Escaping Teen Stardom: What Daniel Radcliffe Can Learn From Robert Pattinson

Radcliffe and Pattinson have spent years trying to escape the legacy of the franchises that made their names. So why is one doing better at it than the other?

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In July 2000, the fourth book in J.K Rowling's series about a magic school and its star pupil Harry Potter, Goblet of Fire, was published simultaneously in the UK and the US. With Potter mania in full swing, packed-out midnight sales, and three more books still to be published, Warner Brothers believed the time was ripe to capitalise on Potter's popularity, with a film franchise all but assured to rake in millions and millions of pounds.

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An adaptation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was green-lit and a seasoned production team assembled. But to really clinch its potential success, finding exactly the right actor to take the role of the young wizard was crucial.

The film's director Chris Columbus soon spotted the then 11-year-old Radcliffe in a BBC adaptation of David Copperfield and was convinced he'd found his Harry. "I don't think Chris Columbus could have found a better Harry," Rowling said of the decision.

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Flash-forward a decade to 2011 and the Harry Potter cinematic behemoth had taken over £5 billion worldwide before coming to a close with a two-part adaptation of the final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Radcliffe and his co-stars had spent their teenage years in the public eye, enduring near unheard of levels of scrutiny, attention and harassment. Having grown up on film-sets, when the last day rolled around there understandably tears on set.

Aged just 21, Radcliffe, (along with co-stars Emma Watson and Rupert Grint) was one of the biggest stars on the planet, with eight of the most beloved children's films in history under his belt. Now freed from his wizarding obligations, the question was what would he do next?

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"Harry Potter, to a point, will always define me," Radcliffe said last year in an interview with The Telegraph, "but I hope in the same way that Harrison Ford is defined by Star Wars."

A year before the release of the sixth Harry Potter film, in 2009, another white, British, male actor was cast in another fantasy saga. With Harry Potter super-heading an interest in magical teenagers fighting the powers of darkness, Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series – about a mawkish centuries-old vampire falling in love with a high school student in America's rainy North West – was adapted into a successful film series. Twilight went on to make £2.5 billion across five films and likewise thrust its lead actors Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson (a former co-star of Radcliffe's in the Harry Potter franchise) into the mainstream.

Today, Robert Pattinson and Daniel Radcliffe are worth $100 million and $110 million respectively. Neither man need work again. But of course they do, and post-franchise, their careers have been notable for their clear desire to move drastically away from the roles that made them famous. Yet, for one reason or another, their careers seem to be at very different places, with Pattinson the credible, auteur's darling, and Radcliffe the star of an increasingly unconvincing crop of what – were it not for his presence – would be confined to the B-movie back catalogue. Arguably, to date, certain entries in the Harry Potter series rank among his best films. As Steve Rose wrote recently in The Guardian, far from being Harry Potter's Harrison Ford, Radcliffe is beginning to look like that series' Mark Hamill.

His latest, Jungle (released this month), may buck the trend. In it, Radcliffe stars as real life adventurer Yossi Ghinsberg and recounts the period in which Ghinsberg became lost in the Amazon rainforest. For it Radcliffe drastically cut weight, surviving on one chicken breast and one protein bar a day. The thriller currently holds a respectable 71% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is gaining positive reviews.

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But, if going to extreme lengths for a role were all it took to win acclaim, Radcliffe should be swimming in it. As early as 2007 he bared all in a West End production of Equus. He spent 41 hours being filmed underwater for a Harry Potter film despite not being able to swim, studied medicine for his role in A Young Doctor's Notebook and spent weeks carrying round a prosthetic hump for his role in Victor Frankenstein.

Earlier this year, Pattinson also cut calories to hollow out those cheekbones even further in his own jungle exploration flick, The Lost City Of Z, directed by James Gray. The film was a resounding success, with the Hollywood Reporter calling it "a rare piece of contemporary classical cinema". It currently holds a rating of 87% on Rotten Tomatoes.

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Should you only be in the market for one jungle-based adventure film this year, it should be clear which is the safer bet.

Meanwhile, Pattinson's other 2017 performance as a frantic and desperate street hustler turned bank robber in the Sadie Brother's Good Time has been compared to that of De Niro in Mean Streets.

So, is Robert Pattinson simply the better actor? Or does he simply have a better eye for choosing film projects?

Post-Potter, Radcliffe's film choices seem chosen to shock fans of the wholesome and conservative image he inadvertently cultivated during the Harry Potter series. Look, in this film I'm a gay beat poet! In this film I'm a demon who might have murdered his girlfriend. Here I am as a Nazi! And here I am as a farting corpse! Some of these films, like Swiss Army Man, have divided critics. Others, like Now You See Me 2, have been universally panned.

Despite the fact that he's still hounded by Twihards, that series' comparatively limited success when lined up beside Harry Potter – coupled with the fact that audiences didn't watch him grow up on screen – means that we're less likely to feel conflicted watching Robert Pattinson doing things other than being too scared to kiss his girlfriend or to go out in the sunlight. Raging against his father and the world in Remember Me, or being chauffeured around New York as a vampiric businessman in David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis suits him. For audiences, aligning Daniel Radcliff's sieg-heiling Nazi in Imperium with the Boy Who Lived, playing with tin soldiers in the cupboard under the Dursley' stairs is a more difficult prospect.

Ultimately, Radcliffe's filmography is one assembled with care, but with little common thread apart from how different each project is to the next, and, you can't help but suspect, a desire to be seen as unpredictable. Pattinson on the other hand, appears to choose projects based on a desire to work with great and renowned directors like David Cronenberg, Werner Herzog and Anton Corbijin. Post-Twilight he has often been good, but by placing himself in their hands he has frequently come close to being very good indeed. For Radcliffe the problem might be that even when he's good, he is too often let down somewhat by mediocre material.

Emma Watson, incidentally is Harry Potter's Harrison Ford (over in Hunger Games-land, Jennifer Lawrence is every great Star Wars actor rolled into one). But like Mark Hamill, Radcliffe is at his best when used as a supporting character, driving the film from the shadows, something which he is increasingly choosing to do. By continuing to do so and continuing to be ambitious with film choices, you suspect he may finally be able to escape the glare of Harry Potter's spotlight for good.