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Daniel Radcliffe: Harry Potter Is a World Away

Diverse doings are actor's hallmark

Daniel Radcliffe is standing on the roof of London’s Noel Coward Theater on a warm July afternoon, promising that the next performance will be better.

“I never have two great shows on a two-show day,” he’s explaining between the matinee and the evening perfs of “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” the Martin McDonagh play in which he stars as the title character until the end of August. “I always have one show that I could improve on, and one that’s much better. That’ll be tonight, I can tell right now.”

It might sound like modesty, but chat with Radcliffe for a bit and it becomes clear that, for an actor who’s accomplished an enormous amount at a very young age, the 24-year-old is still driven by a hunger for the next big challenge.

“Every job I do, I like to think it makes me better or I learn things,” he says. “It’s all about how much something’s going to stretch me or test me. It’s like that saying, ‘If you do what you always do, you’ll get what you’ve always had.’ You have to do things you don’t know you can do.”

That attitude helps explain why, in the midst of anchoring the multibillion-dollar “Harry Potter” franchise, he used his time off between movies to try stage work, first tackling dark psychological drama “Equus” in the West End (2007) and on Broadway (2008) and then singing and dancing in the 2011 Broadway revival of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

“When I’m doing a film, I’m in my comfort zone, but onstage I’m not,” he says. “Theater sharpens you up. Sure, you can achieve a great performance, but can you achieve it night after night?”

The same spirit of adventure also seems to have driven his post-“Potter” film choices. He’ll play gay and American in “Kill Your Darlings,” starring as Allen Ginsberg in the Beat generation tale from Sony Pictures Classics. Radcliffe had zero hesitation in working with a first-time feature helmer, convinced by director and co-writer John Krokidas’ assured vision and because, as he says, “I love working with directors who are as young and as hungry to prove themselves as I am.”

Also on his list of upcoming bigscreen releases: “The F Word,” in which he’ll play a man struggling to negotiate the space between friend and lover, and “Horns,” in which he’ll portray, well, a guy with horns.

All three are wildly different from the mainstream studio juggernauts that are the “Potter” films, and there’s no denying that the actor’s post-franchise choices do seem to mark a conscious expansion beyond that work, as well as a response to the global fame it thrust on him.

“Because I have a very recognizable face, whenever I have an opportunity to change that face” — by, say, donning horns — “it’s very exciting for me,” he says. “It’s possibly one of the reasons I find doing accents so freeing. It’s such a transformative thing.”

At the same time, Radcliffe, who was 11 years old when he was cast as the famous boy wizard, sees plenty to appreciate in the extraordinary circumstances of his youth. “I’m meeting a lot of actors who are my age now, and for some of them it’s their first time on a film set,” he notes. “I realize how unbelievably fuckin’ lucky I was, because I’m always at home on a film set.”

He also acknowledges the good fortune of spending his adolescence working with a group of adults who, taken together, make up a who’s who of great U.K. actors. “Besides that, I’m very good at hitting a mark,” he adds with a laugh. “I think being on a film set for such a long time made me a technical actor without realizing it.”

In a classic chicken-and-egg dilemma, it’s unclear whether the demanding schedule of the “Potter” films turned him into a workaholic or whether it was an ingrained trait, coded into his DNA, that “Potter” awakened and honed. In any event, he admits he’s not very good at not working, even if he does cop to an obsession with fantasy football (American, thank you very much).

“I’m pretty terrible at the work-life balance,” he says. “Because I earned very good money doing ‘Harry Potter,’ it’s counterintuitive for a lot of people that I would work so hard now. But I’ve been working since I was 9, and I’ve never known a life without a film set.”

Adding to his workload this summer: He’ll spend August shooting the second season of “A Young Doctor’s Notebook,” the Brit TV series co-starring Jon Hamm and airing on Sky Arts, all while performing eight shows of “Cripple” a week.

Even though he’s been doing “Cripple” since it opened in June, stepping out onto the stage still gives him a rush. “Before I go on each night, I repeat my first line to myself over and over,” he says. “I just have this fear that I’ll get on stage and there’ll be that brief moment of adrenalin and I’ll forget my line.”

Like so many of the things that excite him these days, it’s because the stage scares him a little that he likes it so. “Some people say they stop getting nervous every night, but I still do,” he says. “I think that’s good. It keeps me from getting lazy.”

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