Let’s clear some air right out of the gate: Ben Radcliffe has no relation to Daniel Radcliffe, though the same last name and the British accent will inevitably inspire people to make that incorrect assumption. The question comes up so often, though, that the younger Radcliffe says he’s “started telling people he’s my dad.”
At 25, Ben Radcliffe is in the middle of an impressive résumé build that included a terrific role as the younger Rupert Friend in last year’s hit Neflix limited series Anatomy of a Scandal, also starring Sienna Miller and Michelle Dockery. Other notable credits include 2014’s Cuban Fury and last year’s third season of The Witcher.
Radcliffe’s latest project is the new Apple TV+ series Masters of the Air, a nine-episode World War II drama about 11 U.S. airmen in a flying battle against the Nazis. Created by John Shiban and John Orloff and produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, the series also stars Austin Butler, Callum Turner, and Barry Keoghan.
After recording a single six-line audition scene with casting director Lucy Bevan, who had also cast him in Anatomy of a Scandal, Radcliffe landed the role. “It was a pretty huge moment in my life,” he says about getting the job. “You see those names that are attached and you’re like, ‘Yeah, okay!’” Originally intended for HBO, the series went to Apple TV+ with a $250 million budget. Masters of the Air was the highest-profile job Radcliffe had booked up to that point.
That high profile delivers a certain production value. With big names and spending power in the mix, the scale and realism of the show was felt among the actors. “Stepping onto set every single day felt immersive. It felt like you were in that world,” recalls Radcliffe. “It was so vast.” For shooting the flying sequences, whether with part of a plane or a whole plane, no green screens were used. Instead, the environment around the plane on set was surrounded by LED screens. “You’d look out the window, and not only is the plane moving, but you’re looking at enemy fighter jets coming toward you and seeing the flack explode. It’s like I don’t even have to act. I feel like I’m in the plane. It’s crazy.”
In Masters, Radcliffe plays Captain John D. Brady, who was an actual airman in the 100th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Air Force, as were all the main characters in the show. “Everything we did as part of the prep was trying to be as specific as we could to honor those heroes, even down to the accents… the specifics of where everyone was from,” he explains. “Mine was upstate New York.”
Prior to filming, Radcliffe and his castmates went through a weeklong intensive boot camp with training by actor and legendary Hollywood military advisor Dale Dye, who’s also a Vietnam veteran with a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. Dye’s instruction drilled “down to the most specific things, like how you would hold your gun, how you would wear your jacket… things like that.” Covid restrictions enabled the training cast members to spend their nights in a plush hotel. “But during the day,” says Radcliffe, “we were out in the cold all day, wearing our flight suits, all of the gear.” Dye would give them lectures on the planes, the history, “the whole world of being in the 100th Bomb Squadron.”
Especially with a period piece, there’s always that last layer of character development that comes when an actor finally gets to put on the clothes of the person he’s playing. “[The costume is] always a huge part of it, I think, for every character I’ve ever done,” says Radcliffe. “This one, especially. You step into that flight suit. You’ve got so many layers on. You’ve got a big jacket, the big gloves… You’ve got your headset on. You do hold your body differently.” He asserts that the clothing and gear of these pilots adds a bit more swagger. “They all look really cool.”
Radcliffe really enjoyed working with his Masters of the Air costars and speaks fondly of the actors with whom he spent nine months on a rigorous shoot. “It was just so cool to be with those guys. To learn from them… It was just full of lessons for me. They’re just really talented actors. Barry Keoghan is one of my favorite actors. He’s just so good.” When I asked what it was like working with Elvis, he reminded me that Austin Butler’s breakout film had yet to be released. “When we were filming, we all were aware that Austin was about to become a megastar,” he says. “But he wasn’t yet, at the time. He’s really lovely. Just a very nice guy — welcoming and kind. And he knew everyone’s names. Everyone. And there’s a lot of people on that job. He treated everyone with so much respect.”
When one spends so much time deeply immersed in a story about the bravery, valor, and heroism of real people — playing one of those people — there must be profound takeaways. “There are so many things, I wouldn’t know where to start.” Then he thinks for a moment. “Doing something that was a real part of history. That was pretty cool. Playing a real person, having to honor that, was immense pressure.” The gravity of the story of the “Bloody Hundredth,” as the 100th Bombardment Group became known, is not lost on Radcliffe. “This story is incredible. It’s unfathomable, what these men went through.”
Ben Radcliffe was born in 1998 to a father who owned fruit machine businesses that one would find in small casinos and a mother who works for the National Health Service (NHS). Earlier in her life, his mother was a dancer, and was very encouraging to the young Radcliffe and his sister, who currently performs on cruise ships, confirming that show business is a bit of a family business.
I always assumed the British were better at American accents than Americans doing British accents because of training they received in drama school. Radcliffe, however, neither attended drama school nor received any formal training. Though there was a dialect coach on Masters of the Air to work with the actors in preproduction and keep them on track while filming, Radcliffe attributes some of his skill and agility with accents to the freedom of playing with different characters from a young age, making little films with his childhood friend Harry, who’s also an actor.
If he weren’t acting? He’d love to be behind the camera, literally, working as a cinematographer or a director. He really lights up when he talks about the craft of filmmaking. And if not show business? “Building something. Anything. I just like building. A chair — anything.”
Like the many British, Welsh, Scottish, and Irish performers who came before him, found success in Hollywood, and realized they loved Los Angeles or New York, Radcliffe can imagine a world where he lives in one of the two American cities. But for now? No. His work has exposed him to some great places in other parts of the world, but London is still his favorite. He is just settling into a new house when we speak. “I love London. This is where all my friends are. This is where my life is.”
It turns out Ben Radcliffe is building something after all. He’s building a life. A really nice one.
Masters of the Air premieres on Apple TV+ on January 26.