LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Seventy years after the birth of the Beat Generation, whose unconventional lives and writings shook up the literary world, a young Hollywood actor has taken on the portrayal of a lesser-known Beat at the center of the movement's creative whirlwind.
In "Kill Your Darlings," out in U.S. theaters this week, 27-year-old Dane DeHaan plays Lucien Carr, who might have become as famous as Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs if not for his killing of a man he accused of making homosexual advances and assaulting him.
The film follows the 1943-1944 period when Carr brought the group together at New York's Columbia University, forming a circle of writers enticed by creative liberation that would inspire a generation to rebel against conformist 1950s' America.
While Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs went on to define the movement, Carr's path to creativity was sidetracked after he was charged in the killing of David Kammerer, an older man and school teacher who is shown to be infatuated with Carr, following him from school to school across the country.
"Kill Your Darlings" opens with the death of Kammerer and then backtracks a year to follow the events that led to his stabbing at the hands of Carr.
The film follows the coming of age and sexual awakening of Ginsberg, played by "Harry Potter" star Daniel Radcliffe, but casts a spotlight on Carr, depicted as a charismatic and manipulative young man drawn to intellect, particularly the vulnerable Ginsberg.
"My job is to look at Lucien as a human being and try to find out the real human reasons that he was doing what he was doing," DeHaan said in an interview.
"In life, people don't do things thinking what they're doing are terrible and wrong. People usually are sympathetic to the reasons they do what they do."
DeHaan said he researched Carr's quirks and character in Ginsberg's books, correspondence between Ginsberg and Kerouac, and in a book written by Kerouac's first wife, Edie Parker.
One such anecdote that he found typified Carr's intensity was an incident where Carr stood on a deck of a ship that Kammerer then sank, just so that Carr could experience the feeling of being on a sinking ship.
DeHaan has broken into Hollywood with a selection of varied roles including last year's sci-fi thriller "Chronicle," playing a troubled teenager in this year's "The Place Beyond the Pines," and a leading role in rock band Metallica's concept film "Through the Never," released last month. He will also play villain Harry Osborn in "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" next year.
The blue-eyed actor said he was often drawn to characters who are emotionally layered like Carr, who channels darker moments during his creative discovery, especially in his relationships with Ginsberg and Kammerer.
"The role was incredibly complex and was different from stuff I had done in the past, and presented a huge challenge," the actor said.
DeHaan said he understood how Carr's two-year stay in prison after being convicted of manslaughter in the death of Kammerer would lead him to follow a path very different from the rest of the Beats.
While other Beats achieved fame through their novels and poetry, Carr embarked on a career at United Press International, rising from the ranks of copy boy to an editor at the news agency, and got married and settled down.
"It puts him in a very vulnerable position for the rest of his life, and he worked so hard to distance himself from these events," the actor said.
"He maintained a relationship with Allen and the Beats, but he just lived his normal lifestyle, and that makes sense when you look at these events and the impact they had on him."
DeHaan's performances of troubled and complex young men have earned him comparisons to actor River Phoenix, who died at age 23 in 1993, and famed Hollywood anti-hero James Dean, who died at age 24 in 1955.
The actor said it was "flattering" to be compared to both Phoenix and Dean, the latter of whom he is scheduled to play in an upcoming biopic about Dean's friendship with photographer Dennis Stock.
"People mostly remember James Dean from 'Rebel Without a Cause' but 'Giant' is a complete transformation and a huge range of age and character. To me, James Dean is my favorite actor, he's one of the greatest there ever was," DeHaan said.
Editing by Eric Kelsey and Peter Cooney