This an excerpt of The Hollywood Reporter’s “Making ‘On the Road’ Stories”. It appears in the May 18th issue. Full article on their website.
Marlon Brando turned it down, Mexican drug wars nearly derailed it, and Francis Ford Coppola never got to direct it — but the “Twilight” superstar trimmed her fee to less than $200K for director Walter Salles, and Jack Kerouac’s beat-generation novel finally made it to the screen.
For the role of Sal and Dean’s free-spirited companion, Marylou, Salles had found little-known actress Kristen Stewart through Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. ”‘Look no further,’ ” Salles remembers the Babel director telling him. “‘I’ve just seen the first cut of Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, and there’s this 16-year-old girl you’ll fall in love with.’” But once she became a star of the blockbuster Twilight franchise, much maneuvering was required to accommodate her schedule. It was critical that filming on Road end before October 2010, when shooting needed to start on Breaking Dawn — Parts 1 and 2. To Salles’ relief, Stewart remained committed to the role for which she received about one-hundredth of her $20 million salary for Breaking Dawn — Part 2.
“There is something scary and unpredictable and animalistic about Marylou,” she explains about her attraction to the character.
When On the Road debuts in May at Cannes, audiences will see whether the film warrants these years of effort. They also will see whether Stewart, 22 (whose Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson is in Cannes, too, with Cosmopolis), has the chops to create a post-vampire career. And they will see whether Salles, 56, can repeat the success of his most recent Cannes triumph, Motorcycle Diaries.
An 80-day shoot across Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Louisiana, Arizona and San Francisco began in Montreal on Aug. 4, 2010, with the funeral of Sal’s father. Everything went wrong: The heavens opened, and rain bucketed down. “I thought, ‘Maybe it’s not meant to be,’ ” says producer Yeldham.
Then, gloriously, the light changed in the afternoon and cinematographer Eric Gautier yelled to go. “Some of the best moments in the movie were ones where things went wrong,” reflects Riley. It happened again with one scene shot in Mexico, “where I drive the car to this house to get marijuana, and the engine just blew up. That’s in the finished film.”
But the deteriorating drug situation in Mexico posed a special threat. “We consulted with security experts, who counseled us strongly to get out of there,” says Yeldham. The dangers forced a last-minute location shift from Torreon in the Mexican interior to Arizona.
Stewart’s fame also required special care. “Wherever Kristen went, the blogosphere lit up with the specifics of her movements,” adds Yeldham. Her topless scenes with Riley were shot on a closely guarded set to avoid paparazzi and fans.
The pressure of doing the scenes made Riley “sick with anxiety” — but not Stewart. “I was so shocked at being able to do it,” she says. “I didn’t feel naked.”
Knowing Mortensen (as the William S. Burroughs-inspired Old Bull Lee) was well read, Riley was “terrified during improvisation that he might ask me something about Nietzsche, like, ‘What do you think about the Ubermensch?’ The night before he arrived, I spent hours Wikipedia-ing Jean-Paul Sartre and others just in case he threw me a curveball.” (He didn’t.)
For Hedlund, one of the toughest moments came when Salles flew a skeletal team to Argentina to capture a real-life blizzard, and he had to drive while sticking his head out the window. “It was freezing, and I couldn’t see a thing,” says the actor.
Adds Stewart: “We never stopped shooting. They could have made a 20-hour movie.”