It has taken a half a decade for Daniel Radcliffe to escape the ghost of Harry Potter – and he’s done it by playing a dead man.
A corpse, to be precise, which farts continually, has uncontrollable erections, and allows its co-star, War and Peace’s Paul Dano, to ride him over the ocean like a dead human jet ski.
This really, truly happens in Swiss Army Man, the experimental film debut of music video directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. Hank (Paul Dano) appears to find himself on a desert island shore and is about to end it all, when Daniel Radcliffe’s body is washed up.
A love story of sorts ensues, in between Radcliffe’s out-of-control bodily functions, where they muse on love and friendship, with Radcliffe’s character Manny slightly hampered by rigor mortis setting in.
No wonder that its first showing at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah prompted headlines such as, “Is this the weirdest film to ever show at Sundance?” and, “Daniel Radcliffe’s farting corpse prompts walk-outs” – apparently in reference to the amount of people leaving the cinema during the screening.
Radcliffe, however, who flew in from New York ahead of the blizzards, doesn’t look troubled. Dressed pre-emptively for Utah in a button-down checked shirt, jeans and boots, he probably also foresaw the headlines, because he says: “Well, I think the movie is a divisive one. You’ll either love it or hate it – and that’s fine, because I just found it a joyous experience.”
But is Radcliffe really participating in arthouse Beavis and Butthead? The 26-year-old cheerfully replies that he’s known in the industry “for liking to do weird stuff, which is why the script was sent to me I guess”.
However, his post-Potter portfolio isn’t that eclectic – it includes playing Allen Ginsberg in Beat Poet thriller Kill Your Darlings, Igor in Paul McGuigan’s Victor Frankenstein, as well as resurrecting Hammer horror for The Woman in Black.
But Radcliffe’s naked turn for stage play Equus at the height of Harry Potter fame has given him a reputation as a risk-taker, and he continues to take advantage of the financial freedom (estimated at around £60m) that Potter has given him.
The films you'd expect to have won Best Picture that haven't
The films you'd expect to have won Best Picture that haven't
1/15 Citizen Kane (1941)
Long revered as one of the greatest films ever made, Orson Welles' debut - a film à clef focused on tycoon Charles Foster Kane - was just another nominee back in the day, losing out to How Green Was My Valley.
2/15 Vertigo (1958)
Not only did Alfred Hitchcock never win an Oscar (save for his memorial award in 1968), neither did any of his films - one of which is Vertigo, a classic that won Sight & Sound's once-a-decade greatest films of all time poll in 2012.
3/15 The Graduate (1967)
One of the films that kickstarted the New Hollywood Cinema, The Graduate may have won director Mike Nichols an Oscar, but ultimately lost out to Norman Jewison's In the Heat of the night.
4/15 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
The crème de la crème of Hollywood filmmakers would have you believe that Stanley Kubrick's sci-fi classic remains one of the most influential pieces of cinema there is. The Academy didn't agree, however, nominating Kubrick for Best Director and awarding the visual effects in favour of even considering 2001 for Best Picture.
5/15 Taxi Driver (1976)
Despite not winning the main award, the Academy showed they had good intentions by nominating Taxi Driver in four categories - that both All the President's Men and Network also lost out to eventual winner Rocky shows that, ultimately, it never really stood a chance.
6/15 Apocalypse Now (1979)
Francis Ford Coppola's ambitious Vietnam War epic received a grand total of eight nominations, but only went home with two prizes (for cinematography and sound) losing out to drama Kramer vs. Kramer.
7/15 Raging Bull (1980)
Of all the Oscar blows dealt to Martin Scorsese over the decades, none landed harder than Raging Bull's losing out to Robert Redford's weepie Ordinary People, an oversight many consider one of the Academy's most infamous.
8/15 Blade Runner
Another sci-fi classic overlooked by Oscar was the hugely influential Blade Runner which didn't even get nominated in the Best Picture category. That Ridley Scott's latest sci-fi The Martian received seven nominations could signal how the Academy are finally taking responsibility for their past errors.
9/15 Goodfellas (1990)
Having awarded both The Godfather parts I and II Best Picture in 1972 and 1974 respectively, you'd think Scorsese's gangster classic stood half a chance; but no - Kevin Costner's directorial debut Dances With Wolves was the most appealing choice for voters.
2012 Getty Images
10/15 Pulp Fiction (1994)
New talent on the block Quentin Tarantino's second feature won him the coveted Palme d'Or at Cannes - a success he failed to match back on home turf; while he won an Original Screenplay Oscar, Pulp Fiction got beat by Forrest Gump.
11/15 The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
...and it wasn't the only one. Frank Darabont's adaptation of Stephen King's prison-set novella The Shawshank Redemption also fell victim to Robert Zemeckis' Oscar-friendly Forrest Gump. We don't see that film sitting atop the IMDB top 250 though, do we?
