Having been in the works for decades, five years might not sound like a long time, but if you're an actor who's been cast in one of the most iconic roles in 20th century literature, it must feel endless. That's what happened to Garrett Hedlund, who plays Dean Moriarty. The actor explains that when the script first arrived, he wasn't sure if acting still had a future for him: "I'd gotten the script in November 2006. I went to the farm in Minnesota to help my Dad out, and bought a one-way ticket, because times were slow in L.A. As soon as I landed in Fargo, they said, 'That film you're really interested in? They want to see you on Wednesday.'" In the end, he got his foot in the door with an unusual approach to his audition. "It was kind of nerve-racking with this material, and there was so much of it, that I went 'If i can't prepare all this, I'll capture this moment of me of going to see my father.' So I did this 25 page bit of writing, and at the end of the audition, asked if I could read the writing to them."
It worked, eventually, as Hedlund explains he was cast in the role as long as five years ago. "I met with Walter for the first time in March 2007, and met him again in July of 2007, and he called me in September 2007 to say I had the role. And we didn't start shooting until August 2010, and all that time, me and Walter were in constant communication."
The film in part appealed to Hedlund because he has a similarly restless spirit.
The original novel has inspired many to head off on their own voyages of self-discovery, and Hedlund certainly found a kinship in the part. "I would never be able to do, no offense to anyone, a nine-to-five job. Acting... the more you learn and grow, the possibilities can be endless, and hopefully you can do it until the day you die," he said. "If something were to restrict me from being able to have acting as a possibility, I don't think I'd be able to see a movie for the rest of my life; I'd be so jealous and angry."
Hedlund went on several road trips to research the role, including one with Salles.
As it turns out, the choice of Hedlund was perfect casting, as he's no stranger to impulsive road trips himself. "I was pent up in Los Angeles, after doing a film that I worried was going to be negatively received. I jumped in the car, showed up in SLC at 2 in the morning, got a hotel, took off at 7 in the morning, got some Dennys, got pulled over for speeding in Idaho, drove through Yellowstone behind logging trucks, up through Montana, 19 hours straight," he shared. "Slept in a Motel 6, who turned 100, in North Dakota, showed up on the farm to surprise my dad. I've done quite a few, through Arizona and stuff. I drive a SUV. I've got to be higher up, I can't stand not being able to see the road in front of me."
As part of his research, Hedlund and Salles hit the road together in the same car that Cassady had driven. "Walter and I did a cross country in a '49 Hudson, that took us 14 days. We broke down nine times. If you try and get brake pads in Nashville on a Sunday, good fucking luck. We broke down in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico. I've been to some great places, and some great trips, but it's weird that I found this the greatest 14 days of my life. We took the back roads, we didn't take the freeways. When it takes 5 hours to get from Phoenix to LA, it took us 16. Within the impatient traveler, there's part of you that says 'Ah, come on, let's just get there.' But it takes as long as it takes."
Interview by Aaron Hillis