Some actors are very bad at being themselves and make for dull interviewees. Others cannot help but be themselves and are brilliant company. Daniel Radcliffe, without any doubt, falls into the latter category: he is chatty, personable, polite, curious, engaged, excitable and very enthusiastic.
“Anyone who equates ‘coolness’ with a lack of enthusiasm is just very, very irritating to me,” he tells me at one point, a comment which sums up his appeal as much as anything he says during our wide-ranging chat.
He is talking about his love of New York where he lives much of the time. “It’s a great city. It has an incredible energy and it is very positive. I think in England we sometimes make fun of Americans for being so positive but I am actually all about that. I love enthusiasm.”
Right now he has plenty to be positive about with several contrasting, high profile projects helping to redefine him as an actor and showcase his maturing acting chops.
First up is Kill Your Darlings for which the thrilled Harry Potter star, 24, is receiving the first serious awards buzz of his career (“it’s ****ing lovely”).
He gives a mighty impressive performance as the young Allen Ginsberg in a story based on the future Beat poet’s coming-of-age in 1943 New York.
It is a long way from Hogwarts: we see Ginsberg engage in some intense homosexual sex and there is a grisly murder as Ginsberg’s devilish young mentor-lover, Lucien Carr, kills ageing gay admirer David Kammerer.
Radcliffe took the sex in his stride as you would expect of an actor who took the bold step of going naked on stage in Equus while he was still playing Harry Potter.
“There are certain moments when the surrealness of what is going on hits you occasionally and you start laughing but, to be honest, there’s just no time to be awkward. We just had to get in and do it and that was probably for the best.”
I compliment Radcliffe on his boldness as an actor. There is nothing safe or predictable about his choices when he could so easily be resting on his Harry Potter laurels and mountain of cash (£60million and counting).
“Thank you for that,” he says with what sounds like genuine appreciation, “because that is the quality in all the actors that I admire most.”
He cites the “fearless” Gary Oldman and David Thewlis as inspirations, both of whom he worked with on Harry Potter: “Boldness is a quality that I love and aspire to and I definitely know that I work best when I am challenged by something and when I am going to be pushed by it,” he says.
“I also think, frankly, that’s the way I have most fun because if I am not being pushed it is quite dull.”
That is why he relished playing Ginsberg and working with director John Krokidas who taught him more about the craft of acting than probably any of his previous directors, he says.
“Up until I was 21, working on Potter, I was really just going on my instincts. I didn’t have any kind of acting technique or process or anything like that.
“Nobody had ever really talked to me about different methods and things you could do. Then when I worked with John he showed me all this stuff to remove self-consciousness, like the Meisner technique. It just completely changed something in me and gave me a freedom.”
Modestly, he doesn’t give himself high marks for his early performances: “When I look at child actors like Dakota Fanning and the work she did when I was a kid I go, ‘Wow, that is so amazing’. I was not that as a child actor. Absolutely not.
“I was really enthusiastic and cute looking, I guess, and I had some good instincts but it is really in the past three years I finally feel I’ve managed to put together performances that I am consistently pleased with. That is a big step for me.”
He even has reservations about his work in horror film The Woman In Black despite the box office smash helping to establish his post-Potter commercial clout: “I would hate somebody to think I am being falsely modest but I really do dislike watching some parts of that film because I am not pleased with my work in it and that’s fine.
I have had to reach a point of acceptance with the fact that my acting lessons are on camera but I feel like I have now moved beyond that phase and I have come on a lot.”
Just how much Radcliffe has “come on” was apparent at the Toronto Film Festival in September where he starred in three contrasting projects: Kill Your Darlings, a dark fantasy horror Horns, and The F Word, a romantic comedy about an ordinary guy in love with his best friend.
The festival marked something of a defining moment for Radcliffe; comparable, he says, to performing in Equus in the West End: evidence that he takes his acting career very seriously and is looking to push himself.
However, the triple hit of diverse projects was not part of any grand strategy to distance himself from Potter, he insists: “You take every role as a chance to show something different. I’m always careful to say it’s not just about not wanting to do Harry Potter again. I don’t want to do The Woman In Black again.”
I wonder if Radcliffe is ever tempted to relax on a beach? His work ethic is mighty impressive for a young man who never has to work again: “I just prefer working to not working. It’s really that simple,” he says.
The fact is film sets are his home and are where, in many respects, he feels most comfortable. “I’ve been on film sets since I was nine and there’s a level of familiarity and comfort I have on a film set. It’s just a really lovely, comfortable place to be. I love acting, I love being on set and I want to prove myself so working all the time suits those three purposes.”
The fame and intrusion are a small price to pay, he says, and in any case he copes better with it than he used to. “I’ve definitely got a lot better at dealing with the slightly more abrasive side of fame,” he explains.
Interestingly, in many respects, he feels most at home in New York where he has been embraced on Broadway in both Equus and How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.
“They have really welcomed me there,” he says. “I’ve done both film and stage there and spend as much time there as I can.”
New Yorkers are also much less fazed by his celebrity and tend to leave him alone or simply offer up a compliment without bothering him for an autograph or photograph (“which never happens anywhere else in the world”).
Oh dear. I was planning to ask him for a photograph myself to show off to my two Harry Potter-mad sons. What the hell, I think. Perhaps he will appreciate my lack of “coolness” and over-enthusiasm. Happily, he could not be more obliging and poses cheerfully with me while the helpful publicist takes the snap.
The only person who is unimpressed is my six-year-old son Tommy. “That’s not Harry Potter,” he says when I show him the picture. “It’s Daniel Radcliffe.”
Boy is he famous.