Based on the international best-selling memoir by Yossi Ghinsberg, Jungle tells the story of an enthusiastic young adventurer (Daniel Radcliffe) who heads into the Amazon jungle with two friends (played by Joel Jackson and Alex Russell) and a guide (Thomas Kretschmann) with a mysterious past who promises a thrilling look at the uncharted territory. But that journey quickly turns into a terrifying and harrowing ordeal when the men are separated, and Yossi must fight for his own survival.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Daniel Radcliffe talked about why he wanted to play this real-life adventurer, what he learned from Yossi Ghinsberg, the challenges of this shoot, and his plans to finish off filming with a chocolate bar and a steak. He also talked about how excited he is to do his first American TV series, Miracle Workers, from Simon Rich (Man Seeking Woman), and how much he appreciates Harry Potter fans.
Collider: When you read this script, did you do so knowing that Yossi was a real person? And what was it that most stood out for you and made you want to sign on?
DANIEL RADCLIFFE: First of all, when it’s a true story and you read it and the story is very affecting, you go, “Yeah, I want to be a part of further spreading this story, out into the world. I want to be a part of this story becoming more widely known.” The thing that I find really moving and powerful about it and that really attracted me to it was that I think there’s something really moving about how hard it is to get a human being to give up on their life. He’s up against a jungle and nature and he’s on his own, but it could also apply to somebody in war or battle. The struggle to just keep going is something that I find incredibly moving and powerful, and this sort of story seemed like a wonderful distillation of that into a heightened and intense three-week period.
Not only were you portraying a real person for this, but that person is alive and was around and available for you to talk to. How did you find that experience to be most beneficial? Were there things that you only could have gotten from Yossi that weren’t in the script?
RADCLIFFE: Definitely! He said a really depressing thing about hope, which I’m loathe to keep repeating, even though I have been. I found it fascinating because it never would have been what I’d assumed. I’d been working on the assumption that, when you’re in that situation, the hope that you’ll be found and get out is what keeps you going. But he said, “Actually, no, hope breaks you more than anything else.” He said that the moment he was the lowest, in the three weeks, was the moment a plane flew over and he really, for a second, fully thought that he was going to be rescued, but then the plane kept going and left him. He said he’d been really fine, up until then. He hadn’t been giving into despair, at that point. But to suddenly have hope both given and then taken away in an instant was worse than having never had it, in the first place. That, to me, was a very unexpected thing that you can only get from asking somebody who has lived through this.
You do really tremendous work in this. There’s a level of intense physicality to this role and you also decided to lose weight, which is shocking to see. What was the most challenging scene for you to shoot and what was the most rewarding scene for you to shoot?
RADCLIFFE: It’s hard to pick a scene that was the most rewarding, only because the shoot, as a whole, was quite a tough shoot, physically, for both me and the whole crew. We were filming in the jungle and it was a three-mile hike into the set, every day, with no roads. We couldn’t get trucks in there, so the camera guys were lugging tons of equipment back and forth, every day, in the heat and humidity. It was a challenging shoot for everybody, so when you complete a shoot like that and you do it together, it gives you a real sense of achievement and it makes you feel very proud to have done it. Some of the hardest stuff to shoot was all of the stuff in and around water. Everything slows down about 50% because of safety, and it’s hard.
The most heart-breaking moment that I had during the shoot was when we had to postpone the end of the shoot. I tried to lose weight to make myself look more frail and emaciated towards the end and we were filming the last scene that I had to look that way on a Monday. I thought I’d go home that night and have the big, massive chocolate bar in my fridge, along with a steak. And then, the night before we came to film that scene, we got word that the river that our set was next to had flooded and the level of it had raised by eight feet in a night and our set was washed away. So, we had to postpone that scene and I had to postpone my chocolate bar and steak for almost a week. We were almost there and almost done, and it was taken away again. That was a moment where I was like, “Oh, man!” I was slightly heartbroken, at that particular moment. Not that every film I ever do will present physical challenges like this one, but it’s nice, as an actor, to get to the end of the day and feel, physically, like you’ve worked that day.
When you do a film like this, does it affect what you want to do next? Did you want to go find a light-hearted comedy to do?
RADCLIFFE: Yeah, you do get a bit like, “Oh, man, whatever is next, I’m going to find something not quite as harrowing.” Although, I can’t quite remember what the next thing I did was. I guess it would have been Beast of Burden. I remember when I did a movie that was called The F-Word in Canada and England and What If in America, it was a really nice romantic comedy where nobody got covered in blood. Half-way through that, I was like, “This is great! Why don’t I take projects like this, all the time?” But I’m pretty sure I’d get bored with that, too.
Do you know what you’re going to do next?
RADCLIFFE: I’m doing a TV series, starting this year, and I’m pretty sure it will come out next year. It’s my first time doing an American TV series, which I’m excited about. It’s called Miracle Workers, and it’s written and created by a guy called Simon Rich. Lorne Michaels is producing it. If you don’t know Simon’s work, then you have a huge treat ahead of you. He’s written a bunch of short stories and novels that are some of the most fun, wonderful, incredibly funny, but also very beautiful short stories and books. He’s an amazing writer, and he’s assembled a team of amazing writers. If I had something that was the thing I’m most attracted to, it’s really good writing. When you get the chance to work with somebody like that, I’m so excited about it. So hopefully, that will be out next year. I could not be more excited about it.
What kind of character are you playing in that?
RADCLIFFE: I don’t want to say. There is a book that the first [season] is based on, called What in God’s Name. The character I play is in that book, but we are changing quite a few things for the series. You can get a sense of my character from that book, but it will be different. I don’t want to say too much because I don’t know how much has been said publicly about any of it, but I’m very excited.
The folks who work with you, both in front of and behind the camera, talk about your incredible ability to separate being an actor and being a star. Is that something you’ve always been conscious of, or is that something you had to learn, over time?
RADCLIFFE: I think it’s something that I’ve gotten a bit better at. Just after we finished Harry Potter and I was doing other things, and people would mention Potter to me, there was a part of me that obviously was very proud, but there was also a part of me that was worried that that meant they didn’t care what I was doing now, and there’s all this stuff going on in your head. Now, I realize how amazingly special the relationship that people have with Potter is. When you meet kids or you meet people and you’ve been a big part of their life, you do have a certain responsibility, even if it’s only a 10-second interaction, to try to give them the best possible experience of you that they can have. I think it’s important. Frankly, it’s one of the coolest thing about my life is that, just by virtue of being me sometimes. I met a kid on the street in London, the other day, with his dad, and they were freaking out and were really happy. I didn’t have to do anything to make that happen. I just had to stand there and not be a dick. When just saying hello to someone is going to make their day a little bit better, that’s nice. I don’t think of myself as a star. I don’t ever frame it in those terms. But I do appreciate the fact that people have a very long-standing relationship with watching me, and I always want to try to honor that, as much as I can.
Jungle is in theaters and On-Demand/Digital HD on October 20th.