Each night, when Daniel Radcliffe peels off his voluminous white boxers and steps naked across the stage of the Gielgud Theatre, he is braver than the average naked actor.
Brave because his parents are often in the audience, scrutinising the Regency balustrade as his 17-year-old tackle bobs around in the half-light. Brave because of the intensity of Peter Shaffer's Equus, a play that has not been revived since its first controversial run in 1973. But bravest of all because his modest naughty bits could prove explosively offensive to a few powerful Americans who recently made him the richest teenager in Britain.
Every night in a London theatre, Daniel Radcliffe shows an audience of 900 that he has well and truly grown up. And his bosses at Warner Bros aren't going to like it a bit. The US company makes the Harry Potter films in which Radcliffe stars as the boy wizard who became a national treasure in the books of J K Rowling. Now he is appearing full-frontal as a boy who smokes, has sex and mutilates horses, and Warner Bros are slightly worried about their brand image.
With the fifth movie in the series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, due to be released in July, bosses are worried that audiences will see rather more of young Harry than is strictly necessary. "I guess we always knew that Harry and Daniel would have to grow up," said one source, "but we hadn't bargained on full-frontal sex scenes."
When Warner Bros first met Radcliffe back in 2000, they could have been forgiven for neglecting to imagine that he would ever grow up. He appeared fully formed as the perfect Harry, full of talent, just when he was most needed. Steven Spielberg had already quit as director after a creative clash with Rowling. She wanted an unknown Brit to play the son she never had; he wanted Haley Joel Osment, the Oscar-nominated star of The Sixth Sense. When Christopher Columbus, the director of the first two films, saw a video of Radcliffe in the BBC's David Copperfield, he was hooked: "This is what I want," he said. "This is Harry Potter."
But Radcliffe's parents did not want him to audition for the role, a contract that meant signing up to film all seven movies in Los Angeles. And Radcliffe's parents were not to be messed with. They didn't tell him that he had been asked to audition. Eight months later, Warner Brothers offered him a two-film contract, with filming in the UK, and assured his parents of the ways in which he would be protected.
When Daniel signed, he immediately became one of the hottest properties in Hollywood history. His parents set up a company, buying 1,000 shares each but specifying that all profits would go to Daniel. Rowling asked to adopt him. Warner Brothers set about marketing their 12-year-old moneymaker. His co-star, Robbie Coltrane, shrugged, "Oh well, there goes his childhood." Now, when people ask if he ever worries that girls might be interested in him for the wrong reason, he says: "I'm 17, I don't care! It's wonderful!"
Nor does he seem to mind that people like to claim a stake in him - which is a good job, given the number of fingers in the Potter pie. But now, one of the people with the greatest interest in what he does seems to have turned subversive.
Sources in the theatre world say that it was Rowling who steered Radcliffe towards his daring Equus role. It is suspected that Rowling plans to kill off the boy wizard in the seventh and final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and Radcliffe is being named as accessory to murder.
Radcliffe's spokeswoman confirmed last week that he has definitely signed to appear in the final two films in the series. But he shows a grown-up grasp of what that might mean. "I'm going to be really unpopular for saying this, but I've always had the suspicion, with everything that's going on, that he might die," he has hinted.
"Harry and Voldemort have the same core in them. The only way Voldemort could die is if Harry dies as well."
With his parents cheering from the gods, Rowling ushering him onstage and the Warner Bros hierarchy booing stage left, Radcliffe will go on hammering nails into Harry's coffin in London's West End every night until June. But not at anyone's behest but his own.
As the show's producer, David Pugh, says: "This is a boy who is now making his own decisions. Rather than just being seen as a sort of Shirley Temple, he is determined that he wants to act for the rest of his life, and this is his way of putting himself out there."
Harry Potter is dead. Nearly Long live Daniel Radcliffe.
Marcia Gresham and Alan Radcliffe
Mother Marcia Gresham is a casting agent and father Alan studied at Guildford School of Acting but subsequently gave up his job as a literary agent to chaperone their only child. They only agreed Warner Bros' Harry Potter offer when it was reduced to a two-movie contract filmed entirely in the UK. The family lives in Fulham, west London, and the parents are joint shareholders in Gilmore Jacobs, set up in 2000 to look after Daniel's money. The couple own all 1,000 of the firm's shares but say that the money belongs to Daniel. The most recent accounts show that the company made a profit of £5,895,667.
Daniel Radcliffe maintains that his feet are firmly on the ground, but since the carefree days of the first film it does seem that his part in the global Potter brand has occasionally got on top of him. "Potter is far bigger than any one person. You have to know that," he said in the early days. "If I turned around and said I'm not doing the last two, there would be added interest and more people would go and see them." But things seem to have changed with the pressure of growing up as the world's most famous wizard, and perhaps Equus has come as a welcome relief. He recently said: "I'm getting a little bit like I don't know where Harry begins and I end."
J K Rowling
Author J K Rowling has never made life easy for Warner Bros. She insisted that a Brit should play Harry when they wanted a well-known American. When she met Daniel she said they "couldn't have found a better Harry". Now she stands accused of killing Harry Potter, with Radcliffe as accessory to murder. Sources close to the actor say that Radcliffe and Rowling conspired together towards the Equus venture. "She's coming to see it," Radcliffe has said. "It will be weird for her because someone said that when she first saw my screen test she said she'd found the son she never had. So it's going to be very weird for her to see her long-lost son blind horses."
"I don't actually know how much I am worth," Radcliffe said. "It's not something that affects the way I think about things." Well, in case he is interested, a year ago he was valued as Britain's richest teenager, having earned an estimated £8m for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Philip Beresford, compiler of The Sunday Times Rich List, said: "I've never seen such profitable accounts for someone so young. I would not be surprised if he enters adulthood with £20m in the bank, with all his taxes paid." Radcliffe's company, Gilmore Jacobs, made £10m from the first three films alone. Equus was Radcliffe's own decision, he said, but whoever his advisers are, they are doing something right.
David Pugh, the Equus producer, is not setting a lower age limit for audiences to prevent Potter fans being led astray. "Equus is on the school syllabus. I would never stipulate what age people should be to see it," he says. Radcliffe has done well for the play, which sold £1.7m in advance tickets. But does it own him, or does he own the part? "Peter [Shaffer, the writer] and I were watching the workshop production, and you couldn't take your eyes off Daniel," Pugh said. "That's when Peter said I could have the rights [to revive Equus]. We had faith in him."
Daniel Radcliffe starred in a BBC adaptation of David Copperfield in 1999, but there is no doubt that Harry Potter made him. And he made Harry Potter, which is what is troubling Warner Bros now he is smoking, rutting and blinding horses on stage. A Hollywood source said: "With two films still to be made, Daniel is still signed to star in them. But the company will have to watch the reaction of the public when this play begins. The truth is that it would be very hard to recast because Daniel is so famous in the role and is adored by the fans. But if his new image is seen to be at odds with the franchise, then the whole issue would have to be looked at." Another put it more bluntly: "I guess we always knew that Harry and Daniel would have to grow up, but we hadn't bargained on full-frontal sex scenes."