Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ inspires talent behind adaptation

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Walter Salles, director of the new film adaptation of “On the Road,” shows immense reverence for the source material’s author and his contemporaries.

“They were the Picassos of the way we live today,” Salles said, citing beatnik

writers Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg as pioneers of the bohemian culture that inspired his adaptation of the classic novel.

“[These men] were courageous in confronting the limits of their time, the very conservative post-second World War and to actually seeking zones of freedom within that world,” Salles explained.

While Salles and lead actors Garrett Hedlund (“Tron: Legacy”) and Sam Riley (“Control”) were greatly inspired by these beatniks, they faced the difficult task of determining how to bring such iconic prose and characters to life on the big screen.

Hedlund plays Dean Moriarty, a rugged and reckless man who lives according to his own desires. The actor has been a fan of the novel since reading it in a high school creative writing class.

“It was this spontaneous prose filled with such immediacy, and I empathized much more with the Sal Paradise character because at that time I was always the one in the corner sort of writing about something from across the way,” Hedlund said.

Riley portrays Sal Paradise, an uninspired writer who embarks on an adventure across America in search of inspiration. Riley, Hedlund and Salles actually traveled on a cross-country road trip to prepare for the theme of the film.

“We did a road trip in the [film’s] ’49 Hudson all the way across country … starting from New York and going to Los Angeles,” Hedlund said.

Riley elaborated on this journey, his first real road trip experience, and how it helped him to develop his character’s thoughts throughout the film.

“My character is finding America for the first time, and I was finding America for the first time as I traveled,” he said.

Riley also found listening to jazz music incredibly helpful, crediting the Beat generation for its exciting tempos and rhythms.

“Whenever I was doing those scenes with the typewriters, I’d always have [jazz] playing,” Riley said.  “To help, in a way, with the rhythm of the typing, and it puts you in mind of another time as well.”

As for what he hopes the impact of the film will be on today’s generation, Salles immediately credited the long-lasting influence of Kerouac’s novel.

“‘On the Road’ targets the very specific rite of passage between youth to adulthood with the moments of bliss that eventually come with it, but also the moments of pain that you endure,” he said.

Hedlund believed the most enticing thing about adventure for the younger generation is the inherent freedom.

“It’s being able to finally do what you want,” he said. “When we’ve spent our whole lives with curfews and under our parents’ roofs, there’s the possibility of freedom and being on the road that’s like ‘Alright, Mom’s not going to be with us this time,’ and that’s why when I read [‘On the Road’], I couldn’t wait to experience that sort of life.”

Laura Wolford is a staff writer. Email her at film@nyunews.com.

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