If any film at Cannes this year faced the most fevered anticipation, it was Walter Salles‘ “On The Road.” Not just because the project had been over thirty years in the making, and was based on a beloved, groundbreaking novel, but also because it features an exciting young cast lead by “Twilight” star Kristen Stewart, “Tron: Legacy” lead Garrett Hedlund and Sam Riley from “Control,” with a strong supporting roster including Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams, Viggo Mortensen, Terrence Howard, and more.
And for the most part, the reviews, including our own, suggest the cast acquit themselves nicely in what must have been tricky roles to come to terms with. It must be especially satisfying for the patient actors who, as it turns out, were cast in the long-gestating project as much as three years before filming began in 2010. Not long after our discussion with director Walter Salles, Playlist contributor Aaron Hillis sat down with Stewart and Hedlund for roundtable interviews to talk about “On The Road.” Below are five highlights from the conversation, and you can see the movie later this year courtesy of IFC Films.
Kristen Stewart is a long-time fan of the book, and it inspired her to write herself.
Although she’s nearly 40 years younger than Jack Kerouac‘s book (which was written in 1951, but not published for another six years), Kristen Stewart is a longtime fan. The novel also helped introduce her to a wider range of authors. “I read it when I was 14,” the actress said. “I had read some Burroughs, I had tried to read ‘Naked Lunch,’ it didn’t get inside me as much as ‘On the Road‘ did. I read Ginsberg’s stuff. It opened a lot of doors to different writers. Like, Henry Miller is not a part of the [beat generation], but he’s one of my favorite writers and I only know about him through these people.” Indeed, her reading of Kerouac & co inspired her to do some writing of her own, something she hopes to return to one day. “I wrote when I was younger. But I have such an outlet now, it’s not a compulsion and I don’t want to force it. I’m not a storyteller, it was really about words and what they could do. I’ll get back to it, I’m sure.”
Stewart became particularly attached to the ’49 Hudson in which so much of the film is set.
Every road movie needs a great car, and luckily there was one already specified in the book — the ’49 Hudson owned by Neal Cassady (the inspiration for Hedlund’s character Dean Moriarty). And given that so many of her scenes took place in or around the car, it’s unsurprising that the actress felt it to be part of the cast by the time the movie wrapped. “It’s so comfortable in there. Road trips now are not the same because our cars are not the same. It’s like a room. By the end of the movie, my last scene was in the Hudson, and I can’t even describe to you what it was like to get out of it and know that I wasn’t going to get back in. It was horrible,” she said. “My last scene was one quick shot in a rearview mirror, right before we got dumped in San Francisco. It’s perfect that it was my last scene as well, because you know it’s coming. And there’s this awesome picture that I will cherish for the rest of my life of me and Walter and Sam standing in the middle of the road, right after they called wrap and I definitely just wiped a full face of tears off. It so captures that moment because now I’m on my own road.”
Garrett Hedlund was cast in the role five year ago, as he was on the verge of quitting the business.
Having been in the works for decades, five years might not sound like a long time, but if you’re an actor who’s been cast in one of the most iconic roles in 20th century literature, it must feel endless. That’s what happened to Garrett Hedlund, who plays Dean Moriarty. The actor explains that when the script first arrived, he wasn’t sure if acting still had a future for him: “I’d gotten the script in November 2006. I went to the farm in Minnesota to help my Dad out, and bought a one-way ticket, because times were slow in L.A. As soon as I landed in Fargo, they said, ‘That film you’re really interested in? They want to see you on Wednesday.'” In the end, he got his foot in the door with an unusual approach to his audition. “It was kind of nerve-racking with this material, and there was so much of it, that I went ‘If i can’t prepare all this, I’ll capture this moment of me of going to see my father.’ So I did this 25 page bit of writing, and at the end of the audition, asked if I could read the writing to them.”
It worked, eventually, as Hedlund explains he was cast in the role as long as five years ago. “I met with Walter for the first time in March 2007, and met him again in July of 2007, and he called me in September 2007 to say I had the role. And we didn’t start shooting until August 2010, and all that time, me and Walter were in constant communication.”
The film in part appealed to Hedlund because he has a similarly restless spirit.
The original novel has inspired many to head off on their own voyages of self-discovery, and Hedlund certainly found a kinship in the part. “I would never be able to do, no offense to anyone, a nine-to-five job. Acting… the more you learn and grow, the possibilities can be endless, and hopefully you can do it until the day you die,” he said. “If something were to restrict me from being able to have acting as a possibility, I don’t think I’d be able to see a movie for the rest of my life; I’d be so jealous and angry.”
Hedlund went on several road trips to research the role, including one with Salles.
As it turns out, the choice of Hedlund was perfect casting, as he’s no stranger to impulsive road trips himself. “I was pent up in Los Angeles, after doing a film that I worried was going to be negatively received. I jumped in the car, showed up in SLC at 2 in the morning, got a hotel, took off at 7 in the morning, got some Dennys, got pulled over for speeding in Idaho, drove through Yellowstone behind logging trucks, up through Montana, 19 hours straight,” he shared. “Slept in a Motel 6, who turned 100, in North Dakota, showed up on the farm to surprise my dad. I’ve done quite a few, through Arizona and stuff. I drive a SUV. I’ve got to be higher up, I can’t stand not being able to see the road in front of me.”
As part of his research, Hedlund and Salles hit the road together in the same car that Cassady had driven. “Walter and I did a cross country in a ’49 Hudson, that took us 14 days. We broke down nine times. If you try and get brake pads in Nashville on a Sunday, good fucking luck. We broke down in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico. I’ve been to some great places, and some great trips, but it’s weird that I found this the greatest 14 days of my life. We took the back roads, we didn’t take the freeways. When it takes 5 hours to get from Phoenix to LA, it took us 16. Within the impatient traveler, there’s part of you that says ‘Ah, come on, let’s just get there.’ But it takes as long as it takes.”
Interview by Aaron Hillis