KS: The only time I have ever had to answer that question is in an interview. I don’t look for anything. It’s a very odd thing to pretend to be someone else and let people watch you do that. It really takes something special and I never know what that is until I find it. People who put movies into boxes… Into genres… When life is really sad, it’s really funny too and what is that? Is it a dark comedy? Or is it a dramedy? Or is it a drama that’s sometimes funny? I have no desire to…This sounds so pretentious, but I don’t want to be in the entertainment industry, movies can be pretty important if you want them to be, and it’s the only time I feel like it’s worth doing such a ridiculous thing as acting in a film.
How did you prepare to play Mary Lou in ON THE ROAD?
KS: it’s weird because On The Road was my first favourite book and we were allowed to know so much more than what is told in the novel. The version that came out in 1957 compared to the scroll [the original scroll that Kerouac wrote], compared to reality and really who these people were… You can only do On The Road once, so I think it’s really cool that all of those three stories are rolled into one. As a character, Mary Lou couldn’t be further from me. Everything she does is outward, she is one of the most generous, absolutely open faced people and in reality… It’s hard to play that on one note. In the book, she’s fun and she’s sexy and she’s progressive because of the time and the bold things that she’s doing, but you do sort of go ‘Gosh’ as a more sensitive girl, you do go ‘Wow, I don’t know if I could do that, I don’t know if I could keep up’. That is what I love about the book because I want to be able to keep up with those people. Figuring out who Luanne actually was, she was a bottomless pit, no one could waste her, she had everything to give and she expected just as much in return. It was really really lucky that we had the tapes and the access to the biographers and basically just to humanise these characters. It is not about Mary Lou, the book is not about her, she is a peripheral character. To play her, it was really nice to be able to understand why she did some of the stuff she did and not just play a fun, sexy character.
Where do you think her vulnerability was?
KS: Unlike anybody else in the whole story and unlike anybody else at this point in this movement, she was able to juggle all of her values that really didn’t coincide, but she did it with such skill. She could compartmentalise her life with great skill, she had very traditional values, she wanted things that are very typical of a young girl that age and also, very very untypical desires and really limitless boundaries. She could do both and that’s why the end of the boy’s stories is so sad because they couldn’t, they didn’t have that ability, and maybe her vulnerability and strength sort of lies in between there. She is not somebody who can’t feel, everything definitely affects her, she’s not someone who’s above jealousy… She is so accepting and very very aware of all the beauty in people, even if they are buried really deep and she doesn’t need everything she wants from one place, she can get it from many many different places. Sure, she was totally ahead of her time and she totally carved the way, and she is absolutely a pioneer for us ladies, but she had no idea of what she was doing. I think she would be just as special and just as unique now. I think she would impress people just as much.
Why do you consider it a vulnerability that she can understand people?
KS: Just because you understand something, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t touch you. She could overcome things that hurt, but she still was hurt, but she could understand the hurt and love it as well and learn from it. She never really took anything as malicious, it was just who they were, they couldn’t help themselves and she couldn’t help herself some of the time. She had a very acute understanding of that and she was so evolved. I am much more sensitive and possibly more vulnerable than her. She’s a girl…
I heard that you didn’t need to take part in the ‘Beatnik Bootcamp’ that the others went on, that you knew everything by heart when you started on the film…
KS: I knew the novel by heart, and it definitely opened doors to other writers. I was into Burroughs but… It’s weird and it’s fun to read, but it didn’t get inside me. I knew Tom Sturridge really well, he’s a really good friend, and a few weeks before we went to bootcamp we did a precurser because we were scared [laughs] and we didn’t want to get there and feel like these people who are so invested, and have been for their whole lives, in this project… We didn’t want to feel like stupid kids walking in and traipsing all over what they loved. So we read I Celebrate Myself together, which is really the greatest book on [Allan] Ginsberg… Not that I have anything to do with that character, but it’s so sad, it’s so good. In the bootcamp it was more about learning things – it’s not about dates and when things happened and whose name is whose, even though by default we do have a lot of that information rolling around in our heads now – it really was more about learning how to dance with Garret [Hedlund], listening to the music, smoking way too many cigarettes on a balcony… I hate faking anything, luckily we didn’t all hate each other. Luckily, everyone all kind of fell in love. Everyone says you get so close and you form this family… Unparalleled. I have never had this on a movie before, so I think the four weeks was really important for that. Also, everything you learn needs to be forgotten; the only true way to do the story is to learn every line, know it be heart and forget it and figure out your own way to say it. I think if we recited the book, anybody who really loved the book would be disappointed. You want to see it jump, you want to see it breathe, you don’t want to know exactly where it’s going, you don’t want to be getting a middle end, you want to go on a ride. I feel like every time I have read the book I have had a different experience and with the movie you can choose to go down so many different avenues. It doesn’t lead you to a place; it lets you discover it and that was the way that we approached rehearsal and filming.
