'It all clicked,' Radcliffe says of making film

Swivel those famous feet over, James Brown.

Daniel Radcliffe may have inherited the title of the hardest working man in show business. After red carpets, TV talk shows and assorted interviews, including 10 by phone virtually nonstop in a matter of hours, he headed to a screening of “What If” in Los Angeles and the next night greeted fans at three different theaters debuting the movie.

The rom-com, opening today in Pittsburgh, pairs Mr. Radcliffe with Zoe Kazan as Wallace and Chantry, best friends with a growing, undeniable attraction. But she has a longtime boyfriend, and he, stung by infidelity that hit close to home and heart, does not want to break up the couple.

Screenwriter Elan Mastai aimed for what he calls “an ethical romantic comedy — people trying to do the right thing.”

There are no wizarding wands or incantations as in the Harry Potter series, no ghostly “Woman in Black,” no Beat Generation as in “Kill Your Darlings” and (still to come), no “Horns” that sprout after a man is accused of killing his girlfriend. Just Mr. Radcliffe, in present-day Toronto, as a medical school dropout pining for an animator.

“I used to always think that if I was playing something that was sort of similar to myself in any way that that would be kind of, what’s the word? That it would be like I wasn’t acting, like it wouldn’t count somehow,” he told the Post-Gazette by phone from the sealed quiet of a car headed for more fan frenzy.

But he learned something. “When you can, when it is appropriate, as much of your own personality as you can work into a character, sometimes the better.”

Rom-coms seem to be an endangered species in Hollywood, but Mr. Radcliffe, 25, hopes director Michael Dowse’s “What If” will prove the doomsayers wrong.

“It is a very sweet, feel-good film, I think, in a very authentic, non-manipulative way,” he said. “I think there is a hunger for that and hopefully people will be excited enough by it to go to the cinema.”

Originally known as “The F Word” (for friends), the movie had to change its title in the United States or risk receiving an R from the MPAA. It kept the first title in Canada but in America became “What If” with a PG-13 rating for sexual content including references, partial nudity and language. 

It benefits from that most elusive of qualities: chemistry between its leading man and lady.

“You probably can fake it,” he said, but he and Ms. Kazan asked themselves just the other day, “Would the end result of this film had been the same if the cast and crew had all hated each other? I don’t think it’s possible to make this kind of feel-good film in that sort of toxic atmosphere.

“We got very lucky with the chemistry between myself and Zoe and not just between myself and Zoe, but me and Adam, and Adam and Mackenzie, and Zoe and Megan. It all clicked together very well. And that’s credit to the casting department of the movie and Michael Dowse for guessing right.”

Adam Driver portrays Wallace’s best friend and Mackenzie Davis is the pal’s passionate girlfriend, while Megan Park is Chantry’s sister, who weighs hooking up with Wallace herself.

The “Harry Potter” star and Ms. Kazan, the girl of a novelist’s dream in 2012’s “Ruby Sparks,” had met once, briefly, four years earlier thanks to a mutual friend. “It was definitely enough to know that we’d get on well enough.”

A fan since age 14 of  “Arthur” starring Dudley Moore (“I find pretty much anything he does kind of hilarious”) as a drunken millionaire playboy, the actor watched Frank Capra’s “It Happened One Night” in preparation for “What If.”

Winner of five Academy Awards, the screwball comedy paired Clark Gable as a cocky newsman with Claudette Colbert as a tycoon’s runaway daughter. “I had never seen that before, and I just thought it was one of the most charming, wonderful films and incredibly modern. Amazingly modern, for a film being made in the 1930s.”

Despite being released 80 years apart, he says, “They’re both relationships built on kind of mutually abusing each other in a fun way and taking the piss out of each other, as we would say.”

One blessing of a comedy is that you can hide in the audience or pace in the wings and instantly know if the audience likes it. The rom-com had its world premiere at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival where a sold-out crowd gave it a very warm, buzzy reception and paved the way for a distributor to buy the U.S. rights. Executive producer and former Shadyside resident Jesse Shapira was there, with 18 members of his family from Pittsburgh and Youngstown, Ohio.

“I remember the first time I watched ‘Kill Your Darlings’ with an audience,” Mr. Radcliffe said of the 2013 film in which he played poet Allen Ginsberg. “There’s no way of gauging what people are thinking about it, until the very, very end.

“Whereas, at least with a comedy, you get a sense the whole way through of how it’s going and fortunately, people were laughing. It’s a lovely feeling. There is always that moment of, you think it’s really good and you’re proud of it, but you always think, well, what if we’re all sort of suffering from some mass hallucination and actually it’s terrible?

“So it’s always nice to have it confirmed that it is, in fact, good.”

And so is the Fool’s Gold sandwich, which factors into the story.

It consists of a hollowed-out loaf of Italian bread, browned on the outside with a stick of butter and then filled with a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jam and one pound of crispy bacon. “It’s a weirdly sweet thing in the movie, it becomes such an odd symbol of their affection for each other, in a very sweet way.”

And also, a great sandwich, he says. He has not made it since the production, but he has eaten it several times — and lived to tell about it.

Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.

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