Daniel Radcliffe: 7 Facts About His Life Before Harry Potter (And 8 After)

For women of a certain age, they remember the phenomena that was the Harry Potter franchise. There was a Christmas where the entire tree ornament aisle was nothing but witches on broomsticks carrying the Golden Snitch. There were lines longer than the stores for the books and the opening nights for the movies were gala events. In the middle of this swirling Harry Potter madness was the boy who played the titular character, Daniel Jacob Radcliffe. Sweet faced and modest, he made Harry Potter come to life for millions of fans. He also essentially grew up on screen. He was 11 when he was cast as the Chosen wizard in 2000, and he was doing a Harry Potter movie a year until 2011, which means he was 22 when his time in the wizarding world ended.

As the classic child star- a kid known for one all-powerful role and adored by millions of fans- he could have sat on his laurels, coasting along on his fame and good looks. But the drive and modesty that landed him the role as Harry Potter in the first place have made him determined, as he told an interviewer with the Telegraph.co.uk, to disprove all the stereotypes about child actors that flame out once their most famous role is finished.

Daniel Radcliffe has acted continuously in a slew of different movies and plays after Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2 ended. As the following facts show, the making of a child star and his transformation into a leading actor can be bumpy and difficult, but grit and determination can make it happen.

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15 Before: The Klutziness Explained

Via: People

Radcliffe struggled from early on in school. In numerous articles, he described himself as bad ‘at everything,’ and had trouble writing clearly and doing such small tasks as tying his shoes. He generally came off as a klutz. There was a good reason for this though, as he told the Daily Mail,

he has a neurological disorder called dyspraxia, which affects 6% of all children.

No one is really sure what causes it, but it is more likely in boys than girls and is mostly seen in children. How it shows up varies from child to child, and the only clear sign that you should call a doctor about a child’s clumsiness is if it gets worse. On the other hand, dyspraxia tends to get better with age. Radcliffe’s publicists assured the Daily Mail that Radcliffe only had a mild case, and Radcliffe tends more towards self-deprecating jokes about it then bemoaning his difficulties with it.

It must have caused him some misery though: the condition makes coloring in lines and tracing hard, so Kindergarten would have been a bust. These days, he can tie his shoes and perform other such fine motor tasks, but he just frequently fails to anyways. Still, it hasn’t stopped him from playing physically demanding roles.

14 Before: Please, Sir, Can I Have Some More Acting?

Some people come out of the womb knowing what their life’s direction will be. Radcliffe comes awfully close to this: he declared that he wanted to be an actor when he was 5 years old. However, he didn’t get a taste of his future until, according to IMDd, he auditioned for the part of young David Copperfield in the BBC One production of the Charles Dicken’s classic “David Copperfield.”

He got the part and appeared in 2 episodes (it was a miniseries, so about a 3rd of the production). The show did all right, getting a rating of 7.8 out of 10 on the IMDb website. It was nominated for an Emmy and won Best Tape & Film Editing-Drama from the Royal Television Society, UK in 2000.

If you remember that David Copperfield is Charles Dickens' self-insert as a genius little boy mistreated by an indifferent adult world, you might think that Radcliffe was being typecast early on. That is not the only way he was being prepared for his next big step, either, it put him next to some big names in British theater circles, including Colin Farrell, Dame Maggie Smith and Clare Wilkie. That was the harbinger of big things.

13 Before: Spying For The Part

After the first taste of acting a tragic little boy in David Copperfield, he was hooked on acting. According to Biography.com, he tried out and got a part in the big screen political thriller based on the John Caré novel, The Tailor of Panama. It was another major production with big names such as Pierce Brosnan and Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s about an MI6 agent recruiting an ex-con-turn-tailor to spy for the British government to help overthrow the Panamanian government.

Daniel Radcliffe played Mark, the son of the reluctant spy, so yet another kid with less-than-stellar-parents.

The movie won a GoldSpirit award for Composer of the Year and was nominated for the Golden Berlin Bear award at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Of course, that was at the very same time that he was working on the first Harry Potter film, so his life must have been pretty hectic. The Tailor of Panama didn’t receive nearly as much coverage or fanfare as the Harry Potter movies, so some folks might have missed it, but it shows his early drive to be an actor and not ‘that kid who once starred in that one movie.’ Also, you have to admire the willingness to work when he was already on an all-consuming project.

