Interview: John Krokidas on “Kill Your Darlings” and star Chris Evans

A few weeks back,
news broke that a film called Kill
Your Darlings
was heading into production and would feature actor Chris Evans (Fantastic Four, Sunshine) as Beat Generation author Jack Kerouac and Jesse Eisenberg (Adventureland, The Squid and the Whale) as legendary gay poet Allen Ginsberg. Naturally, the news had film buffs and gay bloggers abuzz.

Top row (l to r): Chris Evans, Ben Whishaw, and Jesse Eisenberg
Bottom row (l to r): Jack Kerouac, Lucien Carr and Allen Ginsberg

Coming on the heels of Milk, film fans are clearly primed for more tales of gay culture’s pioneers and artists. This one’s also been co-written and is set to be directed by a rising gay filmmaker, John Krokidas, and produced by the legendary indie-film mogul Christine Vachon (Poison, Boys Don’t Cry, Hedwig, Far From Heaven), so it’s got a nice gay pedigree already.

Kill Your Darlings also features Ben Whishaw, who recently starred in The International and who played gay in last year’s Brideshead Revisited. Whishaw will play Lucien Carr, a Columbia student credited with bringing together the trio of Ginsberg, Kerouac as well as the gay writer William S. Burroughs.

But Carr is also infamously known for serving time for the 1944 murder of David Kammerer, thought to be his lover. Kammerer, who had fallen in with Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and the rest of the Beat crowd, was found floating in the Hudson River. The mysterious case made headlines at the time and still remains controversial.  Storywise, does it get any juicier? recently interviewed Krokidas about filming this already absorbing story, what it’s like to be a young gay filmmaker working with big stars and a big-time producer, and what we can expect onscreen.

AE: Congrats on getting Kill Your Darlings into production! Why this story? What drew you in to the whole Ginsberg/Kerouac/Burroughs relationship and this murder story?
For me to get involved in any artistic project I work on, I need to have a strong emotional response to it. And when Austin brought this story to me, my first reaction is how furious I got when I discovered in 1944 that you could literally get away with murder by portraying your victim as a homosexual. They called [Kammerer’s murder] an “honor slaying” or the “homosexual panic” defense.

Add to this my love and affection for the Beats. I still remember reading On the Road when I was 16, working at the video store in the mall, and telling the assistant manager that this was “a phony job in a phony mall in a town full of finks!”

I had to beg for my job back two hours later, but the book introduced me to the idea that the idea of wanting to live outside the boundaries of society was a perfectly acceptable choice. And then I learned how these guys were sexually curious and many even openly gay in a time when homosexuality was still considered a psychological defect, and in many states, entirely illegal.

These three authors [Ginsberg, Keruoac and Burroughs], like most of us in college, wanted to change the world and start a revolution. And then, they actually did it. They started a counter-culture revolution that started in the clean-cut Eisenhower era of the 50’s, persisted through the peace movement of the 60’s, then were appropriated by the punk rock  uprising of the 70’s and their legend continues even today. And I remember hearing in college that Kurt Cobain used to have Burroughs come over and recite spoken-word vocals over his guitar solos.

AE: Now the tacky question: How gay is this story gonna be? Any Ginsberg/Kerouac action coming?
I’ll never tell. You have to come see the movie to find out. But let’s just say there is a lot of sexual discovery and exploration in the film, heterosexual, gay, bisexual, and

AE: What’s your take on the “Howl” film being made with James Franco as Ginsberg. Are you concerned about comparisons? This isn’t Capote vs. Infamous all over again, is it?
I think our two films will complement each other beautifully. Kill Your Darlings is the dramatic story of three young artists struggling to find their voice and Howl is an cinematic exploration of one of their poems almost 15 years later.

AE: How involved were you in assembling the great cast that’s lined up? Were the actors — Chris Evans, Jesse Eisenberg and Ben Whishaw — easy to get on board?
Christine Vachon is a wonderful producer in that she gives her directors the creative freedom to cast and create the film in the way in which they best see fit. Together, along
with Steve Dontanville, my manager and the executive producer on the film, we made cast wish lists for each of the roles, and I was lucky enough to have almost every actor who I wanted to work with respond to the script.

