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James Franco & Joseph Gordon-Levitt Auditioned For The Leads In ‘On The Road’ & More From Screenwriter José Rivera

by Rodrigo Perez
October 29, 2012 4:19 PM
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3. Joseph Gordon Levitt and James Franco are among some of the actors who auditioned for the lead roles in the film.
In the works for 30 years (spearheaded in the late 1970s when Francis Ford Coppola bought the film rights), arguably everyone in Hollywood auditioned for “On The Road” over the years including Brad Pitt, Ethan Hawke and many more (Joel Schumacher once had a version with Billy Crudup and Colin Farrell as the leads). But what about the version that Salles was hired to make in 2005? Rivera, who said he was lucky to sit in on the auditions, said he and Salles saw hundreds of actors for many of the parts. “I was there when James Franco came in looking all Jack Kerouac,” he laughed. “And he didn’t get cast. Joseph Gordon-Levitt came in. We had a lot of great actors audition.”

“That’s unusual for a screenwriter,” he underscored about being able to sit in during casting. “Most directors I hand in a screenplay and we never see each other again, and then I go see the film and go, ‘What the hell was that?' But with Walter I still get that 'What the hell' feeling, but at least I was deeply part of the process.” Rivera said he was invited into the editing room for “Motorcycle Diaries” and rewrote voice-over while he was there. “Walter is incredibly collaborative and open. He’s great that way.”

4. Rivera candidly suggests that what he wrote and what Salles shot are quite different and while he took natured-jabs at his director friend, he seemed genuinely at ease about the filter that screenplays go through before hitting the screen.
“Good question. It’s really different,” Rivera said with a long pause and a chuckle when asked how his screenplay differed from Salles’ cut version of the film. The screenwriter said, unfortunately, due to U.S. distribution, the film had to come in around 2 hrs and also noted that Salles contract stated that he would lose final cut if it came in over a certain length. “So he cut the shit out of this,” he said candidly. “It’s really cut. For instance, my screenplay begins with the death of Sal’s father in the hospital...he’s got a catheter coming out of his stomach dripping black goo into a bucket. And Sal’s smoking a cigarette watching his father die. And obviously we have nothing like that here. The second scene is the funeral where the Allen Ginsberg character [played by Tom Sturridge] comforts Sal so you immediately see that bond. That’s not there. So a million things like that are not in the film.”

Rivera also frankly spoke about some of the elements that bothered him, but always with a smile and good-naturedly. “There’s a couple, really annoying improvisational moments in the movie,” he laughed with a mix of confusion and dismay. “Ad libs that are like, ‘Why is that in the film?’, but that’s how it goes. At one point Ginsberg says, ‘Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.’ I wouldn’t write that! Not in eighth grade would I write that. That’s how it goes, but Walter also stuck pretty close to the script.” He also explained that Salles, coming from a documentary background, loves to capture ad-libbed moments on the fly. “Walter once said, ‘If worse comes to worse, we’ll shoot the screenplay,’ ” he said with a smile. “It pissed me off to no end. You directors! But his philosophy is that the written language doesn’t feel spontaneous enough.”

5. Rivera is trying to mount his own directorial debut based on one of his plays.
The screenwriter says he recommends that all writers direct their own work to understand the challenge and said he has a feature-length adaptation of one of his one plays in the work. But it’s been a struggle to get the, dreamlike and tragic love story set in L.A., off the ground. “I have a play called ‘Cloud Tectonic’ which I’ve been trying to find financing for literally seven years, to turn into a film that I would direct” he said. “I directed a music video, it’s a start,” he smiled. Rivera did not mention “Celestina” a film project that he was set to direct in 2011, so who knows what happened there.

6. There will be even more to discover from the novel and the making from the film down the road.
Coming sometime in 2013 (and screening in L.A. soon according to the screenwriter) is Salles documentary about the Beat generation, “In Search For On The Road” which he shot before making “On The Road” as a way to immerse himself with the generation beyond the source material (which you can read about here more in depth). Rivera says for hardcore “On The Road” fans or fans of the movie, the picture is going to be a great in-depth trip. “He interviewed everyone from Beats themselves or people who were highly influenced by the Beats,” he said. “Wim Wenders, Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, [American poet] Gary Snyder. It’s very rich with information.”

