Director Walter Salles and rising young Hollywood actor Garrett Hedlund have had vastly different life experiences, but came away with similar feelings after reading Jack Kerouac's beloved beat generation road trip novel On the Road.
Salles, 56, grew up in Brazil under a military dictatorship. He was 18 when he picked up a copy of On the Road, which was first published in 1957. He read it in English because there were no translated versions available.
"The book stood for everything we couldn't reach at that point," Salles told Q host Jian Ghomeshi during a recent interview. "It was about the possibility to really find one's future. It was about the possibility to venture into sex, drugs, [and] movements as a way to expand your understanding of the world. And we weren't allowed at any of those possibilities."
Some decades later, Hedlund, 28, also discovered Kerouac's book as a teenager living in a small rural community in Minnesota.
"You always wondered about the world," Helund said. "My father never travelled very much, the furthest we drove away from town was three hours ... [after reading the novel] you start questioning your own sense of journey and life, and what you crave, all the while you're under your parents rooftops."
To both men, On the Road represented a wider world they both longed to see and experience. So when the opportunity came for Salles to direct the adaptation, and for Hedlund to star as the charismatic but volatile ex-con Dean Moriarty, both embraced the chance.
The film, which gained wide release in late 2012, was a challenge to bring to the big screen, Salles said, much like his critically acclaimed previous film The Motorcycle Diaries, which was based on the memoir of Che Guevara. There are no real dramatic moments to propel the plot forward, just a series of misadventures that lead toward self-discovery. Again, as he did with Motorcycle Diaries, Salles draws the focus to the sometimes affectionate, sometimes feuding relationship between two men.
"You have to construct a film in a sort of sensorial manner, layer by layer, and also try to cling to what the book truly managed to depict in an extraordinary way, which is a very unique friendship between Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, two very different guys."
Sal is a romantic idealist, a writer looking for inspiration, while Dean is an energetic, street-smart hustler, and the dynamic between the two young men "blend in [and] create the adventures."