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On the Road: The Vehicle Gets a Tune Up

11/16/2012 07:02 pm ET | Updated Jan 16, 2013

En route to L.A. for its West Coast premiere, Director Walter Salles introduced a private screening of his new film, On the Road, last week, pointing out that as a teen in his native Brazil, he was drawn to the characters in Jack Kerouac's novel; they represented a freedom foreign to his homeland, where writing was censored. "This book about the creative process, this ode to literature, got to me. The characters became my heroes," he said noting too his current inspirations: poets Michael McClure, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Diane Di Prima and Gary Snyder. So charming that Peggy Siegal now calls him her new BFF, Salles took on the making of this film, a project that has eluded Francis Ford Coppola for decades. In 2004, after he saw Salles' Motorcycle Diaries, Coppola asked him to consider the un-filmable beat classic.

Working again with screenwriter Jose Rivera, and with Gustavo Santaolalla on the jazzy soundtrack, Salles' adaptation took five years to cast. Salles introduced his actors: Garrett Hedlund, his fast driving, motor mouthed "Dean" and Kristen Stewart, in town to help promote the road movie and Breaking Dawn 2. "I would have done anything on this film," said Stewart looking adoringly at Salles. Hot as "Marylou," she's often seen abed with one or more of her co-stars: "You have no idea how much this meant to me."

At dinner at Circo, Garrett Hedlund said that he auditioned for both roles, Sal and Dean. He could identify with the characters wanting to become writers and read a journal entry for Salles. Cast in a role meant for Marlon Brando back in the day, and that in an unsuccessful adaptation of Carolyn Cassady's memoir, Heartbeat, was played by Nick Nolte, Hedlund realized he had big shoes to fill, but for the moment, he said, someone back West was trying to sell him the bathroom door Kerouac scribbled on while in the Cassady apartment's john.

Fifteen minutes had been cut from the episodic version seen in Cannes. What's gone? Jose Rivera said that many of the vignettes had more of an arc. "But we finally have the movie we meant to make," he said happily.

Respectful of Kerouac as a writer far and above his myth, the people at IFC have created a display of editions of On the Road, the book, anticipating the New York premiere. Check out the theater's lobby on 6th Avenue and Waverly.

In a bit of beat synergy: Early on, Coppola said he wanted to make On the Road in the manner of Alfred Leslie and Robert Frank's 1959 Pull My Daisy, in black & white. David Amram, a surviving actor in that iconic film, celebrated his Clearwater "Power of Song" Award at Symphony Space the next night, an evening featuring performances by Peter Yarrow, George Wein, Paquito D'Rivera, John Sebastian, Tom Paxton, and Pete Seeger who at 93 makes Amram look like a youngie, a week before he turns 82.

A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.