Garrett Hedlund is the star of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, premiered last night in the courtyard at Somerset House for the opening act of Film4′s Summer Screens. For i-D’s Just Kids Issue, Film Editor Jonathan Crocker asked the blindingly handsome, charismatic lead about youth, the ultimate trip.
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Six years after writing his seismic roadtrip odyssey On The Road, Jack Kerouac penned a one-page letter to Marlon Brando asking him to play Dean Moriarty while Kerouac himself would play Sal Paradise. Brando never wrote back. But after decades driving in the circles of development hell, On The Road has finally arrived in cinemas with 27-year-old Garrett Hedlund in the driving seat as the Beat generation icon searching for ‘it’ in 40s America. You have to feel that Kerouac and Brando would have approved.
Stepping on the screen bare-ass naked, the Tron Legacy actor cranks up the charisma to become the reason to watch The Motorcycle Diaries director Salles’ vibey, drifting movie. Hedlund centres an all-star cast that includes Sam Riley, Viggo Mortensen, Kristen Stewart, Adam Adams, Terrence Howard and Kirsten Dunst – and he leaves them all behind with a lazy intensity, handsome looks that are both youthful and lived-in, and a voice that sounds like it’s been soaked in old whiskey and stained with roll-up cigarettes.
Drugs, sex and self-discovery… the two-lane blacktop offers all this and more. And like so many young Americans, Hedlund has always been hypnotised by the open road. But his journey to stardom is unlikely by any standards. He was raised on a remote beef cattle farm in Nowheresville, Minnesota, but found himself chosen to star as Brad Pitt’s brother in swords’n’sandals epic Troy. He then levelled-up to play Jeff Bridges’ son and the hero of 3D sci-fi stunner Tron, before grabbing the role of free-wheelin’ free-spirit Moriarty by the bootstraps. And he’s caught the eye of the Coen brothers, too, who’ve cast him in their own roadtripper, Inside Llewyn Davis. Hedlund, it seems, is most definitely going places.
Did On The Road mean a lot to you when you read it? I’ve idolised Kerouac for the last ten years. And through this experience, I’ve got to hang with wonderful Beat writers and actors. It was one of the greatest times of my life.
Have you been inspired to go road tripping in the past? I definitely have. Let’s say, when I’ve been pent up at random, 2pm on a Tuesday, and I’ve jumped in the car and found myself in a city twelve hours away. And the next day found myself in a city ten hours away. Those are always wonderful adventures.
What do you learn about yourself? You just learn how to deal with losing a wallet, losing a passport, using a cell phone and trying to get yourself home. It’s all strengthening experiences. You gain tools for how to not be co-dependent.
Did you take your own road trip while you were making the movie? Walter Salles [the director], I and a five-man crew took a Hudson Hornet from New York to Los Angeles. I think it took us fourteen days just trying to get the landscapes of America to let the film breathe. We broke down about nine different times, met some incredible characters. I mean, this could have been a whole other movie on its own.
Why do you think road trips are a youth phenomenon? The reason people like to do it while they’re young is that they can. Some people do it after graduating high school. Some people do it and never graduate high school. Some people do it after college. Some people do it instead of college. Once you’ve got the chains off your cuffs, you’re let loose.
Do you have to stop at some point? I think the reason is ceases a bit after years of youth is that life kinda hits you, like it does in this book. Dean Moriarty finally has a kid on the way, and he has to provide as a father and a husband. You have to fulfill that part of life. I think when reality snags you; you either tend to be reformed by it or you rebel against it.
When you think about being young, what memories spring to mind? I remember being a kid and depending on my imagination so much. When you’re out on the farm, you’re so far away from everything. The nearest town was 30 miles away. You don’t have anyone else to play with, so you gotta pretend. You’re the cowboy being chased by the Indians, but there are no Indians. Just fucking you out there!
Do you think we all have a fleeting time in life? Day by day, you’re getting one step closer to becoming your father and becoming a man. I think every kid on the farm who sees his father drinking beers, crunching them up and throwing them on to the bonfire is just fascinated by this. You want to be the one sitting there.
You’ll turn 28 this year. Do you ever worry about getting old too quickly? A lot of times I worry, ‘Did I miss this?’ or, ‘Was this the right girl at the right time?’ or, ‘If I’d never left the farm, would I be happier?’ I also wonder whether flying around the world and seeing all these wonderful things will mean I’ll never reach satisfaction in life because I’ll always know the grass is always greener.
These things go through your mind? I always write about these things. What I’m going through mentally. I guess I’m always trying to find how to find more and more joy out of life. But every day I realise how young I still am.
Now you’re a wealthy movie star, do you live an extravagant life? I don’t really buy myself much. I mean, I buy myself food! I don’t ever really spend a lot of money on clothes. I have a lot of clothes. I think I did the whole journey of On The Road with just one little shoulder bag. I think I did the whole six months with two T-shirts and a pair of pants. Maybe I don’t treat myself enough!
On the Road is released in UK cinemas October 12th 2012.
Text: Jonathan Crocker
Portrait: Matthew Brooks