“On The Road” opens on December 21 in limited release.

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  • Franco'stheman | October 30, 2012 11:09 PMReply

    Franco is extremely talented very true and can play any type of role too. Gosh, I'm now wondering what it would have been like with Franco and Gordon-Levitt. Talk about a different level of excitement. I hope Franco and Gordon-Levitt undertake a movie together soon. The future is bright with these two.

  • Atasi | October 30, 2012 1:29 PMReply

    Franco is indeed a very talented actor!!

  • carlota | October 30, 2012 9:49 AMReply

    Hedlund and Riley are perfect as Dean and Sal, it's an inspiring casting, while Kristen Stewart is just a box office draw. But it looks like her star power is not working since the film is not doing good box office numbers.

  • Sam | October 31, 2012 12:19 PM

    Lay off Stewart. She was cast when she was 16 and way before Twilight so there was no box office factor at play. She remained committed to the film, participated in immense preparation with her costars, and her chemistry with both Riley and Hedlund carry their scenes together quite nicely. Not many actresses of her generation would have played the scenes and Marylou as raw as she did.

  • Liz | October 30, 2012 1:50 PM

    It's not even out the the U.S. so I don't know what you're talking about

  • noemi | October 30, 2012 9:23 AMReply

    Salles had the best casting in the moive. In what world would Levitt look like Moriarty? Please. Garrett Hedlund is the perfect Dean, subtile and electrifying. Those who saw the film knows that. Franco and Levitt are not suited to the parts just because they're more known, Franco has not the vulnerability required for Sal.

  • Pops | October 30, 2012 9:07 AMReply

    Levitt as Dean would have been a disaster. He looks Asian, Moriarty is a German descent blond, blue eyed guy. So thankful he has not been cast. Kristen Stewart is annoying as Marylou actually, why not someone more delectable to the eyes? She has no range, looks like a boy trying to convince as a sexy little sixteen. Ridiculous.

  • also | October 30, 2012 5:57 AMReply

    Fassbender and Marion Cotillard were attached to play Old Bull Lee and Jane before Viggo and Amy Adams.

  • jingmei | October 30, 2012 1:39 AMReply

    Interesting trivia. Glad to have the actual ensemble cast, including Sam Riley, they are the real ones who are available, technically and really.

  • caleb | October 29, 2012 10:49 PMReply

    i always pictured franco playing the part of dean rather than sal. all the frenetic monologues are perfect material for him.

  • jasper | October 29, 2012 8:54 PMReply

    Thank goodness, James Franco was not hired. He is full of himself, and he is highly overrated. Now, Joseph Gordon Levitt can practically do anything.

  • DEAN | October 29, 2012 6:51 PMReply

    Could you guys post an actual review of the director's cut? The playlist and just about all the major trades just recylced their Cannes review as part of their TIFF coverage. Since there are significant changes in this cut, it's only fair that it gets it's own review. I've actually heard from several who've seen both versions of the film that the Toronto cut is much better.

  • Billy Diamonds | October 29, 2012 5:01 PMReply

    Wow, Franco and JGL? I wonder how much better that would be as opposed to watching Hedlund's dead eyes and drooling mouth trying to emote.

  • nelson | October 30, 2012 9:02 AM

    Franco auditioned for Sal idiot. Hedlund was the best thing in this movie. Riley and Stewart are the miscasting in this film. they're too bland and affected.

  • Alan | October 30, 2012 2:13 AM

    Does it even matter who plays Sal? The character is a literary construct, an author surrogate rather than a fleshed out or cinematic character. You could get anyone to play him and he would still seem passive and emotionally remote. My problem with the film is that the character works fine on the page because he essentially articulates our thoughts on the story's events and actions, but the same character doesn't engage us on screen because he doesn't go through the same obviously external or interpersonal conflict of the other characters until the very end. Hence, Sal just comes across as bored and dull in comparison to the other characters. I think there are two ways of 'fixing' the character: give him more conflict in the earlier parts of the story or ... not doing 'On The Road', at all. Not every great book needs to be a film, and - if they weren't going to change the material significantly - I don't see the point of doing the film at all.

  • camille | October 29, 2012 5:25 PM

    I know, would've been awesome really.

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