On a cold and rainy day in January, Daniel Radcliffe plops down in a chair in a rehearsal studio ready for his interview. Director-choreographer Rob Ashford, at attention with index cards in hand, sits beside him. "Hello, Rob," says Radcliffe. "Haven't seen you in about five minutes!"
The two have been spending a lot of time together, given their busy rehearsal schedule for the 50th anniversary revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (previews began Feb. 26 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre). Radcliffe, who has been the star of the "Harry Potter" movie franchise for close to a decade, made his Broadway debut as the disturbed stable boy with a penchant for blinding horses in the 2008 revival of Equus.
Now he's back on the Main Stem, this time in a musical, as the charming, corporate-climbing J. Pierrepont Finch in the Frank Loesser classic. To get down to the nitty gritty with the burgeoning stage star, Playbill enlisted the help of his Tony-winning director. View a video version of their conversation here.
ROB ASHFORD: What made you want to do a musical?
DANIEL RADCLIFFE: I've always had an attraction to musicals. I've always been taken to see musicals by my parents. [Musicals were] always something that I've loved going to watch and going to see, and it was always something I think I wanted to do eventually. I didn't ever think I'd be doing it this early, and I certainly didn't think I'd be dancing, but you've got me there. I remember we had that meeting... RA: You told me, "I'm not a dancer." Knowing your work and watching you…I was like, "I find that hard to believe," someone that has your energy and your makeup that isn't a dancer. Then I remember getting a call saying, "I think you have a dancer on your hands."
DR: Obviously, we've got a long way to go...but I am certainly an advert for anybody who ever says, "I cannot dance," because that's my thing. If you work hard enough, you get there.
RA: In what ways do you think Dan and [the lead character] J. Pierrepont Finch are similar?
DR: Well, I'm a manipulative, horrible person that gets people fired if I don't like them. [Laughs]
RA: It's already happened!
DR: We went through three Rosemarys before we got Rose [Hemingway]. I suppose the youthful kind of exuberance and the enthusiasm, and, I'd say, the ambition is there in both of us.
RA: [The original] How to Succeed won the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award. What do you think is relevant about the show today?
DR: Well, I think, first of all, we live in times when big business is under a huge amount of scrutiny, and I think it will be fun for people to see big business have the piss taken out of it…. You've got with the advent of Facebook and especially, last year, with the film "The Social Network" — Finch is kind of a period Mark Zuckerberg, a kid who kind of comes to a realization that he's smarter than everybody else out there and he won't let being a kid in any way inhibit [him] from attaining what he wants.
I went and saw [Ashford's 2010 Broadway revival of] Promises, Promises at the same time I was thinking a lot about How to Succeed, and the key difference, for me, in terms of the two lead characters, is that Promises is about a guy who would never let his ambition get in the way of his morality, and Finch is someone who will never let his morality get in the way of his ambition. So it's a kind of fundamental opposite.
RA: What was your first theatre viewing experience?
DR: It would have been Aladdin in panto at the Salisbury Theatre. I went there, and I remember I was about five, and I remember turning around afterwards — and this is the oft-quoted story, that "Daniel Radcliffe wants to be an actor from the age of five," I didn't — I turned around to my mum and said, "I want to be an actor," and she said, "No, you don't." One of my earliest delighted memories in the theatre was seeing A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Comedy Theatre, directed by [Edward] Hall. And that was also my first time seeing Shakespeare and going, "I totally get this." And even if there were bits I didn't understand, I was enjoying myself all the time.
RA: What's the difference between creating a character for a camera and then sustaining a character in the theatre for a run of a show?
DR: It's interesting, because I think it's actually easier on film. Well, it's pros and cons, because in "Potter," we film slowly, but still, every three days, you'll be moving onto a different scene, so there's a new challenge and something you haven't done, whereas in theatre, you do all the working out now [in rehearsal], and then, once you get into the actual run of the show, your job is — it's what you're being paid for — to sustain it. Also, it's a great chance because you get to refine it every night and you get to —
RA: Reinvigorate it!
DR: Absolutely, but also because you're doing the whole story every night —
RA: In order.
DR: Yes! There are different challenges with both. I wouldn't call myself an experienced stage actor yet. I still have a lot to learn. Working with Richard Griffiths on Equus was a lesson in that, because that's what he is brilliant at — changing it every night and making it fresh every night — because you just have to keep reminding yourself that it is the first time that that audience have seen it. I would love to do, one day, a social study of audiences, because they have no idea the effect they have on a show.
RA: That's true.
DR: The power of the audience to affect [the performance].... It's amazing.