Alongside Forrest Whitaker and Andrea Riseborough, Hedlund delivers in a wrenching and real story that’s both universal and eerily timely.

If Mike Burden didn’t actually exist, and writer and director Andrew Heckler created a fictional character, it wouldn’t work. But as it happens, Mike Burden was a KKK member who left the Klan because of the love of a good woman, eventually aligning himself with an African-American minister he was once prepared to assassinate, all while laboring mightily under the, get this, burden implied by his surname. It sounds too neat, too crazy, too scripted. But he isreal, and so is Heckler’s decades-in-the-making biopic “Burden,” which isn’t neat, crazy, or too scripted.

Instead, what Heckler — a first-time filmmaker finally getting to make his passion project after nearly 20 years — offers is a hard-won redemption story that doesn’t cut corners and or look for easy answers. As Burden, Garrett Hedlund astonishes in a nuanced portrait of a man resistant to change, until he finally comes to understand that hatred is literally killing him. It’s a timely story, of course, but it’s also a universal one that delivers a necessary message without shirking from the realities of breaking free from a lifetime of evil indoctrination.

In 1996, a group of men set about turning a long-closed movie theater into a new business, meant to invigorate the small-town of Laurens, South Carolina. Heckler opens “Burden” in the middle of their reconstruction work, resisting the big reveal: It’s”The Redneck Shop,” filled with KKK paraphernalia and the back half occupied by the “KKK Museum.” Heckler’s choice to hold back that information as long as possible enforces a queasy but necessary twist: The Klansmen who operate the business think that creating such a horrific symbol of bigotry is just as normal as opening a restaurant, grocery store, or dry cleaners.

From the start, Heckler is compelled by the gray areas of his story, seeking shreds of humanity in despicable characters. An average afternoon cookout transforms into a full-scale KKK rally, complete with burning crosses and white hoods. The effect is chilling, but it also plunges the audience into the reality of Burden (Hedlund), who has known no other life, and no other people.

Loose-limbed and hangdog, Mike’s quiet nature hides some huge secrets, like his propensity for horrific violence and his high-ranking place in the Klan, which he believes is the only family who could ever love him. Heckler’s script lightly doles out key knowledge, like Mike’s abusive father and his time served in the Army, but it also doesn’t let Mike off the hook. He’s a bad man who does bad things.

Elsewhere in Laurens, there’s Reverend David Kennedy (Forrest Whitaker), Mike’s opposite in every way: a family man dedicated to his faith, one who is always committed to doing the right thing and stopping every injustice in its tracks, and who truly believes in the power of redemption. If Mike Burden is a man driven by hatred, Reverend Kennedy lives in love, and walks the walk.

It’s a woman who initially turns Mike’s head and heart. Powerhouse Andrea Riseborough plays Judy Harbeson, another Laurens local who managed to escape the cycle of hatred that consumed her community and even members of her own family. Steely-eyed and soft-hearted, Mike connects with Judy instantly – he also happens to be attempted to be repossessing her TV at the time, just one of the odd jobs his de facto father, Klan boss Tom Griffin (Tom Wilkinson) provides for him – his first experience feeling any kind of connection with a woman.

Judy’s love that begins to push Mike into new places – he’s attentive and sweet to her, and he just loves her young son – and “Burden” makes a graceful move towards showing Mike’s real humanity, even as he also continues to give himself over to the violence of the Klan. As the Redneck Shop continues its mission – even serving as a recruitment ground for scores of wannabe Klansmen – Mike has to make a choice. When he does, the Klan rejects him fully. He and Judy lose everything, from their home to their jobs, and Mike’s rage only continues to grow.

It would be easy to put a story like this into soft focus, letting him have a couple of slip-ups on his way to redemption — just enough to show he’s worked to become a good person. Heckler isn’t interested in that; he and Hedlund dig deeply to chronicle the true price of Mike’s journey.

Hedlund responds with the kind of truly conflicted performance often missing from the genre. This is a man in pain, but he’s also a man who has caused tremendous pain. The magic of “Burden” is that it marries those ideas, with Hedlund providing his most nuanced, lived-in performance yet. It’s also his best.

Production design from Stephanie Hamilton is another highlight, and the film feels pulled directly out of a very specific time and place; Jeremy Rouse’s cinematography is gorgeous without being at all showy.

There are a few rough spots: Heckler tosses in a pair of scenes meant to approximate Mike’s mental and emotional state during the roughest of times, but the gauzy fever dreams feel far removed froma deeply grounded movie. The film doesn’t need them; “Burden” feels much richer when it returns to its reality, where the gray spaces live, where a man can be redeemed, and where love is the only answer to hate.

Grade: A-

“Burden” premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.

Garrett Hedlund is contemplating his hair color: once sandy blond, as a model for L.L. Bean and Teen magazine, now, 15 years into his acting career, a deep brown. As the hair has darkened, so have the roles.

“The towhead in me is quickly vanishing,” he jokes to ET. “You know, there might have been more days prior where I spent a little more time in the sun, and now maybe I’m more of a hermit and that’s the result. Also, we had to dye it for a film, Lullaby [2014], and I don’t know if it’s ever recovered from that.”

