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Waking Up to Steel Cuts Oats, He’s a Beatnik, Man!
John Krokidas has just revealed that, when given the choice, he opts for black beans over pinto. It’s a fine decision, I tell him, as we walk through an alley in L.A.’s Fashion District, making conversation en route to an inconspicuous sushi restaurant with a Korean name.
For those unfamiliar with Krokidas, the 39-year-old director is at the helm of the drama Kill Your Darlings, his first feature-length film in which Daniel Radcliffe plays a young Allen Ginsberg. The film chronicles the poet’s tumultuous relationship with the near sociopath Lucien Carr (played by Dane DeHaan). The subject matter is heavy, and the director is inclined to acknowledge as much. “The movie is not just a coming-out story, it’s a story of getting the power to own up to who you are as a person for the first time—emotionally, your background, where you’re from, your parents, your sexuality, all of that.”
When we arrive at the restaurant, the three tables inside are occupied, so we opt to sit on the hot pavement behind the restaurant. The smell of urine and compost waft over us as Krokidas tells me about his decision to become a director. “I was cast as the cute guy in the musical Fantastic,” he tells me. It was a college production at Yale, where he studied theatre. “I realized then that perhaps acting was not in my future.”
He began making short films with friends and quickly fell in love with this method of storytelling. The shorts were aired on Public Access TV, and won some local awards. “What were they about?” I ask.
“Oh my God, let’s not even go there. It’s horrible. I burned everything.”
He eventually lets on that they were based on a poem. “I never noticed, until now, that the first short I did was the adaptation of a poem, and my first feature is about poets.” He attests to not even being a huge poetry fan, though he became keen on Ginsberg in his impressionable teenage years. “I was closeted as a teenager and through some of college,” he says as we make our way to a now open table inside. “The attraction to Ginsberg was partially because he was so brave and open about his sexuality in a way I couldn’t be. In the time in which he wrote, in which he lived, he put his word, his passion, his sexuality, his blood, his gut, everything on his sleeve, into his work. I wish I could be that brave.”
Darlings centers on Ginsberg as a freshman at Columbia University, a lesser-known time of the Beat poet’s life that was first brought to Krokidas’ attention nine years ago by his college roommate Austin Bunn (co-writer of the film). Krokidas was unfamiliar with the historical narrative—the story of the murder of David Kammerer by Lucien Carr that brought Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Burroughs together at a young age—and realized it would translate well to a movie.
He was particularly interested in the courtship between Ginsberg and Carr, one that he refers to as the relationship you have before you are ready to fall in love. “The irony of these relationships is that there’s a flip-side to them, which is, that mentor figure—that person you fall in love with who is at a more advanced place in life than you—wants you to grow, but never as high as them,” he says. “To fully find your own voice, and to become yourself, you have to somehow surpass that person, or cut them out of your life. They tell writers a lot that you have to kill your parents in order to write, and it’s a similar kind of relationship.”
Radcliffe was among Krokidas’ first choices for the role of Ginsberg. When he got the chance to meet with the British actor about the film, there was an instant kinship that became an important dynamic for the pair to execute many of the scenes in the film. One scene in particular places Radcliffe in a vulnerable position: Ginsberg losing his virginity in a very personal, honest way. As a director, Krokidas imbued humor into the moment to guide Radcliffe through it. “Just in case there was any discomfort about the sex scene, I decided to break any tension by blocking the scene and having myself play Allen and my female DP Reed Morano play the other character having sex with me. By putting the two of us in all of these absurd positions and acting it out, we made everyone who was present on the closed set laugh.”
Radcliffe initially turned down the role, having already committed to Harry Potter. Shooting was delayed, and at one point Jesse Eisenberg was considered for the role but he too turned it down, explaining that he had already played the most iconic college student he would ever play in The Social Network. Krokidas re-approached Radcliffe via email a couple of years later, asking if he was still interested in the role, to which he reportedly replied: “Abso-fucking-lutely.”
Despite the time it took for all the moving parts of the film to come together, Krokidas pressed on with a clear motivation: “For me, the fact that in 1944 you could literally get away with murder by calling your victim a homosexual pissed me off to no end. That was the one thing I could always turn to, even when it looked like the film wasn’t going to happen. That helped give me the strength to say, ‘No, this is a story that I need to tell, this is a story that needs to be told to the world.’”
Photographer: Ward & Kweskin at laurenward.net. Groomer: Vanessa Price for therexagency.com. Styling Assistant: Beau Reed.