Daniel Radcliffe is beloved by millions, smart, unassuming, humble, verbose, and clear-headed about his fame. Fans will be relieved to know that he narrowly escaped being trampled by zebras and eaten by lions on the set of “Victor Frankenstein,” in which he plays Igor, the hapless right-hand man to Dr. Victor Frankenstein in Mary Shelley's classic novel.
The movie is a prequel of sorts. It is not about the monster, birthed from the reassembled parts of human corpses, but rather about the early relationship that develops between Frankenstein and his deformed assistant, not to mention a young trapeze artist played by “Downton Abbey” star Jessica Brown Findlay.
Way back in 2014, I toured the set of the film at London's Shepperton Studios; during my visit they were shooting an early scene that at the circus, before Frankenstein takes Igor under his wing and removes his hump in a gruesome on-screen procedure (okay, not too gruesome: the movie, releasing Nov. 25, has been rated PG-13).
In the midst of the chaotic shoot, Radcliffe stopped by to chat with us about escaping death, why Americans don't know how to write English bad guys, and why he had to fight the urge to cop bits from Marty Feldman's performance in “Young Frankenstein.” Oh, and “Chronicle” and “American Ultra” screenwriter Max Landis's original script? Was apparently a little too Max Landis for his taste. Below are nine highlights from the conversation.
1. He had to restrain himself from taking a cue from Marty Feldman's performance in Mel Brooks' “Young Frankenstein.”
“I'm always worried about being inspired too much…especially with this, where it's such a fresh take on Igor. I”m a terrible mimic. If I see something to hang on to, I”ll probably do that, so it”s just trying to create it myself, and trying not to do bits from Marty Feldman.”
2. He generally doesn't think Americans are good at writing English bad guys.
“I really liked the script [by Max Landis] but there was — sometimes I find when Americans write English characters, particularly bad guy English characters, there's a tendency to want to make them very, very verbose, to a point where they actually become a little less scary. Because they're so English, they're just charming rather than being scary. And actually, [in his rewrite] Paul brought a sense of real menace and danger toward that.
“That's the thing, [in the original script] it felt like sort of film danger, where you always knew, 'ah, they're gonna be okay in the end.' And actually like, you don't want that. The threat has to feel very real from [Andrew Scott's character Roderick] Turpin and from Danny Mays' character [Barnaby] at the beginning. It can't be funny, slapstick violence. It has to be nasty. And Paul brought a real grounding I think, so this felt like a very real film.”
3. He is lucky to be alive after working with a number of unpredictable costars during the film's circus scenes.
“[Co-star] Danny Mays saved me from zebras. He either saved me, or in his effort to get himself out of the way also pushed me out of the way. But yeah, zebras as it turns out, skittish. Really difficult to work with. Not fun, not good. They were supposed to be standing there very docilely. And a car alarm went off two miles away and one of them just bolted, and their two handlers had to sort of run along…And then one of the lions was working out how to open its cage from the inside. …I said to the guy who handles them, I was like, 'if these get out, who gets eaten first?' And he said, 'the one who runs first and the smallest.' So I was like, 'oh, I'm dead.'”
4. James McAvoy has a special talent for slamming people against walls.
“I”d like to think I”ve been the most willing victim he”s ever had. Pretty much our first day actually was him repeatedly slamming me against a pillar; so yeah, that set the tone. I”ve enjoyed all aspects of working with him, but I think the physical side is what sets this apart. …James has got this brilliant ability where he really look like he is slamming you against a wall, while actually taking most of the impact himself.”
5. He didn't feel the original script by Max Landis nailed his character.
“Max Landis has a really, really strong voice which comes through everything in the script — but one thing that for me was a problem with it, was it felt like Victor and Igor spoke in similar voices, both of which were Max”s. And Max is very — I haven”t met him, but I”ve heard he”s very charming, and I assume, very talkative, and that works for Victor brilliantly, but Igor hasn”t come from the same level of education, or background or anything, but he sounds the same. I think he can sound similar to him as the film goes on, because he is his only influence, but it seems like at the beginning Paul really made the distinction.”
6. “Victor Frankenstein” director Paul McGuigan was indirectly responsible for Radcliffe being cast as Harry Potter.
“There's a bizarre connection between myself and Paul anyway, because my dad was an agent, he was Paul”s agent…so he knew him for ages. But I got the job on 'Potter' because my dad was on Paul's film 'Gangster No. 1,' which ['Potter' producer David Heyman's mother] Norma Heyman produced, and she's the connection to David Heyman, and 'Potter.' That's how that all got linked up originally. So it's all very incestuous.”
7. On a scale of 1-10, Radcliffe pegs the film's grossout factor at a 5.
“How gross do things get? Quite gross. [On a scale of 1-10], 10 being 'Saw'? Then we're probably only at a 5…one of the most stomach-turning scenes in the film will probably be the scene where I go from being a hunchback to not being a hunchback. Which involves — I don't wanna say, cause it's so gross, I'll ruin it for you…It's pus-related, and James sort of gets rid of it himself in a very visceral way, which I'm sure you will all enjoy. It was definitely one of those scenes where…our producers were outside going, guys, can you just do one where you do a less disgusting version?”
8. The film may or may not be an allegory on the perils of finding true love as a famous person.
“As we get out of the circus and are reunited, [Jessica Brown Findlay's character Lorelei] I think has a huge amount of guilt about the fact that I am now showing myself to be this talented, interesting person who she never really appreciated fully before. So it's a complicated relationship, because as much as he's in love with her, he also realizes that she didn't love him when he was in the circus. She's only loved him since his transformation.”
9. Both Radcliffe and McAvoy lobbied against the script's original ending.
“Originally in the script, there was a real 'we are making a sequel' ending, and I think both me and James both came in and were like, 'Let”s not do that. Let”s concentrate on making one really good film first, and then we”ll consider it.' So I don”t know. I”ve had a great experience, and I”ve had a fantastic time, so I would [make a sequel], but there are so many things that need to happen before that becomes a reality.”