CANNES, France (AP) - Kristen Stewart understands the lure of the open road. So do her "On The Road" co-stars, Garrett Hedlund and Sam Riley.
The three young actors play the central love triangle in Walter Salles' adaptation of Jack Kerouac's Beat Generation novel, an experience that has helped them appreciate why the book is considered a classic.
The tale of wannabe writer (and Kerouac surrogate) Sal Paradise and his friend Dean Moriarty crisscrossing the United States in search of freedom and the elusive "it" was published in 1957. But Stewart said the way it captures the heady feeling of young adulthood is timeless.
"You're so filled with something that is hard to identify at this age," said the "Twilight" star, who plays Dean's teenage bride Marylou, a free spirit torn between the lure of adventure and desire for a more settled life.
"You're just bursting, and (the characters) value that so much," said Stewart, who is just 22 herself. "They don't ignore it. That celebration of youth and exploration is just something that you envy.
"I read it right at the point when I was about to get my (driver's) license, and I thought, wow, I want to meet people who push me the way people push each other. I wanted to be more like them."
Minnesota-born Hedlund ("Troy," ''Tron: Legacy") plays the carnal, vital Moriarty, a character modeled on Kerouac's friend Neal Cassady. He said some things have changed since Kerouac wrote his freewheeling, impressionistic story,
"Back then a car was 100 bucks and all you had to choose between was a radio and a heater, and things seemed a little freer," said the 27-year-old actor. "The roads seemed more open than they are today, but a young person's ambitions are still the same. Everybody between the ages of 17 and 21 or 22 still feels that they can achieve anything they want in life if they are ambitious enough."
"On the Road," which premiered this week at the Cannes Film Festival, has been a long time coming. Kerouac, who died in 1969, hoped to see his book filmed, and actors linked to an adaptation over the decades range from Marlon Brando to Brad Pitt.
Brazilian director Salles, who made the Che Guevara road movie "The Motorcycle Diaries," has been involved since 2004, spending years interviewing surviving Beat Generation figures for an unreleased documentary on the book.
He finally got the go-ahead, with Francis Ford Coppola's son Roman Coppola producing, to shoot a film whose fourth main character is the American landscape - though Salles had to travel far and wide to recreate the 1940s U.S. The movie was shot in Canada, Chile and Mexico as well as the United States.
The film opened in France this week and is due for a fall release in the U.S.
The actors felt the weight of expectation from the book's millions of fans, but say it helped them form a bond - albeit one less erotically entangled than that of their characters.
"We were the only people there who really know and understand what it feels like to be gifted, or burdened, with the responsibility of playing these characters," said Riley, whose breakthrough role was as Joy Division singer Ian Curtis in "Control." ''So we really did have that sort of feeling that we're separate from the others.
"Garrett and I particularly spent six months in one another's pockets," said the 32-year-old British actor. "I have friends where I don't know if I could spend that much time with them. And for a Yorkshireman and a lad from Minnesota - two young actors who both have their own ambitions - it could have been an absolute disaster, a clash of egos. But Garrett was always there for me to lean on, and vice versa."
Salles had firm ideas about the actors he wanted for the film. The cast includes Kirsten Dunst, "Mad Men'''s Elisabeth Moss, Amy Adams, Tom Sturridge and Viggo Mortensen as characters inspired by real-life Beat figures.
"I felt like it was cheating or something, that we had the best cast, in my mind, that's ever been assembled," Hedlund said. "Maybe there was something about each and every one of us that was similar to him in a way, to (explain) why we got along the way he did. There was no rotten egg within the bunch, and that's so rare."
The director said he was determined to cast Stewart even before "Twilight" made her a star, after he heard raves about her performance in the Sean Penn's 2007 Alaskan drama "Into The Wild."
"I remember writing down the name," Salles said, "so I wouldn't forget it."
CANNES, France — Walter Salles carefully raises the fingers of his right hand and gently strokes the back of his left.
"These are characters," he says, explaining the gesture, "who experience things not vicariously but on the flesh. Men and women in a quest for something they couldn't define yet, who are trying to amplify their knowledge of the world."
