Casting can be as much about atmosphere and tone as about performances, as much as performers may not want to believe that. But just look at “Kill Your Darlings,” about Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and a long-forgotten 1944 murder. The film stars Daniel Radcliffe in a career-redefining performance as the college-age Ginsberg; casting director Laura Rosenthal filled the screen around him with unfamiliar faces and used the faces of familiar actors in unfamiliar ways.
Among those familiar faces was David Cross, cast as Ginsberg’s father in a winking nod to a previous project of Rosenthal’s. “I did a movie called ‘I’m Not There,’ sort of about Bob Dylan, and David Cross was Allen Ginsberg,” she says. She mentioned bringing Cross in to director John Krokidas, who initially worried it might be “too much” but quickly changed his mind and cast Cross.
The challenge of working on a film such as “Kill Your Darlings” is that it is both a period drama and a movie about iconic people. So Rosenthal and Krokidas set out to find “actors who could create without emulating.” They were aided in their search by Radcliffe, initially brought in by Krokidas and who quickly proved himself to be an eager participant. “He was unbelievably accessible and really part of the process,” Rosenthal says, adding that Radcliffe also read with auditioning actors.
While Radcliffe had the burden of playing Ginsberg, who has a recognizable physiognomy, no such troubles greeted Dane DeHaan, cast as the magnetic Lucien Carr, to whom geniuses flocked. “Nobody knows what he looks like,” says Rosenthal. “So casting Dane was based on the excitement of the acting and the chemistry he had with Daniel.” Because the actor playing Lucien had to be believably charismatic to render one man almost insane with jealousy and attract others as disparate as Burroughs and Kerouac, Rosenthal and Krokidas endlessly discussed what they needed; Rosenthal calls Krokidas “delightful to brainstorm with.” They hit the jackpot with DeHaan.
“You had a freedom in terms of what he looked like, but he was a magnet for sexual, emotional trouble,” Rosenthal says. “And Dane was dreamy, but it felt effortless. It was authentic. He grasped something he connected to that didn’t feel modern.”
Casting Director: Laura Rosenthal
Director: John Krokidas
Writers: John Krokidas and Austin Bunn
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Ben Foster, Michael C. Hall, David Cross, Jennifer Jason Leigh
The Pitch: The little-known true story about Allen Ginsberg’s time at Columbia University, the birth of the beats, and a murder.