NEW YORK — Daniel Radcliffe made his Broadway debut in 2008, in a revival of the stark drama “Equus.” He returned three years later in the musical comedy “How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.”
For his third turn on the Main Stem, Radcliffe, 24, wanted to mix things up again; so he chose what he describes as “an incredibly sad, moving, affecting play that somehow makes you laugh all the way through it.”
That would be Martin McDonagh’s “The Cripple of Inishmaan, “which is set to open Sunday at the Cort Theatre. The first entry in McDonagh’s “Aran Islands” trilogy, which includes the celebrated “The Lieutenant of Inishmore,” “Inishmaan” was first produced in 1996, but has never before been staged on Broadway.
That it is finally arriving now is a testament both to Radcliffe’s star power and the very favorable notices the production drew on the West End, where it premiered last June as part of a series presented by acclaimed director Michael Grandage (“Frost/Nixon,” “Red,” “Jude Law’s Hamlet”). McDonagh, who is famously protective of his work — which includes “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” “A Skull in Connemara” and “The Pillowman,” and the films “In Bruges” and “Six Shooter” — was among its admirers.
Grandage first met Radcliffe 10 years ago, when Radcliffe was 14. “We hadn’t worked together, but he knew that theater was always something I had wanted to do,” Radcliffe says. “So he kept in contact with my agent, and he asked if I wanted to be part of this season he was doing. I said, yes, absolutely.”
Radcliffe then “found myself in the ridiculously lucky position of being sent four plays by Michael Grandage. I started reading ‘The Cripple of Inishmaan,’ and by the third scene, I was like, ‘This is it.’”
According to Grandage, it was actually Radcliffe who pointed him to “Inishmaan,” by suggesting that the director’s series include “something from the Irish repertoire. That was the first indication I had that I was dealing with someone who was smart, well-read and had a far-reaching understanding of the theater.”
Discussing the play in a midtown rehearsal studio, Radcliffe describes it as “an ensemble piece — don’t let the fact that my face is on the poster fool you.” He does portray the title role, Billy Claven, who is shunned and ridiculed by the denizens of his coastal town but nonetheless dreams big, especially when filmmakers show up hoping to capture life in the community. (McDonagh was inspired by the 1934 documentary “Man of Aran.”)
“People treat Billy horribly all the time, but his compassion and wit and intelligence are undiminished,” Radcliffe says. “Despite the fact that he’s been beaten down, he’s able to reach out and be emotionally open.”
Grandage was impressed by Radcliffe’s “hunger to become a versatile actor, which I certainly believe him to be. Daniel grew up in front of us as Harry Potter; but what’s fascinating to me is that the moment he was free of that, he started making fascinating and very diverse choices. He wants to constantly challenge himself.”
In person, Radcliffe still comes across as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. He is polite but effusive, littering his conversation with enthusiastic adjectives and adverbs. Asked whether he feels that he’s cast off Potter’s shadow, he responds, “I think more people definitely see me as Dan than Harry now, particularly in New York,” because of his theater work — “which is very nice.”
Radcliffe says he feels at home in the Big Apple, where he finds the overall vibe “more positive than in London.” The Brits “like to revel in our grumpiness a bit, and you’re not like that here.”
“I’ve got friends here now — from doing shows, and filming as well. It’s an amazing feeling to touch down in another country and not feel like a foreigner.” His girlfriend, also an actor, is with him, “so she doesn’t have to get on airplanes all the time for months, which is nice as well.”
Though Radcliffe gave up alcohol a few years ago, “I still go to bars. I’ll just meet friends there. There’s a place I love where you can play table tennis. That’s another lovely thing about New York — you can go out without drinking. In England, when you meet up with somebody, it’s usually for a drink. Here you can just have coffee, and it’s not weird.”
And while doing eight shows a week requires discipline, he feels liberated in the sense that “at least you have most days free, so you can have a life. When I make a film, I tend to drop off the face of the Earth a little bit. My friends don’t hear from me for weeks, which is terrible.”