More than half a century after "On the Road" was published, 30-plus years since Francis Ford Coppola bought the rights in 1978, and nearly a decade after Salles began working on the film, Jack Kerouac's peerless anthem to the romance of youthful freedom and experience has finally made it to the screen with its virtues and spirit intact.
Having its world premiere in competition at Cannes on Wednesday, Salles' film is a lyrical tone poem about the adventures of Kerouac alter ego Sal Paradise, his best friend and inspiration Dean Moriarty (based on the legendary Neal Cassady, who went on to drive the Magic Bus for Ken Kesey) and Moriarty's wife Marylou. "On the Road" more than captures the purity of that long-ago quest, it uses youthful stars like Sam Riley as Sal, Garrett Hedlund as Dean and Kristen Stewart as Marylou to show how eternal that yearning remains.
It is a mark of the universal force of this American novel that Salles, best known for the similarly themed "The Motorcycle Diaries," has vivid memories of coming across an English-language copy of the book as an 18-year-old growing up in a Brazil then governed by the military.
"It echoed very profoundly in me," the 56-year-old filmmaker says. "The idea of living every moment as your last was the exact reverse angle to living in a military dictatorship where films, books and behavior was censored."
Salles still has that original copy, filled with comments of the friends he had lent it to. He in fact reread the book before embarking on "Motorcycle Diaries," the story of an epochal journey in the life of a young Che Guevara, which starred Gael García Bernal. "It's the best narrative about the passage between youth and adulthood, the revelation and pain. I wanted to revisit that sense of urgency before I started filming."
Concerned that his passion for the original was "not a sufficient passport," Salles agreed to do the feature when Coppola offered it to him if he could first shoot a documentary called "Searching for On the Road" (due to be finished later this year), in which he talks to people who knew the real-life inspirations for the book's characters such as Beat generation figures Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs.
It was the episodic nature of "On the Road" that made it so difficult to turn into a film. "Like 'Motorcycle Diaries,'" Salles explains, "it is based on a narrative that is not structured in classic form. It is way more impressionistic.
"What you do is build it layer by layer in a way that imperceptibly adds up. When you reach the end, an arc, a journey has happened but you have barely noticed how it came about. It's like the layers in an archaeological site that define what you find on the surface. It is a tribute to [screenwriter] Jose Rivera that he found a form for each layer that brings in a slightly different element." Given all of this, Salles emphasizes, "it was very important that every single one of the actors was well chosen so they could integrate into a solid whole."
Not only do the three costars do that, but each of them was so attached to both the book and their roles in the film that they stayed committed to the project over the years it took to get "On the Road" financed.
Salles was tipped off to Stewart after friends saw an early screening of 2007's "Into the Wild,"and she stayed with the project even though, the Hollywood Reporter reported, her pay for "On the Road," was "about one-hundredth of her $20-million salary for 'Breaking Dawn — Part 2.'"
Riley was selected after 2007's "Control" and Hedlund came on after taking a long bus ride to his audition from his home in a town in Minnesota so rural that the nearest metropolis was Fargo, three hours away.
"He kept a journal about his journey, and he asked to read it after his audition scenes," Salles remembers. "What he'd written was so much in tune with Neal's letters we were all sure he was right." Hedlund, who is outstanding, was so committed to the role he wouldn't take other work without checking with Salles first about possible schedule conflicts.
In doing research on the earlier attempts to film "On the Road," some of which date back to well before Coppola acquired the rights, Salles was struck by screenplay versions that had Dean Moriarty punished or even killed by the end.
"That character was very politically incorrect," Salles explains. "His attempt to live every single possibility, and the evasion of responsibility that came with it, made people uncomfortable."
"On the Road," which is scheduled to be released in the U.S. in late fall, is also notable for the amount of top-flight talent in cameo roles, including Amy Adams, Terrence Howard and Steve Buscemi, all motivated, Salles says, by passion for the source material. Viggo Mortensen, who plays Burroughs, showed up on the set with a gun and a typewriter that the author had used at the time.
When it came to giving these committed actors advice, the director remembers what Alberto Granado, the man who went on that motorcycle trip with Guevara, told star García Bernal before that film started shooting.
