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The Star Market: What Kind of Appeal Will Daniel Radcliffe Have Post-Potter?

The cast of the Harry Potter films did a lot of growing up onscreen, but it wasn't simply a physical transformation: to watch the movies in succession is to see Daniel Radcliffe become an actor. Cast by Chris Columbus in the megafranchise when he was just 11 years old, Radcliffe was a good physical match for J.K. Rowling's bespectacled hero, but he wasn't required to do much in the early films besides gawk and smile. As he aged, Radcliffe eventually rose to the challenge of embodying the conflicted Harry, and now 21, he's earned critical and industry respect (aided by a prominent, well-regarded theater stint). So what happens now? Radcliffe finds himself in much the same boat as Kristen Stewart: Both are young actors whose franchises are about to wind down with a highly anticipated two-parter, but the clamor for both outside those franchises is unclear. In fact, Radcliffe is an even bigger mystery; Stewart had a lengthy Hollywood career even before she landed Twilight (and has indicated an indie bent while picking films during her hiatuses), while Radcliffe has stuck principally to his Potter day job. To get a better sense of his post-Potter prospects, then, we asked industry experts what they thought of the young star in an attempt to answer the question: If Daniel Radcliffe were a stock, would you buy, sell, or hold?

Stock History: Radcliffe has spent ten years tied to the Harry Potter franchise, but it wasn't always smooth sailing. In the early films, Radcliffe felt awkward and unseasoned, and it took the tutelage of later Potter directors Alfonso Cuarón, Mike Newell, and David Yates to coax him out of stilted line readings to deliver an actual performance. Whatever they did, it worked: Radcliffe refashioned himself as a theater-friendly thespian at age 17 in Equus (where he earned strong reviews), and he'll try to repeat his stage success in February with the Broadway revival of How to Success in Business Without Really Trying. Onscreen, he'll be seen in the series-ending Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1 opens today, Part 2 in July), and he toplines next year's Hammer Films entry The Woman in Black.

Peers: Radcliffe is in the same age range as U.K. stars like Jamie Bell (24) and Aaron Johnson (20), but while Radcliffe's so far been seen in six Harry Potter films, Bell's shooting his sixth movie this year. As such, he's still an unknown quantity outside of his multi-billion-dollar franchise.

Market Value: When it comes to the Harry Potter movies, Radcliffe's cachet is immense. He was paid upwards of $50 million for the Deathly Hallows two-parter, and since each installment earns almost a billion dollars worldwide, he's earned it. His other filmic forays have been negligible, though: The Australian drama December Boys flopped in its home country, while the TV drama My Boy Jack did well in the U.K. but received a low-profile PBS broadcast Stateside. Similarly, Radcliffe's West End stage production of Equus was a sensation, but when the play came to the U.S., the box office wasn't nearly as brisk.

What Hollywood Thinks: One top Hollywood publicist Vulture spoke to couldn't help but draw a comparison between Radcliffe and another petite fantasy franchise star: "He’s sort of the British version of Elijah Wood, isn’t he? And last I checked, FX had just ordered thirteen episodes of that Australian Wilfred thing [a comedy starring Wood based on an Aussie series about a man and his sidekick, who the world sees as a dog, while the man sees his best friend as a human dressed in a dog suit]. So what if he may not carry a movie next year?"

Some industry observers noted that Radcliffe isn't easy to cast. Much shorter than your average leading man and inexorably tied to one of the most iconic roles in cinema, he may find that as an adult, he'll be regarded as more of a character actor than a movie star. "I don’t think there’s much left in the tank for him," confessed one agent. "Can you imagine him growing a beard and holding a gun? Sure, he’ll do indie movies and British movies, Film Four and BBC, Working Title movies, sure. He’s a good actor, but he’s not a leading man."

The publicist we spoke to disagreed. "'Not much left in the tank?' I think there's a lotta gas in the tank." After all, Radcliffe still has Deathly Hallows — Part 2 coming to keep him in the public eye, and he appears level-headed and self-effacing enough to find his own post-Potter path, even if it's an inevitably lower-profile one. "Maybe he aspires to do theater; he could pull a Kevin Spacey and run the Old Vic or something … It’s a little early to write off a 21-year-old kid. I don't even know if he shaves every day still. Let the kid evolve. I wouldn't go 'all or none' yet."

The Analysis: Even more than his Potter-aided star power, Radcliffe's got two things going for him: He's avoided the fame-then-rehab arc of many child actors, and he's really well-liked in Hollywood. "I think he's a good actor, talented," said one manager. "He's going to work. There's more to life than being a leading man. Great actors should be doing great work, and I don't think people like them because want to see them with their shirts off; they like them because they're everymen."

That appeal is important, and hard to come by; whether or not Radcliffe proves to be a huge box-office draw in his twenties, people are at least rooting for him. He's already experienced unimaginable success, fame, and wealth, and yet, admit it: If How to Succeed in Business flopped, you'd feel bad for the kid! He's escaped the camp and embarrassment that often trail former child stars by sending up his own image early and often with guest stints on Extras and The Simpsons (his articulate charity work on behalf of the Trevor Project hasn't hurt, either), and as such, he seems to be almost backlash-proof.

The manager we spoke to thinks that Radcliffe should take advantage of his reputation and earnings to be as choosy as possible. "Look, what's important here is this simple fact — he's rich. So it's pretty simple at that point: If it were me, it would be about sitting back and not taking any jobs you don't want. He should do pictures that have incredible elements to them, that are unlike anything he's done in the past. It's about growing up through [the pigeonhole of Harry Potter] and trying to have a satisfying career, and I think he'll work especially because there's a built-in audience there for a while."

And why should he? Despite the uncertainty about his post-Potter career, Radcliffe is in a good place right now. He's earned enough credibility in the theater world to get a production mounted, and his quirky looks won't count against him as a leading man on the stage. Onscreen, it's a different story, but not an altogether bad one; though he might not be tapped for any of the superhero roles that actors in his age group keep chasing, any producer in Hollywood would be happy to meet with Radcliffe for a good supporting part. In fact, those are exactly the kind of roles he should be looking for: character bits that let him stretch and help him shake off the boy-wizard persona he's known for. He's already played the Harry, but can he play the Ron? (And casting directors, have no fear: He's working on that American accent.)

And why should he? Despite the uncertainty about his post-Potter career, Radcliffe is in a good place right now. He's earned enough credibility in the theater world to get a production mounted, and his quirky looks won't count against him as a leading man on the stage. Onscreen, it's a different story, but not an altogether bad one; though he might not be tapped for any of the superhero roles that actors in his age group keep chasing, any producer in Hollywood would be happy to meet with Radcliffe for a good supporting part. In fact, those are exactly the kind of roles he should be looking for: character bits that let him stretch and help him shake off the boy-wizard persona he's known for. He's already played the Harry, but can he play the Ron? (And casting directors, have no fear: He's working on that American accent.)

Buy/Sell/Hold: After the Potter frenzy dies down, buy and enjoy modest and consistent dividends for years to come.

Photo: Patrick McMullan