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Daniel Radcliffe on nerding out over Michael Caine on 'Now You See Me 2'

The actor talks about playing a British villain in an American movie, as well as the greatness of his farting corpse movie "Swiss Army Man."

Daniel Radcliffe can get excited. The actor has spent his post-"Harry Potter" life trying out new things, doing projects that get him worked up, from the rom-com “What If” to the oddball horror film “Horns.” Radcliffe has two films out soon. One is “Now You See Me 2,” the sequel to the surprise 2013 hit about mystical magicians. (He plays the main villain: a rich kid — the son of Michael Caine’s character, as it were — who wants to use our heroic foursome for a robbery.) But he can’t help talking about “Swiss Army Man,” too, the Sundance puzzler in which he plays a talking corpse who farts a lot.

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I haven’t seen “Swiss Army Man” yet, but word on the street is, it’s quite deep and moving for a movie about a farting corpse with an erection that can be used as a compass.
What I love about it is it manages to be both incredibly beautiful and intelligent and reflective while at the same time gross and stupid and puerile. It bounces back and forth between those two happily. Anytime the movie starts getting too sincere or earnest, just wait two seconds and the directors will find a way to undercut that. I think it’s an astonishing achievement.

What did you think when it was first pitched it to you?
When you read the logline and go, ‘OK, a suicidal man befriends a dead guy,’ you go, ‘How does that work?’ That sounds funny as a pitch between friends. But when I read the script I thought, ‘Wow, you made a movie out of that. There’s a narrative and it’s beautiful and it’s crazy.’ It’s honestly one of the things — if not the thing — I’m proudest of that I’ve done since "Potter.” I may never be in something quite like that ever again. I don’t imagine I will be.

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I get the sense that, with every project you do, there has to be something, some idea, that really grabs you. What was it with “Now You See Me 2”?
The thing I was honestly most nerding out about was working with Michael Caine. That’s a life goal crossed off my list. He was everything I hope to be when I’m that age. Most actors are really jaded. It’s a status thing that once you get to a certain level in the industry you don’t care or are above caring about the films you work on. Whereas he’s still having a great time, telling stories, chatting away, loving it. To me it shows you don’t have to be jaded. You can doo 100 movies and be at the top of your industry for 60 years and still be having a great time.

You probably got great stories, too. His memoir is pretty thin, and you imagine he’s keeping most of the juicy stuff out of the public eye.
There are definitely some. I’m not going to tell tales out of school. But they were great.

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What about your character? This is your first real villain role. But he’s equally evil and pathetic.
What I thought was interesting was his relationship to magic. It’s the difference between the person who is happy to suspend his disbelief and somebody who wants to work rigorously to figure out how the trick is done. My character, being someone who can’t do magic, is made to feel stupid by it. His whole identity is being the smartest guy in the room. As soon as someone makes him feel inadequate he has to control or dominate it. That’s where his maniacal behavior comes from — as well as his deep loneliness and father issues.

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And it must be fun to play a villain.
Absolutely. There was something fun about not having to be mindful that the audience should like you or root for you. I could be as petulant and bratty as I wanted. It does feel like a rite of passage in terms of being a British guy playing a bad guy in an American movie. I was very happy to fulfill that.

It’s like that Eddie Izzard bit about British accents being a shortcut for villainy in the “Star Wars” movies.
In the new one as well. You’ve got Domhnall [Gleeson] in there being a Brit and evil.

And then John Boyega, who’s British, has an American accent as a good guy. Then again, Daisy Ridley keeps her accent, and she’s good. So much for that theory.
The accents are weird in space, aren’t they?

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge
 
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