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For a normal 12-year-old, a magical role

If you're 12, there's probably no one in the world you'd rather be than Daniel Radcliffe, the boy who landed the role of Harry Potter in the first of what promises to be one of the most successful series in film history.

Seated on a sofa at Knebworth House, an estate outside London, the young actor marched gamely through a day of interviews with journalists who were eager to know everything from his favorite music (U2 and the Stereophonics) to his attitude toward impending fame (he'll take it as it comes).

Radcliffe may look a trifle bookish, but he said he came to reading reluctantly.

"I read the first two books before I got the part. I didn't like reading anything at that time because I found it pretty hard. I wasn't a big reader," he said. "When I got the part, I read the books and really enjoyed them. They've helped me to march off and read other books. That's what I think is really great about them."

Radcliffe, who came to the attention of the filmmakers because of his appearance in a 1999 BBC production of David Copperfield, said he became interested in acting because he enjoyed watching people and movies.

"One of my favorite films is Dead Poets Society. It's so inspirational," he said. "That's what first got me interested in acting. The thought of inspiring other people in the way I've been inspired is amazing."

Not all of Radcliffe's interests are so lofty.

"I was a huge fan of the WWF (World Wrestling Federation)," he said. "Since I've done Harry Potter, I don't get so much time to watch. The Rock was my favorite."

It has been widely reported that Radcliffe's parents were reluctant to thrust him into Potterworld. He says they just wanted to protect him from disappointment if he had failed to land the role. When the news arrived, Radcliffe was in the bath.

"My dad came up and told me they wanted me to play Harry Potter. I just cried. It was so cool," he said.

Cool, but precarious. As Radcliffe ages, his voice will change. Last weekend, the filmmakers angrily denied reports in one London newspaper that some of Radcliffe's lines in the first movie had to be dubbed because his voice changed. Still, there's little question Radcliffe may outgrow Harry before the series ends.

Maybe it won't matter to a boy who seems intent on staying within the boundaries of what's deemed normal for a young man at the center of a phenomenon that includes merchandising, book sales, games and memorabilia. Radcliffe emphasizes that what he most admires about Harry is his loyalty to friends.

"I think the reason everyone identifies with him is that other than the fact that he's a wizard, he's a very normal person. I was struck by the way he's very loyal to his friends . . . I find that the bond between him and his friends really is my biggest thing in common with him. Also, my enthusiasm, my energy."

Most of the actors connected with Harry Potter are reluctant to discuss the movie's special effects, stunt work and use of doubles. Quidditch, a game played on flying broomsticks, is a prime example.

"It was very surreal. You see it in the book so clearly and you see it in your mind. All I can tell you is that we were very high. It was cool."

If Radcliffe could borrow a little magic from Rowling, he'd pick the chance to become invisible. Either that or he'd choose Fluffy, a vicious three-headed dog who guards the valuable stone of the title. ("Then no one would try to find me.")

When he is asked to discuss the film's emotional core, Radcliffe's feet seem firmly planted on the ground.

"It's not about a sorcerer. It's about the idea of good and evil and about redeeming love," he said. "It's the love his mother has that allows Harry to overcome Voldemort (the villain in the piece)."

And just so you don't think Radcliffe has lost the ability to be a kid, he'll tell you that he and his fellow actors delighted in pranks. They reprogrammed Robbie Coltrane's cell phone in Turkish and stuck "kick me" signs on the actor's back. Coltrane plays Hagrid, the giant who introduces Harry to the world of magic.

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