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Garrett Hedlund on 'On the Road': 'Jazz, women and drugs'

February 4, 2011 | 10:55 am

Fans of Jack Kerouac, "Twilight" and "Tron" would seem to have little in common. But this week they all got a present when the first pictures surfaced of "Tron" star Garrett Hedlund and "Twilight" lead Kristen Stewart from "On the Road," their new Walter Salles movie based on the Kerouac bestseller. (The images come courtesy of the French website Comme Au Cinema; you can see them here.)

In the film, which has yet to find U.S. distribution, Hedlund plays the seductive, mustachioed Dean Moriarty and Stewart his sexually adventurous wife, Marylou. Sam Riley is Sal Paradise, Kerouac's stand in for himself.

When we interviewed Hedlund for "Tron," he noted that the world has changed a lot in the more than half-century since Kerouac penned his Beat classic. "Times are a little different," said Hedlund, enjoying a career moment with the release of "Tron: Legacy" and "Country Strong." "Things are different on the road. There are more cars and fewer hitchhikers. But there’s still jazz, women and drugs."

In talking about his real-life counterpart, Hedlund described a youth without ballast. "He grew up in the streets of Denver with a wino father who was a barber he could never find," Hedlund said of Moriarty, whom Kerouac based on real-life beat figure Neal Cassady. "He spent time in pool halls trying to scrounge up money, and his teen years in juvenile hall because of all the cars he stole."

The film has had a long and tortured journey of its own. Kerouac wrote a letter asking Marlon Brando to play Moriarty all the way back in 1957. Producer Francis Ford Coppola bought the rights to "On the Road" in the 1970s. And Brad Pitt and Colin Farrell were also in line for the Moriarty role at various times. But the picture didn't coalesce until French, British and Brazilian financing came together last year.

Salles' road-trip film -- his second after "The Motorcycle Diaries" in 2004 -- took his cast to Montreal, Argentina, Chile, New Orleans, Arizona, Mexico City and Calgary, Canada. For one scene, Hedlund drove a 1949 Hudson Hornet in the Andes during a blizzard, wearing goggles and screaming out his window while Salles sat in the passenger seat holding a camera, with another camera mounted on the front of the car.

With a small crew and Salles' "Diaries" cinematographer Eric Gautier often shooting hand-held, the "On the Road' set had the freewheeling spirit of its 1940s heroes, Hedlund said. "Improv was highly welcomed, to make scenes flow and have a rhythm," said the actor. "We had the freedom to fly."

 --Rebecca Keegan


Photo: Garrett Hedlund. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times