A lot of guys dream of moving to Hollywood to make it as an actor. Most of them probably never even try, and those who do often have no idea what to expect once they arrive in Los Angeles. But Garrett Hedlund had a plan.
         From the time he started high school in Arizona — where he moved from Minnesota with his mother following his parents’ divorce — Hedlund picked up modeling gigs while taking acting classes and studying the show-biz trade papers to learn about how the industry works. He managed to get an agent and over the next two years flew to L.A. dozens of times for auditions. The more experience he acquired and knowledge he absorbed, the more impatient Hedlund became, until he finally got so antsy that he graduated a semester early to accelerate the pursuit of his dream.
         “I came out with about $600, a Tupperware container of cleaning utensils that my mom’s friends got me at Christmas and about ninety packages of ramen noodles,” he says.
         It didn’t take long for his diet to improve, because within a month of his arrival in L.A., director Wolfgang Petersen cast him in the period epic Troy. In the film, based on Homer’s Iliad, Hedlund played Patroclus, the comrade of Achilles, played by another transplanted Midwesterner, Brad Pitt.
         Soon afterward, he was cast opposite another star, Billy Bob Thornton, as a high-school football player in Friday Night Lights, which he followed with a role in the action drama Four Brothers, as one of Mark Wahlberg’s titular siblings.
         At that point, Hedlund could have easily gone off the rails with too-much-too-soon excess. Instead, he kept working, landing parts in the adventure fantasy Eragon, the dysfunctional-family comedy Georgia Rule and the gritty thriller Death Sentence.
         In all, that’s a solid resume with a number of interesting choices and an impressive list of costars. Yet even though Hedlund has built an avid fan base among younger (albeit female) audiences, he has remained below the radar to the public at large. But with two high-profile projects on the way, 2010 could be the year he goes from working actor to full-fledged star.
         He’ll join recent Oscar winner Jeff Bridges in TRON Legacy, the long-gestating sequel to the 1982 sci-fi saga that starred Bridges as Kevin Flynn, a programmer who finds himself trapped inside a computer and must fight his way out. In Legacy, filmed in 3-D, Hedlund stars as Flynn’s son, Sam, who infiltrates a computer in search of his dad.
         Bridges, who still remembers his days as an up-and-comer, took a shine to his young co-star. “I dug working with Garrett,” he says. “I admired the way he embraced the physical, emotional and mythological aspects of his role. He’s also a cool guy to hang with.”
         Later this year, Hedlund will share the screen with another Oscar winner, Gwyneth Paltrow, in Country Strong, a romantic drama set in the world of country music.
         True to his goal of always seeking out roles that are different from those he has played in the past, Hedlund is also attached to director Walter Salles’ adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s classic novel On the Road. The character he’ll be playing would be a gift to any young actor: Dean Moriarty, based on Kerouac’s brilliant but self-destructive friend, Neal Cassady, one of the major figures of the Beat movement of the 1950s.
         Hedlund is clearly enthusiastic about the project.
         “For the last three years now, [Salles and I have] been in constant communication with each other and ready to work on this project together,” he says. “It’s getting damn near time.”
         And it’s damn near time more moviegoers got to know Garrett Hedlund.

You moved to L.A. after graduating from high school in Arizona, and within a month, you landed a supporting role in Troy. Is that just how your life goes, and do people hate you for it, or were you completely blindsided by good fortune? Prior to moving out to L.A., I had been flying back and forth from Arizona for auditions for two years, and I had flown back and forth for about twenty-five auditions. The responses were all similarly crappy.
Why do you think that was? Sometimes you don’t know what you’re supposed to do within the technicalities of things, like an audition process or even the filming process. I’d been auditioning for two years, and I’d had representation. When I finally drove out to L.A. after graduating, I parted ways with all my representation, and Troy was literally the first script I had gotten.
         For all the auditions I went on, everybody in every one of the rooms looked like me, in one sense or another, and [I asked myself], “How are you going to separate yourself from all of this? I guess you have to be smarter than everyone.” So for two years I basically sat down and never really left my room. I’d turn on a pot of coffee as soon as my mom would go to bed, and read a book cover to cover, and then go straight to school and come back and rest, or go to work and stay up all night and write a whole short story for creative writing that wasn’t assigned — just something to keep me going. The creative route of things just really came on strong. I don’t know what it was, but maybe it was reading something like [Aldous Huxley’s novel] Brave New World, or reading [about] the concept of genetic engineering or something that really branched my mind off to a different place of wonderment. I started questioning the possibilities of, “If this is real…” And then I started questioning the possibilities of everything. So then my mind was going in all different directions, but all in good ways. I just wanted to learn. When I was sixteen, seventeen, I used to throw out the word “self-development” a lot because I was always trying to grow my mind. I wasn’t so concerned about what my body was.
And you attribute this to your current success and ability to break in? Understanding yourself, and knowing what you have to offer. While a lot of my friends were in theatre and spending all their time reading Shakespeare, I was reading Stanislavski, Uta Hagen and Milton Katselas and splitting that time with going to Barnes & Noble and reading Variety and Hollywood Reporter, seeing who was who in the industry, knowing who the heads of the companies were, knowing who the best agents and managers were and who they represented, and who I would aspire to be with. So when I was in Arizona, I called Endeavor to try to get Edward Norton’s agent on the phone to try to talk to him about Motherless Brooklyn, a Jonathan Lethem novel, and now I’m with Endeavor. Then I tried to get Bernie Brillstein on the phone because I thought he was probably the most respectable manager around.
         They took my number down and said they would call me back. Three years later, when I was signed with Brillstein, I went to one of his book signings and he signed my book, “Now that you’re a client, I may return your call.”

