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“I don’t want to make it sound like this film wasn’t challenging because it was, but the main challenge I had every day was just making Zoe [Kazan] laugh and, if you spent any time with her, that is not a particularly hard thing to do,” Daniel Radcliffe says of his role in the indie romantic comedy What If. “This was a film where I didn’t have to get covered in blood or do mad stunts or anything, so yeah, the main challenges were about sort of being true to the character.”
The movie, which opens in select theaters Friday, marks the Harry Potter alum’s first romantic comedy, but it wasn’t hard for him to make the transition, explaining that he seized the opportunity when he read the script.
“I think there’s an impression that people have that actors are like constantly choosing from a pool of amazing scripts. And the truth is a lot of what you read is quite forgettable and quite average, and when you find something like this, which is like an undeniably special script, you just grab it with both hands and don’t let anyone else get near it,” the actor tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Radcliffe plays Wallace, a med school dropout who forms an instant connection with Chantry, an animator played by Kazan, before he learns that she has a boyfriend. Given that complication, the two decide to just be friends, but as they spend time together, their feelings for each other grow.
Offscreen, Radcliffe and Kazan found it easy to create the chemistry their characters have.
“Chemistry is really about curiosity, and I found it really easy to be curious about Dan,” Kazan says.
The two were also able to showcase their own ideas by improvising a few scenes, something first-time romantic-comedy director Michael Dowse encouraged the actors to do.
“I think it’s a great way for the actors to infuse their own personality and their own sensibility into the characters,” he tells THR. “We found those moments when they could sort of tell those stories from their own past.”
While Radcliffe says he’d never really improvised dialogue in a movie before, he saw it as an exciting challenge
Kazan, meanwhile, was nervous about having to go skinny-dipping in a pivotal scene.
Although she notes that she had some hot-tub “shenanigans” in the past, she’d never completely stripped down and ventured into a public body of water.
“I had read that scene and [thought], ‘Wait, I’m going to go in Lake Ontario in the end of September naked?’ OK. But it was actually the most fun that we had,” Kazan says.
“I don’t see any point in lying about this. I don’t think it’s a great change,” she tells THR. “I know that it was a necessary one. Essentially the ratings board wouldn’t allow the film to advertise publicly if they kept the F Word title, which kind of puts a damper on things. You can’t really put a movie out to the world if you can’t put up billboards and things, so they had to change it. But um, yeah …”
Radcliffe, Dowse and screenwriter Elan Mastai all took a more diplomatic approach, with the director saying that CBS Films, which purchased the movie out of last year’s Toronto Film Festival, was very upfront with them that the title would probably have to be altered.
Radcliffe adds that he feels like the new title still reflects what the movie’s about.
“I think that What If implies a certain amount of tension and potential … it’s sort of the question of, ‘What if I actually told her how I felt about her?’ that’s sort of hanging over the entire movie along with a whole bunch of other ‘what if’s. It wasn’t the first title, but it certainly works,” he says.
And Mastai, who saw his original script for The F Word end up on the Black List, reveals that he had a very simple reason for going with such a potentially scandalous title: to get people to read his script.
“I used like a cheeky, catchy, playful title that would capture people’s attention,” he admits. “Whether or not that title was appropriate wasn’t really what I was thinking about.”
“I loved the original title,” he adds. “I’m happy with the current title.”
Aug. 9, 5:20 p.m. A previous version of this story incorrectly quoted What If screenwriter Elan Mastai as saying the original title was “cheesy.” THR regrets the error.
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