With Kill Your Darlings, Daniel Radcliffe at age 24 appears to have smartly moved beyond the phenomenal success of the franchise which catapulted him to international fame 12 years ago. Even before the last Harry Potter movie was released in 2011, the British actor had signaled a readiness to broaden his scope, appearing on the London stage in a revival of Peter Shaffer’s Equus. He conveyed a raw anguish in his portrayal of the psychosexually troubled teenager who blinds six horses, a performance he repeated with great success on Broadway in 2009. He followed with the singing and dancing lead in the Broadway revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, captivating audiences as the irrepressibly energetic and cheerfully insouciant window washer who propels himself to top of the corporate ladder.
Radcliffe’s role in Kill Your Darlings is no less ambitious. He plays the American poet Allen Ginsberg at the cusp of adulthood. The movie charts the formative years in the early 1940s when young Ginsberg first met Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, who later would all become known as the Beats. The plot centers around a real-life murder committed by Lucien Carr, a fellow Columbia University undergraduate with whom the 17-year-old Ginsberg falls in love.
During his interview with me, part of a whirlwind publicity blitz for the new movie, Radcliffe was charming and polite, and talked seriously about his work. And as you might expect from someone who’s been in the limelight since he was 11 years old, he had the professional assurance of a showbiz veteran.
Is it true you were offered the part in Kill Your Darlings because the director, John Krokidas, saw your work on Broadway?
Absolutely. I do think, looking back on Equus, it was more important than I knew at the time even. I knew that it was a good choice to make, and I was really pleased with the work we had done on it, but I could never have imagined that four or five years later it would have got me this part. Also, you know, just as a statement of intent to the industry, I think it made people go, “Oh, okay, he’s not content to rest on his laurels and just live off of Harry Potter, as it were, for the rest of his life; He wants to challenge himself.” I think half of the key to success in this industry is showing the willingness to take a risk and then people will give you a chance. And when you are given that chance it is up to you what you make of it.
You know, it’s impossible to make a plan in the film industry. You can’t go, “Okay, if I picked this script and then this script, it will complete my transition from Harry Potter.” Nothing’s that simple or straightforward. So I think once you realize there’s no strategy that will 100% work, you just have to pick things based on what you love. And I’m in a position where I don’t have to do something for the money. That’s a very rare position in this industry, and I’m very, very lucky to be in it. Off the back of that, I think I do just tend to pick things that I get passionate about and my taste seems to be slightly off the beaten path.
So what was it that drew you to Kill Your Darlings?
There were many things, all centered basically around the script. Firstly, the fact that there was this incredible story about three very culturally important historical figures that nobody knew, or a very small amount of people knew. It was just like finding buried treasure or something. I mean, how has this film not been made already? Of course, that was in large part because Lucien Carr never wanted it to be made, for obvious reasons. Then the character of Ginsberg itself is fascinating. And what I think is great is you don’t rely on the future fame of the characters to make it interesting. This story is good enough that even if Allen [Ginsberg], Jack [Kerouac], and Bill [Burroughs] hadn’t gone on to become writers, the story would still be interesting enough to hold it together. And their relationships are interesting enough for you to continue to be engaged.
Other than that, it really comes down to the overall quality of the script. Normally when you read scripts there is a lot of exposition. In this script the story is always being moved forward and it’s all being done through the interactions between the characters. To me that spoke to such a high level of writing that I wanted to be a part of it. And then I met John [Krokidas], and he’s an incredibly charming, charismatic, fun guy to be around. People always point out that he’s a first-time director. I say no, because when you meet John, nothing about that guy says first-time director. He knew the film he wanted to make inside out. He knew it from the word go, nine years ago when he first started writing the script. I think you can have a director who has done 10 jobs who wouldn’t have had the vision that John had for this film. And ultimately that’s what counts more than anything, having a clear vision of the specific film that they want to make.