Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan and Michael C. Hall headline first-time helmer John Krokidas’ fascinating bio-drama, “Kill Your Darlings,” which opens in theaters on October 16th. Directed from a script Krokidas co-wrote with Austin Bunn, the film is set in 1944 and based on true events that reveal how Lucian Carr (DeHaan) was the real-life linchpin who first brought together Beat Generation figures Allen Ginsberg (Radcliffe), Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster) and David Kammerer (Hall).
At the movie’s recent press day, Radcliffe, DeHaan and Hall talked about what appealed to them and surprised them about their characters, the difference in playing period versus contemporary roles, why it was daunting to portray someone who was a real person, how they bonded over their mutual experience of acting on stage, what the directing process was like with Krokidas, which of the emotionally and physically intimate scenes helped them grow most as actors, how the music of the period was a source of inspiration, and why the Beat poets and writers continue to resonate with audiences today.
Question: What was it that really resonated when you read the script and was there anything that surprised you about your character when you did research for the role?
DANE DeHAAN: Lucien Carr, to me, was entirely a surprise. I hadn’t really known that he existed and I didn’t know that this story actually happened. It was all a surprise. He has this charisma and this extraverted quality to him that I think is different from work I’ve done in the past, but he’s still a really complicated individual. He seemed like a hard person to wrap my mind around. That’s what attracted me to him. He was a completely new person to me as a whole.
DANIEL RADCLIFFE: Reading Alan’s diaries from when he was a teenager, and that combined with the character I saw in the script, he was somebody I found to be very likeable immediately. He seemed by all accounts of people who’d talked about him to have been very kind and warm and very good company. But also, the diaries reveal him to be this really interesting mix of somebody who had immense confidence and intellect and a very rich inner life. But, that doesn’t marry up with what he presented to the world at the time, because he was still quite reserved and shy as a young man. That’s a really interesting split in a personality. That difference between that inner confidence and outer shyness was very interesting to me. He was definitely an interesting character, regardless of what else he went on to do in terms of being a poet. The man that was in the script was interesting in and of himself.
MICHAEL C. HALL: I was aware of this story and went through my period of fascination with the Beats and was excited that it was being told, especially being told as well as it was in John and Austin’s script. I was excited more specifically about the opportunity to humanize and sympathize this guy who is a footnote in a lot of the accounts of the formative years of the Beat Generation, and was, if anything, characterized as a bit of a two-dimensional villain/stalker. I liked that the movie seemed to aspire to round him out a bit and that was appealing.
Q: Michael, were you able to do much research on David. Was there a lot out there?
HALL: Yeah, there is relatively little, but there was enough in “The Book of Martyrdom and Artifice” that was the Allen Ginsberg journal. There were some real time accounts of his first meeting with David Kammerer so that was really helpful. There was enough that I could make informed choices as I filled in the blanks that were there. There was some research, but it was an imaginative exercise, too.
Q: Daniel, you were once a child actor. Has your point of view as an actor changed from where you were five years ago to where you are now?
RADCLIFFE: Since finishing Potter, there’s been a huge journey for me in terms of I’ve never really worked with different crews before and with different groups of actors before. “The Woman in Black” was filmed in England. If you’ve done a Harry Potter film, you’re never going to work again in England without knowing somebody on the crew because they hired so many people. So, doing “Kill Your Darlings” was a huge thing for me because it meant that I would not be working with anybody I knew and I would have to find out who I was again on a film set. So it felt like I was starting fresh in a way, but that was really exciting. John Krokidas, our director, introduced me to techniques and ways of working that I’d never been shown before. It was very exciting. I don’t know from what point exactly, but I think from doing “How to Succeed in Business,” the musical, and through “Kill Your Darlings,” that was a big period of transition for me in terms of the way I worked.
Q: The Beat writers and poets have been around for 50-plus years and every generation relates to them in some way. When you guys were a little bit younger, did you have some angsty writing and thoughts that you put down that reflected this feeling that these guys wrote about, and why do you think there is such staying power with these guys?
HALL: I think we’re still feeling the ripple effects of the cultural phenomenon or revolution that they perhaps started. Our fascination with their work probably does coincide with a period when you’re coming into awareness of the ways in which whatever conventions there are might constrain you. It speaks to that awareness and appetite to transcend them or break those boundaries or chains. I definitely have some journal entries that are characterized by ultimately just run-on sentences because I apparently tried to emulate some of what had inspired me.
