Daniel Radcliffe goes back to school in ‘Kill Your Darlings’

Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, and Michael C. Hall arrive at the premiere of 'Kill Your Darlings' Oct. 3 at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, and Michael C. Hall arrive at the premiere of 'Kill Your Darlings' Oct. 3 at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills, Calif.

J. Pierrepont Finch by night, Allen Ginsberg by day.

For much of the time that Daniel Radcliffe was busy in New York singing and dancing his way through the 2011 Broadway revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, he was also working with John Krokidas, a first-time filmmaker, preparing for the role of the celebrated Beat poet: teenage Ginsberg, just accepted to Columbia University, where he gets caught up with the likes of William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. And caught up in a very real, very troubling murder. Kill Your Darlings is the result of Radcliffe’s endeavors.

It’s a long way from Harry Potter, but in a way, it isn’t: Both the budding wizard Radcliffe played in the eight epic fantasy films and Ginsberg, the budding poet, left home to attend legendary institutions of learning. And both are transformed by their time there. The Potter franchise is just one mega, magic-powered coming-of-age story, and in Kill Your Darlings, the Jewish kid from Paterson, N.J., heads to the big city and discovers who he is — as a writer, and as a man attracted to other men.

“You know, a lot of the parts that I would be offered at this point in my life would be in things like coming-of-age stories,” says Radcliffe, who is 24 now, but can easily do younger. “And that’s a theme in so many movies.”

But the rest of Kill Your Darlings, he adds, is “such a far cry. That’s where the comparisons begin and end, because it gets very dark and challenging.”

In the film, “Ginsy,” as he is dubbed, takes up with Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), a rich, reckless campus charmer. Ginsberg is smitten, attaching himself to Carr’s coattails, the two of them buzzing around town in the company of the young Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Kerouac (Jack Huston). But Ginsberg is not the only one drawn to Carr: The older and wildly obsessive David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall) can’t understand why Carr won’t see him any longer. He and Ginsberg become rivals for Carr’s attention, and affections, until Kammerer’s entreaties assume a menacing, stalker-esque aspect. Something must be done with this bothersome fellow.

And something is.

“This is a true story, which so few people know,” Radcliffe says. “It was suppressed for a long time, but when you have an event that was this culturally significant, and significant in the lives of people who went on to become so famous, it seems incredible that nobody has ever told this story before.”

Radcliffe — who pulls off the boyish Ginsberg with physical similitude and serious conviction — wants to make it clear that while events turn grisly in Kill Your Darlings, the film goes to great lengths to document the rollicking adventurousness of the nascent Beats, too.

“I think if you’re making a film about the Beats, you can’t be too reverential, because they had so much fun, they were just wild, going around New York, having a crazy time. So we wanted to capture some of that energy and vitality and excitement. ... Hopefully, there’s a lightness to the movie, as well as all of the dark stuff.”