Q&A: Garrett Hedlund 'On the Road,' on Illegal Drugs, Getting Naked and Twihards

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Garrett Hedlund is many things: the leading man in the rebooted sci-fi franchise "TRON", a honky-tonk love interest in "Country Strong" and "Georgia Rule," and now an indie wild child, playing Dean in the long-awaited film adaptation of "On the Road."

Hedlund's path to "On the Road" wasn't an easy one: He's been attached to the project for five years, and the movie has been in Hollywood purgatory for even longer, with a paper trail leading back to the 1950s, when author Jack Kerouac first floated the idea of an adaptation of his novel. This Friday, U.S. audiences will finally get the chance to see this new side of him (and, as a bonus, they'll get to see his naked side).

Hedlund caught up with NextMovie in New York ahead of the film's release, and talked "Twilight," getting intimate with Steve Buscemi, and how, exactly, to crack open a Benzadrine inhaler.

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Not to pun too hard, but it's been a long road making "On the Road." You were originally linked to this role in 2007, then it filmed in 2010, and now, in the last days of 2012, it's finally coming out in the U.S.

It's just been, yeah, it's been obviously a long, long time. But I guess it's pretty miniscule in the scheme of this film — [Francis Ford] Coppola gained the rights to it in '79. So the five years that I've been involved in comparison to the 55, it's not too bad, I guess.

Did you ever have doubts that this would actually happen?

Yeah, because when [director] Walter [Salles] had cast me in 2007, just after this and the film looked like it was going to go, then the financial crisis struck in 2008 and everything seemed sort of unachievable. That's where finally I didn't know if I was going to get it, and in 2010, MK2, this French financier company, loved the script and loved the book and loved the idea of doing it, then everything happened so fast and we only had six weeks of prep time to get it going.

Walter and I would keep in contact by email. Constant communication, a lot of visits he would take to L.A. and him and I would rent a Hudson and go around and film and shoot monologues and he would film to send to the financiers to convince them. But a lot of that time, because I sort of had a feeling in my mind that it was most definitely going at some point, was a lot of research. A lot of those years, definitely the first two years, 2007, 2008 and 2009, were reading everything I could of Kerouac, everything Neal Cassady wrote, all the letters, and all the authors that inspired them. So that whole time, I didn't take another job, I was sure that this one was going to go. Then it just kept not going.

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Jack Kerouac himself wanted this to be made into a movie in the late '50s, with Marlon Brando playing the role of Dean. What's it like to be the one who finally got it done?

It's just, even then and guys like Dennis Hopper and everybody that was involved. When I first read the book, I was 17 and looked online to see if it was ever going to be made into a film, and it said Francis Ford Coppola was directing it, and I think it had Johnny Depp as Sal, maybe Brad Pitt for Dean. I think it's wonderful, obviously, that's a very cool sort of little anecdote of this whole story coming to fruition. But for me, a lot of this whole experience, meeting Neal's family members, meeting other members of the book that are still alive today. Al Hinkel, who's Ed Dunkel in the book, taught me how to break Benzedrine inhalers open with the bottom of a beer bottle.

And what's the secret to that?

Crack it once on one side, then turn it over and crack it once on the other side. You need to be ever so delicate with the peeling away process.

You said you read "On the Road" first when you were 17. Was that for school, or did you come to it on your own?

No, it was recommended. I was just reading, in that phase of Fitzgerald and Salinger at that point, so obviously going up the ladder to the Beats and then soon after, Bukowski and stuff like that.

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How did you react to it?

I just, when I read it then, it more inspired me because it's a book about writing a book. It just reminded me that all these kind of wonderful moments in life when we come across somebody kind of colorful and vibrant, that you know, anybody that isn't... When you come across someone colorful and vibrant maybe in the present it isn't so interesting, but, in the past, it sheds a wonderful light onto living life. So I was always kind of into that writing and documentary sort of form, just writing about my everyday life and everybody that I'd come across and the conversations we'd have. That's what it inspired me to do, was to write more. When I was in high school I was doing creative writing and world lit and wanted to do journalism, so this, as a narrative, was very inspiring. Especially the format, that kind of spontaneous prose, the immediacy of everything was refreshing as well, coming off of reading Fitzgerald, who's very disciplined.

