Daniel Radcliffe has been a huge movie star since skyrocketing to worldwide fame as Harry Potter when he was just 11, but that doesn't mean the now 24-year-old can't be floored by new opportunities. He was "incredibly flattered" to be asked by Jon Hamm to play a younger version of the "Mad Men" star's character in a low-budget but top-drawer TV miniseries, for example.
"It makes me feel fantastic, are you joking?" Radcliffe told me Monday by phone from London. "It's just a lovely thing."
In "A Young Doctor's Notebook," premiering at 9 p.m. CT Oct. 2 on Ovation, Radcliffe plays the unnamed title character as a newly graduated physician who ministers to the people of a backwater Russian village in 1917. Hamm plays the same character as a middle-aged, morphine-addicted Moscow doctor reminiscing about his early career and trying to figure out where it all went wrong.
Despite playing the same character, Radcliffe and Hamm interact in the four half-hour episodes as if the older doctor is walking through his own history and, according to Radcliffe, "giving me a hard time."
One scene in particular has had tongues wagging in Britain, and likely will here, too. The two doctors share a bath.
"It was all right," Radcliffe said of sudsing with Hamm. "When we got in the bath with each other we were like, ‘Oh, this shot is gonna go everywhere. We are going to be seeing this photo in many years to come.'"
Apparently they hop in a tub again in the second season which he just finished filming outside of London. Radcliffe said he was given "possibly my greatest piece of memorabilia" from a set just the other day: the loofah they use. "So I can sell that one day if I ever come on hard times," he joked.
It's doubtful the actor will come on hard times. "Notebook" is just the latest in a series of interesting career choices Radcliffe has made since he became the star of "Harry Potter." To name just a few, he stripped naked on stage for the well-received "Equus," starred in the horror flick "The Woman in Black" and, in the upcoming film "Kill Your Darlings," has a gay sex scene while playing beat poet Allen Ginsberg. (It is showing Oct. 11 as part of the Chicago International Film Festival.)
Based on the autobiographical short stories of Mikhail Bulgakov, "A Young Doctor's Notebook" is airing in the U.S. on Ovation, a boutique network that won't give it nearly the eyeballs as the "Harry Potter" films, or even AMC's "Mad Men."
That doesn't bother the obviously enthusiastic Radcliffe, who counts himself lucky to have the luxury to choose roles based solely on whether they are interesting to him. And anything based on the work of Bulgakov, his favorite author, interests him.
"I just always loved his style of writing," he said. "He's got such a great imagination and such a great sense of humor as a writer, but he's also incredibly emotionally powerful."
A lot of the emotion—and many a dark laughs—come from blood-drenched scenes in which Radcliffe performs an amputation here and a tracheotomy there. In the first episode, he pulls part of a man's jawbone from his skull while trying to extract just one tooth—and it's hilarious. Radcliffe joked that he's become so good at his gory surgical scenes that he's ready to try a medical procedure for real.
"No not an amputation, but if there was an emergency on a plane and they needed somebody to do a tracheotomy on somebody I would love to have a go," he said, laughing. "The part of the series that I absolutely love is the fact that it is so bloody and gory."
Radcliffe and I talked more about the minseries, his career choices and how he, like the young doctor he plays, has suffered crises of confidence. Before that, check out the preview below.
I loved "Notebook," but was not expecting all the gore.
No, no. No one is when they go into it, but it's definitely become something of a [trademark]. We recently finished shooting the second series and we had a moment ... when the production company actually said to us, "Guys, I think we need a bit more blood in this series." We kind of established it's all sort of one of our trademarks now--the mixing of a very bloody gore with comedy. And at one point in the second series we were like, "We think we need a little bit more blood because there's a certain expectation now that has to be met." But yeah, no, it is a very gory, funny show. I'm glad you liked it.
It's so quirky at first with you and Jon being face-to-face despite being the same person.
I loved that idea because I was a big fan of the book. I'd actually read the book before they even approached me to do it. And when I got the script originally, I was intrigued because so much of the book is basically played out as a monologue in his head. It's internal in a monologue kind of going the whole time and him commenting on what's happening in his life. So I was sort of thinking, how are they going to make that interesting and not use a voice over? That's where the device of the older doctor/younger doctor timeline—about an older man remembering his youth—came from. So you could have Jon, as it were, walking through his own flashbacks and sort of commenting on them and generally giving me a hard time.
So how tired are you of hearing the name Leopold Leopoldovich?
[Laughs.] Oh, not as tired as Anna is up saying it. Bless her, Vicki [Pepperdine], who plays Anna, has had to say that fucking line so many times now and even more in the second series. It's just a great joke. It's a variance of that joke that we've again seen before, but it's not a nice version of that idea, you know, going into a place where the person who just left was just a hero to everyone, the person who had your job before you who is just adored and his memory still lives and breathes every day and is just as loved as ever it was. And you have to walk in and replace him. And it's just that sort of that awful feeling. And so there's definitely, you know, I love that joke.
Jon Hamm, I understand suggested you for the role. Tell me how that feels?
The thing about John and I was we met once so briefly at the BAFTAs like the year before or maybe six or seven months befor we ended up doing this. And immediately I liked him a lot and we were very pleasant to each other when we met. But it wasn't anything more than a quick meeting. And when I heard that he had suggested me for this I was just kind of blown away really. I was really pleased. I had done "SNL" by then and I know that he's friendly with all of those guys, so maybe they'd given him good reports or whatever. But yeah, he suggested me so I was incredibly flattered by that.