"He reminded him that Che was 23 when the trip started," Salles notes. "He said, 'Don't try to imitate the voice of the man who has crystallized as an adult, you want the man who was searching.' It's what John Cassady, Neal's son, said: ''This is about a generation trying to find a voice.'"
The exploits of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady were first described in “On the Road,” Kerouac’s autobiographical novel featuring alter-egos Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, more than a half-century ago.
But the stars of the book’s first-ever film adaptation say they believe the Beat bible resonates as much as ever, and that it has coursed through their lives in unexpected ways.
“I read it at 14 or 15 and I was touched. I said ‘I need to find people that push me like this. I want to find people in my life that I want to run after,” Stewart, who costars with Garrett Hedlund (Moriarty) and Sam Riley (Sal Paradise), told 24 Frames.
Stewart plays Moriarty's smart and free-spirited wife, Marylou, in the film, which premiered Wednesday night at the Cannes Film Festival in one of the more youthful galas to hit the Croisette in recent memory. (The “Twilight” actress drove up in a vintage car and posed with costars Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst as well as Hedlund and Riley, while outside the barricades thousands of fans lined up to catch a glimpse.)
At a rooftop restaurant Thursday morning, Stewart was still taking it all in. Dressed in a sleeveless leather top and sneaking in a quick snack of restaurant rolls, the actress was reflecting on perhaps her most prestigious role to date, as well as her first trip to oft-chaotic Cannes. “I’m a pretty nervous person, but for some reason I feel comfortable here,” she said..
Hedlund did Stewart's Cannes virginity one better — before this trip, the Minnesota native had never been to France. Smoking a cigarette alongside Stewart and Riley, the 27-year-old said he was similarly moved by Kerouac, noting that it echoed through the generations because the feeling it captures hasn’t changed.
“In your early 20s you’re at that place where you can do anything and you have years to do it,” the actor said. “Then life hits you before you know it.”
Director Walter Salles spent nearly a decade developing Kerouac's classic, whose rights have been owned by Francis Ford Coppola’s family for three decades. (Coppola's son Roman produced, after a series of stops-and-starts that had many wondering if the film would ever get made).
The movie pumps up Stewart’s character but generally takes the same free-form and episodic approach Kerouac took on the page, a set of scenes meant to tease out a time as much as a story. The movie will open just before Christmas (not long after "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2") when it could bring its stars the kind of awards-season attention they haven't experienced before.
Stewart acknowledged that "On the Road" made her want to take on other real-life stories. (She also previously played Joan Jett in the femme-rocker biopic "The Runaways")
"You wonder a lot more about the whys" with a real-life tale, she said. "And we had such an emotional responsibility to these people. They became our family, which is so much more driving."
She said that in incarnating Marylou, who is often seen in various states of undress, "I wanted to find the person behind the character, and not the easy way of just playing the character as the girl who likes to [have sex] a lot."
Riley, who played Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis in the music biopic “Control,” said he hoped to continue taking on more serious roles too, but "so much depends on what touches you in the pile of crap that’s sent to you."
As for Hedlund, who is best known for his less Oscar-y turn as the hero in the "Tron" sequel a couple years back, the prospect of a literary work appeals because of what it allows before the camera starts rolling.
"Being involved in this project, there was such as work ethic we all had, such an investment to portray these characters. A lot of self-imposed stress, really," he said, noting that the production delays allowed for an unusual amount of preparation as he met Beat icons and personalities and read countless books. "I crave this kind of workload for every project I do."
