On the Road was the book that got Kristen Stewart into reading. Now her role in the film brings a new realism.
Kristen Stewart hadn't read Stephenie Meyer's Twilight when the role of Bella Swan was offered to her. She was more interested in Jack Kerouac's 1957 Beat classic On the Road. She could relate to its sense of daring.
''It's rare to meet characters in fiction that live so much, that breathe so much,'' the sharply intelligent 22-year-old says. ''I thought, 'I've got to find people like this, people who push me and share my ambitions.' Not that I'm that unconventional, but I have slightly different limits and boundaries than most people, and the book says that is OK. The book celebrates it. I slept with On the Road on my dashboard when I got my licence. It was the first book that got me into reading.''
"I have slightly different limits and boundaries than most people, and the book says that is OK. The book celebrates it. "
Kerouac's jazzy prose - which created uber-cool characters embracing drugs, alcohol and experimental sex as they travel the United States between 1947 and 1951 - had long been deemed unfilmable. Just after the novel's publication, Kerouac wrote to Marlon Brando hoping the star would play Dean Moriarty (based on Kerouac's friend Neal Cassady) while Kerouac would play Sal Paradise - based on himself.
Francis Ford Coppola also tried to make the movie after buying the rights in 1979. Yet it wasn't until The Motorcycle Diaries' Walter Salles came along that a film version finally went ahead.
About the time of Stewart's breakthrough role in Sean Penn's Into the Wild, Penn and Babel director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu suggested her to Salles for the role of Dean's wife, Marylou (based on Cassady's first wife LuAnne Henderson). The pair married when LuAnne was 15, and while they divorced and he had children with his second wife Carolyn (played by Kirsten Dunst), Cassady continued to hit the road with LuAnne and they remained close until his death.
By the time On the Road went into production, Stewart had become a household name and was keen for the women in the story to have more prominence. She points out that Kerouac's original tome featuring real people's names (he was forced to change them as well as parts of the story to get it published) was far closer to the truth, particularly in terms of the women, and most notably LuAnne.
''It's funny because in the novel a lot of people's first impression is that LuAnne is just a plaything, that she is just f---ing and isn't getting much in return,'' Stewart says. ''[But] she just loves to love and is able to balance all of her desires, whereas the boys have a much harder time doing it. I think she [had] this beautiful, unique view of the world and was very ahead of her time.
''Afterwards the book's success definitely became something that a lot of people capitalised on … For LuAnne it was just so personal. It was never something she wanted to turn into a commodity or something she wanted to continue. It was just a stage of her life.
''She always said that it was so funny to her that people thought she was courageous. It was different for everyone, but LuAnne wasn't rebelling against anything. She was just unabashedly being herself.''
While fearlessly being herself is something the media-shy Stewart aspires to as well - ''I think it's so ridiculous when actors suddenly find themselves so interesting that they're willing to sell themselves'' - she admits having more in common with the book's narrator, Sal.
''As LuAnne I was a little worried that I wasn't going to be able to lose control; that I wasn't going to be able to let go. Luckily I did, but I don't think you can claim that you are suddenly a different person.
''Actors are playing characters … but I do find that you're just sort of unleashing qualities that are buried pretty deep.''
On the Road is out on September 27.