Daniel Radcliffe has put down his goblet of fire and pursued some darker yet greener pastures. The 24-year-old ex-Harry Potter star has wisely been sowing the seeds for a new career, starting with his 2008 Broadway stint in the psychodrama Equus, followed by a light-in-the-heels revival of How Go Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. Now he succeeds by trying in the film Kill Your Darlings, based on the famed Beat poets’ reaction to a horrific murder in the 1940s. Radcliffe plays future Howl writer Allen Ginsberg, who has to make a decision as to whether he’ll cover for his friend and lover, Lucien Carr (played by Dane DeHaan). In a tete-a-tete at the Waldorf Towers, Daniel charmingly opened his chamber of secrets for me.
Musto: Hi, Daniel. I feel this is the film that best captures the spirit of the beat poets.
Daniel Radcliffe: Thank you. When you’re making a film about them, the one thing you can’t be is reverential because they weren’t. They were anarchic and chaotic and were trying to tear down everything that came before them. You can’t put them on a pedestal. You can’t make a movie about people who had so much fun without having fun. It’s dark and historical, but it’s fun. The Beats had a great fucking time.
I can’t believe Harry Potter just said “fucking” to me.
Happening more and more. [laughs]
You and James Franco have both played Ginsberg. [Franco starred in 2010’s Howl.] I didn’t realize Ginsberg was such a hottie.
I met someone who knew Ginsberg when he was younger and he said, “Allen would be very pleased to be played by you and James Franco!” When my casting was announced, people said, “What? That doesn’t sound right.” But I’ve looked at pictures and it’s not as bad as you’d think—though they’re slightly blurry, which helps. [laughs]
You’re playing Ginsberg in an ethical crisis, which makes the story especially interesting, no?
The most gut-wrenching line is when Jennifer Jason Leigh [as mom] says to me, “The most important thing your father ever did was fail me.” Everyone has a moment where you realize a friend is not good to you anymore and you have to make a decision as to whether to cut them off. It’s a big decision for an 18-year-old to make about someone.
Especially someone you’re in love with with.
Ginsberg went on to support NAMBLA, the man-boy love association. Do you feel he went off the rails?
I do. He was taking the idea of free love to where some people would think is a logical extreme, but he went completely mad with that, and I can’t support it. Thankfully, I didn’t have to play that part of his life.
Were you at all self-conscious during the making of this film, which has some rather vivid sex scenes?
There was no time to be self-conscious. A sex scene—whether it’s with a man or a woman—always has a goofy awkwardness to it. But it wasn’t weird. You just do your job. Any self consciousness was taken out by our director, John Krokidas, shouting instructions. Whether in this film or with Juno Temple in Horns, it’s about trying to not laugh when you’re being intense and staring into each other’s eyes. John would shout, “OK, fucking sex kissing!” Once you’ve done nudity onstage, you think, “I’ve done this.”
Again, I love that Harry Potter is saying all this to me. So you basically made a conscious decision to shake up your career some years back?
People keep telling me I made a conscious decision, but I don’t know. I have more fun when the material is more challenging. But what could I have really done that was similar to Harry Potter? I’m also accepting that Equus was an extreme way to go. But while people get caught up in the salacious details of Equus, it’s a modern classic. I wasn’t taking a huge gamble.
I think the promotional photos are what really shook things up.
That was a clever move from our producers.
Were you completely nude in those shots (and not just onstage)?
For the one on the horse, I think I was in boxers.
Don’t want to hurt yourself.
[laughs] I did a shooting for Vanity Fair with the late Richard Griffiths. I did get on that horse completely buck naked and it’s not comfortable. I don’t know how Lady Godiva did it.
Well, she had all that hair. As Harry Potter, was it weird to play opposite a lot of effects that would be added later?
That’s an area where younger actors are more comfortable than older ones. We were asked to do what we love to do—to imagine and pretend. And this generation grew up with so much CGI. We’ve seen behind-the-scenes of how films are made, so it’s more of an accepted fact.
Well, let’s get down to reality: Are you a gay icon?
I don’t consider myself an icon of anything. If other people want to call me that, it’s flattering. But I think of Madonna as being a big gay icon.
But you have a nice gay following.
So I’m told. John Krokidas has informed me. Hey, I’m not complaining. It’s not particularly been a thing for me. I’ve always grown up around gay people. A good friend of my mom and dad’s named Mark was my first experience in knowing a gay man. I remember he was a big Britney Spears fan.
Enough said. Anyway, thank you, Daniel, and fucking congrats!
For other worthy films, I’ve been glued to the New York Film Festival, where I saw the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, the picaresque odyssey of a hapless folk singer and a cat with no scrotum. “The success movies have been done, haven’t they?” said one of the Coens after the press screening, explaining that it’s more interesting to make a movie about failure. And there’s a gay moment in it too. In one scene, a club owner says that people come to his place because they want to sleep with the Carey Mulligan folk singer character. “And some of the guys want to fuck Jim,” he adds, laughing, referring to the guy played by Justin Timberlake. No kidding!
Janis Joplin’s bisexuality is left out of Broadway’s A Night With Janis Joplin—a slick act of necrophilia whereby the messy but mesmerizing legend appears before us to sing her hits and share some patter, in between visitations from her icons like Aretha, Nina, and Bessie. (These booming belters manage to offer Janis aural inspiration while also allowing her to take an occasional breather). The music is well handled and the song choices aren’t all obvious and banal. And as Janis, Mary Bridget Davies has the right raspy sounds and throws herself into the performance 1,000%. But I never saw her sweat—which might be a problem for someone playing Janis Joplin. Of course, in this authorized version, perspiration might not have worked anyway. Aside from a few references to boozing and despair, this is a pretty sanitized version of the doomed singer—one you could definitely take the kids to. From this show, you’d guess that Janis’s biggest addiction was to performing. It falls right into the “too reverential” trap that Daniel Radcliffe told me it’s important for biographical material to avert. Still, the Baby Boomer crowd eats it up before going home in the Mercedes Benzes that God obviously bought them.
Photo by Michael von Redlich
If you want to see a woman suffer, go to Theater 80 St. Marks for Ryan Landry’s Mildred Fierce—a zippy, funny spoof the old melodrama about the hard working mother continually forgiving her spiteful, social climbing daughter. In this version—which seems way more influenced by Joan Crawford than Kate Winslet—Varla Jan Merman is a scream as the pained mom (who opens a restaurant called Mildred’s Pie Hole), and the raunchy jokes, tap numbers, and featured appearance by Bette Davis as a bitchy police officer add to the mayhem. I only didn’t care for the occasional fourth-wall breaking, mainly because the audience was really getting into the story! It’s the rare case in which killing your darling might not be such a bad idea, LOL.