Stopping off on his journey from boy wizard to drug-addled beat poet, Daniel Radcliffe gets into the spirit of our crime fiction special
Daniel Radcliffe is smoking like his life depends on it. It’s a thick, eye-watering, fill-the-room, yellow-the-wallpaper smoke. He’s immersed in his role as a pulp fiction author, puffing through writer’s block, face twisted with concentration as he conjures murky tales of hardboiled detectives and femme fatales. As he bashes away on the typewriter, he discards draft after draft in angrily crumpled balls and his features fall into a distant burdened stare, heart blackened by the horror of it all.
Thankfully 24-year-old Radcliffe hasn’t got a blackened heart in the slightest (although he is a heavy smoker off set). In fact, he’s one of the most upbeat actors we’ve encountered, and relishing the noirish cinematic brief of this shoot, the chance to create a character rather than simply do ‘Blue Steel’ in waistcoated tailoring. “Today wasn’t as horrible and pose-y as it can be on shoots,” he says, later. “I could just do my job, which is great.”
When we ask if we can make him look ‘rained on’ for the final shot, Radcliffe, notoriously up for a challenge (naked in Equus, painfully contorted in The Cripple of Inishmaan) suggests we tip a bottle of water over his head. There’s a sense that he isn’t simply a canny young upstart trying to shrug off Potter pigeonholing with a couple of well-placed ‘leftfield’ and grown-up roles. Radcliffe is leftfield. He’s an eccentric, somewhat intense oddity, unafraid to test the boundaries and probably get it wrong here and there.
A DIFFERENT BEAT
“There are lots of nods to film noir in Kill Your Darlings,” he ventures, about his latest role in John Krokidas’s frenetic Forties drama. He portrays Allen Ginsberg as he first encounters the intellectuals latterly known collectively as the Beat Generation – including Jack Kerouac (played by Jack Huston) and William Burroughs (Ben Foster). “It’s got the body at the beginning of the movie,” he says, referencing the genre’s penchant for murder. The film spins around the death of David Kammerer (Michael C Hall), a poet and tutor who falls on hard times, and – like Ginsberg – is drawn to Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), who fuels the group of clever young upstarts. The group’s friendship shifts from inspirational craziness to a dangerous hedonism.
Radcliffe and DeHaan became firm friends on set after an unusual introduction. “On our first day, me and Dane got beauty treatments together. I got a perm and he got highlights,” recalling their foil-topped jaunt to an Upper West Side lady salon. The result was fittingly preposterous. “I looked like one of the scousers from Harry Enfield,” he deadpans. But the bonding experience was clearly worth it. He speaks of strong friendships forged on set, and alludes to a rumoured romance with a female co-star.
Indeed, a few days after our shoot, he’s planning a two week break to hang out in his New York apartment. “I’m going to go to an NFL game for the first time, so I’m very excited about that. My girlfriend, is over there too.” He remains tight-lipped on her identity, but jokes that he has “f*cking sh*tloads of romance” in store for her.
Post-Potter, Radcliffe, as he explains at length, educated himself with dark, often literary-inspired projects such as A Young Doctor’s Notebook, The Woman In Black and Kill Your Darlings, all the while voraciously reading to keep an academic hand in. His mandatory teenage beat poetry phase came courtesy of friends passing him difficult books to mull over. He wasn’t a fan of On The Road, “but Burroughs I loved,” he says. “This guy doesn’t go along with any of the rules of writing a book, he just doesn’t care. Someone handed me a copy of Naked Lunch when I was 15 and said ‘you’re not meant to understand it.’”
With Ginsberg, he’s been attempting to cogitate it ever since he read the first line of Howl at 14, although it took him another three years to come back and read the rest, and he admits “I still don’t understand all of it. I don’t think [Ginsberg] ever did.”
His favourite construct from Howl sums up the hedonistic energy of Kill Your Darlings perfectly. “There’s a line about how they ‘purgatoried their torsos night after night.’ That’s real confidence as a writer – taking a noun and turning it into a verb.” Radcliffe injects that same confidence into his Allen – a quirky singing and dancing nice boy, who has his head turned by the cool kids at Columbia University, and ends up hepped up on speed, bouncing off college dorm walls while changing the face of US poetry.
Radcliffe himself dabbles in verse, although Ginsberg’s drug-induced, crazed inspiration isn’t quite his style. “I’ll have a naked dance like anyone, but sniffing glue and going mad is not part of my writing process. But I do sing a lot.”
When he’s not singing, he’s writing. His poetic pseudonym Jacob Gershon (a play on his mother’s Jewish maiden name) was outed a few years ago by the Daily Mail, under which he penned “about 100 poems” in his teens – ditties about subjects as varied as middle-aged infidelity and his indie idol Pete Doherty. “I used to think I was very good, but they’re not as good as I thought. There are about five of them I still look at, and think ‘that’s OK.’” He’s self-aware enough, too, to realise that most teens don’t spend nights in messing with pantoum stanzas. “You’ve got to be your own version of rock‘n’roll. Just be your f*cking self. There is nothing less cool than pretending to be someone you’re not.”
