Kill Your Darlings - Daniel Radcliffe interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
Daniel Radcliffe talks about his pride at making Kill Your Darlings and what it was like finding the character of Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, as well as his long involvement with the project.
He also discusses his career to date and why he likes to step outside of his comfort zone when looking for new roles. He also talks about the importance of doing what makes him happy, rather than meeting other people’s expectations.
Q. When did you first get involved with this project? It’s been a while, hasn’t it?
Daniel Radcliffe: It has been a while. When I was doing Equus in New York, John Krokidas, the director of the film, came and saw it and I think that was what started him considering me for the role. I auditioned for him back then, which would have been about 2009, and was moving forward with it. But then I became unavailable because the filming got pushed back and I had to go off and shoot Harry Potter 6, I guess it would have been. They then re-cast the film with Jesse Eisenberg, Chris Evans and Ben Whishaw but financing fell through again. And when John was re-starting things, he came to me and said: “I know it’s been a while but would you still be up for doing this?” Even though it had been re-cast and somebody else was going to be playing my role, I never quite let go of the film. I never quite let go of the idea because I’d had such a great time working with John just from the preparation sessions together. So, when it came back round I was very excited and ready to start.
Q. What attracted you to this story?
Daniel Radcliffe: It really was the story. It was the fact that there were these three major figures in American literature who were involved in what is a really incredible and bizarre and interesting story – and no one’s ever told it. It seemed like a great opportunity for me personally to show I could do something different, to show there’s a different side to what I could do as an actor, and… I’ve always been interested in poetry but not particularly the Beats when I was younger. So, it wasn’t out of any fan-dom of Allen Ginsberg. I wasn’t like: “Oh, I have to play Ginsberg.” It was really that I became a fan of the character in the script. I think in a way he was the most vulnerable and the most innocent going into it all. And I think he has the biggest journey in terms of the change in his character from the beginning of the film to the end. So, all of those things were exciting challenges.
Q. Were you aware of Ginsberg?
Daniel Radcliffe: Oh obviously. I got given a copy of Naked Lunch when I was 14, which is obviously far too young to read that book. I read On The Road. And actually I’m not as massively obsessed with that book as everyone else is. Ginsberg was the one I knew least well of the three of them. I think I’d read the first line of Howl in The Oxford Book of Quotations but hadn’t read the rest. But I obviously went back and read it all. I think the thing with The Beats is the more you learn about Ginsberg’s life, the more accessible and emotional and powerful the poetry becomes. If you read Kaddish with no knowledge of Ginsberg’s relationship with his mum, then it’s not going to mean as much and is harder to relate to. So, my appreciation for what they did has definitely increased with doing this film.
Q. Were you literary?
Daniel Radcliffe: Well, when I was 14 I got into reading in a very big way. So yeah, poetry in particular. I’m actually more of a fan of the type of poetry that Allen kind of rallies against in this film [laughs]. But that’s acting!
Q. What kind of research did you do?
Daniel Radcliffe: It was mainly based around his diaries. John asked us not to do any research into the period of their lives after the film takes place because there was no point, we weren’t dealing with that, and there’s also a danger of the knowledge of what he became informing when he was 17, which wasn’t what he wanted. So, I read his diaries and they were a fantastic insight into who he was at that age, and he was somebody that was… I think he says at one point: “I know I’m a genius, I just haven’t figured out what form my genius will take yet.” So, he had a huge amount of confidence. He writes at one point: “I’ve finished off the first 14 bars of a concerto today. The start is fantastic…” Or something like that. But he knows in some way that he’s different and that he definitely wants to be a great man. He just doesn’t know how he’s going to achieve that and that’s what the story of the film is – it’s about him finding his voice and the pain that he had to go through in order to find that voice.
Q. He has a fascinating relationship with his father…
Daniel Radcliffe: I think Allen’s relationship with his parents is fascinating. His father was definitely somebody who spurred him on and pushed him. A huge part of growing up is stepping out of your father’s shadow. There was also his brother going off to join the military. But his family life was also very conventional as well and that’s the other important thing about where Allen starts in this film. I think he’s by far the most conservative and conformist of any of The Beats and ends up probably being the most liberated, not just in terms of doing wild things but in terms of actually being emotionally happy and feeling liberated in that sense. I think Allen did go on to have the happiest of The Beats’ lives.
But the relationship with his father and his mother was of huge importance and working with David Cross was fantastic. I was a fan of his stand-up and Arrested Development, obviously. So, it was very surreal getting to work with him. He is one of the most amazing improvisers I have ever worked with. It didn’t make the film but David Cross as one point went off on this long rant… he made up some story about a tickertape factory closing down and some argument about the local council wanting to have a parade for some returning soldiers, and it was just going on for five minutes, and it made complete sense and was really funny, and I was just looking at him in amazement.
