Daniel Radcliffe on Playing a Neo-Nazi in ‘Imperium’: “It’s still just horrible to say some of this stuff”

Actor Daniel Radcliffe

Though Daniel Radcliffe will always be Harry Potter, he has taken on a number of remarkably different roles since the long-running blockbuster series wrapped up several years ago. In Imperium, Radcliffe plays an FBI agent who goes undercover as a neo-Nazi, which is based on a true story. In an interview with Fast Company, Radcliffe reveals what interested him in the script, how he played such a layered character, and what it felt like to say his character’s hate-filled dialogue.

One aspect that initially drew Radcliffe to the script was that it didn’t end in some kind of take-no-prisoners shootout. He explains, “Often in these kinds of scripts you’ll have a character that’s set up as being smart and that’s how he overcomes obstacles in the first two-thirds of the film, but then in the last act, it’s just, ‘Ah fuck it, give him a gun.’ And it’s nice to see a script that has the balls to keep him unarmed and using his brain until the end.”

On set, Radcliffe had numerous discussions with director Dan Ragussis about how to portray his character effectively on two levels — showing the audience his neo-Nazi “mask” while showing the FBI agent underneath. He says, “Something I deferred to Dan [Ragussis] on all the time was working out how good Nate is at hiding his feelings. Because you want to show the audience stuff that you don’t want to show the character you’re in the scene with, so it’s sort of trying to find that line of showing I’m shit-scared in a way that they can see it without the guy I’m with being like, ‘Hey, you’re obviously shit-scared—presumably you’re FBI.’ It was hard to make sure you know where he is emotionally at all times but make it believable that the people he’s with wouldn’t.”

The most difficult part of making the film for Radcliffe was spewing the hate speech that his character says — even though he knew everybody understood it was part of the script, he still felt “horrible” to say it to his fellow actors and in front of the crew. He confesses, “No swear words can offend me but when you get to the racial stuff, it’s like, oh yeah, this is the last bastion of what is really truly horrible and offensive. There’s a reason those words are powerful. Even though you know that everybody knows and understands that you’re acting and this in no way reflects on you, it’s still just horrible to say some of this stuff, so I found myself going up to some of the actors between takes and apologizing: ‘I know you know, and I know I don’t have to, but I just feel like I need to.'”

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