NEW YORK — You’d think Daniel Radcliffe would know all there is to know about magic.
After all, he spent a decade playing boy wizardHarry Potter in the film adaptations of J.K. Rowling’s wildly popular book series. And in heist thriller Now You See Me 2 (in theaters Friday), he disappears into the role of a bratty billionaire who tricks a group of master illusionists into pulling off a heist.
But in reality, the impish Brit has a far less impressive sleight of hand.
“The one thing I can kind of do is the bit I screw up in the first scene,” says Radcliffe, 26, flicking an imaginary card from one hand to the other. “I can actually do that, but then the one time I missed, I was like, ‘Ah, that’s definitely going to be the (take) they use.’ Failure is always funnier than success, particularly when it comes to this character.”
In the sequel to the 2013 surprise hit — which reunites Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco as an elite group of magicians called the Horsemen, who recruit a new member (Lizzy Caplan) — Radcliffe plays Walter Mabry, an inept magic enthusiast and maniacal tech mogul. Using some technical wizardry, Walter kidnaps the Horsemen and forces them to steal a powerful computer chip for him. But the fugitive magic team has tricks up its sleeves: plotting one final, elaborate stunt to clear their names and expose his corruption.
Playing the sniveling, yet sophisticated Walter, Radcliffe found unlikely inspiration in his childhood classmates.
“Our private schools produce a lot of perfectly nice, very good people, but they do occasionally produce people whose sense of entitlement and arrogance is breathtaking,” he says. “I saw him as a product of that environment.”
For the versatile young actor, the crime caper not only gave him the opportunity to portray a villain for the first time, but also work with a stacked deck of A-listers, including Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine.
It was a particular treat working with Caine, who plays Walter’s scheming father. That fulfilled “a long-held personal goal of mine,” Radcliffe says. “Growing up in England, you hear Michael talked about so much, with such reverence. Knowing that I’d have significant scenes with him was amazing.”
Filming in and around the casinos of Macau also introduced the actor to a favorite pastime: gambling. Particularly, the card game baccarat, which the cast and crew would occasionally try their hand at.
“I don’t think he’d ever gambled before in his life,” says director Jon M. Chu, laughing. “It was fun to talk to him after, because he was like, ‘OK, I think I figured it out,’ and we were like, ‘No, dude, you did not. It’s rigged against you.’ Then he’d come back the next day like, ‘Yeah, I didn’t figure it out.’ ”
Radcliffe remembers: “I tried playing blackjack for like half an hour, but I was like, ‘Wow, I’m losing loads of money really quickly and this isn’t fun.’ Baccarat is something you can take a lot longer losing money, so at least you get some time enjoyment out of it.”