“I hope, after [Tron], I can maintain the amount of privacy I’ve been able to maintain. So when it comes to a certain role, maybe a character dealing with this or that, you can completely dive in and believe the character rather than what everybody’s photographing on the streets.”

“If you show any nerves it’s only going to take away from your audition. [On Troy], I figured if everybody was already cast, and they were all A-listers, if I want to get into a film with A-list actors, then I’d better walk into the room pretending to be one.”

What did you say when you called? They’d say, “Who is this?” And I’d say, “My name is Garrett Hedlund. I’m an aspiring actor from Arizona seeking representation and I was wondering if you’d sit down with me.” [Laughs] You know… when I got here that script [for Troy] got into my hands, and I [already] had headshots, and they said, “Well, be patient, and we’ll see if we can even get you an audition for this.” Since I had the script, and I’d read it twice, I immediately started studying it. Then I got the audition and went in with the casting director’s assistant, and then the casting director, Laura Kennedy, then with her and the producer and [director] Wolfgang [Petersen], and then with Wolfgang, the producer and Brad [Pitt], finally, on Valentine’s Day.
That’s still remarkable. Did you envision getting the role? When there’s a situation like that, where it’s really a big deal but can be kind of nerve-wracking, I always found it easier to not be nervous about everything, and be confident about that, because if you show any nerves it’s only going to take away from your audition. I figured if everybody was already cast, and they were all A-listers, if I want to get into a film with A-list actors, then I’d better walk into the room pretending to be one.
That’s hard to do — to show no fear. So it wasn’t really a month in town and, boom, you got the role of a lifetime, so fellow actors shouldn’t hate you. No. No. I got to be the struggling actor who had to pay $400 to go to an audition when these other guys got to roll out of bed and drive to it for $5 in gas money. So that’s what was always on my mind. I almost ran away to move out here a year before I actually did, just because I didn’t think I’d be able to spend another year in Arizona going to high school and lettin’ everything that goes on out here go on out here. I was really eager.
         When I got Troy it was a great validation, and then I was out filming in Malta as my class was graduating [from] high school.
Is there someone’s career that you admire or aspire to emulate? It’s never been one person’s career; it’s been more like a moment out of a lot of actors’ careers. I really admire John Malkovich. I really admire Peter Sellers. I really admire Jack Nicholson and Sean Penn for doing all the films they’ve done, and Johnny Depp for doing all the films he’s done. I admire a melting pot of about twenty different actors for about twenty different reasons. Maybe I could just try and be one of those for each film.
One thing that is notable about your work is you’re very chameleon-like. You never look the same in any film. There are actors, who shall go nameless, where you go, “Oh, there’s so-and-so.” Being so-and-so with a different name.
When you see them, they bring you out of the experience. That’s why I hope, after all this, I can maintain the amount of privacy I’ve been able to maintain. So when it comes to a certain role, maybe a character dealing with this or that, you can completely dive in and believe the character rather than what everybody’s photographing on the streets.
You’re referring to your eighth film, the big-budget studio franchise TRON Legacy, out in December? I’ll let the excitement of the film speak for itself. I’m probably just as excited as everybody else is to see the film. With TRON, it was a long shoot, but wonderful to go through working with Jeff Bridges and Olivia Wilde and to work with Joseph Kosinski on his first breakthrough into the feature world. He’s such a brilliant director. A lot of people were surprised when they hired a, technically, first-time director to work on this film, but all you have to do is look at http://www.josephkosinski.com and you go, “Of course, this is the only director capable of doing this film.” I believe everyone is able to see that now.
Jeff Bridges said he brought on a consultant to add a spiritual element. The Buddhist element. His character, more specifically, is more within that Buddhist realm. So that helped that. Stephen Lisberger’s [writer-director of the original 1982 version of TRON] approach to this has always been a mix of humanity and technology. So bringing in someone like that on Jeff’s part only helped add to the pot of diversity this actually does deal with. Instead of it just being a sci-fi film or something that’s 3-D, and cool to watch for a couple of hours, it deals with a much grander spectrum. Even in terms of the disc, it’s a circular shape, which is the circle of life.
3-D films: rip-off or renaissance? Renaissance. I know a lot of people who feel this is now going to be [part of] every film. I met a director who just told me in a meeting recently that all he wants to do from now on is 3-D films. I guess it’s more fun to watch, sort of. I don’t feel the same. I want everything to go back to film. I want everything to have the flaws and not every gate to be clean.
Country Strong has a lot of the same echoes that Crazy Heart has. The music has a lot to do with both films. Music can add in a great way to these films, and both of these films have wonderful soundtracks, but in different directions. Ours is a little more diverse because you have me singing, you have Gwyneth Paltrow singing and Leighton Meester singing.
Did you talk to your TRON costar Jeff Bridges about it while making it? I didn’t. I haven’t seen Crazy Heart yet. I didn’t want to watch it for the sole purpose of not having that in my mind. The only similarity is you’re following someone on a downward spiral, or after that’s already happened, and that’s probably the only way it’s similar. This film is so strange. I don’t even know how to explain Country Strong, really. You just have to watch the film. Because I can say I play guitar, and I sing in it, but I don’t believe myself saying it right now because I feel so different, you know?

