By Daniel Radcliffe / SPECIAL TO THE DAILY NEWS
New York City is one of my favorite places to work. After living here a year for my Broadway show, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” I consider it a second home. There was a hilarious moment when we were half naked in the Hudson River at 4 a.m., filming a scene for “Kill Your Darlings,” when a police car pulled up. I’d been in the water for only about 40 minutes, but my co-star Dane DeHaan had been in there for about four hours.
One of the officers asked, “What are you guys doing in there?” We told them we were filming. “Is someone in the water?” they wanted to know. We said yes, and they were like, “Rather you than me,” and just went off.
As we were shivering away, we realized that if the NYPD doesn't want to do our job, maybe we shouldn’t be in the Hudson.
In “Kill Your Darlings,” I play poet Allen Ginsberg at the age of 17, when he’s heading off to Columbia University for the first time and he meets Lucien Carr (DeHaan), who he fell completely in love with. Carr is the one who introduced Allen to future literary giants William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. The film is about him finding his voice, both creatively as a poet and sexually as well.
I certainly knew going in that the naked same-sex love scene in “Kill Your Darlings” would attract attention because it’s slightly salacious and it’s an easy headline. It’s about 30 seconds in a two-hour movie, within an already intense montage with a lot of other stuff going on. Director John Krokidas wanted something that felt very authentic in a way that he hadn’t seen before. And I think we did that.
Because of the nude scene I had done in “Equus” on Broadway and London’s West End a few years ago, I wasn’t that nervous. Nude scenes are always slightly awkward, but more giggly awkward than anything else. There’s no time to get flustered. It was one of seven scenes that we filmed that day and it took up about an hour.
It’s maybe more “shocking” because many people continue to look at me as Harry Potter. I accept the fact that I’m always going to be associated with the franchise and I’m fine with that.
All I can do is pick things that interest me. Everyone else sees them as “risky” or “brave,” but I just see them as great scripts.
This is how I have fun doing my job — sampling a variety of roles. I think it partially comes from spending 10 years playing one character. It makes you as an actor want to take different paths and get as many different films under your belt as you can.
So far, people seem to be enjoying all those other films, even the slightly weird ones like “Horns” or more challenging like “Kill Your Darlings.” Everyone wants to think that Potter was a handcuff for my career in some way. But the franchise has given me amazing opportunities . It’s been a springboard rather than a hindrance.
And for the most part there are only superficial differences working on big-budget movies like “Harry Potter” and indies like “Kill Your Darlings.” On “Harry Potter,” I grew up thinking it was normal to have expensive two crane cameras on set, every single day, just in case we needed one on standby. On “Kill Your Darlings,” we had the crane camera for just a single day.
We didn’t have trailers on this film, which I loved, because it meant all the actors hung out together. We formed a closer bond than you ever would if everyone was just going back to their trailers between shots. But other than that, film sets are all kind of the same. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, it doesn’t reduce the amount of chaos. It’s always a mad scramble and we’re always under pressure.
When it comes to the character I play, one of the reasons I took this particular part is that there are parts of Allen Ginsberg that I can relate to. The character we’re showing in this film is universal because we see him at a time in his life that we all can identify with. It’s somebody finding out who he is, and everyone had some variant of that experience around the age that Allen is in the film. It’s about young love and all that goes with it.
The thing I found most interesting is the difference between Allen’s inner and outer life. The diaries Allen kept through his teenage years give a fantastic picture of this guy who was both incredibly ambitious and incredibly aware of his own intellectual genius. At one point in his diary he writes, “I know I’m a genius. I just don’t know what form that genius is going to take yet.” But on the flip side of that, he was quite shy and not very confident in terms of social interactions. And I found that interesting — to play these great literary figures before they became the great men we know.
Allen hadn’t smoked a million cigarettes by that point. He didn’t have that low, gravelly voice that everyone knows from all his recordings. And John, our director, was very firm about the fact that he didn’t want us to research our characters beyond the age we were playing them. He said, “You’re not playing Allen Ginsberg the great American poet. You’re playing Allen Ginsberg, a boy from Paterson, New Jersey, desperately hoping to get into Columbia University.”
Nailing Ginsberg’s accent was a huge thing for me. I enjoyed learning how to speak in a New Jersey accent. On set, I just did it all the time. I listened to a lot of Allen Ginsberg at various stages of his life and Jersey accents of varying degrees on the Internet. I didn’t want to go too far with this, because Allen didn’t have a terribly strong Jersey accent. When he was young, it was more neutral than the ones heard on “Jersey Shore.” I’d talk in the accent and read a lot of his poems and diaries out loud by myself and with my dialect coach.
We were also lucky to film on location at Columbia University. But it’s impossible to completely lose yourself in a role when you’re filming out in the open. There’s this one shot where I’m walking up the steps of the Low Memorial Library for the first time. And on each side of the shot there were about 300 people lined up because everyone had come out to watch us film.
You never get used to something like that.
picture source: Robert Sabo