Daniel Radcliffe on playing Allen Ginsberg
- 22 January 2013
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
He proved his post-Harry Potter mettle in the hit horror The Woman in Black, but now Daniel Radcliffe has moved even further away from the role that made him famous - playing poet Allen Ginsberg in the low-budget, independent thriller, Kill Your Darlings.
The film, directed by first time feature-maker John Krokidas, had its world premiere this week at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.
The 23-year-old actor plays a curly-haired, teenage Ginsberg as he goes to New York's Columbia university in 1943 and meets others who would give their name to the so-called Beat generation - Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Lucien Carr, who would later become an editor for United Press International.
Ginsberg, one of the most awarded of American poets, has popped up several times recently in films like Howl, where he was played by James Franco, and Walter Salles's movie adaptation of the Kerouac novel, On the Road.
"I was daunted by taking on such a great figure," Radcliffe admits, "but we're not copying anything that's gone before".
"This actually centres on a true story that happened before the Beat poets were even famous. So we're catching up with them when they're 18 or so and at college together."
The narrative focus of the film is the killing of David Kammerer in 1944, an English teacher who was on the fringes of the group.
Lucien Carr was jailed for two years after admitting manslaughter. He claimed he had acted in self-defence and was the victim of unwanted sexual advances. Kerouac and Burroughs were initially arrested as accessories to murder; but over the years, as their reputation grew, the scandal faded.
"It is about a killing, " says Radcliffe, "but for me the great challenge was Allen Ginsberg, where he starts at the beginning of the film, and where he ends up - exploring his sexuality, experimenting with drugs, and beginning his writing.
"I certainly understood a lot more about him and his poetry, particularly Howl, after being immersed in this period of his life."
The actor auditioned for the role four years ago. Krokidas says he succeeded because "Ginsberg is this shy seventeen year old kid who has to please everybody, but there was so much more to him inside. He was a poet, and he was a radical, and he felt he had something to prove. Somehow I just thought that would speak to Dan."
Radcliffe confirmed his suspicions, and admits it was "frustrating" that, after getting the role, he had to return to the UK and complete filming on the final Harry Potter films. Especially because, in his absence, funding for the film collapsed.
"Eventually they got it back off the ground," he says, "and John Krokidas came back to me and offered me the role again".
"I was tremendously flattered that he did that."
Audiences will see Radcliffe, as Ginsberg, falling for the charismatic Carr (played here by Lawless actor Dane De Haan) who started what became known as a literary "New Vision", which stated that "art excludes conventional morality".
The group of friends were also known, perhaps more aptly at this point, as "The Libertine Circle".
"The great thing about this film is that you see the Beat poets for who they are at this time," Radcliffe argues. "They're young, they're experimenting with everything, they're running around New York City tearing it up. It's not reverential in any way.
"Having said that, we are still living in a world inspired by them. I mean, everyone from Brooklyn to London is still living out their beliefs. They were the original hipsters and, to a certain extent, they created our popular culture."
Ginsberg and Carr's friendship faded in the years following Kammerer's death. And, although Ginsberg included Carr on the list of dedications for Howl, Carr subsequently asked for it to be removed from all further editions.
Radcliffe believes the relationship was typical "of that age group".
"You tend to form friendships which are intense and perhaps destructive, but you can't help it, you are drawn to each other."
With a tiny movie budget, he says the cast and crew grew very close during shooting in New York.
"We did everything wrong on this movie. You are not supposed to shoot a low budget film as a costume drama and with lots of lavish locations. Somehow we pulled it off, but that's because we were all united in making it happen.
"Honestly, I think this is the best filming experience I have ever had."
With explicit sexual content, Kill Your Darlings might not be suitable for Radcliffe's younger fans from his Potter days (although the ones who saw his stage role on Equus have seen it all before), but he stands by his work.
"I think this is the film where I have developed the most as an actor, " he says. " It's really special to me, and this is my best work so far - although I'll have to leave it to the critics to decide that."
At the Sundance festival, at least, Kill Your Darlings has been a hit, with The Guardian noting that it "hammers out a surprisingly complex and satisfying rhythm, with just the odd dud note".
But the best review comes from Radcliffe's director, who believes his star has what it takes to completely transform into a character actor - if that's what he wants.
"It's not easy turning away from being an icon and becoming a true actor. But Dan is managing to pull it off."
The Sundance Film Festival runs until the 27th January.