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Former ‘Harry Potter’ star Daniel Radcliffe wants to take his career in a different dramatic direction

By Amy Kaufman

Los Angeles Times (MCT)

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 6 2014 7:57 a.m. MDT

Updated: Wednesday, Aug. 6 2014 7:57 a.m. MDT

FILE - This Aug. 4, 2014 file photo shows actor Daniel Radcliffe at a screening of "What If" in New York. Radcliffe’s comedy is due in theatres on Friday. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)

Andy Kropa, Andy Kropa /Invision/AP

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Everyone is ignoring Daniel Radcliffe.

He’s just stepped out of a black SUV and walked into a North Hollywood pie shop, a bodyguard, assistant, three publicists and groomer trailing behind. No one at the Republic of Pie is losing it — the screenwriters keep pecking at their keyboards, the waitresses keep slinging slices of apple and blueberry. But Radcliffe never knows how the world is going to react to him, so he’s always prepared.

It could be that this is L.A., and you’re not supposed to act like celebrity means anything here (even though it means everything). Perhaps “Harry Potter” is starting to fade in the rear-view mirror; it has, after all, been three years since the eighth and final film in the franchise hit theaters. Or maybe Radcliffe just got lucky on this sticky day in the Valley, where he’s spending the day promoting his new film, “What If.”

The movie, which opens Friday, marks his first time playing a romantic leading man — which is sort of bizarre, considering that the 25-year-old has long been a heartthrob to the millions of young women who loved him as J.K. Rowling’s famous boy wizard. But the fact is that, while he’s cute, he’s not what you might consider strapping — short, slight build, bushy eyebrows.

“I’m not your typical romantic lead — this nerdy, nebbishy guy who’s a bit nervous. I hope it’s not a stretch for people to see me as one,” he acknowledges gently, taking a sip of bottled water. It’s all he consumes during the interview. No pie. He smells like cigarette smoke.

His first post-Potter roles didn’t exactly cast him as a hip, modern character: He played a dark ghost hunter in the horror film “The Woman in Black” and then the poet Allen Ginsberg in “Kill Your Darlings.” In the Broadway revival of the musical “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” he starred as a 1960s-era office boy with big ambitions.

While he’s abandoned period garb and geeky hairstyles in “What If,” he’s not the guy the leading lady (Zoe Kazan) is initially interested in. He’s a kind-hearted med school dropout — the one she vents to about her more attractive boyfriend; the one she eats greasy diner food with. He’s always there, so she never sees him as an option. The movie, being released by CBS Films, has earned positive reviews, with some critics comparing it to the indie romance “(500) Days of Summer.”

Kazan, a Yale graduate and the granddaughter of director Elia Kazan, prides herself on her work ethic. She makes sure, she says, to be off-book before production begins and always shows up early to set. But on “What If,” Radcliffe always had her beat.

“Before filming began,” says the picture’s director, Michael Dowse, “he asked for a crew list so that he could memorize the names of all of the crew members. I’ve never heard of an actor doing that.”

Kazan understood this as not merely an indication of her costar’s drive but as a means of self-preservation.

“I think there’s a temptation to look at someone like him and say, ‘Oh, he got everything handed to him,’” the actress explains. “There’s an expectation that someone in that position might not behave 100% well. So he never wants anyone to be able to say that he was a diva — ever.”

‘That other thing’

Radcliffe spends a lot of time thinking about how others perceive him. As Kazan observes, he’s particularly sensitive about being considered an ingrate. While recalling how much fun he had secretly wearing a Spider-Man costume at this year’s Comic-Con, he pauses to emphasize that he doesn’t “want it to come across like ‘Oh, I’m just trying to be normal, or whatever.’”

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