Daniel Radcliffe is well past the midway point of what could be a model transition from child star to respected adult actor. A major step in that journey, after being cast at the age of 11 as Harry Potter, was Equus, the West End play in which Radcliffe bared it all and that moved to Broadway. So, too, was his Broadway run as a song and dance man in How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Both were signs that Radcliffe was willing to try just about anything, and both were about as far from Hogwarts as one could imagine.
Those steps were a big reason director John Krokidas cast him in Kill Your Darlings (another being, if you're a first-time director making an art-house movie and one of the biggest stars in the world is interested in it, you grab him).
Radcliffe stars as Allen Ginsberg in a story based on the real-life murder that touched members of the early Beat Generation (Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs are played by Jack Huston and Ben Foster). This is years before Howl and the big bushy hippie beard. In the early 1940s, Ginsberg is admitted to Columbia University and begins to explore his homosexuality. He yearns to break free from the the past and find his voice as a poet. It's not hard to see parallels with a young actor looking to leave his franchise days behind and strike out as an artist on his own terms.
"At the end of the movie [Ginsberg's] a self-proclaimed artist and a rebel and a poet," Krokidas said during an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival. "I wondered if the person Daniel Radcliffe could identify with that. And just on that inkling, on that gut reaction that I thought he might be able to relate to it, we sent the script to his agent. His agent loved it, and the next thing I knew I was sitting down having coffee with Daniel Radcliffe."
Radcliffe can certainly see the parallel. "I was kind of uniquely placed to appreciate both ends of Allen's journey in this film, and I definitely think there's some truth in that," he said.
But it's wrong to suppose that the 24-year-old actor wants to disavow his wizarding past. In person, Radcliffe is initially guarded – an understandable attitude for someone who's been picked over by journalists since he was 11. But it doesn't take him long to warm up. He knows he's moving on, and he's excited about it.
"I don't want people to forget about Potter. I love what we did on those films and they were an amazing 10 years of my life. Contrary to popular belief, I don't want to sever any connection with it. It's just that I want to be an actor and not just a character. The last few years people have been giving me opportunities to show that more and more," he says.
For Krokidas, a 30-year-old from Springfield, Mass., with just two short films to his name, Radcliffe's eagerness to explore new opportunities matched his own desire to prove himself.
"There's nothing more attractive to a director than taking an actor who nobody expects can do a certain thing and then showing that, because of your collaboration, that they have all of these different parts of them," Krokidas says.
Some people will say that Radcliffe is taking new risks in Kill Your Darlings, but he's not buying it.
"I've been being told that things I was doing were apparently risky since I was like 17 and did Equus but I don't know how that was a risk," he says. "I like doing things that people wouldn't necessarily expect. I enjoy that aspect [of being an actor]. It's a fun part of my job."