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'Kill Your Darlings' director on the 'fearless' Daniel Radcliffe and Ben Foster's flaming finger
An epic and blunt Q&A with filmmaker John Krokidas
Q: Well, you make small look really big based on what your budget was. I mean. I don’t know what it was, but to just shoot in 24 days…
It’s a lot less than you think. They’re still tabulating it now. I would say on average each scene in that movie was shot in three hours or less. And there’s one scene between Allen and Lucien on the steps of Columbia [that was even less]. Columbia, through some production mishap, ended up closing down our production five hours earlier than expected and we still had four scenes left to go. So that scene, which is a beautiful dramatic scene between Daniel Radcliffe and Dane DeHaan, was shot in 12 minutes.
Q: You just did it in one take?
What you didn’t see is that all the crew was wrapping up behind us. Yeah, we basically just let me and my cinematographer, Reed Morano, we just ran over there, sat the two of them down, measured the focus and then we did all the covers without cutting. We did a wide and then I screamed reset. Dan did his hair, Dane did his own hair. They reset the props and then we did a close up and then we did another close up.
Q: Daniel probably waited three days for a five-second shot in a 'Harry Potter' movie. Were you nervous to have to tell him, 'Y'know, it’s not a student film, but...'
Oh, I had more time on my student film that I did on 'Darlings.' Dan loved it. Dan just said publicly that every movie should be shot in 24 days. Because you move so fast there’s no time on my part or the actor's part for second guessing. You’re so in the moment…
Q: Did any of the actors give you looks when you told them 'O.K. this is how much were going to do today.' Did you ever get sort of like reactions like, 'What the?'
Not at all. Everybody knew the journey that they were getting on at the beginning, even more so than me 'cause they’re all veterans. And I was a first-time filmmaker and I had no idea what to expect until day one. If I had known then what I know now, I would have definitely been more terrified. But I went in going this is how film is made, what are you going to do? You've got to get the scene done. No, if anything they were my support network. Ben Foster, what a big heart that boy has and he is so bright. He saved my ass, crossed it off but whatever word you need to insert there, so many times. When Columbia [University] shut us down he was the one who said, 'You know what, you got us all here and were in costume. Nobody’s looking, get us running down the steps of Columbia so you have an end to your sequence.' Ben always came through. We would spend lunches re-writing and blocking scenes. EI feel like we should all have tribal tattoos at the end of this movie. It was just such a positive experience and everyone just gave it their all.
Q: Don’t do tribal tattoos they’re so ugly.
I know, I know. When you get older, the skin, the whole thing, yeah I figured…
Q: Out of all these actors -- Jennifer Jason-Leigh, Kyra Sedgwick, Michael C. Hall, Daniel -- was there one you felt you learned the most from during the shoot?
Every single actor taught me something, but the person who taught me the most was Daniel Radcliffe. I had the luxury of spending six months with him before we shot. We’d meet once a week while he was doing 'How to Succeed' and we started off just working on his accent and trying to create a character physically and then I said to him, 'I studied acting at college as an undergrad, like what’s your process?' And he said, 'Process?' He had been acting just based on his own intuition and instinct his entire life.
Q: Yeah, since he was like nine or 10-years-old.
So, I said, 'Do you want a process?' He said, 'Absolutely.' And something that he said that really touched me is he wanted to approach this film as if it were his first film, too. And so we played around with a bunch of different techniques, found one that suited him and the best thing is that I went there every week to kind of work with him and, you know, teach him a method and break down the script. But he taught me so much about directing before I went there. We had such a strong relationship and a friendship that I was able to tell him what I felt confident about and what I felt insecure about. And just to kind of give you the idea of what kind of guy he is, he taught me - I mean I’ll just give you a couple of the things he taught me. One, never let the set wait on you. Always get to know the name of every single crew member and respect them because they are giving just as much as you are. And that when things get tough that I still needed to show the crew and the cast that I was confident and why I wanted to do this movie. And to remember all of my friends who were just as talented, if not more so than me, that hadn’t gotten their chance yet.
Q: Now did you ever ask him okay so who told you all this? Who taught him this growing up on the 'Harry Potter' movies?
Dan has had the luxury of working with some of the greatest directors…I mean, one person I can tell you is I believe, oh my gosh, I’m going to get this wrong, it was either Gary Oldman or…
Q: Yeah, Gary Oldman is a mentor of his.
…is definitely a mentor of his as is blanking on the name from 'Naked,' that Mike Leigh movie.
Q: David Thewlis.
Yes. [Thewlis] told him that your emotions are the characters emotions. And if you’re not feeling it yourself it’s not going to translate on the screen. That’s how filmmaking works. And that really helped us find a way to get inside Dan and to find all of those emotions that he's been holding in for so long and never got a chance to show playing the same character over and over and over again. He also said that Mike Newell went up on the first day of shooting and said, 'I’ve never done a movie like this before, I have no idea how to do these kind of special effects, let’s begin.' So, not to be scared on my first sets.
Q: Oh, that’s humble.
Q: Let's go back before you were shooting. You’re looking for actors and you probably changed a number times regarding what you were hoping for over the years. So you get close to financing or whatever the situation was, at what point did you think Daniel, Dane, Michael C. Hall and Ben?
When did the- when did it tip?
Q: Yeah. When did you say 'I’m going to lock these guys in'? I do remember Michael C. Hall said in the Q&A that he’d been wanting to make this for like three years or something, right?
Michael was the only - first and only person I met for that role. And we met probably four years ago when - right after Christine Vachon and Killer Films came on to produce. And this incarnation, you know, Dan is somebody I wanted to do the film with four years ago. But, his agents reminded me he still had two films left to go, aka Deathly Hallows One and Deathly Hallows Two…
Q: A year of shooting, yeah.
And so, two years. My other first choice for [Ginsberg] though was Jesse Eisenberg. So, I went forward and built the cast around Jesse and the financing came together and fell apart, and came together and fell apart. And then of course two years later, Jessie stars 'The Social Network' and called me up and said just honestly and poignantly, 'John, I think I just played the most iconic Ivy League college students that I can - that I will ever play in my life, and I want to play adult roles now.' And I totally understood. And this is where the story gets kind of funny in that now I don’t have a cast. But I still remembered I had Daniel Radcliffe’s email address. And I just took it upon myself and wrote him one night and said 'I hope you don’t think I’m stalking you, but remember meeting me two years ago? Well guess what? The role is open and I would love to work with you, if you’re still interested. Let me know.' I got an email when I woke up to it the next morning. It had one word, 'Absa-fucking-lutely.'
Q: That's nice.
And so we started building the cast around Dan and believe it or not, a lot of the foreign salespeople and the financing people said Daniel Radcliffe can’t open a movie without a wand in his hand.