Harry Potter READs: Actor Daniel Radcliffe on Reading

“Anything that gets kids into reading is fantastic,” says Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe

October 27, 2010

“Anything that gets kids into reading is fantastic,” says Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe, who recently posed for an ALA Celebrity READ poster along with his Potter costars Rupert Grint and Emma Watson. ALA Graphics released the three posters just in time for the premiere of the first part of the last film in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, on November 19. Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) talked to American Libraries in August, shortly after the photo shoot for the poster.  Radcliffe’s upcoming roles include a film adaptation of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, a British ghost story, and a Broadway production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

AMERICAN LIBRARIES: How did the READ poster photo shoot go? Librarians everywhere have been clamoring for Harry Potter posters since 2001.

DANIEL RADCLIFFE: I think it’s good we waited; my interview answers at age 11 wouldn’t have been as interesting. We shot a lot of other things at the same time, but this one was simple and only took about 15 minutes.

In your poster, you are holding Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. That’s an extremely interesting book choice, with demons, succubi, a talking cat, the interplay of good and evil, truth and lies. How did you discover it?

I’ve been obsessed with the novel ever since I read it about a year ago. I’ve always been a huge fan of Magical Realism. It’s an inspiring genre in which writers can just let their imaginations go wild and wonderful. I discovered the book through an Amazon.com recommendation. I’d just ordered Louis de Biernières’s The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts, and The Master and Margarita came up as an Amazon “other readers like this book” choice. I’ve read it twice now, and I just received an English first edition (Collins and Harvill, 1967) with a beautiful cover as a birthday present. That’s the one that appears on the READ poster.

You mentioned in one of your interviews that you buy a lot of books—what are some of your favorites?

I loved Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. I also liked Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, and Émile Zola’s Germinal, which I thought would be difficult but it read very easily. I also like classic Russian writers; I’ve read Mikhail Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time and Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Notes from the Underground. The reason that these books have become classics is that they are so readable and accessible.

Do you think Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is one of the best books in the series?

My personal favorite is the fifth, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, because it’s involved with Harry’s relationship with Sirius Black, the most interesting character in the series. But Deathly Hallows is also one of the best novels. J. K. Rowling was under intense pressure to complete the series, but she is a woman of much conviction and she wrote a final novel that was both up to her exacting standards and one that she knew would give fans the ending that they wanted.

Will these two Deathly Hallows films be the best of the Harry Potter series?

They’d better be. We need to have the series go out with a bang, in recognition of all the fans who have supported the films and books over the years.

How much of the Harry Potter character is due to J. K. Rowling’s text, and how much do you attribute to your own insights and ideas?

Most of what you need to know about Harry Potter is in the books. It would have been presumptuous of me to add things that were not already there. J. K. Rowling is not one of those authors who is constantly on the set, but she was always available to answer questions.

Besides mastering Rowling’s books, how else have you prepared for your role in the film series? Do you get ideas from other fantasy novels?

Not in other novels so much as listening to music. I find Radiohead inspirational, also Florence and the Machine, whose song “My Boy Builds Coffins” from the 2009 Lungs album is filled with melancholy and determination. And “Me Ves Y Sufres” from Hope of the States’s 2004 The Lost Riots album, with the lyrics, “It’s so desperately sad that my life has come to this / I hope there’s something better than this for me.” Harry Potter is similarly dogged by tragedy.

Have you ever dipped into books on occultism for inspiration, or books about basilisks and dragons?

No, not at all. I didn’t know there were any books on basilisks. But I did look at J. K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a companion book to the series, and Jorge Luis Borges’s Book of Imaginary Beings.

What was it like shooting scenes for the first two films in Duke Humfrey’s Library at Oxford University? Did the librarians let you look at any of the really rare books?

No. Even if they had, I doubt whether I would have appreciated them at the time. However, I’m very excited to participate in the British Library’s Adopt a Book program that supports the library’s conservation work. For my birthday, a former teacher of mine, a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, chose Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles to adopt, and we get to go on a behind-the-scenes tour of the library’s conservation lab. I’m really looking forward to it.

Librarians love Harry Potter because Rowling has created such vivid characters and a fun fictional world that encourages kids to read. I understand that many cast members were intense fans of the book. Do people tell you that the books and the films have inspired a love of reading?

Absolutely, and I am a case in point. Before I was cast in the first Harry Potter film, I didn’t read much at all. But I have grown to love reading because of the film and now I am an absolutely voracious reader, although kind of a slow one. Anything that gets kids into reading is fantastic.

Do you run into other people who say that the books and films are instruction manuals for paganism and witchcraft? How do you answer them?

I have encountered that occasionally. “Paganism” is one of those words that’s thrown around and can have some terrible connotations, and I detest the word “witchcraft.” I tell them that witchcraft is not real and that I don’t understand what they are complaining about. Harry Potter is about loyalty and friendship and duty and fighting for what’s right. I believe in people and the human spirit.

I’ve read that you have contributed to charities that have helped out with the recovery from the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. Are you also involved in literacy outreach efforts or anticensorship causes?

These are absolutely the kinds of causes that I would support. Recently I have been giving to The Trevor Project, which is an around-the-clock crisis and suicide-prevention helpline for gay and lesbian youth.

The Harry Potter role has offered you a wide range of acting challenges—drama, comedy, action, maybe even a little bit of romance. What type of role do you see as your best fit at this time?

I don’t really like to think in terms of genre. If a film has a good script, with a good director and a good part, then I’d consider it. There are very few good films that fall into just one genre.



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