Daniel Radcliffe

Daniel Radcliffe stars in "The Woman in Black" (Alliance Pictures)

She may have written one of the most hair-raising ghost stories of modern times, but that does not mean "The Woman in Black" author Susan Hill is herself scary. In fact, she and actor Daniel Radcliffe, who stars in the upcoming film of Hill's book, bonded over subjects furry, not frightening.

"Funnily enough, the thing we mainly talked about is border terriers," Radcliffe says of his first meeting with Hill during filming. "She loves border terriers, my family has border terriers, so we spent a lot of time talking about that."

Radcliffe was in Toronto last week to talk up "The Woman in Black," his first film post-Harry Potter. If the 22-year-old star's decision to follow up one of the most successful film franchises in history with a modestly-budgeted horror movie seems strange, well, it was just as much of a surprise to Radcliffe.

"If you had asked me a year before I stopped Potter 'are you going to do a horror film as your first movie?' I would have said not on your life," he admits. "I just never would have imagined that that would have been the first thing because I've never gravitated towards it particularly in my own life. A lot of modern horror leaves me cold."

But the script by Jane Goldman ("Kick-Ass," "X-Men: First Class") fascinated Radcliffe, who polished it off in two hours. Based on Hill's 1983 best-seller and set in 19th century England, "The Woman in Black" casts the erstwhile boy wizard as Arthur Kipps, a young lawyer still grieving the death of his wife in childbirth five years earlier.

Given one last chance by his employer to get his act together, Kipps is sent to the remote town of Crythin Gifford to settle the estate of the recently deceased widow Alice Drablow. Kipps is treated suspiciously by the locals and warned off Drablow's isolated home. Undaunted, he attempts to go about his work, only to find himself haunted by a mysterious black-clad figure. As children start dying in the town, Kipps tries to figure out the secrets behind the vengeful spectre before more lives are lost.

In addition to speaking to Hill about Arthur, Radcliffe also consulted a bereavement counsellor, as well as friends who had suffered depression.

"The theme that came up with both of them was just how exhausting it is physically," he says. "So that's kind of the place that I started with Arthur was just to assume from the get-go that he is physically and mentally completely depleted and has been for the past five years."

That meant Radcliffe taking down his high natural energy several notches, to the point where Arthur seems almost as dead as the Woman in Black herself.

"I'm a person who has a lot of energy and a lot of quite excitable kind of energy," Radcliffe notes. "Arthur does not have that and should not have that. So James [Watkins, director] was very keen to kind of strip away my own natural exuberance and just kind of deaden the character."

Given "The Woman in Black's" serious subject matter, Radcliffe reports that Watkins' set was amazingly light-hearted.

"It was interesting because at the same time as this was filming there was 'War Horse' and 'X-Men [Origins: First Class]'" filming around England. "All of my friends had gone on from "Potter" to all those films and were just having a horrible time. Because as good as 'X-Men' and 'War Horse' were, they were very tough shoots, and here we were doing this little $19 million whatever it was film, all having a lovely time."

No matter how well the film does financially, the story of "The Woman in Black" will doubtless continue to resonate. Hill's book is on the syllabus at many schools in England, and a stage version, first mounted in 1987, is the second-longest running play in London's West End, with hit productions having also been mounted in Central and South America as well as Japan. When prodded, Radcliffe, who admits to not believing in ghosts himself, is unsure why the story is so universal.

"The part in the press release is very apt, about all ghost stories being inherently consoling because they imply an afterlife. There's something to that, and that's one of the first things James said to me when we met, and I just went, 'Yes, that's really interesting, and I'd never thought of it.'"

While Radcliffe acquits himself well in "The Woman in Black," he is well aware that audiences will continue to associate him with Harry Potter for years to come, a reality to which he has come to terms.

"I think I would have been foolish to think that this film would come out and everyone would go 'well, he's not that anymore.' It's going to take longer than that. I know that, and that's fine. I'm 22 so I've got time to break away from it."