Adding to the growing list of Jack Kerouac depictions onscreen is writer/director Michael Polish’s adaptation of Big Sur. The film, which chronicles the author’s struggle with alcoholism and depression in the years following the publication of On the Road, made its world premiere at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. It’s a very “Kerouac” adaptation, and star Jean-Luc Barr turns in an impressive performance as the troubled author.
I had the chance to speak with co-star Kate Bosworth during my time in Park City, and the actress talked about the daunting task of tackling such a beloved property, how she prepared for the role, conveying her character’s emotions within the context of Kerouac’s untraditional narrative, what it was like to find out that their film had made it into Sundance, and more. Read on after the jump.
KATE BOSWORTH: This was a good introduction to Kerouac for me. I had read On the Road years ago probably like every other teenager, but I hadn’t delved into his body of work and I hadn’t read Big Sur so this was a good introduction to it.
Was it daunting taking on such a beloved property? What kind of preparation did you do for the role? Did you go back through his backlog of novels?
BOSWORTH: I read almost all of his writings. Because there’s not a whole lot of material on my character in the film, I read a lot of the women of the beat generation, things that they had written and their sober observations of the chaos that ensued. I feel that with Billie, my character, other than what was written about her, that Kerouac wrote about her in Big Sur, I took a little of things that resonated with me from a lot of different women from the beat generation and their emotions from the time and their feelings.
Like you said your character isn’t a giant part of the film and given the way that a Kerouac story plays out it’s not exactly conventional. How did you approach conveying all these emotions on screen without the traditional narrative of, you know, big fight, make up, etc.?
BOSWORTH: Right, I think that that’s the thing is it’s not- this is based off the book so any kind of conventional, literal storytelling is thrown out the window just because of Kerouac’s stream of consciousness and how Michael decided to adapt that is very similar to the book. It wasn’t a conventional time; it was a transitory time it was between a very conservative moment in history segwaying into the real kind of free-loving hippies. It was an in between time. I think that any time you’re in transition there’s something painful, and exciting, and new so I kept that in mind when playing her and when certain circumstances would come here way I kept that in mind as to where these people were at this specific time in history.
BOSWORTH: Well, I had been a fan of his work for a long time, I had never met him before meeting on this movie and quite simply I asked him, “How are you going to keep the story of a man essentially losing his mind in the woods for an hour and half?” And rather than giving me some long spiel he just confidently looked me straight in the eye and said, “Yes, that’s the challenge isn’t it?” Then I came on board.
Was the script pretty firm when you came onboard or were there any changes as you went through?
BOSWORTH: No, he’ll tell you, but he adapted it from- I think the Kerouac estate sent him the real manuscript that’s even different from the book and he sat with it for four days and in four days adapted it. He wanted it to be very true to the novel, the manuscript; he didn’t want to take many liberties with it in his adaptation of the screenplay. When you see the film, I think what people really respond to about it is that truth that will resonate that you read in the book. I think it’s one of the most unfilmable adaptations of Kerouac to screen and I think he’s done it beautifully. I feel one of the reasons why he has is because he has not tried to make it about Kerouac so much as to let be Kerouac, and so much of that is the narrative driving the readers or viewers experience of this person. Have you seen the film?
BOSWORTH: Oh okay, so you know his narration almost becomes part of the soundtrack to the film, he really allows that to exist whether it’s more quiet or more loud, driving the viewer’s experience as his words do when you read his novel. I think that’s why it was successful.
What was your first reaction to seeing the film when it was all put together?
BOSWORTH: I loved it, I absolutely loved it. I was blown away and I mean I live with Michael, I know him, I am impressed by him every single day of my life, but it was a real jaw-dropping moment for me. I got to see it at home before everyone else and my jaw just hit the floor. I think it’s brilliant. I said to him, “This is a masterpiece for you, in your career this is a moment.”
When did you guys first find out that it was accepted into Sundance and what was your reaction?
BOSWORTH: We were shooting a commercial in London for Topshop and he got an email. It was about midnight in London and he got an email saying “Trevor [Groth]’s wanting to get in touch with you.” and he looked at me and said, “I think this is a good sign. It’s usually a good sign.” He’s had four movies here. So Michael called him from London and he said, “Congratulations,” and he said, “Well Michael, I’ve never seen anything like this.”
BOSWORTH: I have.
How does this Sundance experience compare to the others?
BOSWORTH: It’s a lot calmer, this experience, which I like. I think the Sundance festival can be different every time, it can be a little bit more frenetic, it can be calmer, and this festival is a little bit more relaxed. Maybe it’s just because I’ve experienced it a few times now but, I don’t know, maybe just the lack of a circus and all the swag. There’s something a little different than there has been in the last couple years, which is great. It feels like they wanted to keep it about the films.
Have you seen it with an audience yet?
BOSWORTH: No, I’m so excited.
It will be interesting, I feel like Kerouac fans will be really happy with it, but I’m interested to see people who haven’t read the book, how they respond to it.
BOSWORTH: I don’t read reviews, but a few people have shown Michael a couple of things of wonderfully positive feedback. Like I said, it’s such a difficult adaptation and I think the reason why Michael was so successful is that he has an affinity, not so much to Kerouac throughout his life, but at this particular moment, at this moment of being forty, of being jaded, of being disenchanted with themselves, with the world. There was a real moment for Mike when he took this on that correlated with Kerouac at that moment in his life, and I think whenever you get an artist that’s going to take something on and they connect so deeply that there’s going to be some magic that comes from that. I think that that’s a real difference here. It’s the end of the road.
BOSWORTH: Oh, how funny. Yeah, it’s a bookend, it’s a real bookend.
It was interesting to see the Kerouac story, you know, they’re so young and happy, and then the crux of this movie is kind of his yearning for those early days.
BOSWORTH: Sure, he was so athletic about everything he did. He just did everything full tilt. And I can certainly relate to having those first fresh feelings of entering the world and then this realization of…reality I suppose. Then, ultimately, you have to fall back in love with life and have different chapters of your life, but I think it was difficult for him to see everything that he had built up, and fantasized, and had been in love with, and all the sudden it was almost like the curtain was pulled back for him and I don’t think he could handle it. I don’t think it was something that he could handle in his life and so he slowly started to kill himself, you know, retreat.
Click here to catch up on all of our 2013 Sundance Film Festival coverage.