We've talked a little bit about the interaction that you guys get to share on screen, but speaking as an actor from that point of view, how was that?
He's a fantastic person to have on set, Jon. Because he's one of the few actors that I've ever worked with—in fact I'm pretty sure like he's the only actor I've ever worked with whose actually been able to save the production time. Jon's directed on "Mad Men" now, so he's directed stuff and he knows how that works and he has a real understanding of the technical side of the way a shoot goes.
So for example there was one evening where we were shooting a scene, we only had half an hour to get it. And normally you shoot a scene one way and then you turn around and shoot the scene the other way. But in this case Jon, when we were rehearsing, said to me, "Well, just don't go over into that corner of the room. If we keep the scene over here then we won't have to turn around and we'll be able to shoot the whole scene in half an hour rather than having to come back to it tomorrow." And on a shoot this fast, having an actor with an understanding of all of that was amazingly useful.
Also, he's a great actor and that makes it a lot easier. When you're working with somebody who's a really great actor it makes your job to act with them very easy, because you're really only as good as the person you're opposite. So yeah, it was a joy to work with Jon. He's awesome.
You were a big Bulgakov fan before any of this even happened, right? How did you get into him?
I read "The Master and Margarita" when I was about 18 and I loved it. And then I read "A Country Doctor's Notebook" shortly after that. ... What he writes are not funny books; they're dramatic books with some very funny moments. And I think we just accentuated his comedy that is already underlying in his text. We just sort of brought it all out. And added in a lot more slapstick that he probably intended there to be in his original books. But I definitely think, like we've made something totally in the spirit of Bulgakov and it is something that he really would have enjoyed.
And you even took a trip to Russia, is that right?
I did for my 21st birthday I went to his house. Well, I wanted to go to Russia for ages anyway. And I saw that his apartment had been made into a museum and I wanted to see that. The actual day of my birthday was the day we went to the Bulgakov museum. I had a walk around and it was great, it was really fun. Because in "The Master and Margarita" there are lots of scenes that take place in his apartment, which was based on his apartment in real life. So I kind of got to tour the book basically.
That's great. We talked a little bit about the graphic scenes. Tell me about playing the surgeon.
The part of the series that I absolutely love is the fact that it is so bloody and gory. And when you read the book you kind of realize that it needs to be, because the descriptions in the book of some of the operations are pretty stomach-turning because they're so specific. So yeah, it was great.
In the first series the scene where I amputate the girl's leg and the scene where I did the tracheotomy, we filmed back-to-back over a period of three days. So it was just cutting people up and blood for three days. And with a group of very young girls; you're constantly trying to put the scene in some kind of context for them so they kind of understand what's going on and aren't freaked out by the amount of blood that's being poured onto them. So it presented its own challenges, but it's also really great fun. And the fact that we have to shoot it all so fast gave it a kind of energy that I think—that panic of your first ever surgery as a doctor must be terrifying. And so definitely it was something that we wanted to capture, that just pure terror of the first time you are actually responsible for somebody else's life.
The doctor doubts himself and his abilities. Have you had issues with that kind of thing, the self-confidence?
Oh definitely. I think everybody does. And there comes a point in your life when you, especially in my life and the circumstances of my life meant that I fell into something very, very young—which I loved. But when you do start doing something very young you sometimes question, "Well, would I have been doing this anyway had I not come to it through this route? Am I doing the right thing?" You definitely have moments of questioning that. I did probably when I was about 18, 19 years old. But I think moving past that is one of the stages on the road to sort of adulthood. Not that I'm perfectly confident all the time and never have issues of self-doubts anymore. But it's definitely a lot more manageable than it was in my late teens.
You've made a lot of interesting choices since "Potter." And I was wondering what your criteria is for what you decide to do?
Yeah, first of all it's about originality and finding something that I haven't done before. I don't want to repeat myself. And by that I don't just mean that I don't want to repeat Harry, I also don't want to repeat "The Woman in Black" or "Kill Your Darlings." My job is the most fun it can be when I'm constantly choosing different, varied things. That's what I love, my job is a lot more fun when I get to do that. So really it's about that. It's about the real originality. Is it gonna challenge me and make me do something that I haven't done before? And the director and the script really--I mean those are the things it comes down to. If I'm passionate about all of those things, I'm in a position where I don't have to do a job unless I am passionate about it. So I feel very lucky to be in that position. And I certainly, so far at least, have been able to just choose projects that are things I love, rather than things I feel like I have to do or anything like that.
You say that you're in a position that you don't have to do some things that you don't want to do, but you have like 10, 12, 15 movies coming out in the next couple months?
[Laughs.] So yeah, about that. [Laughs.] I've got one in the next couple of months and then the next two hopefully in next year fairly early.
Well, do you ever just want to stay home and not shower all weekend and eat tons of food?
Well, you know, I do that on Sundays. That's generally my Sundays sitting in front of football from 1 till 11 at night eating. So I do have that once a week. Yeah, I definitely like to work. But I'm taking some time off in October and I'm definitely gonna be enjoying that time to relax.
You just finished Season 2. Is that going to be just as fun?
I actually think it's gonna be even darker and even funnier. We sort of used up all the short stories from the book in the first series so the writers have had to pull from a lot of other Bulgakov stories to get the material for the second season. And actually I think giving them that kind of a freedom within the parameters of characters they've already established has created what will be in even more emotionally powerful, and hopefully funnier second series. I mean the first is hard-hitting and funny, but I think it'll be even more with the second one.
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