Boy behind `Potter' legend is doing just fine, thank you

Actor Radcliffe, now 16, has kept his feet on ground


LONDON - You know those tales of lost youth that spring from actors who are too successful too soon?

You will probably not hear any about Daniel Radcliffe, who conjures up his alter-ego Harry Potter for the fourth boy-wizard film saga, Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, opening Friday.

"If childhood is being surrounded by people who you love being around and being incredibly happy, then I absolutely have had that," he says. "It's been a bizarre childhood. It's been strange, but it's been great."

Radcliffe, now an articulate 16-year-old, has not been arrested, has not warred with his parents over his millions now tucked away, or thrown hissy fits on the set.

What in the name of Macaulay Culkin is going on?

"They all know exactly what they're worth," Goblet director Mike Newell says of Radcliffe and co-stars Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, "but they have not become impossible."

Radcliffe became a global star as a 10-year-old when he won a worldwide casting call to breathe life into the hero from J.K. Rowling's best-selling fantasy books. Despite endless adoration, he seems to be avoiding that notorious fraternity of thespian lads who turn rotten.

In a one-one-one conversation at a London hotel, the 5-foot-7 Radcliffe, sans those Harry Potter spectacles, emerges as very much a boy, but with a showman's polish missing when he first wielded a magic wand.

He makes small talk before the first question is popped and, later, in a news conference, works the room like a Catskills comic.

He has never been stung by a bad review. That's because he's never read any of his press. His parents, Alan Radcliffe and Marcia Gresham, have provided a magic carpet ride into puberty by protecting him from both the adulation and the evisceration.

Radcliffe's Groucho-eyebrow-draped blue eyes lock in without trepidation. Although he gives relatively few interviews, he does not flinch at awkward questions, either. He is the kind of millionaire action-figure boy-next-door with whom you'd like to take your teen daughter out for a soda.

Radcliffe wears a striped-green dress shirt, and his only accessory is his publicist and longtime family friend Vanessa Davies.

Except for premieres, Radcliffe's family employs no bodyguards, according to the actor. At school, the hubbub over his presence dies down after a few weeks. And fan interest "never got too aggressive," he says. "I know there are people who are slightly obsessed, but it doesn't really worry me too much. Occasionally you meet someone slightly worrying, but I never really feel in danger."

The security issue that absorbs him at the moment is longevity as an actor. For the first time since he began the Harry Potter installments, Radcliffe is set to work on December Boys, a coming-of-age tale in which he plays an orphan. It begins shooting in December.

Taking a cue from one of his idols, Gary Oldman, who plays godfather Sirius Black in the Potter movies, Radcliffe wants to forge various onscreen personas.

"If I was to complete the series without having done anything else during that time, it would be harder to be seen as anything else," he says. "It's just showing people I can do other things."

At the moment, Radcliffe is preparing for the fifth Potter edition, The Flight of the Phoenix. It requires him to take tutoring at the Leavesden Studios in Herfordshire. Although he has aged out of many of the restrictions of England's child-labor laws, he is determined to stick to his old schedule. Each film typically takes 11 months to finish.

"It would be too intense if I did that much school and that much filming at the same time," he says. "Both my performance and schoolwork would suffer."

Radcliffe is prepared to work the same routine if called upon to do No. 6, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

"Ultimately it comes down to whether I feel like doing it," he says. "I've read the sixth book. It's such an amazing part for me if I was to do it. That would definitely be something that would challenge me. But it's a long way away."

Radcliffe seems to enjoy the spotlight more than his co-stars, piping in with glib comments as Grint, 17, stumbled through the afternoon news conference.

All the while, Radcliffe's parents sat in the back row, watching with thin smiles and arms folded.

"I might be arrogant and big-headed, but they kept me really grounded, and I can't thank them enough for that," Radcliffe says. He is still just a teenager, more an onscreen dragon slayer than lady killer. Radcliffe spoke frankly about his less-than-magical ways with girls, saying their expectations of him as Harry dissolve into a "grimmer reality."

But he knows the Potter experience will long outlive his awkwardness. After all, millions of moviegoers have fallen under his spell.

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