12 Before: Acting Is In His Blood

It may be argued that Daniel Radcliffe first got bit by the acting bug (and maybe some germane advice) as a result of his parents. According to Biography.com, his parents both acted in their youth. Now by the time that little Daniel came along, his father, Allen George Radcliffe, was working as a literary agent and his mother, Marcia Jeanine Gresham, was working as a casting agent. As a kid, however, his mother and father had acted in a few shows.

According to an interview that Radcliffe did with Parade.com, neither of his parents had liked the experience of being a child actor. His dad had played a young priest in "The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne" in 1987, alongside (this is going to be a theme), Dame Maggie Smith.

In fact, that was why they had been reluctant to start acting when he first said he wanted to when he was 5. These days, Marcia Gresham is credited with being the casting director in 9 shows, including the very popular Inspector Lynley Mysteries series and Natural Lies. He also has 2 special mentions for his gifts as a literary agent on IMBd. One of those special thanks may come from Radcliffe Jr, though- Daniel Radcliffe played the missing son of author Rudyard Kipling in My Boy Jack, and his dad had a hand in creating it.

11 Before: Fancy Nice Schools

One thing that fills every parent of a child who struggles academically with hope is the long list of people who didn’t do great at school but went on to excel in some area of life. Certainly, Radcliffe is part of that; he has been quoted in many places as saying that he had ‘no discernible talent’ in school.

This might be a bit of an exaggeration as he did pass the test British kids need to pass to leave high school.

What is often lacking in those stories that parents of lack-luster student love are facts about the schools those late bloomers attended. Daniel Radcliffe attended, according to biography.com, 3 independent schools for boys. He started at Redcliffe School, a preparatory day school in Chelsea’s Redcliffe Square, then he went to Sussex House School, again in exclusive Chelsea, and then the lovely City of London School.

An independent school in England is what we Americans would call a private school, (though Brits call the particularly prestigious independent schools ‘public’ schools because they are open to public enrollment. Also, if you attend a ‘public’ school you are probably the child of a public figure.) Radcliffe described these schools as “a very privileged place” in an interview with Parade magazine.

10 After: Total Abstainer

Daniel Radcliffe is on record in 3 or 4 places talking about his struggles with binge drinking, but probably the most honest interview he has given on the subject was one he gave to the Telegraph in 2013.

He talked about turning to hard drinks during the year or so of filming The Half-Blood Prince to a degree he found alarming, getting blackout intoxicated in public and coming to shoots still feeling the effects from binging the night before.

In England, the legal drinking age is 18, not 21 like it is the US, so he would have been completely legal in getting blitzed regularly. However, he is quoted as saying he was becoming reliant on alcohol to enjoy things and was starting to take risks on set.

A month after they had wrapped up filming Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince, he swore off alcohol and, while he admits to having relapsed once, he has abstained from drinking for years now. He says that he enjoys being sober and accepts that he is someone who can’t party hard. In fact, he attributes much of the drinking to a desire to have the famous ‘star’ lifestyle which he came to realize didn’t suit him.

9 Before: Son Of Immigrants

Most people associate the immigrant story with America, a famously immigrant nation. This ignores the long history of Britain as a destination for many people looking for a fresh start in life.

Allen George Radcliffe is from a very working-class family in Ulster, Northern Ireland, and came to England as a teen. His mother had a long way to go. According to channel24.co.za, Marcia was born in South Africa to a Jewish couple that hailed from East-Central Europe (probably Poland and Russia).

His maternal grandfather apparently did not deal well with his maternal grandmother, so she took Marcia and brought her to England to get away from her husband. At the time, Radcliffe’s mother was only 2 weeks old and the youngest child to ever fly on South African Airways.

The family doesn’t dwell on the details. They settled in for the long haul. Both people came to do very well in the country. Radcliffe may not dwell much on how his parents came to Great Britain, nor has he adopted either Protestantism or Judaism as a religion. He doesn’t seem to think about his roots too much, either, except that he thinks he got his sense of humor from his mother’s side of the family and it seems to inspire some of his charitable impulses.

