Daniel Radcliffe has been part of the pop culture landscape since his first appearance as Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in 2001, when he was just 11. He’s lived most of his life in the public eye — and has had to painfully age before us as he struggled with puberty, dealt with alcohol abuse, and all the downsides of worldwide fame. Yet, he’s turned into a fantastic actor and an all-around mensch. He’s called out J.K. Rowling, the woman who created the world that made him famous, for her transphobia, and seems to have made peace with the fact that he’ll always be known as Harry Potter.
It’s long past time we gave you 18 things to know about Daniel Radcliffe (AKA Dan Radcliffe AKA that guy who plays Harry Potter, what’s his name again!?):
1. He was born Daniel Jacob Radcliffe in London, England to a Jewish mom, Marcia, and a Protestant dad, Alan. Daniel’s middle name is Jacob — perhaps a nod to “Jacobson,” one of his mother’s maiden names.
2. Let’s explain the two maiden names: His mom was born to a Jewish family in South Africa, but raised in Westcliff-on-Sea, in Essex. Her dad is Jewish and South African, and her mom was born in England. Marcia’s parents divorced in South Africa in 1958, and soon after, she moved to Essex with her mom. Marcia decided to use a version of her mom’s last name – Gresham — instead of her dad’s last name, Jacobson.
His mom’s other maiden name, Greshman, would inspire Radcliffe’s pen name for some poetry he wrote under the name Jacob Gershon. (As The Guardian explained: “Jacob is his middle name, Gershon the Jewish version of Gresham, his mother’s anglicised maiden name.”)
3. Marcia’s grandfather was Samuel Gershon, who tragically took his own life after dealing with antisemitism, a fact Dan Radcliffe learned about on Who Do You Think You Are? season 16.
4. Radcliffe wasn’t raised with either of his parent’s religions, but considers himself Jewish and Irish. “There was never [religious] faith in the house. I think of myself as being Jewish and Irish, despite the fact that I’m English,” Radcliffe explained.
More on his Jewish & Irish identity? Why, of course:
- “I’ve always had an awareness and pride about those two cultures and histories. And I always felt a little bit different from most people around me,” he said.
- He’s also said he is “proud to be Jewish.”
- And: “We were Christmas tree Jews.”
Another quote from Radcliffe on his Jewish identity? “I’m an atheist, but I’m very proud of being Jewish. It means I have a good work ethic, and you get Jewish humour and you’re allowed to tell Jewish jokes. For instance: did you hear how copper wire was invented? Two Jews fighting over a penny. And so on.”
5. He has dyspraxia, which he describes as “like dyslexia but with coordination. My hand-eye coordination has got a lot better. I did an IQ test when I was about seven, and I was verbally in the gifted range, but my motor skills were rated as well below average. I’m quite proud of that.”
6. Okay, onto his acting career: At age 5, he told his parents he wanted to act; at age 10, he made his debut in an adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel David Copperfield. He made his film debut in The Tailor of Panama, a John le Carré spy adaptation. Harry Potter director Chris Columbus saw Radcliffe in David Copperfield and knew that “this is Harry Potter.”
7. He found out he got the role of Harry Potter when he was in the bath: “I was in the bath at the time, and my dad came running in and said, ‘Guess who they want to play Harry Potter!?’ and I started to cry. It was probably the best moment of my life.”
8. Being cast as Harry Potter certainly changed his life: “I got very lucky at the age of 11 and had this great job. For the first two films, I was just having fun. Then I started to see the potential for acting as storytelling, as being part of something fundamental to human existence. Working with Gary Oldman was a big part of that,” he recalls.
He spent the next decade as Harry, for better or worse. He looks back with embarrassment at “loads of stuff. My acting lessons are there for all to see. That’s essentially what the films are, us learning to act.”
9. He rarely did any projects outside of the Potterverse, besides in the theater: At age 17, he appeared nude in the play Equus — first on the West End, then Broadway. In 2011, he portrayed J. Pierrepont Finch in the Broadway revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Here’s their Tony performance (he can sing!!):
In 2018, he returned to Broadway for the play The Lifespan of a Fact.
10. Once Harry Potter ended, he appeared in a wide range of indie films, “including a grieving boyfriend who gains hellish powers (Horns), a romantic lead (What If), an FBI agent posing as a skinhead (Imperium), a flatulent corpse (Swiss Army Man), and Allen Ginsberg (Kill Your Darlings).”