         I saw the first twenty minutes yesterday, and I was just like, “Wow, this is great.” It looked really fantastic. I was so proud. It doesn’t feel like it was me, though.
What is your process when deciding upon your next role? How much of your representatives’ advice do you weigh? “If you’re going to play dark characters, play a light one, because we can’t even get you in the room for this unless they see something light.” I don’t know. My thing has always been doing the complete opposite of everything I’ve done.
         When I was doing Georgia Rule, [director] Garry Marshall had said [deadpan Garry Marshall voice], “I know you can play dark, but can you play a nice boy?” And I was like, “I’ll guess we’ll see.” [I went from] being on that set and having the long hair and playing this Mormon, nice-boy character [to Death Sentence]. I’d been seeking out Death Sentence for awhile. The offer was out to somebody, but then immediately they just turned around and they offered it to me. So to do Death Sentence was such a relief a month after doing Georgia Rule. I had gained about twenty-five pounds within that time, then shaved my head and formulated the look of the character. I went to a leather shop and found this great duster, watched documentaries online, added the scars to the face…
Did you go into public as your character? Oh, yeah. When I was out in South Carolina, and I’d pass a mother and her daughter on the street, the mother would pull her daughter in closer to her. I’m just a harmless guy walking thirty feet toward her, you know. Seeing that effect, you see that you really don’t have to work that hard. But then also, it’s great to find a film like Country Strong and work just as hard mentally as I did physically for TRON — to work as hard mentally, and gain the guitar ability, and be in the [recording] studio day in and day out to keep working on vocals.
Captain America. It was reported you were considered, but passed on it. Why? I met with the director last year before going to shoot Country Strong. Then, when they’d come in and talked to me about it, we’d just continually pass on it because of scheduling. Also, to be in something that had a second and a third film following it, we felt that TRON already had that, you know. To mix in another heroic character with that was not necessary. In short, we kind of always passed on it. I didn’t really think that was my gig.

“I always [felt] that I want to affect somebody the way that films affect me. I want to be the healer if I can. Be a piece of this puzzle that helps somebody through whatever they’re going through, or helps them get away from whatever they’re going through for two-and-a-half hours.”