8 Before: Growing Up In A Nice House

London street of early 20th century Edwardian terraced houses in a sunny day

Until the age of 12, Radcliffe grew up in a terraced house in Fulham, a neighborhood of West London. It was a charming 4-bedroom house that overlooks a cemetery. According to Newsweek.com, it is rumored that he was in the bath in the house when he first heard that he had the role of Harry Potter.

During the shooting of Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, his parents decided that their lives would be easier if they moved to a new home closer to where the movie was being filmed.

Radcliffe now maintains a home in Hollywood, which makes sense, and his parents are likewise comfortably situated.

Obviously, the Fulham neighborhood is a pretty comfortable area. West London is upscale as it is, and a 4- bedroom house in the capital of an industrial nation is going to be pricey. So, before the house was remodeled into a luxury modern home, it would have been worth lots of money. It has been remodeled, though, and recently sold for 1.45 million pounds. That translates to $2.1 million in American money. I didn’t find who bought it, but that family is probably going to be very comfortable in the charming little home.

7 Before: Dame Maggie Smith's Stamp Of Approval

The actress Maggie Smith crops up quite a bit in the story of Daniel Radcliffe’s life. She was the main character in the only movie that Radcliffe’s father acted in, she was Betsy Trotwood in the version of David Copperfield that Radcliffe made his debut in, and she was Minerva McGonagall in the Harry Potter movies.

In some ways, this is kind of unsurprising, since she has been acting since she was 17, in 1952. She has been in so many award-winning shows that she was knighted for her contributions to the cultural life of Great Britain. She has just been everywhere for a very long time.

What is surprising is that she might have had a hand in getting Radcliffe his most famous role. According to biography.com, Radcliffe’s parents initially refused to let him try out for the role of Harry Potter, but then he ran into the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone director, Chris Columbus. He convinced the family to let him try out for the part.

Everybody involved in the film supported the notion of giving him the role, and one of these voices advocating for it was Dame Maggie Smith. After all, she could personally attest to his abilities and work ethic.

6 After: Poetry Anyone?

For a guy who claimed to not do well at school, Daniel Radcliffe certainly has a well-read side. In an interview with the Telegraph, he said that, while he didn’t think he could hack a novel, he loves short stories and poetry. They are two of his biggest passions, according to the Telegraph interview.

In fact, he has had 4 poems published in an underground fashion magazine called Rubbish.

I did not make up that name. He published under the name Jacob Gershon (his middle name and a variation on his mom’s maiden name,) and doesn’t mind owning up to them.

What were these poems about? Well, one is called Away Days and talks about a businessman who has affairs when his wife thinks he’s away on business trips. Another poem is about people lining up to try out on TV talent shows, and another is about Pete Seeger. The fourth poem was about trying to seduce a woman.

It apparently fit Rubbish’s general fun-loving outlook, and they didn’t mind him avoiding free verse which he felt would lead to him being unbearably self-indulgent. Anyone who has sampled amateur poetry can understand the fear. Given that he was 17 when he was published, that is fairly impressive.

5 After: How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying

Any child actor who is well-known for a particular role and wants to keep acting once that role is no longer possible is going to worry about the next couple of roles he or she accepts. They risk being seen as their childhood role and missing out on more adult roles. That was something that the boy who played precocious boys taking on adult problems for over a decade immediately dealt with.

Right after the Harry Potter series ended, he got the role of an unbalanced stable boy in Equus, but the big change that was truly successful for him was a role in a Broadway musical called "How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying".

He played an ambitious young man (which kind of sounds like typecasting for him). The musical had a year-long run on Broadway, which pleased Radcliffe but left him hunting around for new things to try. As he told Channel 24, “If you make it through 2 years, you’re kinda good. Then you’re just another actor doing his thing, and that’s what I want to become.”

For someone who is always going to be known to some extent as Harry Potter, boy wizard, that is a really ambitious thing to want.

4 After: Trevor Project’s Hero Award

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 26: Actor Daniel Radcliffe visits Trevor Project's eastcoast call center on February 26, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)

It is very easy for a busy actor to focus all their charitable impulses on simple check writing, but Radcliffe felt that the Trevor Project deserved more from him. The Trevor Project is an organization that provides crises support for youths with minority gender orientations.

