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Q&A: Daniel Radcliffe on Becoming Allen Ginsberg

Movie Talk

Q&A: Daniel Radcliffe on Becoming Allen Ginsberg

Kill Your Darlings

With permed hair, nerd glasses, plumped lips and contact lenses, Daniel Radcliffe transforms himself into the famed gay beat poet from New Jersey: Allen Ginsberg. At this year's Toronto International Film Festival, the 24 year old still-babyfaced actor showed his range in three very different movies in the festival including the period thriller "Kill Your Darlings," the romcom “The F-Word” (call it “When Harry Potter Met Sally”) and the midnight madness movie “Horns.”

We chatted with Radcliffe during a break in the festival whirlwind.

Q : Tell us about how you stepped into the sensible shoes of the young Allen Ginsberg the year he entered Columbia University?

DR: The first point of reference for me was his diaries. He had quite extensive diaries that he kept from a very young age. They gave me some very great insight into him for this period. After that, the other stuff was working on the voice and the accent, and work on his physicality. And then the final piece of it was the contact lenses, and the glasses and the permed hair...

Q: Did you get Ginsberg’s signature buck teeth?

DR: No I didn’t. We did something to the lips, slightly filled them out, because he did have really full lips. We didn’t get mine to the place his were. That would have looked ridiculous.

Q: What was it like looking in the mirror in character?

DR: Looking at yourself in the mirror, and then seeing somebody that doesn’t look like yourself, is very liberating for an actor. It definitely makes you feel very free.

Q: When you recite his poem "Howl", it's very powerful.

DR: When I was young, I wondered what the hell was going on here because it’s not the poetry I myself gravitated towards.

Q: Which was?

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DR: Keats, Byron, Frost, Auden – and Tony Harrison.

Q: So, you like your poetry more structured, more lyrical?

DR: Yeah, structured, lyrical form, meter -- I love all that. I really do. But…

Q: Ginsberg's very vernacular.

DR: Well the rhythm is there, and his poetry came about at a time when people had become so dogmatic about rhyming and meter. But it really was something to rebel against, because, you know, the best poets also know when not to use it. You can play around with that.

Q: One of the defining facts of his life, and one that comes through in "Kill Your Darlings," is the impact his mother's mental illness had on him.

DR: His relationship with his mother, as it is with so many men, not just Jewish men, was an incredibly formative one in his life. In particular, it was such a strained relationship, and his mother was so disturbed for so much of his youth. One of the things in the film, one of the things that are important to anyone growing up, is moving beyond your parents. And that's a very hard thing, particularly in certain religious families that are very dogmatic and prescribed about the kind of path they want their children to go on. And becoming a poet certainly isn’t in any Jewish mother or father’s top five things they want for their son.

Q: Another movie you have at TIFF is the fabulous "Horns." Is it intended to be a contemporary version of Kafka’s "Metamorphosis," with a young man waking up one morning with horns on his head?

DR: Absolutely. That actually is a reference point for both me and the director. It's a crazy movie. I do genuinely believe there's nothing else like it out there.

Daniel Radcliffe in "Horns"

Q: You look good in horns by the way.

DR: I really enjoyed wearing them. They’re very empowering. They're cool -- maybe because they made me look little bit taller. I’m really proud of "Horns." The first bit is like a comedy, and then this huge love story is revealed throughout. And then it's also a revenge thriller and a horror movie. Nowadays, people are so keen for everything to be put into one box. The great thing about "Horns" is that it constantly defies that impulse to let itself be categorized.

Q: It seems like after the "Harry Potter" phenomena, there was never a question: Am I an actor?

DR: I love it, and I just kept working. I'm happy to say, I haven't really stopped since Harry Potter.

Q: Last year when I talked to Emma Watson for her film, "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," that transition from child actor to adult seemed more fraught for her?

DR: I don't know. I feel like I've had a great time on Harry Potter. But I think there was a lot of pent-up energy from the desire to play different parts. That's why I relish the chance to do Allen Ginsberg, and put on horns, and things like that. I just loved it so much. Now that we're all out in the world, I jump at the chance to do different types of roles…

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Q: It’s interesting: gay, straight, with and without horns.

DR: Gay, straight, horns, yeah, absolutely. I don't feel like having horns is an orientation, but, OK. That's the thing I'm most pleased about, actually, in having three films in the festival. The biggest thing for me is that they're three completely different films. What really excites me is that they're all so different and will, hopefully, show a very different side of what I can do.

Q: What’s next?

DR: I'm going back to the UK to start shooting Frankenstein, a version of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” written by Max Landis. I’m playing Igor, the hunched-back assistant, and James McAvoy is playing Victor von Frankenstein.

Q: Is it a comedy?

DR: Not per se. I suppose it’s a fun adventure movie. You go on a ride with these guys, with Igor. It's about two guys at the absolute tip of the spear of technology in the 1800's. And it's about them pushing each other further and further in their ambitions -- and then one of them has to pull the other one back from the edge of morality.

Q: Or back from the edge to mortality?

DR: Yes, absolutely. It’s gonna be a real romp of a film. It's the best script that I’ve read, coming out of a major studio, since Potter. So I’m really excited.

Watch the trailer for Daniel Radcliffe in "Kill Your Darlings"