Casting and Initial Thoughts

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After more than fifty years it looks like a movie version of Jack Kerouac’s signature work On the Road may actually get made and released to the public very soon!

LEGEND, RUMOR AND GOSSIP:

There are almost as many legends and rumors about On the Road the movie as there are about Kerouac’s book and the scroll itself! One legend has it that Marlon Brando originally bought the movie rights with the intention of playing Dean Moriarity himself. The property languished for a couple of decades until 1978 when Brando made Apocolypse Now! with Francis Ford Coppola and Coppola was able to convince Brando to sell the rights and he’d make the movie one day. A contrary story to this currently on Wikipedia is Coppola bought the rights in 1980 from Gus Van Sant, but as Van Sant was only 28 in 1980, and had yet to make his mark in moviemaking, we take this one with a grain of salt. Another story in a newspaper article says Coppola has owned the rights since 1968.

Regardless of what is really true, we do know that Francis Ford Coppola has owned the rights to make the movie for a very long time. And frankly most of us who love the book and Kerouac’s legacy and have been discussing the possibility of a movie for decades took great solace in the fact that the movie was in Coppola’s caring hands. He just seemed to be the type of guy who would either make the movie “right” or he wouldn’t make it at all.

Numerous scripts have been written over the years, one by Barry Gifford, one by Russell Banks, one even by Coppola’s son, Roman. None made the cut. The problem seemed to be exactly how you translate the story of On the Road to film.

Then there was the way Francis Coppola wanted to make the film. Rumor had it that Coppola wanted unknown actors, while the studios wanted Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Colin Farrell—or some other bankable name, depending on the decade. Coppola wanted black and white and the studios wanted color. Nobody seemed to know which way it was going to shake out and the movie simply never got made.

And then along came The Motorcycle Diaries. Screenwriter Jose Rivera was nominated for an Academy Award. Brazilian directory Walter Salles won accolades as well. Francis Coppola was impressed and figured he may have found his team. After all, The Motorcycle Diaries is about a couple of young guys running around South America on a ’39 Norton. On the Road is about a couple of young guys running around North America in a ’49 Hudson. Hmmm…

So, five years ago John Cassady and I met Jose Rivera while we were passing through LA in the Mighty Beatmobile. John and his family subsequently met Walter Salles and many other people involved in the production. They even had dinner with Francis Coppola himself at his winery in Sonoma and drove home with a few bottles of reserve Francis had gifted them.

Along the way it’s been a rough five years. Funding secured, stock markets crashing, recession, money lost, funding lost, investors lost. It looked like the movie might never get made. But then things turned.

The good news is it looks like Francis got his way. IMDB says the movie will indeed be shot in black and white. Now, whether this is strictly traditional black & white like Schindler’s List or possibly some kind of movietone period “black & white” with washed out colors like Saving Private Ryan remains to be seen, but I trust the filmmakers’ decisions will effectively enhance the story as opposed to hindering it.

Then there’s the casting. Dean Moriarty will be portrayed by Garrett Hedlund who has been in a number of films but never in a lead role. Jack Kerouac will be played by British actor Sam Riley, who received stand up reviews for Control. And LuAnn Henderson (MaryLou) will be played by Kristen Stewart and Carolyn Cassady (Camille) will be played by Kirsten Dunst.

Now, aside from the fact the similar sounding and relatively new names of Kirsten and Kristen is bound to screw up a number of movie reviewers (I’ve been stumbling over them for weeks now—”is it Kristen Stewart or Kirsten Stewart from Into the Wild?”) – I think the idea of focusing on the star power of the female leads is terrific.

The two relatively unknown male leads may be the ones driving the ’49 Hudson from New York to San Francisco, but it’s likely to be the two young lovelies portraying Neal’s wives who will be driving audiences into the movie theaters. Every teenage girl in America knows the difference between Kirsten and Kristen and they’ll be dragging their boyfriends to the movies to see the star of Twilight and Spiderman’s girlfriend regardless of whether those boys have ever heard of Jack & Neal. Inspired choices, Walter. Congratulations!

Speaking of Walter Salles, he just met with John Allen Cassady in Los Gatos a few weeks ago. He had already emailed Carolyn Cassady to discuss with her the idea of Kirsten Dunst portraying her in the film, and then he and Garrett Hedlund stopped in to see John one day to hear his stories about his dad.

I first met Garrett when he came to the Beat Museum about two or three years ago. He was the first one to be cast and frankly I didn’t talk about it for the longest time because he told me it was under wraps, but he wanted our help in choosing every book and every movie that had a scrap of Neal info in it. He and I spent probably an hour walking around The Beat Museum talking about Neal Cassady the man and Neal the archetype Kerouac created. I found Garrett to be an extremely thoughtful and sensitive guy, very mature and very much in tune with Neal’s place in history. “I may not know a lot about films,” I said, “but I’ve got to believe this is a career-making role.” “I’m aware of that,” Garrett said, “and I’m determined to do it right.”

On The Road. The Movie. After all these years!

Shooting starts in August in Montreal and New Orleans.

- Jerry Cimino