Woman in Black: Starring Daniel Radcliffe

Casting the role of the film’s protagonist, Arthur Kipps, director James Watkins sought a young actor who could bring vulnerability to the screen while still conveying the attributes of a hero.

For Watkins, Daniel Radcliffe, best known for his role in the blockbuster Harry Potter series, was the obvious choice.  A meeting with Radcliffe was arranged.  Ironically, the actor and director live just a short bike ride apart in the UK but, since Daniel was in the US, Watkins had to fly across the pond to meet him.

“I met with Dan and we had a long chat in which we discovered we both saw the character in the same way,” Watkins recounts. “Arthur Kipps is a very rich character, and a much darker place for Dan to explore.”

For his part, Radcliffe recognised the need to strike out from the role of the boy wizard that made him famous. “I’m very, very proud of Potter,” Radcliffe says. “But I now have to prove to people that I’m serious about acting, and I think the way to do that is to select interesting material. This fit that bill – it was a great script and a great story – unsettling and frightening.”

Goldman’s screenplay, and the meeting with Watkins, was enough to convince the young actor that Arthur Kipps would be the right challenge to take on. “Arthur is so complex but there’s a real stillness to him as well,” Radcliffe shares. “He’s a very interesting character to get a chance to play.”

The opportunity to take on a ghost story was also appealing. “Here’s this guy who’s lost his wife, goes to this house and starts seeing the ghost of a dead woman,” says Radcliffe.  “I think the reason he stays there is out of some hidden desire, or instinct, to get some sort of assurance that his wife is in a better place.”

For Watkins, Radcliffe brings a sense of maturity to the role. “He’s just so dedicated to his craft,” Watkins explains. “He put a lot of trust in me and allowed me to take him to different places in terms of his acting.  I think he’s really excavated and explored aspects of himself and pushed himself as an actor in really different ways.”

Watkins thinks audiences will be surprised by Radcliffe’s transformation. “It’s a reinvention of Dan into Dan the grown-up actor,” he says.

“I don’t think I’ve seen someone throw themselves into a piece of work so totally,” says Goldman of Radcliffe’s work ethic. “We met up a few times in the very early stages to talk about the character, and he was keen to put everything he had into it.”

When Hill heard Radcliffe had been cast in the role, she was thrilled. “I’d never read the Harry Potter books, nor seen the films,” she says. “But I knew who Daniel was – you couldn’t not – and the moment I met him I knew he was right.  I don’t think we could have found anyone better, really.”

She adds: “Daniel said in an interview that this isn’t just a spooky thriller. It’s about grief and bereavement and what happens to people during loss. And he’s right – it’s got a serious element and he’s captured that. He’s understood it.”

Radcliffe describes Kipps as a man “so completely destroyed by his wife’s death that he has found it almost impossible to live in the human world for the last four years.”

He continues: “Arthur’s been unable to connect with people, particularly his son. He loves him, but he hasn’t been there for him as he should have been. He’s not been able to give him a happy childhood, because he doesn’t have that capacity for happiness.”

“He really inhabited the role,” says Watkins of Radcliffe. “It got to a point where we had such a shorthand that I could just suggest tiny little adjustments on the fly. He really didn’t need direction by the end. He understood exactly who the character was, and really lived him.”

Watkins is well aware that gushing about your lead actor is a director’s default setting, but in Radcliffe’s case, he says, he means every word. “He’s been an absolute joy to work with,” he reveals. “I know people always say that, and it hides all sorts of lies, but in this case it’s true!”

Hill says that Radcliffe’s jovial personality was evident from their first meeting.  “He’s so unspoilt, which is lovely,” says Hill.  “It’s very easy at that age, with that success, to get airs and graces. But he’s got his feet on the ground and I think they’ll stay there. I hope one day he’ll do something else of mine, he’s just very good.”