They have had hotlines open 24 hours a day since 1998 for young folks who feel that they are on the verge of harming themselves or are in need of support.

They have trained counselors to help the youths and offer education services to parents and educators trying to foster safe environments for their kids, Radcliffe felt that it was important to publicize both the issues that the organization addressed and the existence of the hotline, so he performed several PSA’s for them starting in 2009. The Hollywood Reporter records him as saying that he feels that this is one of the most important things he was associated with.

The Trevor Project certainly appreciated his efforts and, on June 11, 2012, they awarded him with their Hero Award. This put him in the same rank as Nathan Lane, Vanessa Williams, and Dustin Lance Black. His willingness to donate his time and his fame to a good cause certainly deserves recognition, so the Project’s founder’s decision makes ample sense.

3 After: Glasses For A Good Cause

Sometimes its small gestures that mean a lot, and one of those small gestures Radcliffe has been a part of is an exhibit honoring victims of the Holocaust that he donated to in 2008. A piece of art inspired by pictures of concentration camps featuring piles of confiscated eyeglasses was put up in the National Holocaust Memorial Day using donated eyeglasses. According to people.com, Radcliffe joined such luminaries as Yoko Ono, Stephen Fry, Jerry Springer, Paul O’Grady and Ronnie Corbett in donating glasses to the exhibit.

I know what you are wondering: if it the famous Harry Potter pair of glasses everyone knows and loves that is on display?

The answer to that is no, possibly because that pair may belong to the costume designers or be in a prop room somewhere.

The pair of glasses Radcliffe donated is a pair he owned when he was 6 years old. They were an oval, metal-framed pair which was his very first pair ever.

As someone who still has a pair of glasses with chipped lenses that I haven’t worn for 4 years now, it seems incredibly sweet to me that he gave them a pair that he had held on to for 12 years. You always think you are going to need those old glasses, and giving them to a good cause when you finally realize that you can’t use them is a nice thing.

2 After: 'The Woman In Black'

Many child actors have to do some dramatically different roles after their childhood role in order to establish that they aren’t just a cute face and have actual talent. Radcliffe’s big break from being the precocious wizard-in-training came when, according to biography.com, he got a role in a gothic horror thriller. This was The Woman In Black, which came out in 2012.

He played the widowed lawyer who travels to a small town, which is being terrorized by the spirit of a scorned woman. In the movie, he investigates the circumstances of an abandoned manor (naturally isolated and spooky looking) and discovers that the spirit haunting the house had lost her son and was taking the local children out of revenge. Supernatural shenanigans follow.

You may rightly feel that, since Radcliffe was still in the realm of ghosts and scary supernatural beings, this wasn’t that big of a break in character, but the atmosphere and acting called for is different enough to warrant a double-take if you ever see the movie. (Or even the cover art for the posters.) It causes one of those ‘wait, I know that guy from somewhere…’ reactions. Also, it came out the year after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, so he took no time off from acting at all to do this.

1 After: Demelza House Hospice Care Charity

In an interview with The Telegraph, Radcliffe admitted that he really didn’t know what to do with all the money he has made as Harry Potter. Beyond buying artwork by Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol, he isn’t a big spender and had long ago discovered he didn’t need to blow a lot of money for fun. After all, he already went through a party phase at 18 when he was finishing the Harry Potter movies.

Having several million dollars around is more of a security blanket than an external joy to him. So what does he do with it?

Well, some of it goes to charity, and one of these charities is a particularly nice small organization called the Demelza House Hospice Care Charity. This group provides nursing assistance for 450 children who have terminal illnesses. They operate in Kent, East Sussex and South London and their motto is “adding life to days when days cannot be added to life.” Radcliffe is listed as a star supporter on their website. He is also listed on the looktothestars.org website as a contributor to the charity. Helping terminally ill children certainly beats fast cars when it comes to uses for your money, and he does seem happy with how it is panning out. And that is something we can all hope our children come to do when they grow up.

References: telegraph.com, ABCNews.go.com, IMBd.com, biography.com, parade.com, channel24.co.za, newsweek.com, hollywoodreporter.com, people.com, looktothestars.com

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