The Long Education of Daniel Radcliffe

Aaron Hicklin
10 min readSep 13, 2019

The young actor puts his decade-long stint as the world’s most famous schoolboy behind him with a career-defining turn as Allen Ginsberg.

Photography by Kai Z Feng / Styling by Grant Woolhead

Let’s be clear: It is perfectly possible to write about Daniel Radcliffe without resorting to Quidditch jokes or salty references to magic wands. It just doesn’t happen very often. We have, after all, watched him — or a version of him — grow up before our eyes at the very time when many of us needed cinema’s charms and potions most. It began with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in November 2001, when smoke still wafted over Ground Zero, with a hesitant, touchingly overwhelmed 10-year-old arriving at Hogwarts only to find himself in a fight with an invisible but omnipresent evil. It climaxed 10 years later, in July 2011, with a self-aware, determined young man finally vanquishing Ralph Fiennes’s Lord Voldemort, coincidentally a few months after Navy SEALS dispatched Osama bin Laden. Life is sometimes eerie that way.

But Daniel Radcliffe is not Harry Potter — he just looks and sounds a lot like him. It can be a burden, and not just because of the security detail that accompanies him everywhere. When you’ve played one role for half your life, it casts a long shadow. Since his conquest over evil, Radcliffe has taken the lead in a demanding and athletic Broadway musical, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, exercised his scaredy face in the artful horror movie The Woman in Black, and channeled Russian satirist Mikhail Bulgakov in a British TV miniseries, A Young Doctor’s Notebook, which involved sharing a tin bathtub with Jon Hamm (it should air here later this year). Does he think his fans are beginning to tell him apart from his most famous role?

“I’ve always said that it’s a long process, and in a way it may be a lifelong one,” he concedes on a gloomy January afternoon in North London. “It’s about proving to people that I’m in this for the long haul, and that I wasn’t just looking to get as famous as I could for as long as I could and ride that out. I love almost every aspect of this industry and I want to be in it, and if I could drop dead on a film set at 80, that’s how I’d want to go.”

Aaron Hicklin

Since moving to the U.S. in 1998, Aaron Hicklin has been editor of BlackBook, Out, and Document, and writes for The Guardian and The NYT, among others.