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‘Potter’ star: I’ll still be acting after series ends

Approaching his 20th birthday as “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” premieres, Daniel Radcliffe has been playing the mega-popular wizard half his life. But unlike his costar Emma Watson, who says she may leave show business once the movie series ends, he plans to keep acting. "I want to work hard and for as long as possible," he said.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Daniel Radcliffe has been playing Harry Potter on the big screen for nearly half his life. So when he sees clips of his earliest work as the mega-popular wizard, it leaves him feeling a bit like his mother whipped out embarrassing baby photos of him.

That’s why, when Meredith Vieira mischievously ordered footage of Radcliffe’s initial, 2001 bow playing Potter to be shown on TODAY, the actor, who turns 20 this month, practically had to peek through fingers over his eyes to watch.

“See that little frog on the right? That’s me,” Radcliffe told Vieira during a live appearance on the TODAY set Thursday.

His own harshest criticWhile Radcliffe finds looking at his 11-year-old acting self decidedly cringe-worthy, he’s nevertheless ridden an amazing wave in the series of Harry Potter films that, with $4.5 billion in total grosses, trails only James Bond as the most successful franchise in movie history.

And he’s beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel for his Potter days. The series’ sixth installment, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” arrives in theaters July 15. As with the previous box-office blockbusters, the film chronicles a year in the young wizard’s life — and one book in J.K. Rowling’s sales record-busting tomes.

In his clipped, machine-gun fire British accent, Radcliffe told Vieira he’s grown more comfortable in his own skin playing Harry Potter, but still tries to keep a sense of artistic humility and not slap himself on the back for sculpting a movie character that has become iconic.

“I’ve been told the moment you think you’re good, you’re not,” he said. “I think it’s better to be on the self-critical side, then sit there going, “My goodness, I’m marvelous, aren’t I?’ I think it’s much healthier to be on the critical side.”

Vieira learned that if you want to drag braggadocio out of Radcliffe, talk of ping pong is the ticket. When she noted that actress Emma Watson — who’s grown up with Radcliffe, playing Harry’s classmate and comrade Hermione Granger in all six Potter films — appeared on TODAY Wednesday bragging she’s the better table tennis player, Radcliffe clearly bristled.

“She was the best last year; the point is, I’ve been playing loads this year and I’m better than her,” Radcliffe told Vieira. “I’ve practiced. I’ve worked. I could probably beat anyone in the world.”

The naked truthWhile Vieira laughed and said, “Didn’t you just say you don’t brag?”, Radcliffe admitted sheepishly, “This is the side of my personality I didn’t want to air, this competitive monster that I actually am. I’m a horrible person to play board games with for the same reason. I cheat at Monopoly.”

Still, though he shows modesty in his craft, Radcliffe has proven to be daring and then some working toward breaking out of what could have become a Harry Potter straitjacket. He raised eyebrows during a two-year run in England and on Broadway while starring the play “Equus” —  which had the teen actor appearing nude on stage in a scene.

While Radcliffe still has some Harry Potter ground to cover — a seventh Potter film is set for release late next year, with an eighth and final to follow in 2011 — he’s already eyeing life beyond Harry. While his Potter castmate Watson has indicated she may leave show business after the Potter series runs its course, Radcliffe told Vieira he’s in the acting life for the long haul. He is already slated to play British photojournalist Dan Eldon, who was killed by an angry mob while chronicling famine strife in Somalia in 1993, in a biopic.

“I just want to keep working — I mean, I want to work hard and for as long as possible,” he told Vieira.

A more grown-up HarryIn interviews, Radcliffe says finishing up the Harry Potter series has been something of a revelation, going from the boy in short pants to a young man all the more ready to go toe-to-toe with his evil nemesis, Voldemort.

In the final two films, broken into two parts from Rowling’s seventh and final Potter novel, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” Hogwarts has been shut down, and Harry is too busy with world-saving matters to play Quidditch, a curious sport he likens to “basketball on broomsticks with six hoops.”

In an interview with Parade magazine, Radcliffe says he refused “too many times” to wear knee pads on set while filming Quidditch scenes and other stunts. As a result, he quipped, “I am an old man in a young man’s body. I’ve noticed I make noises when I get up and sit down now.”

Still, Radcliffe admitted to Vieira he’s liable to miss Harry Potter, saying he and his on-screen character have at least somewhat become alter egos.

“I think when you’ve played a character from such a young age, you can’t help but respond to certain aspects of their personality,” he said. “I certainly think the way we value our friends and friendships, but also a kind of natural curiosity that gets us into trouble.”

Likewise, actor Rupert Grint, who has played Harry’s best mate Ron Weasley in all the Potter films, admitted on TODAY that a touch of melancholy is setting in with the end of the film series.

“It’s going to be quite sad, because it’s been such a massive part of my life and I’ve loved just every second of it,” Grint told Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford live on the TODAY set Thursday.

He added that the trio of actors Radcliffe, Watson and himself have grown up together through shooting the series. “We get along great,” he said. “It’s been such a long time and we kind of worked with each other every day for every year and you do get quite close. We’re good mates.”

Grint, 20, downplayed the recent media hoopla over his contracting the notorious swine flu — and indeed, after five days of bed rest, he was recovered enough to able to attend the July 7 London premiere of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.”