On the Road director Walter Salles: "For five years, we retraced the paths that Kerouac took on the road."

Categories: Film and TV
Sam Riley Kristen Stewart Garrett Hedlund Copyright Gregory Smith.jpg
Copyright Gregory Smith
Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedlund
Last November, director Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries, Central Station) spoke to Walker Art Center members who had been invited to a pre-screening of his new film, On the Road. During this visit, Dressing Room talked with Salles about his five-year documentary (which preceded the film), his love for "road" movies, and what it was like working with actor Garrett Hedlund, a Minnesota native.

On the Road tells the story of Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), an aspiring author who can't seem to find the right story to write. He is introduced to Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), a charismatic, free-spirited young man, and his new bride, Marylou (Kristen Stewart), by his friend Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge). Sal is immediately drawn to Dean's easy-going nature and need for adventure, and decides to leave his home state of New York to see the world with Dean and Marylou. The film follows their journey as Sal experiences life, and finally finds a story to write.

Sam Riley.JPG
Sam Riley
Salles read Jack Kerouac's On the Road during the mid-'70s in Brazil, and was immediately taken by the story.

"I was entering university, and the country was being led by a military dictatorship. So there was censorship in the press and in all art forms," Salles says. "When I read On the Road, I became enamored by Sal, Dean, Carlo, Marylou, and all the other characters who were not only able to search for different types of freedom, but were also able to really find a future for themselves. This is exactly what we were trying to do -- and not managing to do -- in my generation in Brazil. The book had a very romantic quality for us from the start. When I say 'us,' it's because the book traveled from hand to hand and the university as a whole started to read Kerouac."

At that time, Salles wanted to be a still photographer. He never dreamed of adapting On the Road. It wasn't until he was screening The Motorcycle Diaries at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004 that Salles seriously considered working on the project.

"I was very much in doubt whether it could or even should be done," Salles says. "That's why we opted to do a documentary before we started the fiction film. For five years, we retraced the paths that Kerouac took on the road. We met with the characters in the book who are alive, and talked to the poets who were a part of the beat generation. Little by little we started to understand how the adaptation could work."

The five years of research was imperative to making the film.

"The research is what informed us about the social and political background of that time. It also gave us understanding of the complexities of the characters that we were trying to give birth to in the film. Without the documentary we never would have done the fiction film," Salles says.

It was important to Salles that the actors also have a great understanding of both the time period and the novel, so he organized for a "beatnik boot camp" prior to filming. The actors watched films and listened to music from the period, talked to family members of the characters who inspired On the Road, and spoke with Kerouac biographers.

Up next: Salles on working with Minnesota-native Garrett Hedlund, Twilight star Kristen Stewart.

Location Info


Uptown Theatre

2906 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN

Category: Film

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