Interview: Walter Salles Talks 'On the Road,' Written by: Karen Benardello
Immediately following difficult periods in history, people often turn to liberation movements in order to fix society. That determination is emotionally shown in the upcoming adventure drama ‘On the Road,’ directed by ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ helmer Walter Salles. Based on the best-selling classic 1957 novel of the same name by Jack Kerouac, the film, which was written by Jose Rivera, shows the historical context and the motivations of Americans living in the late 1940s. Led by a talented young cast, the movie gives a clear understanding of the characters’ relationships and their struggles to overcome their internal struggles.
‘On the Road’ follows young New York City writer Sal Paradise (played by Sam Riley), whose life is ultimately redefined by the arrival of Dean Moriarty (portrayed by Garett Hedlund), a free-spirited, fearless Westerner. Dean and his girlfriend, Marylou (played by Kristen Stewart), are living a carefree style, and urge Sam to join them on a personal quest for freedom from the conformity and conservatism surrounding them. They travel across the country in search of themselves, through the use of drugs, jazz and poetry in the aftermath of World War II.
Along the way, the trio’s pursuit of the pure essence of experience is continuously shaped by their interactions with the people they meet along the way, including Camille (portrayed by Kirsten Dunst). Dean ultimately marries and has children with Camille, feeling that he should settle down, but still continues to live his care-free lifestyle with Marylou and Sal.
Salles generously took the time to sit down during a roundtable interview in New York City recently to discuss filming ‘On the Road.’ Among other things, the director spoke about the research he did into the Beat Generation, how the music of that generation influenced the film’s story and the casting of the lead actors in the adventure drama.
Question (Q): You cast the film in 2004, and it took a long time to get it made. Would you still have cast Kristen Stewart after the ‘Twilight’ phenomenon?
Walter Salles (WS): We did (cast Stewart in the beginning of the ‘Twilight’ series). Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, the director of ‘Babel’ and ’21 Grams,’ is a friend of mine, and he had just seen a rough cut of Sean Penn’s ‘Into the Wild.’ We had dinner that night. He said, “Sean’s movie is so beautiful, and there’s this incredible young actress who you should consider for Marylou in ‘On the Road.’ There’s something very impactful about the film. She appears int he last third of the film, but there’s an echo of her presence that’s long lasting, you should meet her.”
I saw Sean Penn’s film, which I also loved. I met Kristen, and she was so knowledgeable about the book, and knew so much about the character. So I invited her to do the film, if it was going to be made. That was a big question, also. It hadn’t been made for so long, that we never knew if it was going to be a reality.
Then, of course, it took us five years to get the financing, which came from independent producers in Europe. All those years, she remained tied to the project, and to do it, says a lot about her, I think.
Q: What kind of research did you do into the gender relationships?
WS: We did very extensive research that took us six years, between 2004 and 2010. I shot a film in Brazil with non-actors between ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ and this. But in doing the research, the characters of the book were still alive. Or we met with the families of the characters, who are not with us anymore. Meeting, for instance, Carolyn Cassady was very helpful to inform the Camille role of Kirsten Dunst.
Carolyn’s a woman of great knowledge and sensitivity. I wanted her to be played by an actress who would not only be extremely talented, but would also have the same degree of intelligence, so I forwarded the invitation to Kirsten. Kirsten was the first actress who signed on for ‘On the Road.’ That was very early on, in 2005, I think. Then Garrett and Kristen and Sam, a little bit later. Everyone was very passionate about this book.
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