“What If” is the only the third Daniel Radcliffe film to be released in America since the “Harry Potter” series concluded. And it’s more than that: It’s his first comedy. He plays a young man who falls for a girl (Zoe Kazan) — only to find that she has a boyfriend (Rafe Spall). They continue to be friends, as have Radcliffe and Kazan in real life, even if they fare better in that respect than their onscreen counterparts.
Do you actually enjoy the Fool’s Gold, the sandwich that you two eat here, the one that helped kill Elvis?
Daniel Radcliffe: We discovered there might be a slight boy-girl split in terms of who enjoys Fool’s Gold. I’m definitely a fan. Zoe had to endure it more than enjoy it. You get excited for an eating scene and then remember you’re doing it for hours and it’s actually going to be horrible.
How well did you know each other before this?
DR: We met once three years ago. I knew her enough to know this wouldn’t be a horrible experience. We are weirdly similar. We laugh at the same s—. Not all actresses are as generous as Zoe. Half the thing is having a relationship off-camera so you can have one on it. It takes two people to do that. Sometimes you get with people who have no interest in doing that.
Zoe Kazan: I keep saying chemistry’s just curiosity. It’s very easy to be curious about Dan. I always knew something was happening. During week two I saw the producers crowing in a corner, rubbing their hands over something that had happened between us. And I knew, “Oh, we’re OK.”
Zoe, you’ve done your share of comedies, but Daniel, this is your first, apart from a bit on “Extras.”
DR: One of the things I love about this film is it makes you incredibly happy. It’s a feel-good film without being manipulative or sentimental. Those first moments of meeting somebody are so thrilling and precious. I was really excited to be in a film that would make people happy for a change.
ZK: I wasn’t looking to do a romantic comedy. I’d just written “Ruby Sparks,” which is a romantic comedy of sorts. I didn’t want to just stay in that genre. But the script was so funny and I thought Michael Dowse would be a good, unsentimental director for it. I hope people take it on its own terms. I don’t think it’s striving to be a great romantic comedy. I think it’s striving to be a great movie.
DR: There was a review I read coming out of Toronto that pissed me off. I don’t mind people reviewing things badly or having opinions, but it’s when people pretend to know our thinking and criticize that. It said, “They think they’re reinventing the romantic comedy.” No! None of us did, you d—! We wanted to make a good film! I’ve never known an actor to think about genre. You’re not looking at a pile of horror scripts and a pile of romantic comedy scripts and a pile of drama scripts and thinking, “Which are the best of these?” You just go, “Christ, are any of these good? Yes, this one is, let’s do that. These things can’t be planned out. I have more control than most, and I have no control.
Though this is a romantic comedy, it isn’t mere fluff. It’s built on real pain.
DR: It’s a very true-to-life situation. And it’s made more true-to-life by the fact that Zoe’s decision is very hard to make. Rafe Spall [who plays her boyfriend] is a great guy and handsome and successful and not at all the stereotypical boyfriend that you just have to get out of the picture. She’s got a real relationship and this other guy inadvertently screws it all up. There’s something more real about that.
ZK: It’s even more real in the way it’s been cast. We’re not Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel. There’s a sense he picked actors who are…unconventional. There’s a certain way people look and behave in romantic comedies, and I think our characters are real — even down to the costuming. We tried to dress as real people. It makes it funnier because it feels relatable.
Your co-stars Adam Driver and Mackenzie Davis are pretty crazy in this. Are they like that in real life too?
DR: No, they’re very normal. This might be the only time in our career we can work with either of them because they’re so tall. Zoe and I have to stick together.
ZK: And Tom Cruise. And Robert Downey Jr.
DR: And Michael J. Fox. And Al Pacino.
ZK: Reese Witherspoon.
DR: We’ve got a pretty good cast there. The tall people film is going to be s—.
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