Whether you’re a film critic or fan of his films, one thing you never can accuse actor Daniel Radcliffe of is an inability to be original.
Since his days as the boy wizard in the “Harry Potter” film saga, Radcliffe, 26, has alternated his time between theater and feature films. Most of the projects in the latter medium have been in independent productions where he’s allowed to take risks with his characters.
Needless to say, Radcliffe’s role as an usually gifted corpse in a Sundance indie sensation, the comedy drama “Swiss Army Man,” may be the actor’s riskiest — and most rewarding — project to date.
“I’ve been in the very fortunate position where I can make my choices based solely on doing stuff that I love and that excites me,” Radcliffe said in a phone conversation from New York City Monday. “Very few people get to be in that position. There’s something I love about challenging myself or doing something I’ve never done before. That’s part of the reason why I have fun at my job.”
There’s no arguing “Swiss Army Man” is strikingly original, and in fact, it may be the most original film to come out this year, if not years. Yes, at its heart it’s about the strange bond formed between a the corpse of Manny (Radcliffe) and Hank (Paul Dano), a lost soul who discovers his lifeless new friend on a beach on a deserted island in the Pacific. However, when you experience the film throughout its kaleidoscopic 95-minute run time, you’ll be searching for answers because of its expansive narrative.
“I generally describe the film as ‘a buddy comedy where one of the buddies is dead,’ but if there was a theme to the movie, it’s really about how shame keeps us from love and being able to be loved by someone else,” Radcliffe explained. “It’s really a film about finding acceptance with yourself and finding happiness. It’s also been described as ‘an olive branch from weirdos to latent weirdos.’ But that’s what I love about the film. It’s anarchic and crazy and goes in a million different directions, yet ultimately asks for people to just be kinder to each other and to have more compassion.”
“Swiss Army Man” gives Radcliffe the unique opportunity to play dead throughout the film, even though Manny becomes partially reanimated while speaking to Hank. And no matter what anyone surmises, playing dead is not an easy thing to do, especially since his body is at best jostled about as he’s carried around by Dano; and at worse, tossed and turned with several hard landings as the two traverse their wilderness surroundings.
“I got a huge amount of support on what to do from Paul, but also our directors (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert). They really knew what they wanted out of this character and how they wanted him to come across,” Radcliffe said. “I relied on them to finding out if I was doing it right, because how do you know how to play a dead body? I didn’t want to make him a zombie because he’s not a zombie. It was about finding a way to communicate deadness at all times, but also be lively and interesting.”
“Swiss Army Man” has attracted a lot attention in the media over Manny’s special powers — principal among them the use of his explosive body gas to do extraordinary things. It’s the sort of unexpected character ability that reportedly had Sundance audience members fleeing from screenings in disgust. Radcliffe said he’s still baffled by the criticism and the backlash, given that passing gas is a function, so to speak, to which everybody can relate.
“I don’t get how people are so offended by something that’s so basically human. It’s something that we literally all do,” Radcliffe said. “Do they get offended every time that themselves fart? How do you sustain that level of offense at that bodily function? It’s weird.”
Oh, and for those who really dwell on the production’s details, Radcliffe didn’t do his own gas passing, nor was a stunt farter employed.
“It was all done in post-production and with the help of Daniel Scheinert doing the noises off-camera,” Radcliffe said with a laugh.