When Dane DeHaan was studying acting at UNC School of the Arts he had a poster of James Dean on his dorm wall.
DeHaan graduated in 2008 and has gone on to star in the HBO series In Treatment, and films like Chronicle, The Place Beyond the Pines, Kill Your Darlings and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 but one thing hasn’t changed.
“The poster is still on my wall,” he says on the line from his home. “I’m looking at it right now.”
In new film Life the twenty-nine-year-old actor plays Dean in 1955, just months away from the release of East of Eden. After a chance meeting a photographer played by Robert Pattinson becomes convinced the actor is the perfect subject. The two have an undeniable bond but Dean is hesitant, leery of exposing himself to the publicity machine.
DeHaan, who gained twenty-five pounds to play the screen icon, calls Dean one of his favourite actors.
“I was learning about acting and my acting teacher told us to go home and watch Marlon Brando and James Dean movies. I started watching them and he was just amazing. It was amazing to watch someone start the revolution of the kind of acting that most people do today but do it in such a beautiful way.
“It’s so exciting to watch those movies and see James Dean existing in this world with all these other over-the-top actors and just take them to school. The contrast was so jarring. Now you see a movie and there are obviously people who are better than others, but generally they’re trying to do the same kind of acting. In those movies that’s not really happening.”
DeHaan, who will soon be seen playing another real life character, Karl Rove in Young Americans, says “people think they know a lot about Dean but not many people really know much about him at all,” and hope Life will change that.
“Ultimately that was one of the reasons I took it on,” he says. “I realized that there are a lot of young people who don’t know who James Dean is, and that’s a sad fact. I would hope you would watch his movies first and then watch our movie or watch our movie and then watch his. I hope it opens a door for a lot of people to rediscover him not just as a persona but as an amazing talent.”
JAMES DEAN SIDEBAR:
Dane DeHaan joins a long list of people who have played Dean since the icon’s death in 1955
James Franco became a star, and won a Golden Globe, playing the rebellious actor in the TV biopic James Dean. Franco got so into character he went from non-smoker to a two-pack-a-day habit — in real life Dean smoked more than two packs of unfiltered Chesterfields a day — and learned to ride a motorcycle.
In 1976, Stephen McHattie won praise playing Dean in the TV movie James Dean written by William Bast, Dean’s best friend and roommate.
Also interesting is the video installation piece Rebel which features a female James Dean in the form of performer Nina Ljeti, and an Animaniacs episode featuring Slappy Squirrel giving Dean a class in method acting.
There are things about Daniel Radcliffe that you probably already know.
Thanks to the Harry Potter series he’s one of the most recognizable actors on earth. He is 5’5” tall, a published poet and is the youngest person, other than royalty, to be honoured with a portrait in the National Portrait Gallery.
Here’s what you don’t know. He’s also remarkably reliable. In 10 years of shooting the Potter pictures, he only missed two days — and he’s polite.
For this interview he turned up early (when was the last time an international superstar was on time?) and greets your reporter with a hearty, “What a lovely surprise.”
He offers to help with my crossword — “I’m one of those people in life who probably really annoys serious crossword doers. I’m one of those people who comes up behind and goes, ‘That one you’re about to get? I’ve got it’” — and apologizes when he almost lets a curse slip.
He is not your typical superstar and his new romance, The F Word, is not a typical rom-com.
The 25-year-old actor says the story of a young man hopelessly in love with his best friend (Zoe Kazan) “has things a lot of films want, that combination of being sarcastic and quick and funny without being negative or cynical.”
“Zoe says a great thing,” he says of co-star Kazan.
“She talks about how in most romantic comedies the people meet and then there’s a getting-to-know-you montage, then they do whatever they’re going to do for the rest of the film. Our movie is basically that montage expanded to feature length, and that is what is so joyous about it. Those moments when you are getting to know someone and flirting with them, making them laugh, are so intimate and so exciting and so charged that as an audience it is wonderful to be allowed in to watch that and live through it again.”
Playing the lovesick romantic lead is something different for Radcliffe, who says he wants “to try my hand at as many things as possible.”
Since the final Potter film in 2011, he has appeared in everything from the beatnik drama Kill Your Darlings to the fantasy film Horns and will soon be seen as Igor in a new version of Frankenstein.
“Having played one character for a very long time,” he says, “that builds up in you a desire to play a number of different characters and do as much different work as you can. I want to show as many different sides of my ability as I can. Also I like that you can’t predict what my next thing is going to be.”
If “Kill Your Darlings” was a superhero movie it would be an origin story. Like “Batman Begins,” or “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” which detail the formative years of Bruce Wayne and James Howlett before they made their mark on the world, “Kill Your Darlings” looks at the lives of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs before they became the superheroes of the Beat Generation.
Set in 1944 the film follows Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) through his rebellious years at Columbia College. “There’s more life in this paper, “ he says handing his work into a stuffy college professor (John Callum), “than in all the sonnets you’ve had us read this year.”
The shy wannabe poet falls in with a crowd of intellectuals—William Burroughs (Ben Foster), David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan)—whose ethos rubs against the grain of “square” societal norms. They experiment with drugs, booze, sexuality and their art, laying the groundwork for the Beats, (although that term didn’t come into use until 1948), a loose collective who valued free expression over the accepted communal and political systems of the West.
But all that came later. “Kill Your Darlings” is the groundwork; the opening of Ginsberg’s eyes. Thirteen years before he wrote “Howl,” one of the most famous and controversial American poems, he first explores his homosexuality through an attraction to Carr and opens his mind to new ideas.
It’s a slick, stylish movie that captures the excitement of the time through fast paced editing and lots of shots of Ginsberg furiously typing and smoking. That we’ve seen before in almost every period piece involving writers, but I’d have hoped for more revolutionary filmmaking in a movie about revolutionaries. (For that rent David Cronenberg’s “Naked Lunch.”)
Clichés aside director John Krokidas has good performances to work with.
As the manipulative, troublemaking Lucien, DeHaan is perfectly cast. He’s the engine that drives the movie, both thematically—“You were ordinary like every other freshman and I made you extraordinary,” he says to Ginsberg—as well as dramatically. His (SPOILER ALERT) arrest for the murder of his lover Kammerer, and the questions of personal responsibility it raises, takes over the last half hour of the film.
It is Ginsberg’s story, however, and Radcliffe sheds off any hint of Harry Potter to hand in a very good performance. He brings Ginsberg to youthful life, from nebbish to rebel to confident man who proclaims in the film’s final moment, “I am a poet.”
“Kill Your Darlings” makes a few missteps—the closing song by Bloc Party would make jazz fan Kerouac turn over in his grave—but allows the performances to bring the characters to vivid life.