Nonetheless, the deeper tresses have complemented the darker tones of his captivating work on screen recently, with a haunting turn in Netflix’s Mudbound and now in Mosaic, a gritty Steven Soderbergh-directed crime drama, premiering Jan. 22 on HBO.

Hedlund plays Joel Hurley, an aspiring artist cast under world-famous children’s author Olivia Lake’s (Sharon Stone) seductive spell, in the twisty, experimental six-part miniseries, which also stars Paul Reubens, Beau Bridges and Frederick Weller. When Olivia goes missing, an investigation finds that Hurley may have been involved with her disappearance — depending on who you believe.

Hedlund was hooked from the get-go, before the show was a show. Initially designed solely as an interactive app, wherein users navigate the story’s wild turns for a unique, individual experience much like a video game, Hedlund’s interest in Mosaic was piqued just knowing Soderbergh would be occupying the director’s chair.

“I was open to whatever was going to happen,” the 33-year-old actor says. “I just always want to work with great directors and learn and grow, and that’s exactly what I got to do.”

Furthermore, Hedlund relished the three-month break between shooting the present-day and flashback scenes. Is that how long it took Hedlund to grow an as-full-as-he-can-grow beard for the flashbacks? Hedlund unleashes a hearty laugh.

“You know, hereditarily, I’m sort of blessed with horrible facial hair,” he says, “but it was funny in terms of, we weren’t given that [flashback] script until a week before. It was more exciting than fearful for me.”

Then, of course, there’s Stone, whom Hedlund met for the first time at the Grey Gardens home in Long Island, New York, right before he shot 2011’s Country Strong. “She appeared to not remember,” he says, laughing, noting they took a photo together. But Hedlund was still mesmerized by Stone’s presence when they teamed up for Mosaic. “It was a similar fascination [to Soderbergh]. I mean, obviously, I looked across the room and was like, Man, that’s Sharon Stone, and my character within that views Olivia Lake in that same fashion.”

Soderbergh, he says, got a kick out of his personal Stone story and thought “it was just perfect” for nurturing their onscreen chemistry. But Hedlund is a revelation to behold, as Soderbergh showcases the actor’s capacity for intensely haunting performance and the capability of his ever-expressive eyes to reveal a story all on their own.

For additional proof, look no further than Dee Rees‘ critically acclaimed Mudbound, starring Carey Mulligan, Jason Mitchell, Golden Globe nominee Mary J. Blige and Hedlund as World War II soldier Jamie McAllan, who combats his racist father’s bigotry upon his return home to rural Mississippi.

Hedlund felt compelled to work with Rees based on her talent alone — the same reason he worked with director Angelina Jolie for 2014’s Unbroken and writer-director Shana Feste on Country Strong. Gender, he says, is not necessarily a consideration when it comes to the filmmakers who interest him. In fact, of three movies he’s currently considering for 2018, he confirms two are directed by women.

“People will ask if there’s anything different, and I don’t see why the question is even a question, because they’re all artists, they’re all geniuses and they’re passionate, and that passion is infectious,” he says. “I would work with a female director any day of the week in comparison [to a male director] if it keeps going the way it’s been going for me. There’s no boundaries, no divide. And I’ve never seen it that way or feel it that way, and I’m proud to have been a part of the [films] I’ve been [a part of].”

Though his awards-caliber performance in Mudbound speaks for itself, Hedlund professes that he now has a keener sense of the kinds of stories that appeal to him as an actor. His criteria: “Has this been seen before? Has it been done before? Do I care to watch this? And I don’t want to knock on Hallmark, but is it a TV movie?”

“The films that inspired me to become an actor were ones that moved me emotionally,” he explains, “so what I look for is something that I hope would move others or transform my perspective on the world and life and love.”

Hedlund’s latest drama Burden, which premiered over the weekend at Sundance, satisfies his desire for rich, affecting filmmaking. Starring alongside Andrea Riseborough, Forest Whitaker and Usher Raymond, the actor leads as real-life clansman Mike Burden, who opened the first KKK memorabilia shop but becomes a changed man thanks to an African-American reverend (Whitaker). Hedlund was first struck by writer-director Andrew Heckler’s tale of redemption and love, but moreover, “I was really excited for this side of a love story,” he says, cracking up. “This is the first script that had me being with a lady in a long time!”

Now, armed with some of the most buzzy roles of his career, Hedlund says, “I’ve gained a bravery and a freedom to know that I can possibly do anything that I want to put my mind to.” A very different attitude than when he made Troy with Brad Pitt 14 years prior, when he didn’t “know anything about being on set.”

Hedlund’s newfound fearlessness means that, yes, he’s game for taking on James Bond — that is, if it’s directed by Rees, who expressed interest in directing a Hedlund-as-Bond movie last year. “With her doing anything, I’d be on her team,” he insists. “If she’s the captain of the ship, I’d be on that boat any day.”

Hedlund the lover? Hedlund the action hero? So much change — something this former towhead is wholeheartedly embracing.

