Magic Won't Help Daniel Radcliffe in 'Escape from Pretoria'

Daniel Radcliffe Illustration by Britt Spencer

"It is the most insane [thing] to just make
keys and walk out of the prison one day."

As Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe used magic to get out countless life-threatening situations. But as Tim Jenkin, the real-life hero he plays in the new film Escape from Pretoria, released in theaters March 6, he needs more than just spells and his trusty wand to escape from an apartheid-era prison in South Africa in 1979. "We all like to think that we would be those people in an oppressive society, but in reality, there are very few of them," Radcliffe says of Jenkin, Stephen Lee and other anti-apartheid activists imprisoned for going against the regime. "Being able to have that perspective on something is a quality to be celebrated and shown as heroic in films." Not your traditional biopic, Escape from Pretoria—based on the book written by Jenkin, who also spent time on the set—also serves as a heart pounding thriller. "It functions as the story of the important moment in these guys' lives and where South Africa was politically, but also it is just a great prison-break movie." It is "the most insane," thing Radcliffe says, "to just make keys and walk out of the prison one day."

How do you feel this story is relevant today? What do you hope modern audiences take from it?

Unfortunately, I don't think there's ever a time when it's not relevant. The fact that Tim and Stephen and all the guys in that prison were able to see the system that they had been raised in from the outside for the immoral, oppressive tyranny that it was.

Why do you feel it was important for the film to play like a thriller?

It is also an incredible prison-break story. It's amazing. They made keys. What's crazy when you talk to Tim, he kind of has an air of, "Well, you know, I just did what anyone would do," and you're just like, "No, no one else would've been able to do this."

You worked with your co-star Ian Hart as a child in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone [as Quirrell]. What was it like working together all these years later?

I think it gave both of us a terrifying sense of the passage of time. It's lovely.

What's something that you're rarely asked about the Harry Potter franchise that you wish you were asked more often?

People always want to talk about actors hanging out, but I would talk about the crew until the cows come home, because I feel like there was a family feel on set that is rarely felt on franchise films—a real caring atmosphere that I think the crew was responsible for. —H. Alan Scott