I recently sat down to a couple of one on one interviews for the upcoming adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. The first was with the film’s co-star Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy) and the second was with screenwriter Jose Rivera and director Walter Salles who had previously collaborated on the highly acclaimed The Motorcycle Diaries (2004). Those interviews will be coming shortly, but in the mean time I wanted to pull out some of the more interesting responses from the roundtable with Kristen Stewart which took place on the same day.
Stewart of course is on everyone’s mind right now as the last chapter of the Twilight Saga rakes in cash at the multiplex, but it’s easy to forget that she’s also carved out a nice niche for herself and done some of her best work in smaller scale films like Into the Wild, The Runaways, Welcome to the Rileys and now On the Road.
In front of cameras and in front of the media since before she was even a teenager, a lot of ink has been spilled about Stewart and her personal life so it’s not all that surprising she’s kind of a guarded presence. She has a reputation for being a difficult interview, but I don’t blame her. This is what happens in a world where a young woman’s behavior can be trumpeted as a “scandal” in tabloid headlines even when whatever it is all falls well within the boundaries of the law. We’re a society that seems to need to build people up and tear them back down again and it can’t be easy being buffeted by those forces at an age when a lot of people are still trying to figure out what they want to do with themselves.
So, it’s not all that surprising Stewart seemed a little bit nervous sitting down to a table full of microphones and people waiting to dissect her. Beyond the nervous energy though (a lot of toe tapping), Stewart’s enthusiasm for her character and the project won out. She spoke in stops and starts as the words tried to keep up with the thoughts in her brain, but this is clearly an intelligent person who has spent a lot of time getting inside her character Marylou. It was interesting too how much love and respect she has for the character. My take on Kerouac’s story and this adaptation especially is that it’s dominated by the men Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) and the free-wheeling Dean Moriarty (Hedlund) while the female characters (Stewart’s Marylou and Camille played by Kirsten Dunst) kind of got the raw end of the deal. It’s pretty clear though that Stewart at least sees her character very differently and she made me think about her in new ways.
On her character Marylou:
I really had to dig pretty deep to find it in me to play a person like that. It took a long time. I couldn’t say no. I would’ve done anything on the movie. I would’ve followed the movie in a caravan had I not had a job in it. I was like 14 or 15 when I read the book for the first time and 16 or 17 when I spoke to Walter for the first time. It was easy to connect the dots after having really gotten to know the person behind the character and what you would need to pull off a lifestyle like that. That didn’t happen until deep in the rehearsal process. At first I was just attracted to the spirit of it. I’m the type of person who needs to be pushed really hard to be able to let it all hang. I think that Marylou is the type of person you can’t help but be yourself around because she’s so unabashedly there and present all the time, like this bottomless pit of really generous empathy. It’s a really rare quality that makes you capable of living a really full, a really rich life without it taking something from you. You couldn’t take from her. She was always getting something back. She’s amazing.
On LuAnne Henderson, the real woman behind Kerouac’s character Marylou:
I think that LuAnne would’ve been ahead of her time now. I think generally people’s expectations for their lives are in a personal way not all that different. It’s a really fundamental thing to want to be a part of a group. We are pack animals. In a way she had very conventional ideals as well. She had this capacity to live many lives that didn’t necessarily mess with the other. She was ultimately not above emotion. She was above jealousy, but not above feeling hurt. She felt hurt but not slighted.
Maybe if this movie was made back in the day as opposed to now, people would be shocked by the sex and the drugs and they would actually miss what the movie is about. Whereas now we’ve just seen a little bit more of it so it’s not shocking to stomach. It’s easier to take. I mean, sure, times have changed, but people don’t change. That’s why the book’s never been irrelevant. There will always be people that want to push a little bit harder and there are repercussions. Knowing what happens to all the characters afterwards is really interesting. She knew Neal to the end of his life and they always shared what they had. They never left their hearts even though their lives changed monumentally.
On whether On the Road is appropriate for Twilight fans:
I think that probably depends on your parents. I read On the Road when I was 14. My parents never really wanted to shelter me from the world that we live in so I think that I’m probably not the right person to ask (laughs).
On the importance of being on the road:
When you can literally Google anything and see it, you feel like you don’t have to go see it in person. You can do a lot of travelling in your bedroom, but you’re not touching anything. You’re not feeling it.
On doing her first nude scenes and how her parents handled it:
I think everyone was really happy that it took a few years for the movie to get made (laughs). My mom came to Cannes. She loved it. She was really proud. I haven’t talked to my dad about it yet (laughs).
Welcome to the Rileys was probably a more difficult movie for a parent to watch. I was so sensitive after that. That character really found its way into me. I was so overtly sensitive about anything, not just overtly sexual, but anything about a young girl. It just rocked me and I think my parents could probably feel that as well. So it was just not something that we engaged or talked about.
It’s hard to step outside of it. I know it’s funny to talk about it from an outsider’s perspective, like “Oh, it must be weird to sit down and watch your ass with your mom” or whatever, but it’s so weird being on the inside of it. I genuinely don’t feel like… I don’t want to say that I’m watching another person at all because what I love about my job is aspects of life that you relate to but you didn’t quite know you had in you can shock the shit out of you and so the process of making the movie is finding out why you responded that way. So, I don’t feel like you’re every playing a different person, but you’re taking care of another person and you have such a responsibility to that person. It’s easy to be mature about it. It’s easy to place it in a context and feel protective of it.
Advice for young actors who might be starting out in a major franchise like Twilight:
You’d better love it or don’t do it. To be on one project for 5 years, I have the exact same feeling that I had when I first started it. The only difference is that now finally I have that weight lifted, but I want it back. I don’t have to worry about Bella anymore, but I’m like “Really? It’s so weird. Where is it? She’s not like tapping me on the shoulder anymore.” So, yeah. I would say “love it.”
Walter Salles’ adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road starring Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund and Kristen Stewart opens in limited release on December 21, 2012. You’ll be hearing a lot more about it in the days and weeks to come including my interviews with Hedlund, Salles and Rivera so stay tuned.