Garrett Hedlund’s Trip
BY Jeremy Kinser
January 08 2011 3:30 AM ET
You play Dean Moriarty, which is a plum role that’s been discussed over the years as a vehicle for everyone from Marlon Brando to Brad Pitt. How did you get cast?
I read the book when I was 17 and still in high school. I immediately went online and read that Francis Ford Coppola was going to direct it then. I thought, Oh, man, I’ll never get a part in this! [Laughs] Never mind that I was just a 17-year-old high school kid in Arizona, so why the hell should I get the part? I met with Walter in 2007 and auditioned for him and then made a screen test. Walter called me on my birthday that September and told me I got the part.
What a nice birthday gift.
It was the greatest day of my life. Then came the journey of trying to get it made. For two years I worked on the character and read everything — all of Jack’s books. I read Neal’s book, The First Third, and all the letters between them and between Neal and Carolyn [Cassady, Neal’s ex-wife and biographer] and between Neal and Allen Ginsberg [the poet, who was one of Cassady’s lovers]. Just going into auditions and saying that I was working with Walter Salles on On the Road gave me confidence, even though I didn’t have any money. I was fortunate to come across Tron and Country Strong to help me survive in Los Angeles.
Dean seems like a character who’d be difficult to shake when the cameras stop rolling. How did playing him affect you?
Yeah, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to shake certain traits of his. I honestly feel that all the years I’ve spent preparing to play Neal Cassady made me a better person. It was such an honor to portray one of the richest characters ever written. The night before we wrapped, Carolyn came to the set. She sat with me and Sam Riley [who plays the Kerouac stand-in Sal Paradise], and for her to look at both of us and smile ... wow. We went to Vesuvius [a bar in San Francisco], where those guys drank. The three of us walked arm in arm, and the sole of her shoe broke, so I pulled my boot off and slipped my sock off and tied it around the sole of her shoe, and we went to Vesuvius and sat down. She just closed her eyes and took it in. I don’t even have the words to express how it made me feel. It was so fucking fulfilling.
There have been screenplays of On the Road in development for decades. Is your film adapted from the first published version of Kerouac’s novel, which was censored, or ...
It’s based on the scroll version. The original scripts were always based on the censored version, but just last year the scroll version came out. To be infused with the raw honesty of the scroll and infuse events from the letters, I think the film is going to be so filled with the beautiful honesty of what this story was about.
The real Neal Cassady was bisexual, and there was understated homoerotic tension between the Dean and Sal characters in Kerouac’s book. How explicitly is this portrayed in the film?
Between Dean and Sal, not so much — it’s more between the Ginsberg character and Dean and the relationship they had. That is very visible in the screenplay.
I read a story about you, which may be apocryphal, but it’s fascinating just the same. When you were starting out as an actor, you read screenplays of old movies and prepared auditions for them.
One film I remember doing it for is Five Easy Pieces. When I was first starting out everyone said, “You have to see Jack [Nicholson] in Five Easy Pieces.” I read the script, but I hadn’t seen the film yet. I prepped a scene for a week and pretended I was auditioning for it, but I didn’t perform it in front of anyone. Then I watched the film to see what the actors did. Acting schools always say you have to do this and you don’t do that. They put barriers on everything. There are no rules, you know.
That’s a very Neal Cassady thing to say.
[Laughs] It’s only when you can cut the cuffs that are attached by rules that you can finally be free.