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Riding into town on a wave of high praise from Sundance and Toronto, Kill Your Darlings made its Hollywood debut at the Writers Guild of America Theatre on Thursday evening. Director John Krokidas, co-screenwriter Austin Bunn and the powerhouse cast hit the red carpet to discuss the film’s dark themes as it weaves the little-known origin story of the founders of the Beat Generation.
In attendance at the low-key event were stars Daniel Radcliffe, Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Dane DeHaan, who posed for photos with Life After Beth co-star Aubrey Plaza (Parks & Recreation). Other guests in attendance included Caity Lotz (Arrow) and Sarah Dumont (Don Jon).
Krokidas opened the screening with an emotional introduction of the various people who helped bring his directing dreams to fruition. Calling each cast member up to the front, Krokidas explained that there is no such thing as an overnight success — the film was the result of ten years of dedication to a story he and the cast were compelled to tell.
A biographical film set on the Columbia campus in the 1940s, Kill Your Darlings depicts a circle of literary bad boys — Allen Ginsberg (Radcliffe), Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston, Boardwalk Empire‘s Richard Harrow), William Burroughs (Foster) and Lucien Carr (DeHaan) — and how a murder in their ranks (of Carr’s obsessive mentor David Kammerer, played by Hall) launched them toward greatness. Touching upon themes of obsession and death, the film embraces sex, drug use and emotional violence to illustrate how the Beats spawned a counterculture revolution.
Asked to explain why he chose the life of Ginsberg as the focal point of his first feature debut, Krokidas said he identified with the Howl poet’s personal struggles with his own sexuality: “As somebody who was closeted growing up, reading Allen Ginsberg for the first time, [I was struck that he] was so open about his loves, his sexuality and his heart. He made me want to be that brave.”
Confessing that he’d never heard about the murder before receiving the script, Radcliffe told The Hollywood Reporter that research was required to accurately portray the film’s lead. “Playing this iconic character before he was an icon and really getting to explore who he was as a young man was fascinating,” he said.
The cast found the film’s stark intensity appealing. Hall said he was “drawn to the movie’s aspirations to wrestle with those [dark] themes,” while DeHaan, who plays the group’s charismatic muse, said it was the character’s dangerous allure that attracted him to the project.
“The darker elements are always difficult and challenging,” DeHaan said. “Honestly, I think what’s different about it from work I’ve done in the past is the extroverted elements and the charisma and sexual prowess that Lucien has.”
Joked Radcliffe about his famous turn on Broadway (which, like Darlings, required some nudity), “I did Equus when I was like 17. And it doesn’t really get much darker than that!”
Krokidas said he hopes the film will inspire another young generation of aspiring artists to break free of expectations and forge their own indelible mark on history: “I want young audiences to know that the world is theirs and they can make their stamp. It’s time for them to start their own revolution.”
Kill Your Darlings opens in theaters on Oct. 16.
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