At 27-years-old, Garrett Hedlund has Hollywood at his feet. He speaks to LWLies about ego, freedom and why there are plenty of new routes in America.
"When I was on the farm, none of this ever seemed fathomable; none of it ever seemed reachable."
It’s been a long road to the Hollywood hills for Garrett Hedlund. It started at 15, when a kid from Phoenix started taking time off from bussing tables to fly to California, 800 miles every time, chasing auditions, dreams and a future.
Acting "was the only thing I wanted to do," he says. "If I was sitting behind a desk instead of doing this, I wouldn’t be able to see another movie for the rest of my life. I wanted to achieve it so badly, if I didn’t, I would have had to be a million miles away from it."
And so he achieved. Troy, Tron, now On the Road. Still, at 27-years-old, Hedlund is just scratching the surface of success. And for now, he’s still unjaded, still capable of wonderment, still carrying trace echoes of Dean Moriarty – expansively voluble, book-smart, lyrical. But there are echoes of the farm boy, too. In the accent that creeps into his more reflective moments, in the intensity of his passions.
"If you'd told a nine-year-old me that one day, in about seven years time, you’ll read a book called 'On the Road' and that the 27-year-old you will have finished filming the movie adaptation to it, I’d say, 'Bullshit. But try me.'"
LWLies: Going back to your first role, how tough was it to start with something like Troy? Is adapting to that blockbuster environment about more than being a good actor – do you need an appetite for stardom?
Garret Hedlund: when I was going up for that one, it was already a film stacked with A-list actors so you sort of have to pretend you already are one in order to become a part of it. When I went to meet with Wolfgang Peterson or read with Brad [Pitt], I just pretended I had an ego already. I had to pretend that I had done 10 films already in order to have the confidence to walk into those meetings.
So ego is in some sense a self-preservation system in Hollywood?
The line that got me out to Hollywood was quite the opposite. It was a line from [Ethan Hawke’s novel] 'Ash Wednesday': ‘Humility is the only thing in life worth learning. Shatter the ego then dance through the perfect contradiction of life and death.’ I thought, ‘Alright, if I do that I won’t care what anybody thinks, I won’t care about what anybody says. I’ll shatter the ego, I won’t be humiliated, I’ll dance through the streets when everybody else is walking with their hands in their pockets and their heads down. And I will seem to everybody like I am living.’ So it wasn’t really about ego when I moved out; it was about shattering every sense of ego so that if anything got crushed it didn’t matter.
Dean Moriarty is the role that Kerouac famously wanted Brando to play. How do approach an iconic part like this?
Between Walter and I, it was about finding the voice of the man who said it for the first time and not the repeated soul – not the motor mouth on display at the museum. To find that voice of inspiration and wonderment, the one saying, ‘Wow, Sal, look at that.’
Why is now the right time to adapt On the Road? This is a book about freedom and opportunity, but those things have never felt more curtailed in America than they do today.
I guess for Walter Salles there’s an optimism that says, ‘There are plenty of new routes in America.’ I think he was so inspired by the book, what it said about American culture, the freedom, the ambition of these characters coming off the back of a World War, the way that jazz influenced the story… He was so inspired by this project that he wanted to share that feeling, that ambition with everyone. It needs someone who’s actually affected by it rather than someone who’s just trying to push for a film to be made.
Do you think that the Beat spirit lives on or has an analogue today?
I think the spirit of freedom and yearning to journey and wanting to get out and breathe and see lands that no other man has seen is an ongoing compulsion within everybody. Everybody wants to get up and leave sometimes. As long as you’re always motivated and you never lose touch with your wonderment, there’s always going to be something to drive you. [The Beat spirit was about] this wonderful feeling. It was all about pushing your own ability further. The experience of drugs and sex and music was only to lengthen your own self-encyclopaedia of life: to know about not just the world but the solar system; not just the heart but the whole body. It wasn’t to destroy or to suppress or to sedate yourself; it was to expand what you were internally going through. That was the wonderful thing about it.