Q. When Allen sets out he’s slightly out of his depth in terms of his friends being older and more worldly-wise. Did you feel any kinship with that in terms of being thrown into the film industry at such a young age yourself?
Daniel Radcliffe: Um, not really because I think when you’re that young you don’t question anything and you don’t really feel out of your depth. You’re just having fun all the time. But I definitely think in terms of struggling to fit in and thinking that there’s a way to be that other people want you to be and trying to match that rather than actually trying to investigate you yourself want to be… that’s adolescence and who hasn’t been a teenager? Certainly, a lot of my teenage years were spent in pursuit of being someone that I’m not. I think a part of the last few years of my life, and indeed this period now, is about working out who you are and being OK with it.
Q. What kind of rehearsal period did you have with Ben Foster and Dane DeHaan?
Daniel Radcliffe: Well, I’d been working with John for the best part of a year in the run-up to the film, working on scenes with him and finding Allen’s voice and things like that. In terms of the actual rehearsal time we had as a group, I think we only had four days but we had a first night get together party as well, which was amazing. It was a great bonding experience. I’d met Dane a couple of times before and we’d been hanging out a little bit. I think it’s an under-rated part of the film industry, the kind of tone and the atmosphere on-set when the film is being made, which I think does have a real impact on the type of film you end up with.
This film was made in 25 days with very little money. We were just scrambling around New York. To shoot a period film on location in New York on film is not something anyone would advise you to do. But we did it and we did it with a mad, vital energy. Part of it was guerrilla filmmaking. At one point they were trying to evict us from the grounds of Columbia University at 4am and me, John and our cinematographer and Dane were running away from our producers at times, trying to know off one last shot. And that kind of environment is incredibly creative. The thing that marks this film out from many other films on The Beats, which often treat them with a lot of reverence, is that there’s a lot of anarchy and chaos in their story. I think that’s what we kind of capture in this film.
Q. Obviously, you really don’t have any physical resemblance to the man. Did that ever worry you going in? Was there a look you were trying to find?
Daniel Radcliffe: Obviously, if you were basing a list on physicality, I’m – as you say – not at the top of anyone’s list to be a match for Ginsberg. The hair was really helpful. If anyone is wondering, it is a perm! But I also had contacts as well and they did something very, very subtle to my lips – because he had really full lips. Seeing yourself as that does change you. Also, I stayed in the accent all day long and stuff like that, so it started to become really embedded in me and not something I could stick on at the beginning of the day. I actually find this film is far and away the easiest to watch myself in because I don’t look like myself.
Q. I suspect a film series from your past has given you a level of security that enables you to be able to choose challenges like this. Is there an extent to which you ever feel slightly constrained by the thought that you might be bringing a particular audience with you?
Daniel Radcliffe: I don’t think I’ve been constrained so far [laughs].
Q. But do you feel any pressures?
Daniel Radcliffe: To be honest, none. Again, it’s similar to what I was saying about growing up as a teenager and having to be something that you think other people want you to be. That’s not a way of being… I don’t think you’ll keep anything worth keeping with that. I just have to pick the things that excite me and I get passionate about, such as movies like this, and the people that like those films will go and see them. A lot of the fans of Potter came and saw Equus and I think, frankly, anything after that is… it’s not going to get that much more extreme than having sex with a horse on-screen.
Q. Have you kept a diary yourself?
Daniel Radcliffe: No, I haven’t and I’ve always been told… my English teacher, who I’m still friends with, always bangs on at me about doing so. I’m hoping that I’m just going to remember it all [laughs]. But I don’t have the patience or the tolerance for my own writing. I think I’d get half a sentence together and then just get angry with myself. So, probably a diary is not for me.
Q. If you did, what would be the easiest thing you’ve done over that period and what would be the toughest, professionally?
Daniel Radcliffe: This was probably the thing I was most nervous about beforehand because Ginsberg was so well known and I knew there would be people who were sceptical about me playing him. So, I was nervous going into it. Learning to dance for How To Succeed was frustrating but I got there. But this was definitely the thing I was most nervous of going into and, consequently, the most proud of as well.
Q. When the Harry Potter safety net was taken away, did you have to adapt in a different way? Is it a different mentality now?
Daniel Radcliffe: I was talking to Matthew Lewis about this recently and we both said that actually, since finishing Potter, it’s not like a safety net was taken away… or rather it is but that’s a good thing. I think when you are somewhere for 10 years, no matter how diligent you try to be, you become so comfortable in those surroundings that you start taking on information and start learning in a different, probably less effective way than you would if you’re thrown in somewhere at the deep end. So, actually for me finishing Potter has been really exciting. With Potter, you did one film a year and it was Potter! Now, being able to do two or three films a year and a play, or whatever it is, has been… it’s just given us all an appetite for trying to get as many different parts in different sorts of films, and work under our belt as possible.
