Daniel Radcliffe returns to Broadway this April, and once again, he’s taken on a new acting challenge. This time it’s the physically demanding title role in Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan.
By now, there’s no doubt the 24 year-old English actor has put the teenage wizard of Hogwarts firmly behind him. Even before he completed his ten-year stint in the globally popular Harry Potter franchise, he made an impressive Broadway debut playing the mentally troubled adolescent in the 2008 revival of Peter Shaffer’s psychological drama Equus; in 2011 he branched out into musicals, playing the ambitious singing and dancing, window-washing corporate climber in a revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
“There are a lot of challenges, and I’m just so excited about coming back to work in New York with this play,” says Radcliffe. “As always, I hope that people who come to see this play get treated to a fantastic story, and hopefully we tell it well.”
In McDonagh’s play, news that a Hollywood film crew is making a documentary movie in the area disrupts everyday life in a small village on a remote island in Western Ireland, and fires the dreams of “Cripple Billy,” a local teenage orphan who has been disabled from birth. The real life inspiration for the play is the 1934 movie, Man of Aran, which was filmed by Robert Flaherty on the islands of Galway Bay. “On the surface it’s a very simple story,” notes Radcliffe, “but actually, the intricacies, the twists and turns that Martin creates in these characters’ lives are sometimes shocking, unexpectedly moving or hilarious.”
“It’s such a rare combination to have all those things sitting with each other perfectly, and the tone – the comedy originates in some ways from the cruelty of the characters’ relationship with each other,” the actor explains. “After the first scene, which is quite bruisingly funny in terms of how Billy is treated, I don’t think people will necessarily expect the end of it to be as heart-wrenching as it is.”
Radcliffe chose The Cripple of Inishmaan out of a selection of five different plays offered to him some three years ago by British director Michael Grandage, who was then planning a season for his new company in London. “I’ve been a huge fan of Martin McDonagh’s film In Bruges, so I was very excited at the prospect of reading it, but I kept it till the last so I could give the other scripts the same good attention as I would this one,” Radcliffe reports. “My response was just what I thought it would be. It is just such a wonderful, wonderful play, and it was a chance for me to do on stage something I hadn’t really done before, which is a very dark comedy.”
Audiences acquainted with McDonagh’s previous Tony-nominated plays – The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, The Pillowman – will be familiar with the dark humor and bursts of violence that are hallmarks of the English-born Irish playwright’s work.
The production, directed by Grandage (2010 Tony and Drama Desk award-winner for Red), which received great acclaim from critics and audiences last summer in the London West End, will transfer featuring the same group of eight actors that formed the ensemble company with Radcliffe.
The part of the 17-year old Billy demands a particular regional accent and a specific physicality. “I was very nervous about the accent because I was the only English actor in the cast,” Radcliffe reports. “But when I got in there I realized that actually nobody from our show is actually from that specific area of Ireland, and this is unlike any other Irish accent.”
“It is never specified in the play exactly what ailment Billy has – you just have clues in the text, which says he has one arm and one leg crippled,” Radcliffe explains. “I arrived, with the help of a friend, at the conclusion that it could be a specific type of cerebral palsy called hemiplegia. And then I worked with a woman who is a vocal coach but who also has that type of cerebral palsy. We worked together, on and off for about three months before rehearsals started, just learning about the condition and the mechanics of it, and how that affects people in everyday life. Most people with this type of cerebral palsy often come up with amazing solutions to problems that I would never have thought of, so it was a really fascinating thing to learn about.”
Radcliffe says he developed a love for physical challenges on the Harry Potter movie sets, his training ground as an actor from age 11. “Potter was a very physical role and I got to do so many stunts and so many different types of getting hit or falling or climbing up something. There are a couple of very physical moments in Cripple for Billy – one is at the end of the show, and one, a moment early on, where he has to climb down a wall in our production.”
“The fact that I get to do so many different things is one of the parts of my job that make it incredibly fun,” Radcliffe continues. “Maybe the fact of playing one character in one environment for quite a long time built up an energy to want to get out after Potter and grab as many different things as possible; you are constantly learning something new, so you are always in a very receptive state,” he reflects.
In his post-Potter career, Radcliffe has taken on a wide array of movie projects in succession; his most recent is Kill Your Darlings, about the formative years of gay Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. Awaiting release: the romantic comedy The F Word, and the horror-thriller Horns. When Broadway Direct caught up with him for this interview, Radcliffe was in the midst of shooting his latest film Frankenstein, a new take on the classic story in which he plays Igor, assistant to James McAvoy’s obsessed scientist. And, if current plans don’t change, after The Cripple of Inishmaan ends its limited run on Broadway this July he will travel to Japan for his next movie, Tokyo Vice, in which he plays an American journalist who gets tangled with the Yakuza, the Japanese crime underworld.
Having deftly avoided the potential pitfalls of early fame and fortune, Radcliffe is well on his way to becoming one of the most versatile actors of his generation. A key to his solid work ethic may perhaps be found in his favorite quote, which comes from Samuel Beckett’s prose piece Worstward Ho!: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” “Somebody I really admire once pointed me in the direction of that quote,” he explains. “To me — who knows if this is what Beckett meant! –it’s about not seeking perfection, but about embarking on a process and trying something. Trying to do something is ultimately just as important as the end result.”