Armchair viewers might be surprised by this development, but Daniel Radcliffe, the young actor who played “Harry Potter” in a massive eight-film franchise is fully grown. And he’s hit the ground running, playing a grieving windower in the gothic Hammer Films release “The Woman In Black.” Radcliffe stars as Arthur Kipps, a young lawyer who travels to a small village for a job only to find the locals terrorized by a villainous spectre.
Radcliffe says he was attracted to the project because it was explicitly a horror film, but its strengths were uncommon to more contemporary scare fests. “It felt unusual for the genre because it’s character driven, and has some very strong themes,” Radcliffe recently told press in New York City. “For me, the film is about what happens to us when we can’t move on from a loss. Arthur has become devastated, he’s become completely disconnected from his life.” And he’s not alone in his grief either. “The woman in black has had a terrible wrong done to her, and has carried her grief and rage into the afterlife,” he explains. “It’s a fight for closure, a fight for who can move on quicker. Everybody’s reacting to grief in a different way in this moment.”
Radcliffe was apprehensive initially, however, fearing the film would fall into a common horror trope: The Idiot Who Won’t Leave The Haunted House. “One of the first questions I asked [director] James [Watkins] was, why does he stay here?” Radcliffe asked. “Because you read the script, and after the first page, you ask, why doesn’t he leave? And James said, here’s a young man that lost his wife. He suddenly starts seeing the ghost of a dead woman. To have any confirmation that this is what he’s seeing would confirm to him that there’s an afterlife. So it’s comforting.”
The film feels steeped in a history of the macabre that also appealed to Radcliffe, not necessarily a Hammer horror fan, but cognizant of the legacy of the ancient horror brand. “Having been in the British industry all your life, if you’re not working with someone who worked on those films, you’re working with their kids,” he laughs. “The person who did my makeup on all the ‘Potter’ movies, her dad, Eddie Knight, did all the Hammer makeups. So growing up in the industry, you know how important those films were. Those, and the Ealing comedies, gave England a sense of confidence they didn’t have before.” And Radcliffe definitely understands that he’s a more modern element in a very classical framework often utilized by the original Hammer productions. “Peter Cushing was the still center of all those films, around which all of that chaos could develop,” says Radcliffe. “I was aware that, had this film been made in a different time, Peter Cushing would have gotten that part.”
More importantly, Radcliffe couldn’t make this film without addressing what made it scary, both as a horror film and as a period piece. A scholar of British history, Radcliffe shares, “What’s great about that period was that the English went from 5000 years of being a completely Pagan nation, to falling out of love with spirituality, as soon as Christianity came in. England started to come around to the idea of spirits and demons and the notion of the potential to transcend the afterlife. Which is very useful as far in terms of telling ghost stories.”
It’s not all fantasy and boogeymen for Radcliffe’s future. He’s also lined up a role as Allen Ginsberg in “Kill Your Darlings.” The film, from first-time director John Krokidas, features a murder that brings together Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Ginsberg, who Radcliffe continues to research. “I’m reading the journals at the moment, I’m about to read the biography,” he confirms. “He’s an extremely interesting character. In his life, he was more or less the most placatory person you can ever have met. He was all about keeping peace, trying to keep every situation calm, to not upset people. His mother had a deep personality disorder, so he was at home a lot of time as a kid, just trying to make sure everything was okay. Which is why it’s intriguing as to why he’s so confrontational in his writing, it was something that could never come out.” And don’t worry about the accent, says the very British Radcliffe. He says, “I’m working on my New Jersey Jew at the moment!”
“The Woman In Black” hits theaters today.