Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries) and based on the iconic novel by Jack Kerouac, On the Road tells the provocative story of Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), a young writer whose life is shaken and ultimately redefined by the arrival of the free-spirited and fearless Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) and his girl, Marylou (Kristen Stewart). As they travel across the country on a personal quest for freedom from the conformity and conservatism that engulfed many during that time, the duo encounter a mix of eclectic individuals who forever change them. The film also stars Viggo Mortensen, Kristen Dunst, Amy Adams, Tom Sturridge, Elisabeth Moss and Alice Braga. Click here for all our previous coverage.
At the film’s press day, co-stars Garrett Hedlund and Kristen Stewart talked about why they were so passionate about this project, how challenging it was to stay attached over the years, how they broke the nudity in the film to their parents, the ideals of the time period that they can most relate to, their favorite locations on the shoot, what the younger fans of Twilight might think of this film, and what can make a great road trip. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
Question: Because you fiercely held onto this project, since before even Twilight, what is it that spoke to you about Marylou, that made you still want to be a part of this, after all this time?
KRISTEN STEWART: I really had to dig pretty deep to find it in me to actually play a person like this. It took a long time. Initially, I couldn’t say no. I would have done anything on the movie. I would have followed in a caravan, had I not gotten a job on it. But, I was 16 or 17 when I spoke to Walter [Salles], for the first time. I was 14 or 15 when I read the book, for the first time. It was easy to connect the dots, after having gotten to know the person behind the character, to see what I would need to pull off a lifestyle like that, but that didn’t happen until deep into the rehearsal process. At first, I was just attracted to the spirit of it. I’m the type of person that really needs to be pushed really hard to be able to really let it all hang, and I think Marylou is the type of person that you can’t help but be yourself around because she’s so unabashedly present, all the time, like this bottomless pit of really generous empathy. That’s a really rare quality to have. It makes you capable of living a really full, really rich life without it taking something from you. You couldn’t take from her. She was always getting something back. She was amazing.
GARRETT HEDLUND: Being in the presence of someone so non-judgmental, gives you the freedom to shed inhibitions and fears, and be more honest with yourself and with somebody that’s more like that than you’ve ever been.
As much as you wanted to do it, how hard was it for you guys to stay attached to this, as time went by? How did that life seasoning, during that time, help inform things for you?
HEDLUND: Well, it wasn’t hard to stay attached, at all. This was, for me, something that I so eagerly wanted to do. When Walter [Salles] cast me in this, I was so unbelievably proud to be a part it. I was such a fan of the book and, from eight years after reading the book to now, to be on set was insane. But, from the time I was cast, I had this faith that it would get made, and this fear that it would. Everybody grew a bit too old. That was one of my fears with it because, with this part of the book, Dean is 21 and Sal is 24. We started filming it when I was 25. I turned 26 on it. Now, I’m 28. When I first read with Walter on it, I was 22 years old. Now, looking back with four years in between, with that life experience and life seasoning, you gain much more knowledge and wisdom of the world, the ways things work, the people and how to get what you want, and to know America a little bit more. Obviously, doing drives across the country enhanced the wisdom behind the wheel, of all these remote locations, being broken down and not having a penny to your name. It helped me to be comfortable with those scenes.
Because getting comfortable with the intensity of some of the physical scenes between the two of you, just so that you could do those scenes yourself, were there teams of managers and agents debating whether you should do it or not?
HEDLUND: No. The torture for them wasn’t having to accept the fact that your ass would be out for anybody to see, but with the internet, it will never go away. But, it wasn’t really that. It was the fact that for two or three years, I was saying no to everything that came across the table, and they were just like, “All right, you go off and do that film. I hope Mr. Salles is happy. Where have you been for the last three fucking years?” That was the only thing. Agents and managers despise passion projects sometimes.
HEDLUND: My mom and sister watched it next to me.
STEWART: Yeah, that was really an interesting experience.
HEDLUND: There were a lot of laughs. I don’t know if that was a good thing or a bad thing. I don’t know if the laughs were out of nervousness or because the actual text was really that humorous.