How old were you when you first read the book?
KS: 14. I loved it, I f***ing loved it. I wasn’t too into reading before I read the book and I ripped through it. Reading to me before… I was a good student but it was not something that got me off and I loved it. I think it represents a stage of life where you are finally able to choose who your family members are and choose who your friends are, rather than just being surrounded by whoever you happen to be surrounded by. When I read the book I was like ‘I need to find people that push me like that, I need to find people that make me feel like that’ and I think that was really important for me at a young age. Certain relationships are comfortable, they are fine, but you get lazy and complacent. I want my friends to trick me out. I have said this about a lot of movies that I have done recently, but I think that’s because of my age, at that age you’re filled with something that is bursting, and it’s hard to put your finger on it. These characters have such a faith in those feelings and such a respect for their friends’ feelings, it’s like ‘hold on, they will make sense, they will make sense soon’. So many people ignore those feelings if they don’t immediately mean something to them in a logical way that they can articulate. It’s so important not to ignore them and I think they have such respect for themselves and such trust in themselves and their ambitions don’t necessarily need a result, it’s about the experience.
Carolyn Cassady also wrote a book called Off The Road; did you read that as well?
KS: Yes, it is really hard for me to read that book. I am more sensitive than Luanne… There is another book that’s just come out called The One And Only, and it’s the untold story of On The Road and it’s her transcribed interviews that we listened to. Everyone’s different version of the story… You can’t just read one to really get an idea of that happened and how these men so completely entered each other’s lives and lived so many different lives. Emotionally speaking, reading everyone’s different version was so so so so helpful.
You have said that sometimes people try and talk you out of doing movies because there is not enough for you on the page, what did you see in this that they didn’t?
KS: I read the book and I knew that Walter was directing it. As soon as I sat down in front of him I knew. You find people in life that… It’s not even about what we talked about that day, it’s more about the fact that we knew we loved it for the same reasons. I knew he respected her and I knew that he would lead me to know her more – because at that point I didn’t – and I was so intimidated, I am not that girl. Not to say that you can become a completely different person, that would be an insane claim, there are certain qualities that are sometimes buried very deep and I can’t believe I was able to pull these out. All I wanted to do was lose control, and I am a controlling little… [laughs] I am very acutely aware of myself and she is very self-aware but she is completely without an ounce of self-consciousness.
When you watched it, did it feel like you?
KS: No, not at all, but when I am with them I turn into that girl. It’s so weird. That’s what I mean, you are not actually changing, it’s just certain aspects of yourself that you didn’t know you had kind of come alive. That’s why my job is so cool.
You signed on to the movie a long time before it was actually made. Were you ever afraid of losing your dream part because you were getting older?
KS: It was starting to get to that point, actually, but I needed to grow up. I was a much younger 16 than Luanne. I wouldn’t have been able to be so limitless… I was very lucky that it timed out this way. I think I was kind of the perfect age at my stage of life.
Do you think Jack and Neal could exist now or were they a product of their time?
KS: No, which I think is why it’s sustained. It has never not been a relevant book. You are always going to have people who have different values and priorities in live, and are willing to follow that line. I think that there are Jack and Neals all over the place.
You said you all bonded on this film, but how easy is it to fake it when you don’t feel close to the people you are working with?
KS: It’s painful; it’s just disappointing. There is always such a responsibility to the character that you are playing that you would do anything to keep that. It’s just not as fun, and you can see it, it shows. I rely, really very heavily, on the director/actor relationship, and I like that about myself. I find that if you don’t have a good relationship with an actor you rely on the director, if you don’t have a good relationship with a director, rely on your actor. You are never going to hate everyone. I usually try not to fixate on it, and it’s easy to do, especially with me because one little thing is wrong and I am like [growls] ‘Leeeeeeave the set!’ [laughs] but that will ruin everything.
What was your relationship like with director Walter Salles?
KS: I have never seen anyone with the power to evoke absolute and utter dedication in so many people. Of course its On The Road, but it’s him as well. We would all lie on the floor and let him walk across us to get across the street. I don’t know why, I think it’s just him. There is just something about him. Sometimes you meet people and the dynamic is just ‘Wow, you’re my boss’. I don’t know what it is necessarily. Of course he knows more than anyone, he has done more research, he knows more than most of the biographers probably, but it’s not just that. He is so obsessed, to the point that by the end of the movie we were worried about him. He was skinny and so beat. That’s the only reason you should do things in life; he tells stories because he needs to. He’s amazing.