12/15 Fargo (1996)
You may think it was remiss of the Academy to shun Fargo but it did come pretty close to winning, its chances bolstered somewhat by seven nominations and two wins (Actress for Frances McDormand and Original Screenplay for the Coen Brothers). It lost out to The English Patient.
13/15 Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Having won Best Director five years previous for Schindler's List, everybody expected Steven Spielberg's next war epic to scoop all the top awards. Cue Shakespeare In Love upsetting the establishment.
14/15 The Social Network (2010)
David Fincher's generational Facebook drama got shunned in favour of British patriotism in an Oscar two-horse race for the ages that ultimately saw The King's Speech crowned winner.
15/15 Boyhood (2014)
For last year's Oscar race, you were either team Birdman or team Boyhood (not forgetting outside bet Whiplash, of course). Each represented a different facet of movie-making that posited them as favourites; that Richard Linklater's labour of love - shot intermittently over 12 years - failed to win may still come as a surprise.
“It’s just projects like this one that give me so much joy,” he enthuses, “where I turn up on set and really don’t know what on Earth is going to happen from one day to the next. Obviously, I knew I was playing a dead person, but there’s a lot more to it than that. I don’t want to say too much about the plot.”
Nor does he, but suffice it to say that Leonardo DiCaprio isn’t the only Hollywood star to encounter a bear on screen in 2016.
But being dragged around the woods by Paul Dano, now one of his best friends in real life, in low-budget features isn’t the pinnacle of Radcliffe’s ambition. “I would absolutely, definitely do a blockbuster again,” he says enthusiastically. “Of course I would! It just has to be a good one, a great script.
“I don’t know where people get this idea from that big movies can’t be as much of a challenge as an independent film. They can be really hard work. Harry Potter just got better and better as a franchise and I am still so proud of it. I would definitely do big-budget films again, just give me one worth doing.”
Indeed, it has recently been suggested that Radcliffe, despite his slightness, could make a good Wolverine, after he posed for Vanity Fair Italia recently, wearing a six pack and a small scowl. He looks a little sheepish for a moment, and then explains: “ I had done all this work training for a movie that didn’t happen in the end. I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, ‘you are never going to look this good again’. So I decided to do the shoot, and I’m glad I did.”
So must be his girlfriend of four years, actress Erin Darke, although he says she still ribbed him for winning last year’s Rear of the Year. They met on the set of Kill Your Darlings, but Darke has also shared screen time – and a kiss – with Paul Dano in last year’s Beach Boys retrospective Love and Mercy.
Radcliffe pursued Dano’s girlfriend Zoe Kazan in 2013’s What If, and Dano and Radcliffe share an underwater smooch in their Swiss Army Man bromance. “The situation is very confusing,” he admits. “Sooner or later we’ll all have kissed each other. On screen, anyway.”
He and Darke seem happy living together in New York, where, between films, Radcliffe says he gets to indulge in his favourite things – “reading books and looking at stuff – at buildings”. He feels, he says, like a real New Yorker.
Recently tipped to play Lee Atwater in John Krokidas’s comedy Young Americans, about a young Karl Rove (George W Bush’s former senior advisor), the actor now says “the film may not happen”.
However, he has always had a keen interest in American politics, because, he maintains, “they are so much crazier than British politics. They completely fascinate me. They are so polarised in their beliefs in the US. I don’t think that even in the BNP, even in the most right-wing party you could imagine in Britain, that you would have ‘pro-life’ candidates standing.
There are so many divisions between the candidates over here. It’s mesmerising to watch it because to a certain extent, I can stand back.” Can he stand back from the row over diversity that is engulfing the Academy Awards?
“It’s just really good that this conversation is taking place, because it needs to,” he replies, having learned diplomacy growing up as Harry Potter. “The change has to come from the industry itself, though. Clearly not enough films are being made or written that will lead to nominations for the Academy to consider.”
But on the recent death of Alan Rickman he is certainly prepared to speak from the heart. Radcliffe released a tribute to his former co-star and mentor, saying that he would carry the lessons Rickman taught him forever, adding that “Alan was extremely kind, generous, self-deprecating and funny”.
“I just feel that it needed to be said,” Radcliffe said. “He was just such an important man to me, not just as an actor. He came to see everything I ever did, he was an incredible man and friend. It’s just a huge loss to all of us.”
Self-deprecating and funny – those words could also be applied to the thoroughly decent Daniel Radcliffe, whose own sense of humour will surely see him through the hysteria and the headlines surrounding his latest role.
Swiss Army Man is already known locally as “the Dan Radcliffe farting-corpse movie”. If anyone can see the magic in that, it’s the boy who lived through Harry Potter.Reuse content