STEWART: For me, I think everyone was really happy that it took a few years for the movie to get made. My mom came to Cannes. She loved it. She was really proud. I haven’t talked to my dad about it yet, really. I think Welcome to the Rileys was probably more difficult for a parent to watch. I was so sensitive about everything, after that film. That character really found its way under my skin. I was so overly sensitive about not just anything overtly sexual, but anything about a young girl. It rocked me, and I think my parents could probably feel that, as well. It was not something that we talked about. It’s funny to talk about from an outsider’s prospective. It’s like, “It must be weird to sit down and watch your ass with your mom,” but it’s so weird, being on the inside of it. I don’t want to say that it’s like I’m watching another person because what I love about my job is that you can read stuff and find aspects of life that you relate to, that you didn’t quite know you had in you, and that can shock the shit out of you. The process of making a movie is finding out why you responded, in that way. I don’t feel like you’re ever playing a different person, but because it’s not your typical go-to, it’s more like you’re taking care of another person. You have such a responsibility to that person. It’s easy to be mature about it. It’s easy to place it in a context and feel protective of it.
HEDLUND: I think the only thing harder for a parent is having to sit down and watch you do a dying scene. I’ve died in three films, and my mom begs me, “Just tell me you don’t die at the end.” To get her to go watch I Am Sam, I told her it was a comedy. She came back with her best friend and pockets full of Kleenex and said, “You son of a bitch!”
How old do you think a younger Twilight fan should be, before they see On the Road?
HEDLUND: I think the rating limits that a little bit.
STEWART: I think the actual law is that, if you are with a parent, you can go and see an R-rated movie, if you’re over the age of 13. I guess it depends on who your parents are and who you are. I read On the Road when I was 14, so I don’t know. My parents never wanted to shelter me from the world that we live in, so I’m probably not the right person to ask. I think, if you have a desire to see it and your parents don’t want you to see it, then take that bull by the horns.
Are conversations with people who are passionate fans of this book radically different from the passionate fans of the Twilight franchise?
STEWART: I don’t get to have very many involved conversations with Twilight fans. It’s really rare. Sometimes the girls that run the fan sites will come in and do an interview, and I absolutely love doing that. But, I find that a lot of people I talk to, and most journalists that I sit down with, are huge On the Road fans. I feel that they’re even assigned to those stories because they have an interest in it. I’ve gotten to talk to a lot of passionate On the Road fans. The difference is that there’s a lot to feel in Twilight, and that’s usually my experience, having individual exchanges with those fans. You just feel it. But with On the Road, there’s a lot to talk about.
Which beatnik ideals could you personally relate to?
HEDLUND: Within that time, there was such a sense and yearning for freedom. These guys were trying to explore all aspects in life, when few others were. So many had these concrete boundaries set up, and they had this yearning for adventure. Especially for me, growing up in such a small town in the middle of nowhere, the desire to be away was incredible. I wanted to see new lands, meet new people from the city, and meet people that were in much less fortunate situations than I was, so that I could be more appreciative of my present. At least I had food on the table. It was just the yearning to live and be on your own, and to journey and get away. These guys were able to do that by the expansion of free love and drugs. They expanded not only psychologically and spiritually, but also geographically.
Jack Kerouac’s text is a love letter to Dean Moriarty. Was that what you got when you read the book, for the first time?
HEDLUND: Well, this book is very similar to a lot of the letters that they exchanged with each other, from Neal [Cassady] to Jack [Kerouac], and from Neal [Cassady] to [Allen] Ginsberg. The brotherly love was there. The love between Ginsberg and Neal was there. There was honesty through expression of absolutely everything that was going on around them, mentally and physically, from where they were coming from to where they were going. They had such an eagerness to express everything, from the deepest parts of their souls, to each other. That’s what I think everybody was attracted to. It was a feeling of being more honest than you’ve ever been and more free. You have to shed inhibitions and fears, to approach life that way. That’s what I was really attracted to within this. Dealing with such a wonderful era – the late ‘40s and ‘50s – was something I romanticized the most. Peter O’Toole said once that his idea of heaven was walking from one smoke-filled room to another, and that’s what this time period always seemed like. There are all these black and white photos of people sweating their asses off, in these incredible outfits. All the men wore suits and hats, and all the women wore these fantastic dresses, and they were dancing without a care in the world, or so it seemed. We think that, if we see a photo in black and white, it can’t possibly exist today because everything os in color, but did they see it that way?
