When I went to Montreal, I was a little concerned about the fact that Kristen didn’t seem the right type to play my mother. I had to keep forcing myself to remember that she was representing a fictional character in a book, that this was not actually a biography of my mother. I didn’t think that Kristen could actually try to be my mother, because she’s totally opposite of my mother in so many ways. Kristen is small, petite, with an almost brooding type of personality, where my mother was bubbly, smiley, full of sunshine. My mother was gentle; Kristen swears quite a bit, she’s foul-mouthed and comes on tough. But once I met her, she was very curious about what it was like to grow up with my mother, what kind of experience I had as a child with a mother who had been through this whole adventure. Kristen just wanted to know about my whole experience.
I found that Kristen is very, very committed to the part, that she wants to represent my mother in her own right, not as “a shadow to the boys,” as she put it. She was very protective of my mother, and very defensive about what Carolyn Cassady had written about her. Kristen felt that Carolyn was trying to make my mother look bad, that she treated my mother as if she was cheap and low-class. Carolyn had written the story as if she was the socialite, and as if my mother was just this young girl who was easy, who was brought along just as a sex object for these guys. Kristen felt that Carolyn had not portrayed my mother in a very good light, that she’d made her seem like just this young kid Neal happened to marry before he knew any better. She told me straight off that that was not how she wanted to play the role of Lu Anne.
Kristen told me that some agent didn’t just present her with the part. She said she had read On The Road early on in her life, when she was maybe 13 or 14. She told me, “I have the original book where I highlighted the parts of Marylou.” She was already interested in the story when she just started her teens! I thought that was amazing, because I didn’t even read On The Road till I was 40. I also thought it was interesting that she’d gotten so attached to the book, because On The Road is usually considered a book that guys are into. “My curiosity about Lu Anne didn’t just come up when Walter Salles asked me to read for the part,” she said. She explained that what fascinated her about Lu Anne — “Maylou” — was that she was a young, strong woman, independent and adventurous, holding her own with the boys — that was how Kristen described her. She told me, “The three of them are all equal in this trip, in this relationship. Lu Anne has as much influence and responsibility for what’s happening as they do. It’s not just the boys telling her what to do, dragging her along. She’s not just some dumb airhead.”
I learned that Kristen had started acting professionally very young, when she was nine or ten years old. By the time she was in her early teens, she was already an independent actress — and she was looking for someone “who had already done it” — by which she meant a young woman who’d also struck out on her own at a very young age. When the part of Marylou came up, she was just so excited to be able to try out for it. She wanted to portray Marylou as a real person. For her, it’s not a fictional character, and that’s what made the difference in her acting in this part. Sure, they’re making a movie of a book, but Kristen is not just playing Marylou. She’s playing Lu Anne.
Walter Salles was pushing all the actors in the direction of doing On The Road as the story of real people, but Kristen had the same intention even before she met with Walter. Kristen told me that when she listened to the tapes of Lu Anne telling her story, that was the moment when Marylou became Lu Anne for her. She could then see her, hear her, as the very young woman she had been when Neal and Jack first knew her.
Kristen and I spent the day alone out on the porch of that loft in Montreal, and she was in tears some of the time, and I was talking about my mother and some of the hurts she had been through — when I was telling her about my mother’s illnesses and her divorces. Kristen is a very feeling young woman. She’s only a girl of 20 years, but when she’s researching a part, she goes all the way into it. I just remember when I told her the story about my mother and the poster of Neal, Kristen was tremendously moved. Some guy had obtained this huge poster of Neal, and he was taking it all over the country — maybe to other countries too — and getting anyone connected with the Beats to sign it. He brought the poster to my mother for her to sign. Lu Anne looked at it, it was almost completely filled up with signatures, but there was still an open space around Neal’s heart. So she signed it there, and wrote, “You are my heart. I love you forever, Lu Anne.” That story made Kristen cry.
What was funny was that Kristen was actually worried about me, how I would react to the movie. She acted as if she were trying to protect me. “Some of the scenes are pretty rough now,” she said. “Don’t be shocked when you see them. You known the story, but the way we’re doing it is pretty graphic and pretty rough.” I just smiled. It was very cute, very sweet, but I’m not worried about the graphic scenes. What’s important to me is that Kristen really seems to feel what my mother went through.
I saw her again in Baton Rouge a couple of months later. She was already done filming her parts in On The Road, and had moved on to start filming the next Twilight episode. She cooked dinner for me and my husband, Reuben, and I learned that Kristen likes to cook, and uses cooking to relax, just like my mother did. She told me she hoped to see me at the wrap party for the film in San Francisco in December , and that was one of the reasons I came out to California then. It turned out that Kristen was still tied up with her latest film and couldn’t make it, but I got an even more memorable experience.
What a wonderful story! We haven’t heard much about OTR, so this is nice to get a BTS story about how Kristen prepared for the role of Marylou. She’s so sweet cooking for LuAnne’s family! I can’t wait to see Kristen in this movie after all of the talk!