If you've ever longed to see a haggard, starved Daniel Radcliffe get attacked by skull-burrowing leeches in the wilderness, you're in great luck.
The ex-Harry Potter actor stars in Jungle, a harrowing survival thriller in which he plays a man forced to fend for his life alone in the Bolivian Amazon jungle. It's based on the true story of Yossi Ghinsberg, an Israeli adventurer who in 1981 miraculously survived a three-week stint in the jungle after becoming separated from his companions. The movie version is not pretty: Filmed in the wilds of Colombia and Australia, it finds Radcliffe desperately clinging to life—and sanity—as he endures violent waterfalls, starvation, intense hallucinations, vicious fire ants and those aforementioned blood-sucking leeches.
Seems like an exaggeration. It's not. "The amount of punishment I met in real life was far more enormous than what is depicted," the real-life Ghinsberg tells Newsweek of Greg McLean's film adaptation. "That rainy season was the worst in a decade, pounding storms day and night nonstop. It was hard to reproduce that."
The role was a grueling experience for Radcliffe, and the latest in a recent string of odd, offbeat and physically challenging roles. (He played a reanimated corpse in last year's Swiss Army Man and an FBI agent posing as a white supremacist in Imperium.) In a recent phone interview, the actor discussed the nightmarish shoot and unexpected career choices he's made since leaving Potter behind.
Jungle is in theaters and On Demand/digital HD this weekend.
I recently watched Jungle. To be honest, I'm glad you're OK after going through that filming experience.
Um, yeah [laughs]. Thank you.
It looks like it was terrifying.
It was a tough shoot. And it should have been a tough shoot. In the middle of Jungle, we had a week off between filming in Colombia and filming in Australia. I did an interview in that time in person. A few months later, I saw an article that had been written about it. It starts off by saying, "Daniel Radcliffe. Looks. Awful." I went, "What!" I was meeting this interviewer halfway through the film. I had lost loads of weight and I had a thick beard. I did not look like a well person!
You spent a lot of time filming in dangerous river rapids. How was that?
There are no scenes that take place by river rapids where you're just, like, chatting casually. Every scene that takes place by river rapids, you are fucking screaming at somebody. There were two days where we filmed all the stuff where me and Kevin are on the raft pressed up against the rocks. Whenever you're filming in water, everything slows down by at least 20 percent. Also, however safe you are—and there are great stunt people around us—you're still filming by rapids. Everybody's a little bit on edge and stressed.
But the crew were the guys who [worked hardest]. There were some sets that were three miles deep into the jungle... so the camera crew had to walk in with all their camera equipment on their backs or on the backs of donkeys.
Between this film and Swiss Army Man, it seems like you've been drawn to fairly masochistic movie choices. Can you talk about the career choices you've made?
It's not intentional, I promise. When I was doing the scene where I was sinking into the pit of mud, I was like, "I'm fairly sure this is at least the second, possibly the third pit of mud I've sunk into in my career." I feel like it's a weird trope to end up having in your career as an actor. But I do keep doing films where I end up covered in mud or blood or both. I don't know what it says about me. You're welcome to read into that and make an assessment if you like.
After Harry Potter ended, you were quoted as saying you had a "massive chip on your shoulder" after landing that role at such a young age. Do you feel pressure to prove that you can act in the most physical and punishing possible form?
No, I don't. I wouldn't say that. I certainly felt pressure to show as wide a range as possible. I think there is probably something in me that likes a physical challenge to go with a role. It's less about proving that to other people as much as it is proving it to myself.
Was the Israeli accent a challenge for you?
Definitely. Israeli accents are tricky for an English person, and Yossi's is even more specific than your average Israeli accent. I think I went to a slightly Israeli-American thing when we started filming.
Tell me about the leech scene. It is particularly gruesome.
There's always something very satisfying when you finish a scene and you cut and the crew looks disgusted. It's like, "OK, good. We did it, and we did a good job." Because you all know this is makeup, and you still look like you did something foul. We [changed] that scene a little bit from the book. In reality, Yossi cut out somewhere between 15 and 20 of those [leeches] as he got out of the jungle. I just don't know if we can subject an audience to that. They would think that we're stretching the truth.
What did you think of The Revenant?
I thought it was an amazing achievement. I don't think I got as emotionally involved as a lot of people did in the movie.
Do you have any favorite survival movies?
One of the ones I think about first and foremost is Cast Away. If I can plug my own weird survival movie for a second, Swiss Army Man is (one) that I'm very partial to. Obviously, Jungle is a traditional version of a survival movie and there is not a dead farting corpse being lugged around the whole time.
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