Jungle is the true story of Israeli adventurer Yossi Ghinsberg, based on his bestselling book of the same name. Directed by Greg McLean (The Belko Experiment, Wolf Creek), the film adaptation pits Radcliffe’s Ghinsberg against Mother Nature over the course of three weeks he finds himself trapped in the Bolivian jungle without a map, knife, or supplies.
In this interview with Digital Trends, Radcliffe talks about the challenges of bringing real people to life, reflects on how the Harry Potter films prepared him for tackling a real jungle, and explains his personal attraction to everything weird.
You’ve played everyone from Harry Potter to the zombie Manny in Swiss Army Man. What’s the challenge of bringing a real person to life, whether it’s Allen Ginsberg in Kill Your Darlings or Yossi Ghinsberg in Jungle?
It’s interesting talking about that, in that you’re right, the most useful comparison is actually Allen Ginsberg – because that’s the other time that I played somebody who was real and actually in the living memory of a lot of people, but not actually alive. I think that’s a huge difference, playing somebody where the resources that you have are things that they wrote a long time ago, which is amazing and is what I had with Allen. In a lot of his poetry and his diary he certainly wore his heart on his sleeve … like he let you into his psyche a lot of the time.
With Yossi, obviously, his book exists, which is a very accurate replaying of what happened in the jungle. But to get a chance to actually get to talk to Yossi, which I did for probably about four-and-a-half hours’ worth of conversation before we started filming, was great. That is the cool thing about being an actor sometimes, you play these roles and you get to talk to these remarkable people about their lives.
What was it like having him on set?
I feel like that could have gone either way. I didn’t know how that was going to be before we started the film, whether he’d be coming in and being like, “Hey, I didn’t do it like that,” or “You’re making me look stupid.” But he was actually really collaborative. He was very happy to be there and help, but he was very aware as well that we were making a movie. So it’s not going to be his entire story. We were condensing over three weeks of his life into a two hour movie. He came to the set with a really great, helpful attitude, where we could turn around to him at any point and say, “Hey man, did you do it like this? How did you do in this situation?” He was a really great resource to have on set.
How did the physical nature of the Harry Potter films help prepare you for what looked like a very grueling and physical shoot in the Australian jungle?
To be honest, the stunts on Potter and the physical nature of Potter have sort of set me up amazingly for a lot of the films I’ve done since. Sometimes the frustrating thing is that I was allowed to do a lot of stunts myself [on Potter] because the stunt coordinator knew me really well and he knew I could do a lot of it and I was up for it. And then going to other sets with people that don’t know you as well, they are understandably a lot more nervous of letting you actually do stuff for yourself.
“The physical nature of Potter has set me up amazingly for a lot of the films I’ve done since.”
But on this one, we had a great stunt coordinator and a great stunt double named Toby [Fuller], and they very quickly got that I wanted to do as much as they would let me do. So that was really fun, because I like doing physical stuff.
It’s nice because you don’t always get to feel as an actor that you physically worked at the end of the day, rather than just sat around talking while other people moved lights and heavy pieces of equipment.
Jungle has some intense whitewater sequences. How did filming those compare to the 41 hours in water that you spent filming Goblet of Fire, and how has your swimming expertise improved since then?
It hasn’t, but fortunately, I haven’t really had to. The water stuff is always hard to film. Like you always slow down by at least 30 percent just because of safety issues and other stuff that starts coming up. But there is also something about being in the rapids for a few hours each day. It was definitely slightly grueling for me and for the crew and for everybody else that was there, but it’s one of those things that gives you a really nice sense of achievement when it’s done. When you’re finished with it and you look around at the camera guys and the other actors, it’s like, “Yeah man, we did that. That was really tough and we got through it.”
Whenever something is really challenging and arduous, those dangers exist, but they also present you with the feeling of accomplishment once you’ve managed to do it. It’s always very much worth it.
Were you much of a hiker or outdoorsman before this film project came about, and how has it changed your perspective on Mother Nature?
No, I was not, and I don’t think I would be. That’s the thing about what happened to Yossi that was completely amazing — he didn’t end up hating nature. He said for the first week he was there, he viewed nature and the jungle as an enemy that was trying to kill him, and then at a certain point he let go of that and was able to see himself as being a part of nature. And while there was a lot of pain and anguish and loneliness while he was in the jungle, he also had some of the most serene and joyous moments of his life there. That’s remarkable for him.
I don’t think that I would get the same thing out of it. I think if I had survived three weeks in the jungle I would never have gone back to the jungle. But Yossi went back and made his life there for several more years. And he actually focused his life on saving the jungle that had almost ended his life. I don’t know if I would have had the same sort of very positive feelings about the outdoors if I had been in Yossi’s situation.
You’ve played a lot of very different characters on the big screen and on stage since the last Harry Potter film. What do you look for in accepting new acting challenges?
I know this sounds like it would be simplistic and obvious, like who wouldn’t be looking for that, but originality is the main thing. When I read Swiss Army Man or Horns, there was just that sense of, “Oh, I’ve never seen something like this before. That’s really cool. That’s really exciting. Let’s do it.” That gets me very excited. And even if it’s not something that is completely original to the world of film, but it’s something that I feel I haven’t done before, or a theme or a character that I haven’t had a chance to play before, that can be really exciting.
I think it’s fairly well-documented about me now that I like weird. Weird is good. And I like stuff that sometimes demands a little more of an audience. I’m thinking of Swiss Army Man specifically in that case, in terms of you needing to take a little bit of a leap into the world that we’re inhabiting as an audience member. But if you do, then it becomes incredibly rewarding as a film to watch. So I suppose that’s the kind of stuff I respond to, just like the chance to do something different.
And Jungle definitely was a different role for you.
Yeah, absolutely. Jungle was and Swiss Army Man both were, and I’m going to try and keep things as fresh that way as I possibly can.
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