Jesse Eisenberg, Chris Evans and Ben Whishaw were all actors that I had dreamed of casting since we started the process, and I think three of the most compelling actors of their
generation. All of them will get to show sides of their talent that I believe they have not yet shown on screen. And there is nothing more exciting for a director than to re-introduce actors to the world in an entirely new light. Plus, as I am getting to know all three, they are also incredibly warm, smart, and amazing people.

AE: Anyone lined up for Burroughs yet?
We are considering a few actors right now, and hopefully an announcement should me made shortly. All I can say is that I am extremely pleased with the options, and it is going to be a tough choice.

AE: What’s the tone of the film gonna be? Rowdy? Raucous? Subtle? Romantic? Any hints?
Think Dead Poets Society with a brutal murder mystery at its core. And a lot more sex.

AE: Fun! Most folks know Ginsberg was gay, but what’s the deal with Kerouac? Were he and Ginsberg lovers?
I soooo cannot answer that question. There are so many competing accounts in various biographies debating Kerouac’s sexuality, I wouldn’t even dare to suggest to know the answer. However, the movie takes place during their university years, and all I can say, is that like most college students, the characters in the movie are just discovering
their sexuality, and perhaps would be inclined to be more experimental in these few years than during other periods of their lives.

AE: Nice to hear. Christine Vachon is a filmmaking icon: What’s it gonna be like working with her?
Due to her legendary status, I’ll admit, I was terrified the night before I met her, and came up with a fifty page thesis statement of my directorial vision to impress her in our meeting. But as I plopped down my twenty pound vision on the table, she started to laugh, saying that she had no need to read my dissertation on the thematic representation of the Beat Movement through the use of lighting or whatever the hell I had written.

Her job is just to make great movies. And the way she does that is by letting her directors tell their own stories in their own voices, while she gets them the resources to do so. And since that meeting, I have found her to be an amazing collaborator; always willing to answer even the most ridiculous questions on my end, like what to wear to an actor meeting, to helping me meet the best directors of photography and production designers working today.

Producer Christine Vachon

Photo credit: Jean Pierre Muller/AFP/Getty

AE: Your directorial debut? How’s that feel?
Amazing, thrilling and absolutely incomprehensible. While I’ve directed several shorts in the past when I was at NYU, I’ve never taken on the challenge and marathon that is a feature. Occasionally, I will suggest using the dirty and down-low techniques that I learned in film school, like having a beautiful female friend seduce the head of a laboratory to get discounts in film processing, or dressing the cameraman as a homeless person to steal shots on the streets of New York, and Christine just smiles and reminds me that I have now moved up from the minor league to the majors.

However, if any aspiring directors are reading this, what I am learning does not change is the need to trust your instincts, to cast the right actors for the role, and to clearly
articulate the movie you are trying to make to the people with whom you are working.

Luckily, at the feature level, those people you are working with are generally a little more talented and experienced that the freshmen you have trying to figure out how to assemble
a tripod in film school.

AE: Speaking of film school, can we get a quickie version of your bio?
I studied theater and American studies undergrad at Yale, and attended NYU film school. There, I wrote and directed several short films, including Slo-Mo, which screened at the Telluride and Sundance film festivals and was then acquired by HBO, PBS, and the Sundance Channel. I’ve also written scripts for Miramax, Universal, and Cosmic Entertainment (which is Goldie Hawn’s company). And I’m working on developing a feature version of Slo-Mo.

AE: Back to Kill Your Darlings, where are you planning to shoot? Can you describe the setting of the film?
Most of the film takes place at Columbia University and we ae looking at several schools in the Northeast as potential locations.

AE: And finally … since you mentioned “lots of sex” earlier are we gonna see Chris Evans shirtless? Anybody full-frontal? Butt shots? Man-on-man smooches?
To answer all of your questions, my magic eight-ball says possible to very, very likely. But you’ll have to wait for the film to come out to get your answer. A guy can’t give everything away on the first interview…