First of all, it’s kind of amazing how self-aware Daniel Radcliffe is in person. At the end of this interview, as an aside, Radcliffe talks about being on set for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Well, not just on set, but the fact that he was there when Harrison Ford said those now-famous words, “Chewie, we’re home.” As he’s telling this story, brimming with excitement as Paul Dano and myself stare at him with maybe a little bit of envy (I can’t speak for Dano, but I sure was envious), Radcliffe then laughs while saying, “I’m an asshole.” (For the record, he does not seem like an asshole.)
Dano and Radcliffe star in the craziest movie at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Directed and written by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Swiss Army Man is almost impossible to write about. (Though, I did try.) There’s a scene in which Hank (Dano) rides Manny’s corpse (Radcliffe, and, yes he plays a dead body) like a jet ski, using Manny’s farts as fuel. Later, Hank realizes that Manny’s erect penis acts like a compass, showing the both of them, who are lost in the woods, the way back home. (For the life of me, I don’t know what else to say except this movie features a whole lot of farting.)
I met Dano and Radcliffe at a loud, crowded private party a couple of blocks off Park City’s Main Street. None of us were really invited to this party, but there we all were. And here’s the thing: For as weird and bizarre Swiss Army Man is, Dano and Radcliffe are extremely excited about this film. It’s hard to blame them. It’s kind of hard to believe it exists, but, there it is. Ahead, Dano and Radcliffe try to explain this film.
The opening scene of this movie is glorious.
Dano: Isn’t it?
Radcliffe: It’s so insane and the music is so stirring. It brings you to the point that you want to, like, move because it’s so amazing.
Then your brain reminds you that Paul is riding Daniel like a jet ski, using farts as fuel. I’m in…
Dano: That’s how I think we all felt, literally, reading the script, by page two or three, I felt that way. I thought, I’m in. It was so beautiful and insane and funny and I wanted to see it happen. And I honestly didn’t want to see anyone else riding him. Like, I wanted to be the one riding the farting dead person. I want to be that person.
I now can’t imagine, I don’t know, Matt Damon doing it now…
Radcliffe: He’s not going to get the chance.
Dano: And also, I’d be excited about this as an audience member and as an actor, as well. I’ve never seen that.
When people ask me if they’ll like it, I can’t promise that, but I can promise there are scenes they will never forget.
Dano: That’s true.
Radcliffe: I’m sorry if this is your next question, but I’ve had to fight back my frustration a little with the line of questioning that is consistently like, “So, give us a quick pitch for your film.” Maybe it’s a compliment to the film that you can’t do that with it, that it can’t be explained in 15 seconds.
So, what do you say when you’re asked that?
Radcliffe: I normally talk about something else.
How about, “It’s a think piece about humanity.”
Dano: That’s good.
You can use that.
Radcliffe: I probably will.
So, when you’re filming that scene, you really are on top of Daniel riding him around?
Radcliffe: Yes! Oh, yes.
Dano: And we actually loved doing it. It was so fun. I have to say, when you read that on the page, it’s one thing. Then when the Daniels share the music with you that might go with that, it goes beyond even what I expected that to be and in a very surprising way. Like, when Manny gets his boner, the music there is a little mystical and haunting. But Dan was lying on a boogie board…
Did it have a motor?
Dano: No, it was being towed by a speedboat.
Radcliffe: There are some shots of Paul by himself, but my favorite shot is when it’s clearly both of us and they are revving me up.
From the Sundance guide, I thought this might be a serious tale of survival.
Radcliffe: There were some people last night who were going into it having read that, thinking it might be a potential Oscar contender. So, they were probably expecting a very different fucking movie. So, that’s one of the most fun things about this. And at the Q&A last night, as well, it’s a really hard movie to do a Q&A for, as well. The audience is still kind of reeling and being like, “I don’t know what to ask.”
It’s the next day and I still don’t know what to ask. I just want to talk about it, if that makes sense.
Dano: So do we. I think that’s a really fun thing to feel from a movie, though, right?
Radcliffe: For me, I want to write and direct, but I don’t think if I did it for 100 years I would ever come close to putting something out there that gives a feeling of all-encompassing and joyous.
You two are obviously very excited about this movie. It’s so bizarre, though, you can’t really blame someone for not liking it.
Dano: I think so. I think that’s totally fair. You know, of course I think it’s a movie for everybody, but that’s probably just because it’s a movie for me.
Radcliffe: I think I’m always very naïve. With this and Kill Your Darlings and Horns, I’m like, “Why wouldn’t everybody love this?” But I guess it’s going to divide people in some ways. But if you’re willing to go with it and suspend your disbelief, you’re going to get something amazing and something unlike anything else.
Dano: The only thing I’d be really disappointed by is people who don’t give it a chance. You have to be open to it and then I’m fine with it.
You kind of just have to absorb it and not think too much about the logistics.
Radcliffe: There’s a talking dead guy, leave all your questions at the door.
Before Sundance, I wasn’t expecting to see “Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe Star in Weirdest Movie of the Fest” headlines.
Dano: I didn’t, either. I certainly wasn’t expecting that, either.
Really? Come on, this is a weird movie.
Dano: But it made sense to me.
Radcliffe: When you’re in it, you always know what’s going on and it makes total sense all the time.
Was the attitude on set, “Maybe we are using one too many fart jokes,” or, “We haven’t used enough fart jokes?”
Dano: I don’t know, I would say when I first saw it, there was less farting in it than I thought. Now I realize so many people are just so surprised by the farts. So, it seems like a lot to a normal audience. It wasn’t without being questioned or being challenged or figuring out what this scene or moment needs – and sometimes it revealed itself to be funny, and sometimes it revealed itself kind of lonely. So, I don’t really know.
Every time I think of you two flying on the power of Daniel’s character’s farts, I laugh.
Dano: I can’t believe that exists.
There are around 30 scenes I can’t believe exist.
Dano: And there are a lot of layers to be discovered in the film, whether it’s in the performances or the writing or the music or the sound.
From a practical effects standpoint, what was the weirdest thing you had to do?
Radcliffe: Shove stuff into my mouth for the water…
Dano: Dan did an incredible job physically in the film. There’s a lot of stuff that he’s doing that’s really awesome and looks like an effect, but it’s not an effect.
Radcliffe: It’s a very sick moment in the film, but one of my favorites is when Paul uses me to shave. The water coming out of my mouth was always really fun to do. I also liked the flying thing at the end.
Dano: Having a molding of Daniel’s butt with an air pump in it to make water move.
What a world.
Radcliffe: It was my ass with a little tube in it to blow air. It was grand.
I love Daniel’s recent discovery and obsession with Star Wars. Did you see The Force Awakens?
Radcliffe: Yes! I loved it. It was fantastic.
You dressed as Boba Fett…
Radcliffe: I did! On the Ellen show.
So, that’s why I was curious if you’d seen it.
Radcliffe: I also got to visit the set, because my friends are working on it.
Okay, that’s pretty cool.
Radcliffe: You know that scene when Harrison Ford first comes back on the Millennium Falcon?
Wait, you were there when Han Solo says, “Chewie, we’re home?”
Radcliffe: Yes! I was there for that! It was awesome. I know, I’m an asshole.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.