Pretty boys gone bad: How Robert Pattinson and Daniel Radcliffe found cinematic salvation in the weird and wonderful

From the hallucinatory gibberish of ‘The Lighthouse’ to the wholesome farting corpse comedy that is ‘Swiss Army Man’, these actors went all-out in order to achieve the impossible, writes Clarisse Loughrey

Tuesday 25 February 2020 01:42
The pair along with Elijah Wood have made bold choices after huge mainstream success
The pair along with Elijah Wood have made bold choices after huge mainstream success

Somewhere behind that lion’s mane of hair, wiry beard, and thick South African accent lies Daniel Radcliffe. In Escape from Pretoria, he’s thrown himself so deep into the role of an anti-apartheid activist planning a daring prison escape that he’s practically unrecognisable. Guns Akimbo, released later this year, will see him run around in a bathrobe and huge slippers designed to look like tiger feet, with two guns bolted to his hands. Any memory of the boy wizard he once was has officially been left for dust.

All actors struggle to free themselves from the gluttonous jaws of typecasting, but for a former child star swept up in a major franchise to have done it? That’s like defeating Goliath blindfolded and with your hands tied behind your back. And yet, while Radcliffe’s career so far has been impressive, it’s not exactly unique. In the early Noughties, Hollywood was gripped by an enthusiasm for fantasy franchises, where pretty much every male lead was scrawny and pale-faced. Elijah Wood slipped on a pair of hobbit feet to play Frodo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, while Robert Pattinson co-starred with Radcliffe in the Goblet of Fire before taking on the role of Twilight’s sparkly, sentimental bloodsucker Edward Cullen. Suddenly, the biggest films in the world were being fronted by actors who didn’t boast the same broad appeal of a, say, Brad Pitt or Keanu Reeves.

What do you do after playing a teen vampire, wizard, or hairy-footed halfling? For Radcliffe, Wood, and Pattinson, it meant blowing their public image sky-high. It took each of them a few attempts, but all three eventually settled into a new, weird, and experimental groove. Radcliffe went grimy, Wood went blood-splattered, and Pattinson… well, anyone who’s seen The Lighthouse will agree he’s gone all-out bats*** crazy. It was a dilemma that Mark Hamill also faced post-Luke Skywalker. The actor didn’t have the rough-and-ready machismo that allowed Harrison Ford to jump from Star Wars to Indiana Jones to Blade Runner and so on. He was stuck as a squeaky clean teen idol who was tailor-made for sitcom appearances and not much else. It was only when he stepped back from the camera and towards the recording booth that he found a second wind, carving a separate (and now almost equally venerated) career as a voice actor – the man behind the animated Joker and Chucky from last year’s Child’s Play reboot.

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