Exclusive Interview with Daniel Radcliffe – The Woman in Black
As the frost of winter puts a chill our spines, The Woman in Black aims to do the same. Based on Susan Hill’s 1983 novel, this is the second ghostly retelling of the tale, produced this time by the legendary Hammer Films—the same production house that brought many of our beloved genre classics starring the greats like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.
Taking the lead role this time is Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame. Dread Central was allowed a candid glimpse into Radcliffe’s method, his desire to direct, as well as his thoughts on being in his first horror film and what it took to exude the “darkness” he needed.
Heather Buckley: Tell us about The Woman in Black.
Daniel Radcliffe: It’s a film about a young lawyer; his wife has died, he has become more and more disconnected from the world around him, his son, his life and his job, and he’s sent on what sounds like a fairly tedious and quite generic assignment to him. He has to go and collate the papers of a recently deceased woman, and as he goes to this house—he’s essentially tormented by the ghost of the rageful, vengeful woman.
HB: Are you a big fan of Gothic horror? Specifically Hammer?
DR: Yeah, you would think… I mean, I think my knowledge of Hammer didn’t go far beyond Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing’s Dracula. That was kind of the standard end-of-year film that was brought in when I was in school when I was younger.
But you know, that’s the thing. If you had said to me at the beginning of the last Potter film that the next thing you will do after this is going to be a horror film, I wouldn’t have believed you because I haven’t ever had an inclination towards that genre before because I’m a coward. Any kind of gore or anything graphic just freaked me out as a kid so I couldn’t watch it.
But that’s not what this film is. You know, nowadays, people are just inundated with Saw and Hostel and Human Centipede and all that stuff that kind of relies on this graphic, shocking, upsetting imagery to scare people; and this film doesn’t rely on any of those crutches. It’s slower burning, creepier, and also it’s… What I liked about the script was that it wasn’t a story set up so that it could facilitate certain scares. It was character-driven, still. It wasn’t about the “horror”; it wasn’t all about ‘We’re going to get the character to this point so that we can have this scary moment.’ It wasn’t about that. It’s a character-driven horror film, and that, to me, always seems like a rarity.
But yeah, I suppose those were the kind of things that drew me to it because it was unusual and there was something different about it, and when I met James [Watkins, the director], I immediately knew he had a great vision for the film and that we were on the same page and that we didn’t just want it to be a horror movie. It should be moving because it’s a film about death and how death affects and how grieving affects different people. Everyone in the film has, in some way, been touched by a death. And so, as well as being shit scary, it has a lot of heart in it.
HB: How much of the special effects are practical as opposed to digital?
DR: Mostly practical on this film, which is great for me. It was very different. There was almost no green screen or nothing animated put in afterwards. I mean, the Woman in Black, whenever we were doing scenes with her, we were doing scenes with her, which made it a lot easier. You know, the thing people don’t think of about visual effects doing is it’s mainly for backgrounds and stuff. For instance, the shots in the exterior of the house, there was this huge blue screen so we could then project a background of rural England instead of the motorway, or whatever was there. That’s kind of the run-of-the-mill use of special effects that people don’t necessarily think of because there’s nothing eye-catching about it. So the special effects we used were all kind of practical and scene setting in terms of making the landscape feel real, which was mainly what we used them for.
Now I’m sure I haven’t seen the finished, finished film so there could be little bits in there that I don’t really know about, but generally speaking, there were a lot less effects than anything I’d done before, but then, the budget was $19 million, which is a lot less than I’d done before… But actually, everyone was saying and was concerned with me going on a smaller budget film, like I was suddenly going to go, ‘Oh, what the hell is this? I don’t recognize any of it!’ It’s the same thing; it doesn’t matter if the film you’re on is five million or four hundred million, it’s essentially that you’re all working towards the same thing. And frankly, the more time and money you have, the more time and money you’ll waste. So I didn’t find anything different in the process of working on a smaller budget movie. Not that that was the question you even asked, but I answered it.
HB: It almost sounds like you’d want to direct someday, produce maybe, or do your own thing.
DR: I do, I do. I really do want to direct. I feel like having to make a creative decision every minute of every day would just be so exciting. The phrase that I hate is when actors describe themselves as “artists.” That really bugs me. Because I go, ‘No, you’re not, you’re the paint.’ We’re what directors and writers use to color their material. Good actors elevate it to somewhere else, but ultimately you can only be creative in certain parameters; whereas, as the director, you just have free reign in a way—and also I feel that I know while I still have a huge amount to learn about the technical side of filmmaking, I think I know how to lead a set. I know that’s one of the most important attributes a director can have, and I think I’d be good at that. So, yeah, a little more down the road, I’d love to, it’s definitely something that’s in my ambitions.
HB: What are some of the techniques you used to help you emote this darkness?
DR: The darkness is something that Harry [Potter] has as well, and it’s something that I always have enjoyed playing in and trying to connect to. People had seen me in a schoolboy outfit for ten years, and so to see me playing a dad, and a widower, I thought that would be a bit of a leap for people to have to make, but I don’t think when people see the film, they’ll be thinking about it so I wanted to make sure that I had it.
I also have a lot of hyper energy, and Rob [my character] is someone who has been robbed of any sort of youthful energy by the circumstances of his life so to just try and suppress that and to give him a kind of depression is exhausting. That’s the thing. People you’ve talked to who’ve really suffered from depression, it’s just that moving out of bed in the morning is painful because you’re just so tired mentally, and there’s just nothing to look forward to about the world. So to try and capture some of that was one of the harder challenges. But I think I’ve done it. You’ll be the judge.
HB: Did you engage in any research on depression for your role?
DR: I researched in terms of that I spoke to a bereavement counselor about what particularly young people who lose a wife go through because it’s not the same as losing someone after being together forty years. You’re just together and have the whole life panning out in front of you and suddenly to have that snatched away… The sense of injustice and rage while simultaneously being completely powerless to effect change is, I think, where a lot of the unhappiness and anger comes from.
So I guess that was the extent of my research, and my method, which I don’t have, is that I try to get myself as worked up as I possibly can, but beyond that, I’ve never really been one for… I don’t know, I’ve seen many people with many different techniques over the years that I think I’ve just cherry-picked different bits of what they all do so I have some weird Frankenstein method which seems to work for me.
HB: How appropriate for this film!
Joining star Radcliffe in The Woman in Black are Ciaran Hinds, Janet McTeer, Liz White, Alisa Khazanova, Tim McMullan, Roger Allam, Daniel Cerqueira, Shaun Dooley, Mary Stockley, Cathy Sara, David Burke, Victor McGuire, and Lucy May Barker. James Watkins (Eden Lake) is at the directorial helm with a screenplay by Jane Goldman.
Look for The Woman in Black in US theatres on February 3rd, 2012. The UK will be getting it on February 10th, 2012.