The long-brewing film adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s revered novel “On the Road” has provided Kristen Stewart with a very different kind of book-to-screen experience than the one she experienced with the “Twilight” series.
Kerouac’s 1957 tome defined the then-nascent Beat Generation, as filtered through the experiences of the road-tripping characters that were inspired by Kerouac’s own inner circle of avant garde contemporaries. And even before Stewart came to portray Bella Swan in the vampiric romance novels that have obsessed her own generation, she was attached as a little-known young actress to portray Kerouac’s key female character Marylou.
Stewart waited it out through her meteoric rise to stardom until all the elements of “On the Road” finally came together and let her take on the part she’d thought about playing since her early teenage years.
Stewart reveals her love of the source material, her affection for the fictional Marylou and the real woman who inspired her, and a few final thoughts about moving on from that other literary juggernaut.
On discovering her inner Marylou:
I really had to dig pretty deep to find it in me to actually play a person like that. It took a long time. Initially, I couldn't say no. I would have done anything on the movie. I would have followed in a caravan had I not had a job on it. But I was 16 or 17 when I spoke to [director] Walter Salles for the first time, and 14 or 15 when I read the book for the first time.
At first I was just attracted to the spirit of it. I'm the type of person that really wants to – I need to be pushed really hard to be able to really let it all hang. I think Marylou is the type of person that you can't help but be yourself around because she's so unabashedly there, present all the time, like this bottomless pit of really generous empathy and it's a really rare quality to have. It makes you capable of living a really full, really rich life without it taking something from you. You couldn't take from her – I don't know she was always getting something back – so she was amazing.
On her feelings about living the beatnik lifestyle chronicled by Kerouac:
I think Luanne [Henderson, the real-life inspiration for Marylou] would have been ahead of her time now. Generally peoples' expectations for their lives in a personal way are not a whole lot different: It's a really fundamental thing to want to be a part of a group. We are pack animals. In a way she had very conventional ideals as well. She had this capacity to live many lives that didn't necessarily mess with the other. She was not above emotion. She was above jealousy but not above feeling hurt – but not slighted.
Maybe if this movie was made back in the day as opposed to now, people would be so shocked and awed by the sex and the drugs that they would actually miss what the movie’s about. Whereas now we've just seen a little bit more of it so it's not so shocking to stomach. Sure, times have changed – but people don't change. That’s why the book’s never been irrelevant. There will always be people that want to push a little bit harder and there are repercussions. It’s evident in the story as well. Even in that little glimpse, that moment in time. Knowing what happens to all the characters afterwards is interesting. She knew Neal Cassady [the real-life inspiration for Dean Moriarty] to the end of his life, and they always shared what they had. It never left their hearts even though their lives changed monumentally.
On the differences between conversations with passionate fans of the Kerouac novel versus the passionate fans of Stephenie Meyers’ "Twilight" series:
I don't get to have very many involved conversations with ‘Twilight’ fans. It's really rare. Sometimes, the girls that run the fan sites will come in and do an interview and I absolutely love doing that. I find that a lot of people I talk to – most journalists I sit down with are huge ‘On the Road’ fans. I feel that they're even assigned to those stories because they have an interest in it. I've got to talk to a lot of passionate ‘On the Road’ fans. The difference is there's a lot to feel in ‘‘Twilight,’ and that's the experience usually of having individual exchanges with fans, without even saying anything you know, you just feel it, but obviously with ‘On the Road’ there's a lot to talk about.
On her advice for actors taking on a popular franchise like “Twilight”:
You better love it or don't do it. To be on one project for five years – I had the exact same feeling that I had when I first started the project. The only difference is that now, only at this point when I have that weight lifted, I want it back! I don't have to worry about Bella anymore. But, I’m like, ‘It's so weird. Where is it?’ She’s not tapping me on the shoulder anymore.