Q. You’ve moved from being a child actor into giving adult performances seamlessly. Have you ever thought back to the wee boy who sat on the hotel floor playing Monopoly and what was in your head then? Did you ever think your achievements would be what they are today?
Daniel Radcliffe: No. I never could have ever imagined that I would be doing what I’m doing now. It was never a doubt in my mind that I would at least endeavour to break out of Potter and do things afterwards. I think the day after I was cast as Harry there was some article, I think written by Jack Ryan who had played The Artful Dodger, and he’d obviously had a very tough time, kind of condemning us all to the same thing the day after we’d been cast [laughs]. I think when you hear that stuff when you’re 11, you rally against it in some way in a way that you’re not really aware of and go: “I want to prove those people wrong.” So, I definitely couldn’t tell you what I was thinking at the time. But I do remember playing Monopoly and it is bizarre the journey I’ve had. But it makes be very, very proud of where I’ve got to.
Q. If you had to choose between movies or theatre for the rest of your life, which would it be?
Daniel Radcliffe: Movies because it’s where I’ve grown up. Although I just spoke about not settling into a comfort zone, it is a wonderful place to be. I love them. Film sets, when they’re run well, they’re wonderful little microcosms of how the world could be [laughs]. As a kid, particularly, it teaches you stuff about team-work and community and lots of other stuff you don’t necessarily have if you just grow up in London. So, all that stuff that I gained from films, I love and still love and want to be a part of for the rest of my life. I think theatre is the thing I hope to continue to return to because it keeps you sharp. You’re scared and nervous on film sets but it’s never quite the same level of terror as before a first night – and that’s a very good thing to experience.
Q. Did you watch the other Beat films that came out recently? Did you watch James Franco in Howl and, if so, what did you make of his performance?
Daniel Radcliffe: I haven’t watched those, so I don’t have an answer to give. I didn’t watch them before because I wouldn’t have liked to end up doing an impression of someone. For example, when I was doing the musical How To Succeed… I was listening to the original score and my singing teacher had to get me to stop doing that because I was unconsciously mimicking exactly what the original guy had done. I’m always very away of that, so I don’t want to see anyone else.
Q. Since Sundance and the reception the film got, there’s been a lot of buzz about Kill Your Darlings. But if you type it into Google, you get things like ‘Harry Potter in steamy gay sex scene’. Is that disappointing?
Daniel Radcliffe: I don’t think it’s anything but expected is it? I’d be a fool if I thought that wasn’t going to happen [laughs]. You know, the thing I always say is that if that’s what gets attention for the film and then they come in and sit down and watch it, then that’s not all they’re going to talk about at the end. It doesn’t matter the reasons people go and see a film, so long as they go and see it. Frankly, I was actually pleased. I thought relatively few concentrated on the gay sex scene. And there was one review that said something brilliant, which was “in a sex scene that isn’t graphic, but which will be called so because it’s between two men”… that’s the thing, it’s not actually a graphic sex scene. If it was a straight sex scene you’d see a lot more. It’s implied and well shot and a really strong scene.
Q. Would you ever get involved with another film franchise?
Daniel Radcliffe: I think I would. If it was good enough I would absolutely never stop myself. You know, stuff like Potter and Batman and now all of the stuff that Marvel is doing it… they’re proving that franchise doesn’t need to be a dirty word. They’re really great examples of quality filmmaking and hugely successful franchises. So, I would absolutely do another series but possibly not for a little while and if I could get more of a supporting role that would be even better. I wouldn’t have to be there for the whole 11 months!
Q. Did you find a great different between playing someone who really existed and a fictional character? Did you take a different approach?
Daniel Radcliffe: Yes, you do, you do feel a lot more responsibility because it is a real person. It’s not my first experience of doing that but it was definitely the most famous and well known person I’ve played. A lot of people have actually met him and have stories about him and most of the stories about Allen Ginsberg were that he flirted with me [laughs]. [That applied] to almost every man that I met who had met him… and there were also a lot of Allen Ginsberg getting naked stories! But other than that, because we’re playing them at a time before they were known, I think t hat took the pressure off a little bit. For example, I didn’t feel any pressure to have to come up with some gravelly, 40-a-day voice that we all know Ginsberg as having later because that was before he started smoking and dong drugs and living that life. So, I don’t suppose there was anything hugely different in my approach.
Q. Do you ever take time off?
Daniel Radcliffe: No. I don’t really. I love what I do and there’s nothing… I do take some time off but I couldn’t tell you the last time I had a month off. But I am so happy in my job. Also, the film industry as well… if you want to make a film and you have a holiday planned, but they say they want to move the film forward by a month, you have to be able to say OK. So, you can’t really make long-term plans. So, it’s mainly little four day getaways here and there.