STEWART: When you can literally Google anything, you don’t feel like you have to go see it in person. You can do a lot of traveling in your bedroom, but you’re not touching anything and you’re not feeling it.
You guys had the opportunity to travel to a lot of remote and interesting areas for this film. Which location was your favorite?
HEDLUND: I don’t know. They were all kind of unique. Mexico was amazing. Because we were on such a move, right off the bat, in late summer and fall, Montreal was really beautiful with all of the cobblestones and everything. And then, we got to catch the snow, in the winter of Chile, and then book it down to Argentina and head over to Patagonia and up into No Man’s Land. We got to drive the Hudson through blizzards, in the mountains of Chile, for just three days while we were staying at this bed and breakfast on a lake that always had fog over it.
STEWART: It’s crazy to hear that it was just two or three days because, in my head, it was a huge chunk of time.
HEDLUND: And then, New Orleans was incredible, as well. We went out to the Bayou, and that was special.
STEWART: Just being in the city there was amazing.
HEDLUND: And the deserts of Arizona and Mexico were all so great. Those scenes led to even more excitement. Some of the deserted landscapes that Sam and I got to experience in Mexico were just so unique. Just to be in the deserted streets of Tehuacán, Mexico, where all the buildings were made of clay and straw, it was beautiful to see those parts of the world.
Kristen, how did you find a way to relate to Marylou and her lifestyle, at that time?
STEWART: I think Luanne [Henderson] was ahead of her time. Generally, peoples’ expectations for their lives, in a personal way, are not a whole lot different. It’s a really fundamental thing to want to be a part of a group. We are pack animals. In a way, she had very conventional ideals, as well. She had this capacity to live many lives, that didn’t necessarily mess with the other. She was not above emotion. She was above jealousy, but not above feeling hurt. Maybe if this movie was made back in the day, as opposed to now, people would be so shocked and awed by the sex and the drugs that they would actually miss what the movie’s about. Now, we’ve just seen a little bit more of it, so it’s not so shocking to stomach. It’s easier to take. Sure, times have changed, but people don’t change. That’s why the book has never been irrelevant. There will always be people that want to push a little bit harder, and there are repercussions. It’s evident in the story, as well. Even in that little glimpse, at that moment in time, knowing what happens to all the characters afterwards is interesting. She knew Neal to the end of his life, and they always shared what they had. It never left their hearts, even though their lives changed, monumentally.
What do you love about a good road trip, and what can potentially derail a road trip?
HEDLUND: Well, what I love about them is that, if you don’t have a time frame or a destination, what could derail it is a passenger that does. For this film, Walter [Salles] and I got to take the 49 Hudson from New York all the way to Los Angeles. The greatest thing about that was that we didn’t have a time when we had to get home. We knew that any footage we got out of the wonderful landscapes of all of America were only going to help us with the film or help us as people, to find strength within ourselves to experience this and to be on this journey. We broke down over nine times across the country, in different locations, and met some of the most wonderful mechanics across the States. It was one of the greatest adventures because none of us cared when we got home, and that’s really so rare to find, even when we broke down in the middle of nowhere New Mexico, on a blacktop divide in a hay field in a cow pasture. It took a mechanic two hours to get to us, and he had to close down his shop, so we just sat on the highway and pulled out our sandwiches and turned the music up.
Now that the Twilight franchise has ended, what advice would you give to other young actors who might be starting a major movie franchise?
STEWART: You better love it, or don’t do it. To be on one project for five years, I had the exact same feeling at the end that I had when I first started the project. The only difference is that now, at this point, I have that weight lifted and I want it back. I don’t have to worry about Bella anymore, which is so weird. She’s not like tapping me on the shoulder anymore.
On the Road opens in limited release on December 21st.