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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: But then he did 'The Woman in Black.'
This was before 'Woman in Black.' And I said to them, 'Well, he's playing Allen Ginsberg, I promise you they’ll be a wand in his hand at the end of the movie.' (Laughs.) So no, what I wanted to do was build this like 'Social Network' cast of all of these young actors whose work I admired. My boyfriend actually was an 'In Treatment' fan. And he was the one who pointed me to Dane DeHaan.
Q: Ah, interesting.
I love Jack Huston from 'Boardwalk Empire,' Ben Foster I’ve worshiped forever, Michael C. Hall, 'Six Feet Under' is one of my favorite shows of all-time. Jennifer Jason Leigh -- I actually told my boyfriend when we started dating nine years ago, he asked me what actress I wanted to work with most and it was Jennifer. Elizabeth Olsen, I had just seen 'Martha Marcy May Marlene.' Just by building a group of just really cool and wonderful and talented actors the project just became more attractive to investors. Not based on any single one movie star, but they could see the film. And they could feel it from having just a really good group of names attached.
Q: Going back to Daniel, and I know you’ll be asked this question literally for years to come but you had your script. You know what it's going to be and somewhere in there’s is the scene where Ginsberg has a sex scene and he, you know, [gets it in the rear] or what ever you want to call it. Did, did you ever fear like, 'Oh, his manager or someone’s going to come in and say no, don’t do this? You can’t do this.'
Dan made sure they all ready the script ahead of time so they knew exactly what he was getting in to.
He is fearless. He approached that scene like he did any of the other scenes. I threw him half naked in the Hudson River; that shot didn’t make the movie. He thinks I did it just to - now he thinks I did it just to be like Werner Herzog and be sadistic; that’s not true. That’s not true.
Q: The scene where Dane has Michael in his arms, is that actually in the Hudson River?
Q: My God, did you…
We all went in the Hudson River. Actually…
Q: Did you all take showers right away? I would never go in the Hudson River.
We had his kind of hot tub construction where actors could get clean and wash themselves and stay heated in between takes.
Q: I’m more worried about bacteria and like crap. It’s nasty.
We had like this old-school New York crew that had worked on, you know, hundreds of productions. And had dealt with water and dealt with action sequences. I think 'Death Wish' was one of the guys first movies. And they said, 'We’ve done this before. It’s safe. We’ve checked it out with everyone who needs to be checked out and there we go into the Hudson.'
Q: When you shot it what time of year was it?
It was March, April.
Q: So, it was freezing?
It wasn’t that warm. It could have been colder.
Q: So, they went all out then. That’s pretty awesome.
Oh, yeah. And at the speed we had to shoot this, it was like everyone was worried. How are we going to do this? And then we realized the sun was coming up and we had five minutes left and I said, 'Dane, okay here’s the deal. You just killed ‘em, take off all your clothes. Drag his body into the Hudson River. Dump him and then run all the way back, put on your clothes. We have one take to do this. Action.' And so, so much of this was just being in the moment because we had to shoot it that fast, that it was kind of good ‘cause it helped us be fearless.
Q: Another one of the other things that’s so great about the movie is all those great actors you’ve got. Even to just come in for a small role like Sedgewick, Jason-Leigh, David Cross and I’m forgetting his name but the guy who’s the…
Q: Yeah. Who's great.
Q: He’s so good.
He’s amazing. So bright and so funny.
Q: How did you snag all of them?
Laura Rosenthal was a casting director who helped me and she has such great taste. She’s great at discovering new talent, but we both agreed that if it needed to be a collection of famous people we should make a really unique special cast of people you wouldn't necessarily see together. And then build that with supporting players from New York City, who’s work that we both admired for a long time. She’s amazing.
Q: Did you do rehearsals?
Having come from an acting background I knew that the rehearsal process would be extremely important on a big shoot like this. We wouldn’t have time to make the bonds. We wouldn’t have time to really create the characters beforehand. And so I did a method that I stole from Francis Ford Coppola, which is you do your table read so everyone gets comfortable with the material but then you do improvs of scenes that don’t actually exist in the movie. So, Dan and Dane could start figuring out their characters and the relationships to each other without having to worry about repeating those emotions later on when we shot the scenes. Everyone had to do improvs and it was a lot of fun actually. And then we also spent as much time as we could just being together and getting to know each other and building a level of trust. And we might have had a slightly debaucherous kick-off party in the spirit of the beats. And I think that really cemented everyone’s friendship.
Q: Will that become an annual tradition do you think on your next film, debaucherous kick-off parties?
You know, I think you can’t plan something like that. You got to go with the spirit of the people with you and see.
Q: What do you want to do now? I know you've done a lot of screenwriting work, but do you have a stack of scripts or story ideas that you want to try and direct next?
I want to direct a comedy. Believe it or not, my first two shorts are comedic. And this movie was supposed to be my second like 'darker sophomore' album after my first comedy, but somehow this is the one that came and rose first. But, you know, I think comedy is where I started, comedy with hearts. And that perhaps has some kind of social relevance.
Q: Do you want to use this to try to get in to the studio side or do you want the creative control of an independent?
I think the project will dictate that. But I know I don’t want to go to big too quickly. I don’t want to go to a huge budget movie where I haven’t had that experience yet. I hope that I’m going to be around doing this for a long time and so I kind of just want to go one step at a time. I mean the great thing about working in independent film and Christine Vachon, for example, is she’s just so creatively supportive. And says, 'John, this is your film. Don’t be afraid to be bold. I’m not going to get in the way; I’m here if you need me.' So, having had that as my first experience, you know, I feel somewhat kind of creatively spoiled. I mean not that I can’t collaborate, but I definitely just want to make sure I work with the right people who have a similar spirit and connection to the material as I do. I just feel like that and finding a cast that you click with are probably the two most important factors in what movie I’m going to do next.
Q: One more thing, I wrote in my review that it's hard to have an inspirational scene for someone creative like Allen Ginsberg such as his drug-induced binge without walking into obvious clichés. It’s just so hard to avoid that. And I know you had a lot of time to sort of think about it but can you talk about what your inspiration was for those scenes, especially the scene in the jazz club where…
Q:…time freezes. Where did you come up with that concept? Was it in one of the writings or where they come from?
In the script we had everything becoming more visually surreal and things moving in slow motion and fast motion and things morphing into other things. Of course, then we saw what this budget is like. [The time freezing was] actually an idea I came up with on the set. We were shooting the scene and I was still trying to figure out what that magic moment should be and I said 'What if just time stopped?' I might have been digging into previous, shall we say recreational experiences in my past. And it was something we could do with the time that we had. And I thought it was a great way of really just emphasizing the two of them being in this alternative universe. And then I turned to Ben and I said, 'Ben, can we think of anything just really kind of cool and surreal that you could do at the top of this sequence?' He said, 'How about if I dip my finger in Sambuca and light it on fire?' I said, 'Perfect.' So, Ben Foster actually dips his finger in Sambuca and lit it on fire. He goes, 'John, you have one take; get it, get it, get it now.' And that’s in the movie.
Q: It sounds like you had a lot of luck that helped you along the way. Some creative luck, and, you know, timely luck. Sort of makes up for the nine years…
A lot of hard work and hiring good people.
"Kill Your Darlings" should hit theaters sometime later this year.