DeHaan, 27, plays Lucien Carr, a rebellious Columbia University student who introduces Ginsberg to his elite circle of forward-thinking literary intellectuals in the 1940s.
Slated to play Harry Osborn in the upcoming “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” DeHaan recently spoke about portraying a real person, and the responsibility that goes with it.
Q: What was it that really resonated when you read the script and was there anything that surprised you about your character when you did research for the role?
DeHaan: Lucien Carr, to me, was entirely a surprise. I hadn’t really known that he existed and I didn’t really know that this story actually happened. It was all a surprise. He has this charisma and this extraverted quality that I think is different from the work I’ve done in the past, but still is a really complicated individual. He just seemed like a hard person to wrap my mind around. That’s what attracted me to him. He was a completely new person to me as a whole.
Q: When you were a teenager, did you have some angsty writing that you put down that just kind of either reflected this kind of feeling that these guys wrote about and why do you think their work still resonates with young people today?
DeHaan: I’m guilty of writing teenage poems and of trying to achieve naked self-expression. But I think their effect on today’s society is kind of amazing. It’s not just that their books are still celebrated and read but also they were the original hipsters. Where I live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I can’t walk down the street without seeing at least 10 people dressed exactly like Jack Kerouac. It’s really insane. So obviously their books had this huge impact but also what they stood for and how they dressed. All that stuff still resonates today, maybe even the most now since then in terms of what they stood for and the impact they had culturally.
Q: Is there any difference in playing people who are in that period versus playing people who are contemporary?
DeHaan: Yes, absolutely. It’s not like a terribly conscious effort but I think they certainly spoke differently. I think that the script does a really good job of capturing the characters’ individual voices as well as emulating the way people would talk in the ‘40s. Just having an awareness of what’s going on around you and the politics of the time and that kind of thing is helpful. These were people that if they expressed how they truly felt about some things, they would be criminalized and they would go to jail. So that obviously has a deep impact on how you act with those around you. Just having that awareness, I think, affects what you’re doing.
Q: You have some great co-stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Michael C. Hall and Ben Foster. Did you bond over the fact that you all have done stage work?
DeHaan: I think we all kind of did bond over the fact that we all do theater. We kind of nerded out a little bit. That was something I think we all kind of talked about and bonded over. We talked about the musicals we’ve done and the plays we’ve done.
Q: What musicals have you done?
DeHaan: Just in my youth, I did a lot of musicals. In high school and college, I did all of them. I really did. When you’re a young person in rural America and what you want to do is act, what’s available to you is usually musicals. So I did “Annie” twice. I think I did “A Christmas Carol” 12 times. One time, in “Annie,” I was Daddy Warbucks and one time I was the rooster.
Q: Are there added challenges in portraying real people?
DeHaan: Lucien’s a tricky one because I think Lucien works so hard to make sure this story was never told and to make sure nobody ever found out this story—at least while he was living—the best he could. My responsibility is to honor this person by trying to figure out truthfully who he was at this point of their life. Not necessarily how Lucien would want himself to be portrayed in the film, but trying to actually dig to the truth and the facts. What’s great about playing a real person is there’s real stuff out there (to research). A lot of the work is already done for you. You just have to read it.
Q: Have any of you played real people before or was this your first time?
DeHaan: First time.
Q: What was your most difficult scene?
DeHaan: That’s such a tricky question for me. When you’re making a movie in 24 days, every day presents a whole lot of challenges, truthfully. Every scene is challenging in its own right. There’s a lot of really tough stuff in this film that we had to do really fast. John (Krokidas, the director) brought up yesterday that the scene with me and Dan (Radcliffe) on the stairs of Columbia when he’s trying to convince me to stay we shot in 12 minutes, which I think a good example of the challenge this entire movie presented.