The Boy Who Lived wouldn’t have done so without a bit of luck, and Daniel Radcliffe knows that playing him required some too.
The actor’s new film, “Escape from Pretoria,” is based on the real-life story of Tim Jenkin, a white South African political activist who, after being arrested for distributing anti-apartheid pamphlets alongside fellow activist Stephen Lee (Daniel Webber), escapes from Pretoria Central Prison.
A central theme in the movie, and the reasoning that pushes Jenkin and Lee to escape the prison, is the belief that inaction in the face of oppression is complicity.
“Unless we got up from our privileged white lives and did something, our words were meaningless,” Radcliffe’s Jenkin says early on in the film.
The actor praised Jenkin and the other political prisoners for recognizing their privilege and trying to use it to help others. “I think that’s a really remarkable thing,” Radcliffe told HuffPost. “I think we all like to think that in that kind of society we would be able to see it as the amoral thing that it is. But actually very few do.”
During our interview, he reflected on how white privilege has affected his own life, too.
“My entire life and career is built on luck and privilege,” he said. “It’s just sort of allowed to be the case. I definitely don’t want people to think I got anywhere because I just worked really hard. Anyone who’s successful in anything, for the most part ― even if you did work really hard, which I’m sure people did ― there’s still a massive amount of luck involved. I mean, my life is an insane example of a place of luck.”
The actor said that landing the role of Harry Potter set up the direction his career would eventually take.
“I got incredibly lucky when I was 10 or 11 and then that afforded me opportunities that I would unquestionably not have been afforded had I not had that stroke of luck,” Radcliffe said. “When I was 17, I was in the West End. There’s very few people that go from having never done a play to doing a play in the West End.”
Though his character Jenkin’s political beliefs are what led to his lockup, Radcliffe noted that this movie isn’t about that.
“There is no getting around the fact that this is a film about a bunch of white people where the main issue is apartheid. There is a real danger of a sort of white savior thing, which it’s not. That’s why the main message of this film is not about what they did politically.”
Instead, it’s a thriller about a prison break.
“They broke out of a prison by making keys to the prison!” Radcliffe said.
As far as their political motivations, that just makes it clear whose side to be on.
“These prisoners were actually people you can really get behind breaking out. They weren’t fucking terrifying murderers who were breaking out ... Something like, ‘Oh cool. That was clever, but maybe you should be back inside?’” said Radcliffe. “They were incredibly good people who just fucking outsmarted the system.”
“Escape from Pretoria” is in select theaters, on demand and available on digital on March 6.