TheStar It comes as a shock to see Kristen Stewart curled up in a chair in a Toronto hotel room, looking considerably thinner and less poised than she did at the Cannes Film Festival in May.
The same film is being discussed: On the Road, the Walter Salles adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s totemic 1957 Beat Generation novel, which is receiving its North American premiere at TIFF before a year-end release.
The tense body language of Stewart, 22, says all that needs to be said about how difficult the past four months have been for her.
It would be a mistake, though, to read too much into tabloid headlines. Stewart looked as glamorous on Friday’s Ryerson Theatre red carpet as she did on the scarlet walk outside the Palais des Festivals in Cannes.
And the intense experience of making On the Road, which took years of planning and included “boot camp” readings of Beat writings, couldn’t help but have a transforming effect on all involved. That’s certainly the case for Stewart, and also with co-star Garrett Hedlund, who joined her for an interview with the Star.
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“To say that this movie opened me up in a way, sounds really obvious, but it f--king did!” says Stewart, who first read Kerouac’s classic at age 15.
“I’m not just saying this. The book has had such a major effect on who I wanted to be at age 15, which is a pretty important and formidable time.”
Adds Hedlund: “How do you express the fire in which (Kerouac) expressed it? That’s the obstacle and that’s really what you’re thinking about the whole time. But at the end of the day, I feel I’ve become a much stronger person. The thoughts that I had to think, the feelings I’ve felt . . . made me much stronger.”
On the Road sets Stewart as enigmatic teen dynamo Marylou, the woman who rode with and made love to both the wild Dean Moriarty, played by Hedlund, and the cerebral Sal Paradise, played by Sam Riley.
To Stewart’s thinking, the mythmaking mileage of Moriarty and Paradise — pseudonyms for real-life pals Neal Cassady and Kerouac — might never have happened if it weren’t for Marylou, who is based on Cassady’s first wife, LuAnne Henderson, 15 years old when they married.
“It was this bridge,” Stewart says of Marylou/LuAnne’s relationships, both amorous and amigo, with Dean/Neal and Sal/Jack.
“I think that there definitely was a commonality that they could have because of her. They may have found it through something else if she didn’t exist, but there was a trust that they had just because they shared her.”
Adds Hedlund, 28: “She was like the gal in between twin brothers who had opposite amounts of patience.”
Stewart and Hedlund both wonder how modern audiences will react to the sex, drugs and all that jazz of On the Road. It shocked people so much in the late 1950s, many would often tear the cover off the book if they were reading it in public.
“It’s not so shocking to do drugs and have promiscuous sex anymore,” Stewart says.
“It’s not too shocking to see people naked. I hate to put it this way, but when I read the book I was 15, I think I was maybe a little more fascinated with pushing myself a little bit farther and being a bit of a rebel, or whatever at that age you do. You want to push yourself.”
Brazilian director Salles, who spent many years working to get the rights to On the Road and also getting a satisfying script written, says Marylou is a fascinating character and Stewart was exactly the right woman to play her. As soon as he met Stewart, after seeing her perform in Sean Penn’s maverick drama Into the Wild, he knew he’d found his Marylou.
“She knew On the Road very well, but she also understood Marylou in a way that was very, very unique. And I didn’t think twice. I invited her at that point, because I wanted somebody who could understand what motivated that character more than anything else.
“The fact that she had the passion and the desire but also the understanding of that character and what made her complex was very interesting.”
Salles was also impressed by how much Hedlund was already inside the mind of Moriarty/Cassady, when the young actor first auditioned for the role in 2007. Hedlund took a three-day bus trip from Minnesota to attend the casting session, during which he kept a journal.
“He said, ‘Do you mind if I read something to you?’ And he read what he’d written during his journey. It was if I was listening to Neal Cassady’s prose in his letters. He was so much in synchronicity with it.”
Hedlund says everything about On the Road was profound.
“I think it opened us up to having the ability to express ourselves in a much freer way and open way. I think before doing this film, if you asked me a question, I probably would have asked you to write it down and I would have been able to write you a response in the next few days rather than express myself better.”
Adds Stewart: “I’m still in that position!”
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