“At the beginning, I thought I knew what I wanted and didn’t want,” Hedlund says, “and now I feel like I do know what I do want and don’t want, and I know how far I’ll go and I know what chances I will and won’t take. And, really, what I’ve found is there are no chances I won’t take.”

Garrett Hedlund throws up the peace sign as he leaves an appearance at Good Morning America on Thursday morning (January 18) in New York City.

The 33-year-old actor was joined by his Mosaic co-star Sharon Stone as they stopped by the morning show to promote their upcoming new show.

Earlier this week, the stars premiered the show in NYC where Sharon shared a hot kiss with a mystery man!

The six-part limited series premieres January 22 on HBO.

Justin Timberlake happily wraps his arm around his wife Jessica Biel while attending his American Express x Justin Timberlake: Man Of The Woods Listening Session held at Skylight Clarkson Sq on Wednesday (January 17) in New York City.

The 36-year-old hit-maker and the 35-year-old The Sinner star were joined at the event by Garrett HedlundCharlamagne Da AlexandraTheodora Richards and Alexandra Richards.

To bring Man Of The Woods to life, American Express collaborated with Justin to provide its Card Members unprecedented access into JT‘s creative process and songwriting. The brand designed a rustic experiential environment to complement JT‘s organic and unique approach to the LP.

The evening before, Justin hosted the first listening session and got support from Jessica again, as well as Stranger Things‘ Gaten MatarazzoThe Florida Project‘s Bria VinaiteZosia Mamet and her love Evan JonigkeitDelilah Belle and Bonner Bolton.

In case you missed it, Justin just released his newest song from Man of the Woods, titled “Supplies” – Watch here!

FYI: Justin is wearing a Levi’s Sherpa trucker jacket. Garrett is wearing a Naked Cashmere sweater.

Sharon Stone shares a kiss with a mystery man backstage while arriving at the Hollywood Reporter TV Talks & 92Y Present: HBO’s Mosaic held on Tuesday (January 16) in New York City.

The 59-year-old actress was joined at the event by her Mosaic co-stars Garrett HedlundJennifer FerrinDevin RatrayFrederick Weller and writer Ed Solomon.

In MosaicSharon plays Olivia Lake, a notable children’s author and illustrator whose career makes her something of a celebrity in her mountain resort town. On New Year’s Day, she vanishes, leaving behind a blood-stained studio for detective Nate Henry (Devin) to investigate.

The series comes with the release of the Mosaic app, where you can choose what point-of-view from which to follow the story and to, in effect, build your own experience from the material Soderbergh and Solomon created.

The six-part limited series premieres January 22 on HBO.

Kerry Washington looks stunning on the red carpet at the 2018 Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Sunday (January 7) in Beverly Hills, Calif.

The 40-year-old actress was joined at the event by her husband Nnamadi Asomugha, who walked the red carpet separately.

During the show, Kerry joined Garrett Hedlund on stage to present an award.

FYI: Kerry is wearing a Prabal Gurunggown, Roger Vivier shoes, and Lorraine Schwartz jewelry. Garrett is wearing a Salvatore Ferragamo tuxedo with a Montblanc timepiece and cuff links.

Kristen Bell is picture perfect while striking a pose at the 2018 Golden Globe Awards Nominations Announcement held on Monday morning (December 11) in Los Angeles.

The 37-year-old Bad Moms Christmasstar along with Garrett HedlundSharon Stone and Alfre Woodard gathered bright and early to announce this year’s nominees.

Also in attendance was Dwayne Johnson‘s daughter Simone, who was recently named Golden Globe Ambassador – a title formerly known as Miss Golden Globes up until this year. She will help during the ceremony next year by ushering presenters on and off stage and handing out awards.

The 2018 Golden Globes are set to air on Sunday, January 7. Seth Meyers has been announced as the host – Check out the full list of nominees here!

FYI: Kristen is wearing a Roland Mouret dress, Christian Louboutin shoes and Sarah Hendler earrings. Garrett is wearing a Strong Suit suit.

No one is more qualified to sing Mary J. Blige‘s praises than Garrett Hedlund, who celebrated her Golden Globe-nominated role as a supporting actress in Mudbound Monday.

E! News had the chance to catch up with the star after he, along with Kristen BellSharon Stone and Alfre Woodard, announced the 2018 Golden Globe Nominations at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

During their time working together on Dee Rees‘ WWII film, Hedlund said  he saw Blige dedicate herself to her role of Florence. “She stripped off a lot of layers in this film,” he said, “so I am happy for her people to get to see her and see everything that Dee Rees did.”

Of his friend, the 33-year-old said, “She did a wonderful job in this film and I am very happy to see her get the accolades that she deserves.”

Blige’s Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress comes on the heels of her winning the Hollywood Breakout Performance for the Hollywood Film Awards. In her speech, the singer said, “I cannot begin to tell you how honored I am to you receive this award.”

In addition to her supporting actress nomination, Blige’s song “Mighty River,” which she sung for the Netflix film, was also nominated for Best Original Song for a Motion Picture. This comes as no surprise, as the star has numerous awards for her musical talents.

The 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards will air live, coast-to-coast, on NBC Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018, at 8 p.m. ET.

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