On the Road
Director Walter Salles takes us on a trip behind the scenes of his Kerouac adaptation.
Over a half-century ago, a young Jack Kerouac pinballed between coasts in a beat-up ’49 Hudson—not to see America but in search of something to write about. On the Road, published in 1957, is a memoir disguised as a novel, which chronicles the escapades of Kerouac (Sal Paradise in the book), Neal Cassady (dubbed Dean Moriarty), LuAnne Henderson (Marylou), and their Beat-generation cohorts, including a Ginsbergian figure named Carlo Marx. When Walter Salles, the Brazilian director of The Motorcycle Diaries, agreed to helm the first major adaptation of On the Road, he felt, like Kerouac, that he had to live the story before telling it. “For four years, I retraced the path of On the Road,” Salles says of the thousands of miles he logged with producers Francis Ford and Roman Coppola. “We interviewed Beat poets like Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Gary Snyder, who were so inspiring. Thanks to them, the film began to take shape.” Shot on location across the United States and featuring Kristen Stewart as wild child Marylou, Sam Riley as Sal, and Garrett Hedlund as the explosive Dean, the movie is faithful to Kerouac in its impressionistic style, relentless pace, and focus on its characters’ appetite for sex, literature, and experience. Hedlund, too, was after the authenticity that Kerouac brought to the page. To audition for the part, he traveled from Minnesota to Los Angeles by bus, scribbling in a journal in roadside bars along the way. Says Salles: “There are certain things that can’t be faked in cinema. Moments of exhilaration—and of exhaustion—have to be lived.”