A lunch is scheduled at the Bowery Hotel; I miss it. Email drafts and technology failure be damned.
The lunch is rescheduled for the following Monday. A few days later, I get off on the wrong subway stop and arrive late. Botch number two.
When I think I’ve finally made it, Huston’s publicist calls to tell me that he is seated out back, and I drag myself through the lobby to meet him—a period on the protracted sentence of my long, clumsy foible.
Huston’s seated in the courtyard with a bottle of Pellegrino and a pack of yellow American Spirits, considerably more forgiving than I’d dreaded. He stands up to say hello—dressed not unlike a Varvatos ad in a crisp black blazer and weathered boots—and dismisses my overly apologetic utterings with the effortless manner of someone accustomed to navigating a world of flat-footed journalists. His demeanor is charming but not unctuous, personable but not overly eager. He asks questions about my life, in a decidedly un-actorly way.
Born of a rare pedigree, half Hollywood royalty and half English aristocracy, the actor has the kind of culturally textured background that could easily have produced entitlement. His grandfather is the iconic director John Huston, and he is the nephew of Anjelica Huston and Danny Huston. On his mother’s side, he descended from the 6th Marquess of Cholmondeley, the first Prime Minister of Great Britain, the Treasurer of Baghdad, and a Rothschild.
But he assures me his upbringing was not comparable to being a Hilton or a Kardashian; he learned to embrace his lineage without relying on nepotism to kick-start his career.
“We’re just a bunch of guys who really enjoy making movies and film,” he says. “The arts on the whole have been really prevalent in my family. I always say none of us had a real job, on both sides of my family. Everyone’s always been in the arts—a pianist, or a writer, or a director, or an actor. We don’t know how to work. But it’s good because I was told very young by my uncle, ‘Don’t be the asshole who shies away from your family. Be proud.’”
After studying at the legendary drama school Hurtwood House, Huston began taking small roles in films, an experience that he says was hardly charmed. “People can be rough on you when they think ‘silver spoon.’ It wasn’t silver spoon. I was using quarters to buy a pack of cigarettes.”
In 2010, he landed a role on HBO’s period drama Boardwalk Empire, helmed by Martin Scorsese. As Richard Harrow, he wears a tin mask over part of his face due to being disfigured. It was a dream role for him, both in terms of being able to participate in an ensemble and in being physically unrecognizable.
“It’s not about being front and center,” he says. “It’s about being able to contribute what I can to something I believe in and love. I always think it’s not about me. If anything, I try to hide in characters. The time I feel best is when I’m unrecognizable. But I think that’s the same for any actor. The best is when you can’t recognize yourself. You feel like you’ve lost yourself to that character.” Indeed, on Boardwalk Empire, he bears no resemblance to the handsome, charismatic figure he cuts off-camera.
He’s more like himself in his new film Kill Your Darlings, but the project is similar to Boardwalk, Huston says, in that it, too, is an ensemble piece. He tackles a literary Jack—Kerouac, that is—playing the iconic writer with a deftness that’s striking for how unpretentious it is; it’s almost self-effacing. Huston executes the so-called Wizard of Ozone Park’s persona not as the literary maverick he became, but as the football star he was, when Kerouac was a student at Columbia University.
Kill Your Darlings follows four young men—Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Lucien Carr—over the course of a year, documenting a dark and little-explored chapter in the early life of the Beat Generation. The film feels like an accomplishment, not only for its masterful filmmaking but also as a piece of history animated with beguiling richness.
The cast is probably the year’s most extraordinary. Daniel Radcliffe pulls the feat of playing a young Allen Ginsberg as a likably neurotic everyman, with only occasional glimmers of the iconoclast he became. As Lucien Carr, Dane DeHaan is revelatory; he smolders, he glowers, he purrs; he’s magnetic and repugnant. Ben Foster is nearly unrecognizable as William Burroughs, tightly wound and terse when he’s sober and at ease only when he’s loaded.
Together, they are all simpatico, and Huston’s sincerity about the joy of filming Darlings is apparent, despite the challenges. “The movie was—low budget doesn’t cut it,” he laughs. “We were doing it on fucking pennies. Literally, a shoestring budget. There were no trailers or anything like that. We were getting changed in the costume truck, and we’d sit and hang out in hair and makeup, which was really little... We were together, as friends. We all became really close. That’s what helped with the movie as well. These guys are all so good. It was all these real actors. It wasn’t a ‘movie star movie’ at all. People had to be willing to go there for it, especially Dan and Dane.”
That said, playing a historical figure as significant as Kerouac was risky. “It was hard for me because everyone knows Jack Kerouac. He was probably the most famous of all the Beats. He’s the voice of a generation, so one has to be wary going into it. I had to play it as just a real human being. To get into character for something like this is very hard because if you research Kerouac, everything is him as an older man. He was 22 years old in this film. You have more of an artistic license to make it your own.”
He says that he studied Kerouac’s history, but stopped before he got to Jack Kerouac, Legendary Writer. “I thought I should only research up to the point where the film stopped,” he says. “Otherwise you have these images in your head of someone who had been on the road, who had traveled, who had been published. This was important. He had to have this sort of swagger, and the kick of Kerouac—but also, he was a young guy. He was a writer who was trying to find his voice.”
Despite the high profile Kerouac role, Huston is keener on finding roles he wants to play than he is on celebrity. Fittingly, then, his next project is not on the big screen but in a play in London—a stage production of Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. “I’ve been wanting to get back on stage for so long because it’s so vital as an actor to get that instant experience. This is actually you, on stage, in front of your audience, putting your heart and soul there and feeling from the audience—or not. Maybe it goes terribly. But that’s equally rewarding, I guess, in its own way.”
Taking time off from film and television to pursue theatre could be intimidating, but he justifies the decision nicely. “I now know I don’t have to rush. It’s not going anywhere. There will always be another part, and there will always be another opportunity. When it happens—the right movies—we get what we’re meant to get. That’s been important to figure out. I’m in it for the long game. I’m not in it for the quick fix.”
Photographer: Tetsuharu Kubota for BridgeArtists.com. Stylist: Christian Stroble for wschupfer.com. Hair: Yoichi Tomizawa for Art-dept.com. Makeup: Aya Komatsu for Defactoinc.com. Photography Assistants: Yoshiyuki Matsumura and Shinichi Tsutsui. Styling Assistant: Victoria Cameron.
Grooming Notes: Moisturizing toning lotion by ioma. Grooming crème and sumotech by Bumble and Bumble.