As he said, “I can’t put it down to anything more than that I’ve got weird taste. There have been plenty of weird roles so far, and more to come, I hope. I pick films based on scripts and directors and parts. I think I’ve got good taste, but it’s slightly left of centre. I’m not interested in making films I’ve seen before. There’s nothing more exciting to me when I read a script than originality. That’s all it’s governed by; there’s no master plan to distance myself from Potter with every role.”
11. He’s only had two forays into TV: Miracle Workers, an anthology comedy series, and A Young Doctor’s Notebook & Other Stories.
12. He stopped drinking in 2010, a year before the Potter franchise ended, and has been sober since.
“If I went out and if I got drunk, I’d suddenly be aware of there being interest in that because it’s not just a drunk guy, it’s ‘Oh, Harry Potter’s getting drunk in the bar,’” Radcliffe said on an episode of Desert Island Discs. He continued: “A lot of drinking that happened towards the end of Potter and for a little bit after it finished, it was panic, a little bit not knowing what to do next — not being comfortable enough in who I was to remain sober.”
13. On another health note, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, he was victim of the first big celebrity hoax when a tweet went viral that he had contracted coronavirus.
“It’s not the first time I’ve had something crazy written about me. I don’t ever think there’s been a rumor about me that was so topical, that was pivoting off the news. Most of it before has been random stuff that British newspapers have said. So this one was slightly odd. But then you end up having to text a bunch of people saying, ‘No, I don’t have coronavirus, I’m fine,'” he recalled. “The original tweet was something like, ‘Daniel Radcliffe becomes the first famous person to get coronavirus.’ And I was like, That’s such a weird distinction. Surely the first person to get coronavirus is the first famous person to get coronavirus.”
14. Let’s go back to Potter and talk about J.K. Rowling for a second. After her many transphobic tweets, Radcliffe wrote an essay for The Trevor Project, a nonprofit he has been very involved in, affirming the fact that trans women are women (something J.K. Rowling refuses to accept). We want to share most of that essay, because it’s so important to read:
“I realize that certain press outlets will probably want to paint this as in-fighting between J.K. Rowling and myself, but that is really not what this is about, nor is it what’s important right now. While Jo is unquestionably responsible for the course my life has taken, as someone who has been honored to work with and continues to contribute to The Trevor Project for the last decade, and just as a human being, I feel compelled to say something at this moment.
Transgender women are women. Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations who have far more expertise on this subject matter than either Jo or I. According to The Trevor Project, 78% of transgender and nonbinary youth reported being the subject of discrimination due to their gender identity. It’s clear that we need to do more to support transgender and nonbinary people, not invalidate their identities, and not cause further harm.
To all the people who now feel that their experience of the books has been tarnished or diminished, I am deeply sorry for the pain these comments have caused you. I really hope that you don’t entirely lose what was valuable in these stories to you. If these books taught you that love is the strongest force in the universe, capable of overcoming anything; if they taught you that strength is found in diversity, and that dogmatic ideas of pureness lead to the oppression of vulnerable groups; if you believe that a particular character is trans, nonbinary, or gender fluid, or that they are gay or bisexual; if you found anything in these stories that resonated with you and helped you at any time in your life — then that is between you and the book that you read, and it is sacred. And in my opinion nobody can touch that. It means to you what it means to you and I hope that these comments will not taint that too much.”
Love you, Dan.
15. Daniel Radcliffe is dating Erin Darke, an actress who is in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel as Mary. They met in 2013 on the set of Kill Your Darlings.
“It’ll be a hell of a story to tell our kids one day because of what our characters do with each other,” Radcliffe told People (they have a sex scene, lol). “Our characters are meeting and flirting with each other, so there is this kind of sweet record of us just meeting for the first time and flirting.”
16. Daniel Radcliffe a relatively short person: he is 5’5″.
17. Random fun facts? Sure. He’s a big fan of the NFL and Eminem. “When I was 9 or 10 and ‘The Real Slim Shady’ came out. I knew all the words to that when I was 10. I remember being in the shower when I was 11 on my Japanese press tour, rehearsing that song. It’s a really nasty song in parts so I didn’t know what I was saying.”
18. And lastly: His favorite Harry Potter film is #5, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. “I love it because of the relationship between Harry and Sirius [Black].”