The actor trades in his Gryffindor robes for a heart on his sleeve
Daniel Radcliffe is doing an excellent job of shedding his Chosen One persona — even if the public can’t seem to let go. His latest post-Potter performance strays far from fantasy with a charming and cheeky look at love in the new film What If.
Radcliffe plays Wallace, a Toronto-based twentysomething who falls hard for Zoe Kazan’s Chantry, and is forced to live in a torturous will-they-won’t-they romantic limbo. The film is earning fans already, thanks to a stellar score from indie-pop fave A.C. Newman and critical comparisons to 500 Days of Summer. Radcliffe talked to TIME about the supposed dying art of romantic comedies, what he thinks of Tinder (he isn’t on it, for the record!) and the men who inspired his idea of love.
TIME: Do you think romantic comedies are really a dying art?
Daniel Radcliffe: The two genres that I can think of are romantic comedy and action, and the big thing that happens across both of those is that after we have a few really, really good ones, people sort of latch on to that, but without paying any attention to what made those films really good. And what makes any film really, really good is caring about the central characters. You can basically have whatever story you like, and if you care about the main people it doesn’t matter what anything else looks like — you’ll go with it and you’ll be invested. We’re just so saturated by bad [romantic comedies] that you feel that’s the state of the genre. There are a lot of bad movies out there across all genres. I don’t know if it’s specifically that romantic comedies are on a resurgence or that they’ve died out — I think that when we get a surplus of bad movies, it can leave the impression that a genre is sort of going bad, but it’s nothing more than too many.
With so many people on dating apps, is it making romance a messier space?
People are still just having sex — it’s just happening quicker now. I think that’s the thing. The end result of Tinder is the same as it used to be when men went out to a pub in England on a Friday night — it’s just that it’s faster, I imagine. I don’t think that romance is on the decline — people are not tired of that. I’m not on Tinder, so I don’t know. It is hilarious though to watch some of my friends on it. If that girl walked up to them in a bar, they’d be lucky to talk to her, and there’s an excess of people on Tinder, and they’re swiping whichever direction, and it’s an odd thing. But I don’t think it will change the nature of love and relationships as much as people think it’s going to, because ultimately you still have to meet that person face-to-face.
Have you ever played with your friends’ Tinder accounts?
We had one longish day of rehearsal on Cripple of Inishman where we ended up on someone’s phone for a while and that was sort of my introduction to it. I’m sure if I had it, I might use it, but it’s not addictive to me.
The dialogue in What If is so conversational. Did you and Zoe improvise any of it?
I think it’s a testament to how good the writing in the movie is that we’re being asked about this. But there is a slight qualifier — probably 40-50% of what Adam Driver says is probably improvised. Zoe and I did a lot of improv — like the first diner scene — a lot of improvisation is involved in that. But generally speaking, [screenwriter] Elan [Mastai’s] writing is very naturalistic and real — in the same way that the British version of The Office was a show that I think everybody felt was improvised when it came out but was actually entirely scripted, and I think that’s the same sort of writing.
You mentioned you’re interested in doing some screenwriting. Do you have tips from Zoe, who wrote and starred in Ruby Sparks?
Zoe, actually, was one of the first people to read what I’d written. I had this idea for something and I bashed out the first 20 pages of the script really quickly and had the moment of immediately doubting everything I’d written and my idea as a whole. I showed it to Zoe, and I asked if it was even worth carrying on with, and she gave me a very emphatic reaction, which was yes, definitely keep going with this. I’d love to direct one day. The main reason for writing is that I feel like it’s probably easier to write something myself than to convince some other writer to give me his script as my first film.
In the movie, your character is such a hopeless romantic. Who’s influenced your view of romance?
The romantic poets of England, the second generation of Keats, Byron and Shelley were something I got really into when I was about 16. I still am. I think there’s something in the way they write and see beauty in everything, and the possibility for beauty in everything. It is romantic and I like to think I share that. I wouldn’t say I’m up there with Shelley and Keates and Byron in terms of romance, but I think that’s sort of where I got my ideas of romance from.
The movie is full of awkwardness. Do you have any awkward date stories?
I’ve got plenty of awkward stories. I don’t think I have any awkward date stories, which I suppose is a good thing.
What do you think Wallace could learn from Harry Potter about dating?
Oh, God. Well, I think, in a funny way they’re both slightly similar in that they are both much less direct than I would be about a situation. I’m not very good at living in uncertainty, and Wallace definitely is. And I’m trying to remember more of Harry’s dating history now.
It was just Cho Chang and Ginny Weasley, right?
That was it, really, wasn’t it? Harry’s dating situation was all set against the backdrop that he’s going to die at any minute, so there’s probably a lot more urgency with that.
Have you given any advice to Harry Potter co-star Rupert Grint, who is making his Broadway debut this fall?
I haven’t given him advice, but I can’t wait for him to come to Broadway, I’ll definitely be going to see it. It’s a real thrill to see him on stage. It’s like someone you went to school with doing something else in a totally different context and being brilliant at it. It makes you proud.