RADCLIFFE: Yeah, I definitely have my fair share of some real bad poetry that I wrote when I was about 17 or 18. In terms of the Beats, there’s something about the way they did what they did. As somebody who grew up outside the States, they don’t have that. The thing I compare them to, and I used as my point of connection to them, is the punk movement in the 70’s, between ’75 and ’79, because that had the same kind of excited nihilism to it about tearing everything up and starting again. There’s something really thrilling about that. My English teacher used to say something that definitely applies to the Beats about [how] there are two types of poets in the world. There are people who write poetically about their lives, and there are people who live poetically and write about it. That sums it up. There’s a wild abandon that goes along with that, and even if you don’t get every reference or every allusion, because there are a lot of them and their poetry is incredibly dense, you can get swept up in the rhythm and the excitement of it.
Q: You’ve actually published a book of poems, right?
RADCLIFFE: Yes, I did.
DeHAAN: Yeah, also guilty of teenage poems of trying to achieve naked self-expression. But I think their effect on today’s society is kind of amazing. It’s not just that their books are still celebrated and read, but also they were the original hipsters. Where I live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I can’t walk down the street without seeing at least 10 people dressed exactly like Jack Kerouac. [LAUGHS] It’s really insane. Obviously, their books had this huge impact but also what they stood for and how they dressed. All that stuff still resonates today, maybe even the most now since then in terms of what they stood for and the impact it’s had culturally.
Q: Please tell me you all saved your bad poems and they’ll be on the DVD.
RADCLIFFE: As someone already alluded to, I had the stupidity to have some of mine published under a fake name when I was like 17. So, yeah, they’re out there. They’re not actually particularly angsty ones thankfully, if I remember correctly. Don’t look them up. It’s pointless. I know it’s pointless saying that now. [LAUGHS]
Q: You might as well tell us your pen name.
RADCLIFFE: Oh no, I’m not going to make it that easy. [LAUGHS] You’re going to have to do some of the work.
Q: Is there any difference in playing people who are in that period versus playing people who are contemporary?
DeHAAN: Yes, absolutely. It’s not like a terribly conscious effort, but I think they certainly spoke differently. I think that the script does a really good job of capturing the characters’ individual voices but also emulating the way people would talk in the ‘40s, just having an awareness of what’s going on around you and the politics of the time and that kind of thing. These were people that if they expressed how they truly felt about some things, they would be criminalized and they would go to jail. So that obviously has a deep impact on how you act with those around you. Just having that awareness, I think, affects what you’re doing.
RADCLIFFE: The one example I can think of as well which speaks to that is the moment before Dane and I kiss in the park. You have to have an awareness that not only is this a big moment because he wants to kiss him for the first time, but also he does have to check around to see if anyone is there. So I think it does inform choices and stuff like that, but yet it’s not something you focus on too dogmatically.
HALL: Yeah, I would agree with all of that. I mean, I think especially with the job that our wardrobe people did, and the script is so well-rendered that a lot of it could be unconscious like Dane said. You could just give over to living in a world that is contextualized in a totally different way and everybody has different things that are useful, whether it’s listening to music or putting on the clothes or what have you.
Q: Was there any research you did into the time period? John mentioned movies like “Gilda” were a big inspiration.
RADCLIFFE: The thing I did find very helpful was the music of the period, even if it wasn’t exactly period appropriate. There’s some stuff there that just sounds very evocative of the time period and also was appropriate. I ended up listening to a lot of Jo Stafford who I’d never come across before but I found her online. Songs like “No Other Love” and “You Belong to Me” and stuff like that I did find, as well as like Michael said, the costume. Just having an awareness of what the ‘40s were and what was happening hopefully which I like to think that I do.
Q: The broom dance … was that improvised or scripted and choreographed?
RADCLIFFE: That was one of those weird things where the song I was doing that to was a completely different song to the one that would be playing in the movie, and I knew that at the time, so I was trying to both dance to the music and make it non-specific. So that’s my non-specific jazz dance that you saw there. The song that’s playing was – you know that Pink Floyd thing they do with “Dark Side of the Moon” and you can sync it up with The Wizard of Oz? You can do this if you like with this – it was “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens” by Louis Jordan. If you have the inclination one night, you can do that at home.
Q: In the film, Allen and Lucien are very excited about disrupting the established order of the literary movement and you as actors have taken some very challenging roles. Would you consider yourselves as wanting to challenge the system with some of these roles?
RADCLIFFE: I’m not sure I would say I was challenging the system quite. But I like to think that if the choices I make are slightly unexpected or challenging to people, then that is good. That can’t be a bad thing, I don’t think. I don’t know if it’s in any way railing against the industry. But I also do think that we are definitely three fairly like-minded people in terms of what we value in scripts and in storytelling. And I think we’ll all be on the look for more challenging material as a rule than maybe some other stuff you might be thinking of. [LAUGHS] That was a very vague answer, sorry.
HALL: I’m certainly drawn to things that in one way or another could be characterized as subversive. [LAUGHS]
Q: You’ve all been on stage. Is that something you bonded over?
DeHAAN: I think we did bond over the fact that we all do theater. We kind of nerded out a little bit. That was something we all talked about and bonded over. We talked about the musicals we’ve done and the plays we’ve done.