That’s not to say that he didn’t have a spell post-Potter where he gave pretending to be someone else a good go. “At 20 years old I was trying to be like ‘cool guy’. It’s nothing to do with Potter; it was just being 20 and being a d*ck. I think that’s bullsh*t. I’m f*cking not that guy. I’m nerdy: I like books and I like quiz shows and that’s just fine.”
He’s also trying his hand at penning scripts. The second draft of his first venture has been passed by trusted collaborators such as Kill Your Darlings director John Krokidas, and the writers on A Young Doctor’s Notebook (which returns for a second series this month). “It will probably be one of those things where it will never materialise,” he says. “I think this one is more for me.”
He’s also got his eyes on the director’s chair. “I definitely want to direct. I love filmmaking – being involved with every part of making a creative decision.” To our ears, that means he’d make the perfect producer. He disagrees. Strongly. “I can almost guarantee you I do not want to be a producer. It’s not worth the hassle!”
BIG, BOLD AND MAD
He’s still very much in demand in front of the camera for now. His recent jaunt to Toronto basically turned proceedings into the Radcliffe International Film Festival, with not just Kill Your Darlings but also Horns (which he calls a “big, bold and mad, weird little movie”) and romantic drama The F Word on show. “That’s what some people started calling it, embarrassingly,” he chuckles. “But it was very convenient to show all those people who don’t think I can act. I wasn’t sure whether there would be some backlash, or two of the films wouldn’t get any attention. But actually having three films there meant that they all got talked about and got really good reactions.”
And Radcliffe can claim credit for those plaudits in more ways than you’d think. Horns director Alex Aja tasked him with scouting out “obscure indie music that can soundtrack our film but won’t need a lot of money from us.” He suggested using The Shivers and a Bowie track – “Bowie’s surprisingly inexpensive. He likes his music being used in film.” He admits to being a “frustrated frontman”, but these days he’s limited to karaoke renditions of Eminem songs (“I’m surprisingly good at rapping. And humble too.”) and the odd bit of Queen. “I did Don’t Stop Me Now at karaoke once, and everyone has done Bohemian Rhapsody,” he says, pondering whether that’s the reason for the ridiculous rumours of him taking over from Sacha Baron Cohen in the mooted Freddie Mercury biopic.
Radcliffe’s name is a magic ingredient for rumour mongers. “I’m one of those people, like Emma [Watson], that people just write stuff about,” he reasons. “It is amazing watching the internet get its knickers in a twist.” If he was going to star in a biopic? He’d prefer to play a young Iggy Pop. “We’d just have to cut the part where he goes to England and makes insurance adverts,” he notes.
His next two projects couldn’t be more diverse. First, he is heading back to horror as Igor in Frankenstein alongside James McAvoy’s Doctor. He’ll also be getting his short shorts on to play Sebastian Coe in the Olympic drama Gold, based on the 1980 games in Moscow. “It’s just mind-blowing that a country can be so forward in some areas and so backward in others,” he says, irked by the current political situation in Russia. “I was there recently and would start conversations about Putin, because I’m interested in what the people have to say. Unless they were quite ballsy, they would just walk away from the conversation.” He’s proud to have become something of a gay rights advocate over the years. “I would like everyone to really want to be on board. We’re not a political movie, but in 1944 you could kill a man, portray him as a homosexual predator and you wouldn’t be considered a murderer. I think it’s useful to remind ourselves that the problems we’ve dealt with in the past still exist in the world. Exactly what happens in the film is going on today in Russia in a casual and frequent way.” So will Kill Your Darlings show in Russia? “Of course not! You can’t portray homosexuality in a positive light. It’s mental. I don’t think Horns will go either, because it has a gay kiss. They’ve got to sort their sh*t out.”
As the shoot wraps up, we hang out with Radcliffe as he changes from his tweed suit and much coveted studded Louboutin brogues (he’s getting his own pair), back into his scruffy civvies (complete with novelty socks). We find ourselves talking to Potter in his pants. It’s the first time the wizard has even flashed through our head. But this isn’t the kid in the round glasses any more. So how does he see himself on days like today? “I’m never going to be that happy – I still look like myself in it. But there are moments where you’re like, ‘Ah, that looks really cool’.”
There’s still an ease about this self-deprecation. He’d much rather sport a hump as Frankenstein’s grotesque monster than get the glossy Hollywood vampire treatment. He’ll get naked in front of theatre hordes night after night, and throw himself into realistically gritty gay sex scenes, and take a stand against Vladimir Putin’s laws. It’s not an affectation in the hope he’ll graduate to adult A-list status and win plaudits for his challenging choices. He’s just being his own version of rock’n’roll.
Kill Your Darlings is released in cinemas nationwide on 6 December
(Images: Greg Williams/Momentum Pictures/PA)