Daniel Radcliffe has Sundance audiences buzzing for his work in the John Krokidas–directed Kill Your Darlings, where Radcliffe plays Allen Ginsberg as a young poet-to-be in 1944, drawn to a charismatic college student named Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) who gets Ginsberg involved in murder. And while there's been plenty of chatter about the kiss both actors share — and the pivotal gay sex scene that Radcliffe has later in the film — the role is most notable for how convincingly Radcliffe is able to put Harry Potter behind him in order to disappear into a new character (albeit one with another set of distinctive eyeglasses). While celebrating his first trip to Park City, Radcliffe talked to Vulture about how he did it.
You and Dane DeHaan have great chemistry in the film, and I hear you’ve become great friends in real life as well.
Yeah, Dane and his wife sort of had what they termed a “staycation” at my apartment in New York in the two weeks leading up to Christmas, and we had New Year’s together as well. It was really cool. I cannot speak highly enough about Dane. How brilliant he is at his job is only surpassed by how he goes about his job, if you know what I mean. On some sets, you get very close to people — it’s very intense and intimate when you’re shooting a film — and then the film ends and you don’t know if you’re going to stay in contact. So it’s really nice to count Dane as a very good friend on a film like this. It’s a nice commemoration of this film.
And the two of you have already made out, so you’ve gotten that out of the way.
Exactly. [Laughs.] It would have been awkward to have that happen later.
Many of your fans are already obsessed with that kiss, sight unseen. I hope you’re prepared to see it immortalized in animated GIFs until the end of time.
You know, I think that will be wonderful! Dane and I are banging the drum already because we want the MTV Best Kiss award. We want that golden popcorn! To my knowledge, a sincere, passionate, romantic gay kiss has never won, so I think that would be a very cool thing for this movie to receive.
How do you think your work in this film relates to the work you’ve done as a gay ally for the Trevor Project? Does one help you gain any insight into the other?
I think the work on the film does help, because it’s a snapshot of what the world used to be like. In that kissing moment, most people are going to be thinking, There are two fairly attractive young guys kissing, but what’s more interesting to me is what happens right before that, when my character has to look around and check that no one’s around and that it’s okay to have this kiss. People have been asking John, “What’s kept you going? How could you find that well of passion to continue working on this film when people said they wouldn’t make it?” He said, “I had to get angry, and the thing I got angry about was that in 1944, you could literally get away with murder if you portrayed your attacker as homosexual.” It’s just another one of the things the gay community has had to fight against over the years, and in that way, it’s given me insight. It’s interesting because there is part of this film about these young men discovering their sexuality, and I think this would be a really cool film for a gay youth to see. Although it’s important to these characters, it’s not the end-all, be-all to their identity. There’s a tendency to think that once you come out as gay that’s how all your friends will think about you — that the first thing they’ll think about is that you’re gay, where actually that’s not the first thing I think about these guys like Allen Ginsberg. They were a lot more than just their sexualities.
What kind of direction did you get from John for the sex scene?
My favorite John Krokidas direction moment was when we started kissing. I guess I was way too hesitant about it in the moment, and John just went, “No! Kiss him! Fucking sex kissing!” That was my favorite note that I've gotten, probably in my career. [Laughs.] Especially with the world that I’ve come from! The things that directors have shouted to me in the past usually involve which way I have to look to see the dragon.
I love that in that scene, Ginsberg turns the light off before he loses his virginity, and the man he’s with turns it back on. I feel like that’s saying a lot in just one moment.
Yeah! The other important moment is when he’s about to start having sex with me from behind and I just grab him and turn myself over. John said that Allen would want to face him, that he would want it to be a still and intimate experience. I think it’s a very powerful sequence, and John thought he hadn’t seen that moment portrayed in a film in the way that he wanted it portrayed, that loss of virginity. He was really on a mission with that scene, and I hope I helped be a part of that.
For which project did you feel the most pressure: to play someone who grows up to become the famous poet Allen Ginsberg in Kill Your Darlings or to play someone who grows up to become universally adored sex symbol Jon Hamm in your next project, A Young Doctor's Notebook?
[Laughs.] I would have to say I felt more pressure with Kill Your Darlings. A Young Doctor’s Notebook is a wonderful show, and it’s not that it wasn’t challenging, but there was also a lot of fun to be had. Kill Your Darlings, while we had a lot of fun filming it, it was definitely a very intimidating experience. In the run up to it, it was a very daunting prospect to think, Okay, tomorrow I am playing Allen Ginsberg. God, I hope this works!