For Kill Your Darlings, first-time director John Krokidas finagled a spectacular Young Hollywood cast to echo the gathering of Allen Ginsberg and other young Beat poets at Columbia University before they became famous. Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Ben Foster, Boardwalk Empire’s Jack Huston, and Elizabeth Olsen play the coterie of ambitious free thinkers whose mission to rewrite the rules of literature is dramatically impacted by a real-life murder in 1944.
For the lead role of Ginsberg, Krokidas turned to Radcliffe, who won over the young director by insisting on auditioning even though the Harry Potter star could probably have had the role with just a nod. “We did a couple of scenes from the script and a couple of improvs, and it was just one of those moments where I saw all of these colors come out of him that I hadn’t seen previously in his work [as] the one character that we’d known him for,” says Krokidas. “I just saw the character that I had been writing for so many years come to life in front of me.”
DeHaan plays Lucien Carr, the magnetic but troubled ringleader of the group who catches Ginsberg’s eye – as well as the obsessive devotion of a former mentor, David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall).
The film debuted at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, attracting headlines and causing some clutched pearls as “Harry Potter” portrayed a famous gay man experiencing his intellectual and sexual awakening. Just imagine if Krokidas had kept in the nude scenes that left absolutely nothing to the imagination!
Below, in addition to a deleted scene from the Blu-ray release (out March 18), the young director discusses why DeHaan was the perfect Lucien Carr, which cast member became his unofficial therapist, and why he cut out several instances of male frontal nudity – and which racy scene can be seen on the Blu-ray.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: There are many fascinating aspects to your film, but one is simply the killer cast, which includes several stars who seem to emit such powerful but different energies. This was your first film, so I have to ask: How did this fall into place?
JOHN KROKIDAS: My casting director, Laura Rosenthal, always told me that casting a movie was like building a rainbow, and you have to make sure that each character and each actor brings a different color to the movie. And for me, what I really wanted to do was Social Network-cast it. I always admired the way that movie really found the next generation of young actors and brought them together, and that was my dream, to do that with this one. I thought about the arc of Allen in the film, which is someone who goes from a dutiful son and somebody who’s really only shown one side of himself to ultimately becoming a poet, a rebel, and showing the world that there’s so much more inside that they had no idea existed. I didn’t know Daniel Radcliffe at that point, but I wondered if he might be able to relate to that arc.
All the roles are integral, but casting Lucien Carr was especially crucial because he has to possess a certain charisma that makes all the other actors’ behavior credible. How did Dane win you over?
I ended up doing chemistry reads with a bunch of young actors [and] Daniel Radcliffe. Dane was the first one to come in, and he blew us away. Dan and I just looked at each other after the read-through, going, “Oh my God, I think we found him.” But you’re always taught as a director never to offer the actor a role in the room. You should wait. You should get perspective. You should think about it. So I said the line that they tell all directors to say when you’re potentially interested in an actor, which is, “So what’s your life like the next couple of months?” And Dane kind of leaned back against the wall, pulled a James Dean smile and said, “I don’t know. You tell me.” Which of course is so in fit with the character. Dan and I knew at that point that we had found our Lucien.
Burroughs, who was a few years older than the others Beats, has been described as sort of this sage. Being a bit older than the other guys, did Ben Foster fit that role on the set?
Ben was definitely a guru and a leader to the younger cast. They all admired him. I think Daniel actually started YouTubing him and showing him his favorite clips, which Ben was pretty amused at. But Ben was also in a way my muse, in that I would say to him, “You know, I want this shot to feel very Scorsesean.” He would say, “John, no. You want it to feel very Krokidas. Own it. Go deeper.” You know, when you’re a first-time filmmaker, you’re finding your footing, you’re trying to find your voice, and to have one of your lead actors really causing you to own your own voice and to sing even louder, it’s a wonderful thing. I still call him at two in the morning. He’s like my therapist now. [Laughs]
What was the alchemy on set when they were together. Who’s the alpha when it comes to the work? What music was being played?
Really, this was the kind of shoot where you feel like you should get tribal tattoos afterwards. They all bonded incredibly and by the time we got on set in the mad circus of running around New York City in period costume with no trailers, there was already a connection between them. Dan has said repeatedly that the fact that there were no trailers was actually a wonderful thing because it caused all the actors to just hang out with each other. Nobody was in separate rooms on their cell phones or just hiding themselves away. They were often rehearsing with each other beforehand or just goofing around. Just doing things to cause a real emotional connection between them rather than just seeing this as another scene that they had to get through.
In terms of music that was played on set, Dan kind of uses the Scorsese playlist method, in that he picked a song for every scene and would put it on repeat and play it over and over again. I remember some Florence + the Machine coming out of those earbuds. There was definitely some punk rock coming out of there too. Arctic Monkeys and Florence were the two I remember the most.
Dane’s not a music person actually. Music is not the thing that makes him emotionally connect with a character. He creates a bible before production of his character, that nobody else gets to see, and then he burns it.
One thing I love about this planning-the-heist deleted scene is the menagerie of performances we’ve been discussing. Each actor, including Jack Huston’s Jack Kerouac, gets a moment to shine.
It’s a classic example of a scene that you need in a script but ultimately realize that you don’t necessarily need in a film – even though it’s a great scene unto itself. If you leave the scene in, it becomes a heist sequence in which you know all the rules of the heist and the potential pitfalls. But if you took that scene out, you’re more living the actual moment with these characters as they were breaking into the library, which became a much more visceral and alive way of experiencing it.
I would say that the scenes I’ve included in the DVD and Blu-ray were either scenes that are like the heist scene, scenes that we felt ultimately by removing them you had a stronger, more visceral experience with the film. Or second, they featured performances from Jack Huston and Elizabeth Olsen and expanded on their side-characters arc but ultimately made the film feel a bit too long. And third, I cut three penises out of this movie. Not because of the MPAA. I actually did it before we even submitted it for ratings. One, because an actor politely asked me not to include it. The second, believe it or not, was ultimately too distracting from the moment, and I was wanting you to emotionally experience a moment with one of the characters, but instead you were looking at their junk. But third, one of them was there for a character reason. It’s the one that’s included in the deleted scenes. And I don’t want to say too much about it, or whose it was. But as you’ll see by having it there, it hinted and it winked to something about the character that I realized would be best experienced later on in the film.
Sorry, did you just say that it winked?
Um, unintentionally. [Laughs]
Very cool. It’s so interesting for nerds like myself to learn why certain scenes do or don’t make the final cut of a film.
As a director, you look back at the scenes and remember how much you loved them and – remember again, the title of this film, Kill Your Darlings – how much it hurt to take out. But the joy is now getting the chance to show them to the audience at large and people who have either seen the film once or haven’t experienced the film yet. I can’t wait for the users comments and people to reply to me on Twitter and tell me if I made the right decision or not.