Radcliffe not trying to make Harry Potter vanish with 'Kill Your Darlings'

Actor, filmmaker Krokidas collaborate on story of young Ginsberg

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Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg in "Kill Your Darlings."

Daniel Radcliffe wants to clear up a big misconception among fans and the media: He does not want to kill off Harry Potter with his role choices.

In a phone call from the Toronto Film Festival in September, Radcliffe said there's an assumption out there that he takes on risky roles like the young version iconic beat poet Allen Ginsberg in "Kill Your Darlings" as a way to break with the image of the boy wizard character.

Instead, Radcliffe said, it's much simple than that: He takes on roles like Ginsberg because they're great roles.

"You're the first person to have actually seen that it's really not that complicated," Radcliffe tells me. "It's just about picking what I like. I'm in a really fortunate position where I'm in a financially secure position from 'Potter' where I don't have to do something unless I'm passionate and excited about it, and that's how I pick my work."

The British actor, 24, says he's faced quite an onslaught of negativity for his acting choices while doing press for "Kill Your Darlings" -- expanding into more theaters Friday -- which made its rounds at the Sundance and Venice film festivals before its stop in Toronto. Radcliffe has drawn particular attention for his work in the film because of an explicit love scene his character has in the film with another man.

"In Venice, it was really interesting. All the European journalists were great interviewers and really fantastic, but whenever they asked that question about leaving Harry Potter behind, they always used such incredibly violent language," Radcliffe recalled. "They'd ask things like, 'Are you trying to destroy Harry? Is this the final knife in the back of Harry Potter? Is it the final nail in the coffin?' All that stuff."

Radcliffe said he had no choice but the set the record straight, hopefully once and for all.

"I was like, 'Guys, I wouldn't be sitting here in front of you if it wasn't for those films. I love those films and I love the time I've had on them and what we achieved with them,'" Radcliffe said.

While Radcliffe believes journalists' observations of purposefully shedding the Potter role is misdirected, he says he at least understands where it's coming from.

"I do believe I get undue attention because I played one character for so long. I think it surprises people that I would want to do something different," Radcliffe said. "It either surprises people or frankly -- and I'm don't mean to slander your profession -- but sometimes I think it's just an easier question to ask. I think it sort of becomes a 'go-to' question for everyone."

John Krokidas, who wrote and directed "Kill Your Darlings," said he also gets how a dramatic shift in characterizations can take some getting used to.

"We watched Dan 10 years in that role and grow up into an adult, so it's harder for us to let go," Krokidas told me in a separate phone call. "People need to realize that ultimately, we want to have our own voice and express themselves, and if anything it's indication of how attached we've gotten to him. It's tougher for us than it is for him to see him take on new challenges. He's an actor and he's an artist, and he's got so much more inside him than the one role we've known him for his whole life."

The interesting thing is, Krokidas, who toiled to get "Kill Your Darlings" made for more than a decade, said Radcliffe's name recognition wasn't as powerful as you'd think from a business standpoint. But Radcliffe stood tough with Krokidas: In fact, the filmmaker said, the actor remained by his side for four-and-a-half years until their big breakthrough.

"Here's the kicker -- when I attached Dan to officially to star in the movie, he couldn't get me financing," Krokidas recalled with a laugh. "It's funny, I've read a lot of criticism in the press recently that questions if I cast him because of his name value. The irony is, no. I was told by several foreign sales agents at the time I cast him that he couldn't open a movie without a wand in his hand. Fortunately for us, 'The Woman in Black' (Radcliffe's first post-'Potter' role) opened before we started doing foreign sales and over-performed at the box office. That's where the creative choices I made ultimately paid off for us, to get the foreign sales and the financing we needed to make the movie."

If there was any advantage to the long development process, Krokidas said, it enabled the collaborators to get to know each other as people.

"We're both very like-minded in terms that we're eternal optimists," Krokidas enthused. "We're both incredibly diligent with our work ethic and we also just have a sense of humor about the world. We tend to take our misfortunes and tend to turn them into humorous situations for our friends to enjoy."

Revisiting dark history

"Kill Your Darlings" is a fascinating story, not only because we get to learn about the young Ginsberg, but also a tragic one in that the perilous circumstances the iconic beat poet experienced in his college years. At the heart of the film is a murder mystery, and underneath it all is an archaic law Ginsberg, who was gay, encountered in the 1940s. It supported "honor killings," which effectively allowed for the "justified" slaying of homosexuals.

Effectively, Krokidas said, it was the ghastly thought of honor killings that gave him the strength to not let the project go, no matter how long it took him to make it.

"This movie came together and fell apart some many times. It took over 10 years to make," said Krokidas, who recently turned 40. "People have asked me, 'How did you keep going and how did you not emotionally fall apart?' I tell them, 'When I do a project, it has to be about something that keeps me up at night. It has to do with something that really pisses me off at its core that I can emotionally connect to.'

"In 1944, you could literally get away with murder by portraying your victim as a homosexual. As a gay man and as a human being, that pissed me off to such an extent that it became a central theme that I could back to," Krokidas added. "Even when I was unemployed, that was the thing that would get me out of bed in the morning and start making phone calls again."

Even though the filmmaker had staunch determination to bring the story of honor killings to light, Radcliffe said was impressed with how Krokidas was able to make his views part of larger, compelling tale without being preachy about it.

"The important thing about 'Kill Your Darlings' is that it's not a didactic movie. We're not shouting and preaching at the audience. The information arises as part of the story," Radcliffe observed. "We're not trying to make any correct political points with the film, but they're there to be taken if you want them."

While the focus on honor killings in "Kill Your Darlings" serves as a reminder of how far the U.S. has come in its attitudes about homosexuality, Radcliffe also said it also mirrors how some other nations keep going backwards.

"Not to make too fine a point, but there is relevance in relation to the film of what's happening today in Russia," Radcliffe said. "There's a temptation to think that these problems are purely problems of the past, but actually, it's something that hasn't been solved the world over, and sometimes it's useful to be reminded that we used to deal with similar issues."

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