You haven’t done any TV so far. Would you ever consider doing a great cable show? When I first started auditioning, flying in from Arizona, I would’ve taken anything. After flying out and being rejected for two years, I just knew that I really didn’t want to do TV because you get to see the same person every week on television. If I had to do the same person day in and day out I know I get bored with myself. I just wouldn’t want everybody else to, you know?
         I just knew I wanted to do film because I knew that film affected me. When I went into a theatre, it could change something that was going on with me. I always thought, when I was seventeen-eighteen, that I want to affect somebody the way that this affects me. I want to be the healer if I can. Be a piece of this puzzle that helps somebody through whatever they’re going through, or helps them get away from whatever they’re going through for two-and-a-half hours.
Are you happy with the pace your career is at right now? Yeah, I definitely enjoy the pace it’s at because people will say I’ve done a lot, but that’s not even the case. I’ll do one film, and then I won’t work for ten months. Then I’ll get another film just in the nick of time, just before I’m completely broke. Then I won’t work for another ten months. Then maybe I’ll get to do a couple of projects near each other, and that will be a little strange for once. I had two years off after Death Sentence and before TRON, because I’ve been attached to [On the Road] and I swore to the director [Walter Salles] that I wouldn’t do another film until we did this. Finally, after two years rolled around of not working, and studying and studying and studying for this role, TRON came around and this film hadn’t yet been off the ground, so I was able to do TRON.
So you’re hoping On the Road is next? It’s my dream role.
Will you look back on some of the books you’ve read and perhaps option, produce or even adapt one of them? Oh, sure. I have a couple of things in mind. It’s all about approaching the right people at the right time. But I’ve never been much on writing a screenplay. Where I live there are independent bookstores. I’d go title-shopping for books that I thought had a great title that I’d never seen made into a film before, like The Human Exile, and then another one called A God Strolling in the Cool of the Evening. [Laughs] I had completed my objective. So I went home and started reading A God Strolling in the Cool of the Evening and it was about Marcus Aurelius and all the Roman times, and I was like, “This is going to be a rough read.” I haven’t passed page twenty-five yet. I’ve been trying to read it for four years. I read everything if it catches my interest. I probably have the most books on my shelves [that are] compendiums of useless information. That’s actually what they’re called. It just tells you things, like bats only fly left out of a cave, crocodiles eat rocks so they can dive deeper.
If you had to describe your master plan, what would you say? I don’t know. I can’t really foresee it. I can’t say, “Well, I’m going to do this project and then I’m going to do that.” Because every day when you think storylines have plateaued, or it’s just all sequels now, or remakes, there’s another script that comes in completely from left field, and it’s something that you never believe could have been written, and you probably can’t believe yourself ever being involved in, but you’ll fight for it. I never foresaw that I would be involved in TRON. Then again, I never saw a sequel to TRON being made. Real surprises like these come along that sort of fill in the gaps.
Yes, but obviously you had the goal back then to come out here, and you achieved that goal. You had a goal to land feature films. You achieved that goal. So now what? My goal that I just set for now, moving forward, is to be careful. That’s the only thing that I can think of.
Be careful of what? Be careful of what you do, what you say around TRON time; all that stuff will be… I don’t know. Just be careful, I guess. Be careful so I don’t hurt myself. Be careful so I don’t say something that will make it so I don’t work ever again.
Isn’t that living in fear? No. I’ve always had a longstanding dream, ever since I was a kid, where I was running on a big lake of ice and I kept running and kept running, just about to where I was trying to get to, and I fell through the ice, and then I couldn’t find the hole where I fell through to get back out again. It was always like this certain thing where I could only get so far before everything collapses. So I guess it’s a bit of living in fear. But I don’t try to put it that way, because I feel that is going to pull everything you fear toward you. It’s about acknowledging the fear for about five percent, and then ninety-five percent goes into shrugging it all off.
Are you prepared for the caliber of fame that might ensue worldwide, and all that comes along with it — for example, the media intrusion? Everybody always asks if you’re ready for it, but I’m not sure what you would do to prepare for it. Buy some armor? Carry a shield? If so many people are asking me if I’m ready for this when I haven’t asked myself yet, then obviously I’m not ready for it. I don’t know.
Most artists claim that it’s the people around them who change. I can see that. You probably gather a lot more yes men around you. I’ve had much more of a secluded lifestyle than possibly a lot of people. When I get back to L.A. from shooting, or even when I’m on location, all I think about [is] not vacationing here or here — Tahiti or the Bahamas — all I can think about is my brown couch from IKEA [laughs] in my living room that I can get back and sit on and not move for awhile. My place here in L.A. is where I’m able to get a lot of work done, and when I’m off on location I don’t have a lot of time to express a lot of the things I like to express. So when I’m at home I’m able to read all the books that I hope will inspire me to get me through and out of this mind frame, to another mind frame, or back to myself a little more.
What’s been the best piece of advice you’ve gotten since starting in the business? Tricky one. [Laughs] I guess there’s the classic one: “Be careful who you talk shit about, and who you’re talking it to, because the person you’re talking it to may think that one day you might be talking shit about them.” It’s always funny because I have actor pals who are like, “Screw this guy, he got that role. Man, what’s this town coming to?” And then the next film that guy does is with that guy. Then he calls back and he’s like, “Oh, I’m chillin’ with so-and-so, and we’re going to the casino.” It’s like, “You were just busting his balls three months ago.” I just tell them, “Watch what you say.”
Is there one thing you’d change about your life right now if you could? I’d make L.A. a helluva lot cloudier every day.
Why? I prefer the clouds. I’m happier when it’s cloudy. I don’t know why. I can wake up on a cloudy morning and be the happiest person around. I can be in a bad mood, walk outside and go, “Dang, are you serious? All right!” Maybe it evokes more. Maybe I’m able to concentrate a little better without the sun shining so bright.

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