Are your journals still around somewhere?

Oh yeah. I don't get to them very often, unless I'm trying to go back and find something from before, but they're all stashed away. Every one keeps adding to the box. I remember telling my creative writing teacher that you never want to have a journal, because if you lose it, then someone's going to know all your secrets. And then she stopped using a journal, but I always write everything down ... Anytime I travel, I try and fill up notepads.

So are we going to see a memoir from you someday?

[Laughing] Oh, I don't know. I think mine's really just to one day pass them on to grandkids, let them know that their grandpa lived a little bit.

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Speaking of living a little, you get up to a lot in this movie. We actually see your bare butt before we even see your face. Did you ever expect to be doing some of the things you do in "On the Road"?

I knew I was going to have to do it, because it's in the book. It was one of the things about the book that cracked me up and make all of us sort of envious of this guy who's so carefree and lives life this way he does. There's such bravery to a lot of these little stunts he pulls that I can't help but find a lot of humor in it. You just read in the book and hope that they're going to be as amusing when you put them on film. I think it's always weird when you're doing these things, but it's whatever. I mean, there's like, I don't know, you just try and fulfill your own expectations of how you want it to come off before doing this and meeting a lot of the family members.

I was more worried about trying to shed light on how wonderful of a father he actually was, if there was any room for it, to show that he wasn't always this thoughtless and on his path and couldn't be diverted by anybody else's worries or agendas. When I met with the family, they said how wonderful a father he was, how important it was for him to provide for all of them, so we tried to infuse some of that into the story. They just asked me not to make him into such an ass that Kerouac did because he wasn't. Half of this, Kerouac wrote through real experience, the other half through imagination. They didn't want him to be such a devil.

And your character has sex with Steve Buscemi. As a young actor, was that a surprising way to meet such an icon?

Oh yeah. Buscemi's the greatest. Everybody who knows Buscemi knows what to expect when watching this film. Everyone thinks it's just hilarious. John Goodman, every time he sees me, he just laughs. He hasn't even seen it yet. Just the idea cracks him up. But Buscemi literally is the sweetest f**king guy in the world.



But really,getting to work with him was cool, right?

Walter said he believes in religion that there's no independent film without Steve Buscemi.

When this movie originally screened at Cannes, it was much longer. Now, for the U.S. release, it's been trimmed. Is there a cut that you prefer?

Even if there was 20 cuts, it'd be a hard question, because I'm a fan of so many of these, all of the moments in the book. The long version had some things that I really like and was very unique, and I just think it's a benefit that both these cuts are out there. I've never seen anything like it before, where we're flying to Toronto to debut this cut, and half the people in Toronto said, "Oh, I saw it on Air France flying over." Oh, wonderful. I've never seen that happen before, where there's already a DVD out of the first cut. I think that a lot of people that aren't familiar with the book maybe didn't know what journey they were about to embark on, watching the first cut.

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Were you worried at all that Kristen Stewart's personal drama would derail the release of the film or affect how people saw it?

Oh, no, I didn't think about that whatsoever. For her, I was so excited that she was going to play this role because she's so dedicated. When I saw "Into the Wild," I thought man, this girl would be perfect to play Marylou, you know, a girl that seemed to be wise beyond her years for a character like Marylou that was 20 years wise beyond her years. I was so excited. From the moment she jumped onto this project, she was so passionate. She had read the book when she was 15 and talked to Walter and was a fanatic about it and she spent hours and hours going over audiotapes of Marylou, the actual character, and getting the voice completely down. I was super excited that it was her and also Sam [Riley]. When I watched "Control," when I reached the end, I immediately started it again, and then again the next day. I was such a fan of his, I thought his role in "Control" was so f**king great.

Kristen also has her fair share of nudity and un-Bella Swan-like behavior. How do you think her "Twilight" fans will react?

I think she's so wonderful in this project that they're going to be proud to see someone that they cherish so much in a whole different light.

Do you hope Twi-hards come see the movie?

Do I hope? That's a very modest way of putting that. Do I hope? No, I pray! I f**kin' pray to the literary gods! The more people that come see it, I just hope it inspires them to pick up the book, first and foremost.