He’s nonetheless slated to shoot another movie after “Inishmaan” completes its run: “Tokyo Vice,” adapted from Jake Adelstein’s 2009 memoir. “I play an American journalist who becomes very involved, shall we say, with the Yakuza — the Japanese mafia. On one hand, it’s a very smart and interesting look at Americans in other countries, but it’s also a great, real-life thriller.”
Radcliffe has already completed screenwriter Max Landis’ new adaptation of “Frankenstein,” directed by Paul McGuigan, due next year. He plays the legendary lab assistant Igor, “which was a lot of fun. I had very long hair extensions, and was quite glad to have them taken out. It’s a retelling of the story from Igor’s point of view, about his relationship with Frankenstein.
They start off very well-intentioned, but then Frankenstein’s ego goes off the deep end, and he has to be pushed back to some sort of sanity.”
Another project that Radcliffe has in the pipeline — perhaps not surprisingly, given his affection for a certain city — is a film titled “Brooklyn Bridge,” with a screenplay by Douglas McGrath (“Bullets Over Broadway,” “Emma”).
“It’s one of the best scripts I’ve read,” Radcliffe says, eyes widening again. “It’s a wonderful history of how the bridge was built — an absolute love story to the city of New York, and to America in general. You know, there are hundreds of millions of people who cross that bridge every year and don’t have any idea of the amazing story behind it.”
Radcliffe hopes to get Bridge made “in the next couple of years, but you never know.” His goals also include acting in a new play, “something I’m desperate to do, because it’s something I’ve never done, and it’s absolutely one of the quintessential experiences that actors should have at some point.”
For now, of course, he is focused like a laser on making “Inishmaan” worthy of superlatives for its new audience.
“It’s almost like London counts for nothing, unless we can make New York fantastic,” he says. “Hopefully, we will.”
For Daniel Radcliffe, musical comedy was murder — and well worth it.
The 24-year-old actor, who stars in the Broadway premiere of “The Cripple of Inishmaan” (opening Sunday), says that the decision to take on the title role in Martin McDonagh’s acclaimed play was an easy one — and not just because he loved the writing, and wanted to work with the director, the Tony Award-winning British veteran Michael Grandage.
Radcliffe’s last outing on the New York stage was a 2011 revival of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” which required him to sing, dance and lead an ensemble for 2 1/2 hours, eight times a week, for eleven months.
“If you can do that, you can do anything,” Radcliffe says, chatting before a recent rehearsal. “I’ve done really big-budget films that have taken 18 months, and I’ve done really small-budget films that had to get done in 23 days; and I feel that I can definitively say that musical theater is the hardest work an actor can do. After that, when someone asks if you can do a 14-week run in a play, you go, ‘Yeah, fine — I could do that in my sleep!’”
Not that Radcliffe is downplaying the challenges posed by “Inishmaan,” which casts the young man who rocketed to fame in the Harry Potter film series as Billy Claven, a physically disabled orphan whose small town off the coast of Ireland is visited by a Hollywood film crew. Billy sees their arrival, to shoot a documentary, as his chance to escape the drudgery and isolation of his life.
“Obviously there is a physical aspect to the part of Billy, and you have to understand the mechanics of his body and get them right,” Radcliffe says. “But the bigger challenge is the challenge you have with any part, which is to get inside the mindset of the character.”
Radcliffe was especially keen to convey that this character “is not just his disability.” After accepting the role, he “spoke with friends and sought out other people who live with a disability, and the thing that came up again and again is the gap between who you are and how other people perceive and treat you. It can be the source of so much loneliness and anger; and I think that it, rightly, infuriates actors in the disabled community when people like me do parts like this as if we’re putting on a costume. It was important to make (Billy) as authentic as possible.”
The production originated on the West End, where it received rave reviews; but Radcliffe insists, “The goal in doing this show again is not to repeat what we did in London, but to make it better.”
Once he achieves that, Radcliffe would consider tackling a musical again — “I’d love to,” he says — but probably not right away. “I’d have to put in some long hours of serious vocal training first.”