Critics may have been mixed after this morning’s press screening, but the World Premiere audience at Wednesday night’s Cannes gala of director Walter Salles’ long-gestating film On The Road was highly enthusiastic giving the film about the Beat Generation a 10 minute standing ovation. Co-producer Rebecca Yeldham said it was sweet justification for the 8 years she has been shepherding the picture with Salles. I caught up with her and the cast at the ultra-crowded after-party next door to the Palais at the oddly-named club, Magic Garden Meets LeBaron. The film based on the famous 1957 classic book by Jack Kerouac (actually written in 1951) has had several people attempt a film version with no luck and it has taken 55 years to get to the screen. Kerouac himself even sent it to Marlon Brando right after publication but never got a response. Francis Ford Coppola eventually secured the rights over 30 years ago but couldn’t come up with a way to make the complex film work. Finally Salles and his The Motorcycle Diaries screenwriter Jose Rivera cracked the code and after some false starts finally got the job done (Roman Coppola is also a producer on the film for American Zoetrope). IFC and Sundance Selects will distribute the film but it won’t be part of their VOD platform, but rather a major theatrical release. IFC’s and Sundance Selects President Jonathan Sehring, also at the party , said he couldn’t be higher on the film and they plan to open it in December and mount a major awards campaign. “We are going for it in a big way,” he said. “And initially I was skeptical about the whole thing. I didn’t know if it could work. I had never really seen a good Beat film done right before but Walter has done a magnificent job and all the actors are great. “She’s great,” he said pointing to Kristen Stewart who was standing in a nearby corner of the party talking with Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson (RPat is in Cannes for his own premiere on Friday, David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis). Sehring’s been busy here. He is also high on the acquistion title, Sightseers, a wickedly dark and clever British comedy I saw today in Directors Fortnight. It’s one of the more entertaining films I have seen here this year and should find an audience. Director Ben Wheatley has a following. Sehring just viewed the film this week and quickly snapped it up for release in 2013. ” We had handled Kill List, a film he wrote, but a lot of people were after this one,” he said. Sehring sees so many films so quickly at film fests he always chews gum thoughout each one so he doesn’t doze off. He said he got the tip from a journalist. I think I will try it. Some of these films are real endurance tests.
When I got my chance to chat with Stewart who is here (with her mother too) for her first Cannes ever, she told me she didn’t know what to make of the visible glowing reaction from the Grand Lumiere crowd after the film ended. “It was a very surreal experience for me. I didn’t know what to think. But if they had all roundly booed us I believe everyone in our row would have stood up and said ‘yeah, you go!’,” she said in the counter-cultural spirit of the film’s characters who behave in anything but conventional ways. Stewart has some topless nude scenes in the film which epouses sexual freedom even in the uptight era of the 50′s in which the beatnik story is set. For her playing Marylou (based on Luanne Henderson who at age 15 married Neal Cassady – known in the film as Dean Moriarty) was a challenge and one she was eager to take. Salles had seen her in Into The Wild and cast her in 2007 before Twilight turned her into a pop culture icon. Like most of the cast members she had to hang in there for a while before it finally came to fruition. Her agents urged her to drop out. “They kept saying ‘don’t do it’. It’s not on the page’ but I disagreed and I am so glad we all did it. I do relate to her in some ways but I am nothing like Marylou at all. I internalize everything. She’s the opposite,” she said. It certainly worked out. Stewart delivers here and audiences will see a side of the star they haven’t seen before.
Sam Riley plays the Kerouac character Sal Paradise and told me he actually first got the role right down the street here in Cannes when his wife Alexandra Maria Lara was a juror for the festival in 2008, the same year Salles had a film in competition, Linha De Passe. Salles told Lara he really liked Riley in Control, the movie in which they co-starred the previous year and so a meeting was arranged. Riley said the role was quite challenging because he has to listen a lot. Quite frankly it is never easy getting the essence and passion of a writer on film but this one, particularly in the kinetic final scene in which he starts to write his book , gets it right. Writers should eat it up. Riley obviously had been to Cannes before but he too was totally perplexed by the power of the ovation they all got. “I stood there wondering, ‘Do they pay these people to clap like that?’.” he asked.
Garrett Hedlund, previously best known as Jeff Bridges’s son in Tron Legacy and for the musical , Country Strong, plays the most flamboyant of the characters Dean Moriarty (based on Cassidy), a free loving and living Beat poet who often travelled with Kerouac. This is potentially a real breakout role for him. He dominates every scene he’s in. There’s one killer breakup sequence with wife Camille played with bite by Kirsten Dunst who also is back in Cannes for this film after winning Best Actress here one year ago for Melancholia and of course that famous press conference where her director Lars Von Trier said he sympathized with Hitler “a little” and caused an uproar. No such controversy this year.