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Prescription for versatility

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TO doctor's notebook 2_CITY_E1

BBC

A PRESCRIPTION FOR SUCCESS: Daniel Radcliffe and Jon Hamm (back) have been cast as Dr Vladimir Bombard, Radcliffe as the younger version, in BBC Entertainments new drama mini-series, A Young Doctors Notebook.

While his Harry Potter fame continues to shadow him, British actor Daniel Radcliffe has diversified his choice of roles since completing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 in 2011. He might not attract the gaga-girls like Justin Bieber does, but he has legions of fans who have applauded his bold gambit that has so far included avant-garde characters in some rather dark offerings. Debashine Thangevelo was drawn to him in BBC Entertainment’s A Young Doctor’s Notebook, with Mad Men’s Jon Hamm as his co-star...

 

ONE-dimensional” is a word actors dread. After all, it would sound the death knell of their careers.

Having cemented his celebrity with the Harry Potter franchise for a decade since 2001, it has its pros and cons. On the favourable side, Daniel Radcliffe is a recognised face around the globe and everyone in Hollywood knows his name.

Now for the drawback – he hasn’t been able to expose his versatility in his do-gooder wizard role; despite the fantasy ebbing into more dark- ness as the series progressed.

And so, at 24, he ventured into unfamiliar terrain, first with the horror, The Woman in Black, then the suspense drama, Kill Your Darlings.

TV cameos aside, he also bagged the role of a young Dr Vladimir Bomgard in BBC Entertainment’s A Young Doctor’s Notebook, which is based on the semi-autobiographical stories of Russian author Mikhail Bulgakov and is set against the tumultuous backdrop of the Russian Revolution.

In a BBC interview, Radcliffe shared his thoughts on his role and the comedy imbued with drama, which, at times, gravitates towards some truly dark territory that speaks to the psychosomatic state of his character.

What was a pleasant surprise – to the creative team behind the mini-series – is that Radcliffe was a closet Bulgakov fan.

He explained: “What none of the writers and producers of Jon (Hamm) knew when they sent me the script is that I’m an obsessive Mikhail Bulgakov fan and have been since I read The Master and Margarita when I was 18. So when I actually first read A Young Doctor’s Notebook, I believe I did my own terrible adaptation of it. But needless to say, our writers did a much better job. It is rare that you read something that is so instantly compelling and exciting.

“Being such a fan of the book, it’s thrilling to see such a brilliant adaptation. It’s clever and literate and, quite frankly, inspired.

“At the first meeting with Jon, I was saying: ‘Let’s do it, let’s go!’ He was like: ‘Slow down’. I think I was slightly too enthusiastic for him. But I was just keen to leap on board as soon as I could.”

The actor, whose mother, by the way, is South African, admits he is drawn to the “crazed imagination” of the author, with the characters “funny and well-drawn”.

On getting viewers to now acknowledge him as an actor, instead of being clouded by their spellbinding fascination with him as Harry Potter, he decided comedy would be the perfect conduit to implement this change.

“I thought I would choose the most obvious kind of comedy. I wanted to do a Russian historical comedy drama with crazy over-tones. What I spend most of my own time watching is comedy, and I had definitely always wanted to do something that was funny. But what I particularly liked about this, as you’ll see in episodes three and four, is that it does get incredibly dark and pretty sad. I was really drawn to the way those two aspects co-existed. It was seamless,” he says.

Judging by his comments about his co-star Hamm, it is evident he enjoyed their time together. In fact, he is a few praises short of being a star-struck fan of the Mad Men actor.

Radcliffe laughs: “As you can imagine, it was great. He is really funny and incredibly personable and lovely. But the thing I hadn’t heard about him is that he’s one of the best technical actors I have ever seen. I think because he has directed a lot of episodes of Mad Men, he knows exactly what he is doing as an actor. We shot the whole thing in 20 days, so we were pretty much always up against it. If there was a moment, say, where we were blocking the last scene of the day, Jon would say to me: ‘If we both stay on this line, we won’t have to turn the cameras around and we will be able to save time’.

“On another occasion, we had to shoot our first fight before the stunt co-ordinator had come on board. Jon managed to choreograph it in about 30 seconds. He is really brilliant at that kind of stuff.”

What did raise eyebrows, though, was Radcliffe’s comments on his bath scenes with Hamm.

He teases: “You know you are the envy of every woman, ever.”

Hmm, I wonder what Hamm felt about it!

With the story set against the dawn of the Russian Revolution in 1917 and Radcliffe’s character practicing in a remote village, the actor gives his thoughts about the depiction.

He says: “The gore is pretty much the only element where I said: ‘That needs to stay!’ You really can’t do justice to the book without including all of that. Bulgakov was a doctor before he was a novelist, and he went into a lot of detail in the book – it’s pretty graphic.”

After watching this mini-series, I don’t think anyone can deny Radcliffe the actor his dues as being multifaceted.

 

• A Young Doctor’s Notebook airs on BBC Entertainment (DStv channel 120) on December 23 at 8.30pm.

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