Jack Kerouac's On The Road: from page to the big screen
Jack Kerouac's On The Road has taken 55 years to journey from page to screen. Cast and crew gathered in Cannes to discuss how one of America's most beloved books was turned into a film.
When Jack Kerouac published On The Road in 1957, he had high hopes for a film adaptation with Marlon Brando in a starring role.
The author wrote to Brando offering him the part of Dean Moriarty. His letter ended with a plea for a reply: “Come on now Marlon, put up your dukes and write!”
Brando never did reply and Kerouac died in 1969 without seeing his bible of the Beat Generation make it to the screen.
In 1979, Francis Ford Coppola bought the film rights. In the decades that followed, actors including Brad Pitt and Colin Farrell mulled over the lead roles. But the various directors and scriptwriters attracted to the project were defeated by the challenges of adapting Kerouac’s supposedly unfilmable book.
Finally, On The Road has been turned into a film by Brazilian director Walter Salles, with Coppola’s son, Roman, as producer.
The characters Sal Paradise, Dean Moriarty and Moriarty’s wife Marylou were based on Kerouac, Neal Cassady and LuAnne Henderson, and the film-makers consulted relatives in order to make the film as authentic as possible. Cassady’s son, John, was among those to advise on the film.
Cast and crew gathered in Cannes to discuss how the story made the journey from page to screen.
Roman Coppola, producer
“It seems like Kerouac never went away. The book is a perennial, always to be discovered by a new generation. My dad bought the rights in 1979 and aspired to make the movie. Many different film-makers and scriptwriters tried their hand but it wasn’t until Walter said, ‘I think I can make this movie’ that we found the right way to go.’”
Walter Salles, director
“Neal Cassady’s son, John, said this wasn’t about the Beat Generation but about what preceded it. It’s about what made them. Listening to somebody from within was very important. We have a lot of images of the Beat Generation when they are in their 30s, but that iconography is sometimes misleading because they are intellectuals and people who have already completed a journey. Here, it’s about the loss of innocence, about the search for that last frontier that they will never find - the end of the road and the end of the American Dream.”
Garrett Hedlund, who plays Dean Moriarty (based on Neal Cassady)
“I went with a notepad full of questions to see Neal Cassady’s son. I was there for five hours. I also spent the day with Carolyn Cassady [Neal’s second wife], who is still going strong and has a wonderful, vivid memory of who her husband was. Through their stories you got to understand a soul that’s maybe not portrayed as much in the book. John said, ‘Jack wrote this and Jack wrote that but my dad was such a loving father’. He remembered him smoking a cigarette and that it smelled a little bit funny. He was a wonderful co-pilot for this adventure.”
Kristen Stewart, who plays Marylou (based on LuAnne Henderson)
“I loved Marylou. The character is so vivid, she jumps right off the page and slaps you in the face. She never sold herself. She was different to everyone in that movement. She wasn’t rebelling against anything, she was just being herself. She was completely human. She never made herself a commodity. If I have to choose one character who really, truly embodied the spirit of this book, it was her. She really is this amazing link between the two boys. It’s a grand statement to make but it might not have happened without her.”
Viggo Mortensen, who plays Old Bull Lee (based on William Burroughs)
“I read the book when I was 17 and a couple of times since but, like a lot of things with the passage of time, unless you revive it its a dead thing. You have to re-read it to make it live again. It made me realise how pertinent it is to now. Protest movements, especially by young people, in Europe, North America, China, the Middle East - they carry the spirit of that time. The times are quite conservative now and there’s a similar rejection by young people. People are saying, ‘Why should we bail out the banks?’ It’s perhaps a great time for this to come out because people will look at it, not just pepole who lived through it taking a nostalgic look at the book and the post-war period in North America, but young people who will discover this book and identify with it in a very strong way.”
Credit => The Telegraph UK / Via => @KStewAngel