’ There was always a sense of like, ‘Can you believe that that’s going on for us? We’re just normal people and a normal family…’
“I think I just have ingrained in me the perspective of, ‘I was very famous for playing Harry Potter.’ It wasn’t to do with me so much…when I was like 12. It was to do with this crazy, huge, phenomenal, global thing that was Potter. So it was always quite a healthy thing to think, ‘You can stick anyone in this part, and they would be having that level of adulation and that level of insanity around them.’”
But much like Harry Potter himself, Radcliffe was the “Chosen One.” And, with fame and fortune also came exposure and vulnerability. Pictures of him smoking cigarettes began to circulate the Internet, and it was reported that he too often turned to alcohol.
“It doesn’t affect me now,” he admits, “but in my late teens when you want to do all that stuff without your parents finding out—because my parents didn’t know that I smoked for a long time, and often I would be caught out by a picture appearing on some website or something—there are moments where you go, ‘Yeah, if I weren’t a famous teenager, that would have been easier…’
“I did used to sort of walk around… People probably thought I was going to commit a crime because I was sort of so furtive in how I was glancing up and down and looking around, but I’m definitely much calmer now and less affected by it, and I live a much more open life now.”
Radcliffe had to accept that certain aspects of his private life—including the very intimate and private parts of his body—would somehow make their way onto Google. He first took on the role of Alan Strang in Equus at 17 years old—a role that required onstage, full-frontal nudity—and he now admits to knowing pictures and video would eventually leak online.
“I mean, I guess I sort of expected it to happen—not that it isn’t an invasion [of privacy] in some way,” he admits, “but when I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to do this play that has this scene in there,’ I knew that would happen. So it didn’t come as a huge surprise. Not that when you’re 17, it doesn’t make you feel a little bit weird and vulnerable, but yeah… It was sort of part and parcel of it, and I guess I had to get used to the idea of it. To be honest…it was brought into very sharp focus for me when I was very, very young how important privacy is.
“When you’re young, most people just want to be famous, and actually as a kid, once you have that, you go, ‘Yes, there are some amazing benefits to that,’ but actually being anonymous has some amazing benefits as well, and they’re much more profound in a way. The freedom to walk into a room and suddenly decide who you are in that room rather than walking into a room and everybody in the room having an already very, very solid preconceived notion of who they think you are. That’s two very different ways of approaching life in a way… I think that’s one of the reasons I was interested in the play because it does speak to things that I’m interested in, and I think I’m interested in them because I’ve had a fairly unique perspective of it.”
In Privacy, audiences learn that as technology advances, our privacy decreases. We’re constantly tracked—by our mobile devices, by GPS technology, by the video games we play, by email and phone numbers, by the pictures we take and send, by the apps we download to our phone. The list goes on and on, and the issue is explored in-depth at the Public Theater—with even a guest appearance from notorious whistleblower Edward Snowden, who leaked classified information from the National Security Agency. Radcliffe chatted with him via Skype (“some heavily encrypted version of Skype,” Radcliffe assumes), as Snowden is somewhere in Russia after fleeing the U.S. in 2013.
“I think what he did took incredible courage, and I personally think he had started a conversation that needed to happen and might not have happened otherwise,” Radcliffe says. “We’ve already had Eric Holder, the former Attorney General [of the United States], say what he did was… I think he called it a public service. I think people are starting to see that, and many times throughout history people that have moved us forward have broken laws.”
Radcliffe is off social media, to keep his private life personal and because, he says, “they’re just another thing you have to deal with” and he is “crap at responding to emails.” For the record, the only apps he has on his phone are the Nike Running app (his most used, he says), a “load” of Fantasy Football NFL apps and a couple of games he hasn’t played in a while.
But as disconnected as he tries to be, Privacy has taught him that nothing is sacred. He rethinks his answer to the first question posed. “When I said earlier to you, ‘Any moment that I’m not at an event or things like that is private,’ I did also realize the irony as I was saying that—that it’s very unlikely that anything we’re doing is private at this point—but you know what I mean… ‘Private’ other than the ways we’re all being mass surveilled.”