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Idol Chatter

“Mothers, Harry Potter has done something that will make you mad! Stay tuned to hear what!” These were the titillating words I heard driving home after dropping my kids off at school. I already knew the story: Daniel Radcliffe, the young actor who has portrayed J.K. Rowling’s beloved character through five movies, will be doing the full monty when his play opens in London later this month.

So, really, is it that big a deal? The play, “Equus,” is about a mentally-ill young boy who confuses his lust for women with his love of horses. But he is not the first young actor to take on a racy role that’s a complete departure from what he is famous for. And though Harry Potter websites have been deluged with messages from outraged parents saying Radcliffe has betrayed their children (especially with the release of provocative publicity photos of an apparently nude Radcliffe posing with horses and with his female co-star), isn’t it his own business what roles he takes on?

I would say no–not when he’s still playing Harry Potter.

My fellow Idol Chatter blogger, Paul O’Donnell, says Radcliffe has every right to do what he wants, and it is the responsibility of parents to keep their children from “objectionable material, or even adult material like ‘Equus…'” As a parent of two (both too young to be into Harry Potter), I totally agree. But I also think this is about choices–the roles young actors choose and what they owe to their audience. Radcliffe is in the middle of a movie series. We’ve seen four Harry Potter blockbusters (the fifth comes out this July), and Rowling’s last two books will likely become films, with Radcliffe reprising his role.

Though there’s no contractual obligation for Radcliffe to only take jobs that are of the Harry Potter nature while he’s doing those films, there is a moral obligation on the young actor. His character means the world to millions of children everywhere. And though parents are responsible for shielding their kids from “Equus” publicity shots, does Radcliffe have no responsibility to his fans?

As much as many actors talk about their love of the art and how they want to explore different roles and grow as an actor, the business of movie-making is about fans and money. And when one chooses a role like Harry Potter that is beloved to so many–especially children–then there is a reponsibility that comes with that. You morally owe it to all those kids to keep the racy, the raunchy, the disturbing, and the nakedness in check until the film series is over.

Responsibility? Moral obligation? Do these phrases hold any weight in Hollywood? They should.

It would have been better had Radcliffe waited until the Harry Potter films were over to do the “Equus” role. Though it would’ve still been a shock to Potter fans and their parents to see him drop trou as his first post-Harry job, at that point his obligation would have ended, and he could do whatever he wanted (though there is something to be said for waiting to grow up before taking on risque roles).

Call it the “Lord of the Rings Precedent”: Maybe beloved series, like “LOTR,” should be filmed simultaneously, ensuring all the main actors would only be doing those roles for that time frame. Or (since the Potter characters have to grow up in their films), the actors involved should just agree to not rock the boat while filming a series. I sure would’ve hated to see Dominic Monaghan as druggie Charlie in “Lost” while he was in the middle of being plucky Pippin.

Bottom line is that I wish Radcliffe had waited until the Harry Potter movies were over to take on new, racy roles. Though that may have taken two to three more years (which is a lifetime to young actors), it would’ve been the good thing to do.

And when was the last time an actor chose “the good thing to do?”

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