Q: What musicals have you done?
DeHAAN: Just in my youth, I did a lot of musicals. In high school and college, I did all of them. [LAUGHS] I really did. When you’re a young person in rural America and what you want to do is act, what’s available to you is usually musicals. So I did “Annie” twice. I think I did “A Christmas Carol” twelve times. One time I was Daddy Warbucks and one time I was the rooster.
Q: Is it a little more daunting to portray someone who is a real live person?
HALL: It’s fun to have some real things to hold onto. It makes it, to some degree, a different exercise to play a real person. And I certainly think, whether it’s purely fictional or based on a real person, judgment must be withheld or not exist in the first place if you’re going to. In the case of David Kammerer, I certainly didn’t think of him as a stalker. I thought of him as someone who was in love with the wrong person and couldn’t let it go.
RADCLIFFE: I definitely think you do have a certain responsibility, but also, as Michael said, it’s fun. There’s a lot more material for you to hang onto and go, “He actually did that, this happened, and that is how he responded to that event.” So you get a real insight into somebody’s character. You’re not starting from scratch in the same way. Allen is somebody out of the three characters we played [who is] probably the easiest to find empathy with or compassion. I found him very simple. But there are still moments where he’s so easily manipulated by Lucien where there is a part of you that wants to shake him as a person, but it is fun to give yourself over to that. It’s enjoyable. And also, John took the pressure off us a lot in this film by telling us not to really research our characters too much past the point that we find them in the movie, so there wasn’t really a sense that in any way we were having to live up to the icons that they became. It was just that we were playing them as the people they were at this moment in their lives.
DeHAAN: Lucien’s a tricky one because I think Lucien works so hard to make sure this story was never told and to make sure nobody ever found out about this story, at least while he was living, the best he could. My responsibility is to honor this person by trying to figure out truthfully who he was at this point in his life, not necessarily how Lucien would want himself to be portrayed in the film, but trying to actually dig to the truth and the facts. What’s great about playing a real person, like they’ve already said, is there’s real stuff out there. A lot of the work is already done for you. You just have to read it.
Q: Have any of you played real people before or was this your first time, excluding Harry Potter, obviously?
RADCLIFFE: It is an interesting thing because there is such a weight of feeling behind that character that he sort of takes on a reality of his own. But I played Rudyard Kipling’s son in a TV movie in the U.K.
HALL: First time.
DeHAAN: First time.
Q: Of all the emotionally and physically intimate scenes, which was the most difficult to shoot and helped you grow most as an actor and person?
RADCLIFFE: There’s one scene that really stands out for me, the scene where I come back and find Lucien, and he tells me he’s leaving and going off with Jack. That was a scene we had done a lot because it was the audition scene. It was my audition scene when I initially auditioned for Allen, and then it was the scene everybody who was auditioning for Lucien did, so Dane had done it a million times as well. You worry about a scene that’s that intense and emotional. Having done it so many times, will you still be able to obtain that feeling like when you first read it? On the day, just as we started the scene, John asked the crew to leave the room before our first rehearsal and then took me to one corner of the room and gave me a goal. He said to me, “Whatever happens, just don’t let Lu leave.” And then he took Dane to the other corner of the room and said something – I still don’t know what – and then he just said to us, “Now improvise the scene without any of the lines.” As somebody who wasn’t used to working in that way, it should’ve been intimidating, but it wasn’t in that moment. And then, within two minutes, I was crying. It was very real. It was an amazing exercise because I had never really had that very intense, real emotional experience during acting before. So that was very, very cool.
Q: Dane, what did John say to you?
RADCLIFFE: He doesn’t have to tell you that.
DeHAAN: I don’t remember. [LAUGHS]
RADCLIFFE: You don’t remember any of that day?
DeHAAN: No. I don’t remember that day. I don’t think that ever happened. I’m just kidding, but I really don’t remember what he said.
Q: What was your most difficult scene?
DeHAAN: I don’t know. That’s such a tricky question for me. When you’re making a movie in 24 days, every day presents a whole lot of challenges, truthfully. Every scene is challenging in its own right. There’s a lot of really tough stuff in this film that we had to do really fast. John brought up yesterday the scene with me and Dan on the library stairs of Columbia, when he’s trying to convince me to stay, that we shot that in 12 minutes, which I think is a good example of the challenge that this entire movie presented.
HALL: The water in the Hudson River was pretty cold. I’m surprised Dane didn’t mention it, because he had no clothes on.
DeHAAN: Yeah. That was really cold.
RADCLIFFE: And then some police pulled up and were like, “What are you doing?”
HALL: I would agree with Dane. It’s really hard to single anything out. Just tolerating being in a place of such unfulfilled passion, that’s a challenging place to live and tolerate.