Daniel Radcliffe has made it clear his Harry Potter days are in the past, but his quidditch skills have come surprisingly in handy in his new role as an American drug mule, who spends almost all of his time in Jesper Ganslandt’s new film, Beast of Burden, hidden away inside a cockpit, on a mission to deliver cocaine across the U.S.-Mexico border to save his wife, played by Grace Gummer.
Instead of perching on a broomstick atop a pole in front of green screen and a wind machine, though, this time, Radcliffe, now 28, simply holed up in a fake cockpit in Savannah, Georgia—a much more comfortable experience, even if he was stuck in there for eight days straight. Safely back home in London, ahead of the film’s release next Friday, he talked everything from shooting with Ganslandt to systemic sexism to the 2014 rap session that’s still haunting him in his culture diet.
Drug smuggling is a pretty bold subject. What drew you to this role?
I guess I didn’t think of it as being a movie about drug smuggling—it kind of seemed incidental to me. It was more this kind of fun, very straight line story, literally about taking a guy from A to B and seeing how much awfulness we can throw at him in between. And I did a bit of research into the interesting way Jesper Ganslandt, the director, works, which seemed like it’d continue with this one, since I’m in the plane for so long, and it did. I had earpieces in and he was directing me live, saying, like, This person’s calling, and now this person’s calling, and now we’re going back to that one… We ended up doing huge chunks of scenes at one time, like half-hour long takes. It was the most like doing a play I’ve ever done on camera, just because you were able to go for so long and cover so much of the story in one hit. I really loved working with him. And I’m definitely an expert in fake-flying a plane now.
Do you have any experience with actually flying a plane? Did you try to study up?
I did—I took two lessons, just so that I had some sense of what it was like and how much you needed to move things to make things happen, so I wasn’t looking like I was trying to race a go-kart when I was trying to fly a plane. So, yes: I flew a plane for 15 minutes. My first lesson, they just gave me the controls, and it was terrifying. It did not feel like a thing that should have happened.
Was it ever terrifying when you were filming, too?
I don’t know, man. I was about to say, I get freaked out when I have to fire guns, which is kind of true. I don’t enjoy particularly doing it on set. Even though it’s obviously just blanks, you can still do some damage with a blank, and I’m always slightly nervous about that stuff, like, How far away are the camera guys? But I’m hopefully about to do an action movie where there’s a lot of shooting, so I probably should not have said that. That’ll come back to haunt me.
It does seem like you’ve been doing a lot of action movies recently.
Does it? I can’t really think of any others, though I dunno what I would define an action movie. There’s some action in Imperium, but it was mostly in the trailer—it was more of a talky thing. I did get used as a sort of jet ski in Swiss Army Man [which stars Radcliffe as a corpse], so that’s action of a kind. But I haven’t done a proper all-out action movie yet, and that’s what I’m probably going to do next—I hope. I just finished filming [the show] Miracle Workers literally in the last few days, and I loved it—it was one of the most fun jobs I’ve ever done, so hopefully that’ll be a pleasure for people to watch. There’s also a possibility of doing some theater later this year, but I’m going to wait to see how everything shakes out. I’m very lucky—I’m at a stage in my career where I’m getting really interesting, weird, cool stuff offered a lot. I’m open to all of it, and trying to get all of it made.
Getting into the culture questions, what’s the first thing you normally read in the morning?
Probably either Deadspin or Jezebel, and all the various offshoots of that site, like Splinter. That’s where I get a lot of news.
You like Gawker!
Oh yeah, I was absolutely all over Gawker. That documentary [about Hulk Hogan’s privacy lawsuit against the media group, which the billionaire Peter Thiel funded and resulted in the company’s bankruptcy is one of the more terrifying documentaries I’ve seen in the last couple of years. What’s it called? I want to say “Don’t Speak,” but that’s a No Doubt song.
Yes, you know the one. And then during the football season, it’s probably the NFL website, but that’s over now, so I go straight to the news.
What TV show has been keeping you up at night?
Actually, going back to the morning, the first way I digest anything after waking up is I see what stories the Rachel Maddow Show has posted on YouTube from the night before. When I’m not in America, I miss her.
What books have you been traveling with, or are on your bedside table right now?
Probably the best book I’ve read this year—well, I was reading it for ages, because I got sidetracked—is Inferior, by a woman named Angela Saini. It’s all about how science has consistently kind of underserved and undermined women—female scientists and the female public at large—through male bias, even though it’s often not deliberate. She’s amazing at explaining how science makes it from a lab somewhere to the media and the public consciousness, and why certain studies get picked up and become influential, even if they were only done once. My friend Jesse, who’s a female physicist, told me to read it, and I’d say everyone else should read it, too.
Have you always read so much about women? I love that you start off the day reading Jezebel.
I think it started with Deadspin. I started reading it in 2013 or something like that, and from there found Jezebel and then Gawker, and then when Gawker closed, by that point a lot of my favorite writers and people who I follow went over mostly to Jezebel and Deadspin, and now they’ve spread out again over a lot of the websites under that umbrella. I enjoy it—I have great admiration for newscasters and their ability to be very neutral at all times, but sometimes it’s nice to read things by someone who’s going, What the hell is going on! and reacting just like the rest of us, but also doing so in a much more articulate and informative way. I spend a lot of time on those sites.
What’s the last movie you saw in theaters?
Three Billboards. That’s actually like the first time I’ve given even a relatively cool answer to that question. But the last time I tried to see a movie in theaters was in fact Geostorm, when I was filming in Atlanta, and we tried to see it at a drive-in but it was cancelled because of the weather, since fog rolled in in front of the screen. I was quite disappointed in that, because I like a big, crazy, kind of dumb action movie.
What’s the last song that you had on repeat?
I’ve been listening to a lot of an Australian band called Ball Park Music, especially their song “Struggle Street.” There’s also a newer Hold Steady song I’ve been listening to a lot called “Entitlement Crew.”
It was quite a few years ago, but I know you were being bombarded with questions about rap for a while after your performance on The Tonight Show. Are they still plaguing you?
Yes. I still am getting those. It’s embarrassing, ‘cause I have a very average knowledge of rap and hip hop. I’m into it, and I like it, but my actual knowledge is very, very—I mean, I grew up listening to punk and all that kind of stuff, so that’s the stuff that I know really well. But doing “Alphabet Aerobics” definitely caused people to think I was way more knowledgeable than I am.
Last thing: What’s the last thing you do before you go to bed?
Listen to some podcast. If it’s not This American Life or Radiolab, it’s probably going to be some grisly true crime thing. I do a lot of those—more than I should probably admit to, but I’m definitely guilty of getting into one of those. Or 10.
Does that mess with your dreams at all? I’ve heard that can be a bit unsettling.
You know, I don’t really have dreams. If I do, I don’t remember them. The only thing is I listen to a guy called Dan Carlin a lot, who does Hardcore History. Sometimes I just listen to it, but sometimes I have it on when I’m going to drift off at the end of the day and it sort of fires up the imagination. But the latest episode is literally about all the horrific things human beings have done to each other in the name of entertaining themselves over the years, so that’s been a very hard one to relax to.