Late one Saturday night, our local TV station was re-running old movies when I first caught the black and white film All Quiet On the Western Front. Starring Lew Ayres as Paul Bäumer, the 1930 film version inspired me to read the book and find more about the story. Today’s Variety reports that Daniel Radcliffe has joined the cast of the most recent re-make of Erich Maria Remarque’s story of patriotism, disillusionment, boredom, and despair. Remarque’s novel hit a nerve back then, as the Nazis banned the book for its antiwar sentiment, and it does now for the same reasons.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Well known as Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe seems to have grown up in front of the camera. When he starred in his first Harry Potter film in 2001, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Radcliffe already had some exposure to the filmmaking world. In a 1999 film, he played a younger version of Charles Dickens’ character David Copperfield. In 2001, he had a smaller part in an adaptation of a John le Carré novel, The Tailor of Panama, starring Pierce Brosnan as a spy in Panama.
After taking the world by storm as Harry Potter at the tender age of 12, the world has spent the last nine years watching as Harry learns about his who is parents were (James and Lily Potter); about his godfather, Sirius Black; and about friendship with Ron and Hermione.
As an actor, we have seen Daniel Radcliffe grow and develop his acting skill in each film, first with director Chris Columbus, honing in on who Harry is and his background in the first two films. By the release of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Daniel Radcliffe evolved solidly into to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. Portraying the wonder of a fantasy world in one scene and changing to seriousness and horror in the same scene is what endears Radcliffe to us as an actor. By that time, director Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men & Y Tu Mamá También) tapped Radcliffe’s ability to emote somberness helped in getting past the seriousness and darkness of the storyline.
Working with director Mike Newell (Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time), Daniel and Harry both get a workout in the “The Triwizard Tournament,” and flex his acting muscles in the scene near the end when he must bring Cedric’s dead body back. In 2007, the Harry Potter producers hired director David Yates (Rank – 2002) to helm the fifth film, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Working with even darker material, Radcliffe still pulled off a performance that left the viewer wanting more of the series.
Also, in 2007, Radcliffe filmed a lesser-known film called December Boys. An adaption of author Michael Noonan’s book of the same name, December Boys was a fall sleeper of a film. Barely making $50,000 in the United States, the film, however, fared better overseas, bringing in $1,124,864 in foreign distribution. If anything, December Boys gave Radcliffe the chance to work outside of the fantasy genre and learn with Australian director Rod Hardy. Hardy’s credits include mostly TV, with series like Battlestar Galactica and JAG, along with films like Robinson Crusoe in 1997.
Besides being able to act in films, Daniel Radcliffe has taken the opportunity to hone the acting craft on stage as well. In the West End production of Equus, Radcliffe played Alan Strang, the disturbed stable boy who blinds six horses during a fit of insanity. Peter Shaffer’s play is deep, dark, emotional, and filled with pent-up sexual and religious frustration. The revival of Equus did exceedingly well for Radcliffe and the Equus legacy, moving to the Broadhurst Theatre on Broadway. Continuing his film career under David Yates in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, released last year in 2009, and scheduled to continue as Harry in the two-part Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows film, Radcliffe will be with us as Harry Potter until 2011.
Others Have Tried…
Changing genres for many actors can sound a death knell for their careers. At least in the public eye, the miscasting of character goes on in the audience’s head.
Mark Hamill attempted the change, first in 1978 in Corvette Summer, and again in 1980 starring along side Lee Marvin in The Big Red One. A World War II film following the First Infantry (their patch is a red number one – reportedly pulled off the uniform of a German soldier on the last day of WWI by Lee Marvin’s character). The Big Red One is a favorite of war film aficionados, more for Lee Marvin than for Mark Hamill’s acting, but it did little to remove the stereotype Hamill had in the minds of both his fans and detractors. Hamill, to this day, does voice work for many popular cartoons and movies. However, he will always be Luke Skywalker.
Jake Gyllenhaal fared better in 2005’s Jarhead, primarily for playing Anthony Swofford, the author of the book, during his time as a Marine in the Gulf War. Like All Quiet on the Western Front, Jarhead depicts the war in a similar fashion. As I watched Jarhead, Remarque’s novel came to mind.
A New Generation of Fans
Daniel Radcliffe, at the age of 21, is perfect for the part of Paul Bäumer, a university student who, in a fit of patriotism brought on by his professors, joins the German Kaiser’s army at the onset of World War I. Believing in a quick victory, the soldiers always were marching somewhere, with endless waiting, a lack of resources, and boredom between actions, playing upon the young soldiers’ mind. The reasons behind going to war quickly fade from memory, and we find Paul, like many soldiers from many wars, lost and out of place.
The book and the film end quite surprisingly for both Paul and the viewer in a simple commentary on life. Having the opportunity to work with a diverse group of directors throughout the Harry Potter films, and already having ventured out of the fantasy genre already, Daniel Radcliffe is ready for a change to his image and career. I think Radcliffe will be able to play Paul Bäumer with a sense of naïveté that I remember from Ayer’s character. However, with Radcliffe’s strong set of acting skills that he has developed in the last nine years, I believe he can make a successful revival of Erich Maria Remarque’s social commentary All Quiet On the Western Front.
Variety – Radcliffe to star in ‘All Quiet on the Western Front
IMDB – All Quiet On the Western Front
IMDB – Daniel Radcliffe
IMDB – Jake Gyllenhall – Jarhead
IMDB – Mark Hamill
Wikipedia – Equus
Box Office Mojo – Daniel Radcliffe