In last year’s thrilling Kill Your Darlings, Daniel Radcliffe offers his latest mesmerizing performance as Allen Ginsberg before he became known as one of America’s most distinguished and unabashedly gay poets. Director John Krokidas chronicles a murder investigation that would prove central in shaping the lives of many of the key figures in the Beat movement from the mid-20th Century, including Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and the lesser-known Lucien Carr. For his debut feature (now available on DVD and Blu-ray), the talented director enlisted a dazzling roster of compelling actors including Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Ben Foster, David Cross and exciting newcomer Dane DeHaan as Carr. Krokidas chatted with Queerty about making the film, how the 70-year-old story has a message for the contemporary audience and his valued friendship with Radcliffe.
Kill Your Darlings is your first feature film. Why was it important for you to tell this particular story?
Because I’d never heard it before. There has to be something that keeps me up at night and really pisses me off to convince me to commit to [a project]. The fact that in 1944 you could literally get away with murder by portraying your victim as a homosexual predator pissed me off to no end. This story isn’t just a dirty stain on American history, it’s still culturally relevant today. Look what’s going on in Russia. There are skin heads running around beating the shit out of supposed gay people in the name of social justice and the fact that government officials condone this… This movie isn’t political. I want people to have a fun time and enjoy it, but I also want my work to change the world in some way. To me that was the thing I kept in my heart. This movie came together and fell apart so many times during the past decade. When it went from being a film that was almost happening to just a script in a pile with a lot of phone calls to make that’s what I’d go back to to reignite my passion for telling this story.
You originally had Jesse Eisenberg and Chris Evans attached to this film, a film adaptation of On the Road was released in 2012 and James Franco played Ginsberg in Howl a few years ago. Why are we still so fascinated by these people from more than half a century ago?
They lived out those dreams that we all had at 19 to go out and change the world and be an artist and be rebellious. The Beat movement in the ‘50s led to the Hippie movement in the ‘60s and the punk movement in the ‘70s. I remember Kurt Cobain playing with William Burroughs in the ‘90s. They were behind every counterculture revolution over the last 50 or 60 years. I wonder where that revolution is now. I made the movie to appeal to young and old viewers alike to hopefully awaken that rebellious spirit inside of them.
I think Kill Your Darlings captures the energy that runs through the works of the Beat writers which has eluded some of the filmmakers behind the other recent movies made about these people.
We wanted to have a feeling of passion and youth and didn’t want this to be a homework movie. Since this wasn’t an adaptation of their work we had license to inject our version of what the beat personality was into the film. More importantly, it was not about looking at who they’d become, but focusing on the 19-year-old versions of them. That information is out there and Allen at that point was closeted and from a working class town in New Jersey. His mom was emotionally ill, His dad was a poet but he was struggling. Allen had all these secret desires but he didn’t even want to tell his father, but then he got into Columbia. He thought there might be other gay people there. Those are characters I think people can still relate to. This movie is about Allen Ginsberg’s coming out as an artist. That includes everything from his own personal convictions, friends he made, his rebel stance and his sexuality. That’s exciting to me and I wanted to capture that energy and excitement.
One of my favorite scenes in the film is when Allen walks into his dorm room at Columbia and locates Christopher Street on the map. I think a lot of gay people can relate to that moment.
I ended up on Christopher Street when I was 18 years old and it was like Dorothy landing in Oz. I thought, This place is magical and I belong here. I think we’ve all had that experience the first time we as gay men and women find our community.
I interviewed Daniel a couple of years ago and asked him why he agreed to work on this project with a novice filmmaker and he replied “You obviously haven’t met John.”
[Laughs] I didn’t have to convince him, which was a beautiful thing. When I was looking at actors I thought would be good in this movie I wrote down the name “Daniel Radcliffe.” I thought to myself the arc of Allen in this movie is someone who begins as a dutiful son who’s only shown the world one side of himself but by the end has rebelled against the expectations that everyone has for him and has shown the world that there are so many more colors to him. There’s such a dynamic voice inside him that they didn’t expect before.
Did you and Daniel already know each other?
I didn’t know Dan at that point. I sent the script to his agent and the next thing I knew I was on a plane to meet with him while he was doing Equus. You have these actor dates and they’re very much like first dates. You know within the first five minutes whether there’s chemistry there. Dan is so smart and passionate and soulful and funny so that meeting turned into a six-hour coffee date and we shared intimate secrets with each other and I knew that if we got along that well and that level of trust was there that we were going to have a very creative relationship. Then he offered to audition for me. Who does that? We did some improvs and I saw the character I had in my head come to life right in front of me. The great thing about Dan is he told me right before we started shooting that he wanted to approach this like it was his first movie, as well. The collaborative relationship between us has continued ever since. Dan keeps me humble and focused and hardworking. It’s a relationship that will continue for the rest of our creative lives.
Watch the film’s trailer below.
GREAT film. Haunting yet beautiful. I highly recommend it.
I didn’t care for it, I found it terribly dull and… how do i say it? It’s like they had all the ingredients but it didn’t come together. Radcliffe seemed miscast too.
I had the pleasure to watch the movie at the Filmfestival in Cologne.A good film. Thrilling and makes you think too.Looking forward to the DVD.
For my money, this is the best film yet dealing with the early history of the Beats. I am beginning to lose count of all of them, though the most recent was the adaptation of “On the Road.” Most of them have more or less taken the orientation of people like Ginsberg and Burroughs for granted, concentrating on things like the writing of “Howl” or how Burroughs shot his wife in Mexico City while doing a drug-dazed version of William Tell. This entry concentrates on Ginsberg’s coming out, his slow realization that he is gay and how the conflict with the first infatuation and Kammerer, the man Carr murdered, played a role in Allen’s resolution of conflicts in himself. He was so infatuated with Lucien he almost became a willing participant in a “homosexual panic” defense until stumbling upon a photo of the murderer and victim in a compromising position. The best thing about the movie, for me, is Ben Foster as Burroughs. I spent an evening with William and Foster has gotten not only the voice but the jerky body movements down well enough to bring the author of “Naked Lunch” alive again.
@jmmartin: Seeing Ben Foster in this film, and then a few months later in a polar opposite role in Lone Survivor, it made me wonder why he doesn’t get more recognition. He is a truly amazing character actor.
I can’t wait to see this…
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