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Daniel Radcliffe: A down-to-earth megastar

At 18 with all of his wealth  and fame Radcliffe  could have evolved into a real cad, which would have been acceptable behavior for someone in his profession. But during our interview he couldn’t have been more charming — or witty. By Miki Turner

The elevators at the Four Seasons Hotel can be excruciatingly slow at times, but it’s often well worth the wait because you never know who you might bump into.

In the past 10 yeas or so, I’ve shared that lift with just about every A-list actor, director and producer you can imagine. Most never say anything. They just do what we all do in elevators and stare at the ceiling or watch the floor lights illuminate. A couple of weeks ago, however, I was waiting to get on an elevator going down when I ran into Daniel Radcliffe, who of course, was and is perpetually upward bound.

“Pardon me,” he said as he got on an elevator that was actually going down. “I’m terribly sorry,” he said after realizing his mistake. “I hope I haven’t held you up.” Considering my last experience on these very same elevators was with Jamie Foxx and his bodyguard, who refused to let anyone else on the elevator when it stopped on each floor, I was pretty impressed with Radcliffe’s manners.

“He’s such a grounded, well-rounded 18-year-old guy and he’s so unaffected by his great level of success and fame,” says Teresa Palmer, who plays Radcliffe’s love interest in “December Boys.”

At 18 with all of his wealth — he’s reportedly the UK’s richest teenager — and fame Radcliffe, dressed in all black, could have evolved into a real cad, which would have been acceptable behavior for someone in his profession. But during our interview he couldn’t have been more charming — or witty. When asked about the enormity of the Potter franchise, Radcliffe said dryly, “Mmm-hmm. Biggest since the Roman.”

He’s also one of those kids who appears older than his years. Perhaps he’s had to grow up fast because of who he is and what he does. But that theory was immediately tossed once he started talking about his life, the joys and pains of being part of a franchise, growing up and exposing himself on stage.

New roles, new challengesThere was much ado about all of that last year when Radcliffe, then 17, shed his clothing and appeared nude in the London production of “Equus.” This fall he’ll reprise his role in the American production on Broadway.  The London native admitted he’s a little anxious going into the show — but not for the reasons you might imagine.

“I’m pretty nervous about going to Broadway simply because I think the New York audience is really (sophisticated),” Radcliffe said. “Some of these guys see 50 shows a year or something. So, you know, they know their stuff and I think that the theater thing in New York — that the audiences are even more discerning and demanding than the ones in the West End — or so I’m told.

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“It’s not about taking the taking the clothes off thing. I mean, that’s just part of the play. That was fine.”

After eight years of playing Harry Potter, Radcliffe is at an interesting juncture in his career. He’ll appear in the next two Potter flicks — No. 6, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” due out next year; followed by “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the seventh installment, which will be released in 2010.

But even though Radcliffe knows that he’s financially set for life — thanks to Potter — the thespian in him realizes that he’s got to take off the specs and try new things. In “December Boys,” he plays Maps, the oldest of four orphans who have been selected to spend the Christmas holidays with a family in the Australian outback.

Maps was the proverbial big brother in the film and Radcliffe assumed that role off-screen as well.

“I’m an only child so it was nice to have that sort of feeling of camaraderie,” he said. “I did feel very protective of them simply because when I was 12 years old on a film set, my experience of it was really, really positive and exciting and fun. And I wanted to try and make sure they had a similar experience.”

Palmer, an Australian actress, had no idea who Radcliffe was prior to shooting because she had never seen any of the Potter films or read the books. It didn’t take her long to find out. It was hard for him to hide even in the Outback.

“I used to holiday in the town we were in shooting and no one was ever there,” Palmer said. “Suddenly it was like one of the most populated places on the planet because word got out that Daniel was there.”

Radcliffe is certainly accustomed to people stopping him on the street and asking him to sign their iPhones, but it’s something he still can’t grasp the concept of fame.

“It’s very peculiar,” he said. “I mean, of course, I don’t understand it because I’m me, so it’s really hard for me to figure out why it is, but I sure do appreciate it obviously because the Potter empire is huge. So, I can see why that might intimidate people but I’m not very intimidating, you know. I’m all of 5-foot-5.”

Radcliffe says being a part of a franchise as huge as Potter has its advantages and disadvantages. One of the perks is that he has an opportunity to refine his character and “bring something new” to the table with each film. He also likes the fact that Harry grows with each film so that he’s not stuck playing a 12-year-old for eight years.

“The disadvantage is maybe the time factor — of having to fit in these other things around Potter and things like that,” Radcliffe said. “But, you know, so far that hasn’t been a major problem. Like I managed to do ‘December Boys,’ I did ‘Equus,’ I did with each film and bring something new.”