The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.
—Wallace Stevens, from “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”
It’s good to have Garrett Hedlund standing next to you upon discovering a brunch reservation is required and no brunch reservation has in fact been made. They’ll seat you anyway. You can brunch anywhere.
Perhaps best known as the face of the Tron sequel, 29-year-old Garrett Hedlund is that strange and beatific embodiment of Hollywood lore, the flesh-and-blood protagonist of an old tale, that of the dreamy Midwest farm boy with stars in his eyes, looking to make good on big-screen aspirations.
At 14, he left his father’s remote cattle farm in Wannaska, Minnesota and began heading west. First, to his mother’s digs in Phoenix, Arizona, where, over the next couple years, he became an unabashed cold-caller of agents and managers, repeatedly taking the ninety-minute flight to Burbank for any audition he could get.
Then he swam out to the deep end—drove to Los Angeles. Within two weeks of moving, the script for Troy fell into his lap. All that paddling apparently paid off. Rather than sink or swim, Hedlund seems to be coasting on a deluxe inflatable with built-in beer koozies.
Garrett Hedlund recalls the first time a movie ever made him cry.
The year is 2001, probably. The film, I Am Sam.
“When you have Eddie Vedder singing Beatles tunes, and Sean Penn acting his heart out, I mean, yeah, I think that was the one.”
His 16-year-old self watches the film at least four more times.
The actor Garrett Hedlund has to make a conscientious effort to deflect the spotlight away from his flattering physique and physiognomy, to turn the industry and audience’s gaze upon his capacity to portray characters notable for both their physicality and psychological complexity. As a small town high school football player in Friday Night Lights, Garrett’s commiseration with his oft abusive father (Tim McGraw) after losing the championship game is gut-wrenching and golden; as Beat poet and muse Neil Cassady in On The Road, his hifalutin ramblings and devil-may-care dancing feel like authentic articulations of spiritual malaise; and as a rising songwriter in Country Strong, Garrett is…Well, okay, in Country Strong Garrett is just 100% hunk.
Garrett Hedlund smokes Marlboro Lights. He calls them “Marbs.”
He drinks Earl Grey tea.
Garrett Hedlund almost cried, several times, the first time he saw Lullaby, in which he plays an estranged son dealing with an ailing father (Richard Jenkins) who has opted to take himself off life support. “Even having read the script and preparing to watch it, I found myself choking up three or four times.”
Hedlund shouldn’t be harangued for crying at his own movie screening. The film presents a kind of no-frills confrontation with the realities of dying, and with it, the strong possibility of loved ones passing before the righting of past wrongs or regrets.
To prepare for the intensive drama, Hedlund, Jenkins, co-star Anne Archer, and cinematographer Florian Ballhaus rehearsed for several days on an NYU stage, taping out the geography of the hospital room in which the majority of the film takes place, and working their way through every scene.
Shot in 23 days at a Veterans hospital on Roosevelt Island, “the experience ended up mirroring the story in a way,” says Hedlund. “We didn’t leave the hospital room all day, every day. A lot of real patients would go by and you just can’t help but be affected by it all and feel that you’re shooting something that can be empathized with.”
The result is a film that is both claustrophobic and cathartic. What one might colloquially refer to as an emotional roller coaster. A real tearjerker. Or what Garrett more eloquently refers to as, “a heartfelt unpeeling process.”
“Every once in a while we remember that life is short, and to appreciate the time with your friends and family, and to be open to have beautiful exciting moments in your days and stop worrying about what’s pulling you down.”
Recently, Garrett’s father came out to visit him in Los Angeles.
“It’s hard to get him off the farm, to fly. He’s gotten older now, but he was able to do it. He was helped by the assistants at the airport—not people with Blackberrys but people with a wheelchair.”
His dad hadn’t visited the big city since Garrett moved here.
“It’s not all that glamorous. But it’s nice for someone on the farm to come to a beautiful city where it’s primarily 90 degrees all year round and you get to see the ocean and see a faster-paced life. But really, he’s just proud of me. ”
The family gathering comes as Garrett prepares to leave for London on a six-month shoot for Pan, the popular fairytale rebooted once again, this time with Garrett as the infamous captain forever at odds with the flying boy who refuses to grow up.
Brad Pitt: “helped me understand a lot of the technicalities that actual filmmaking involves, how broken up it can be just to shoot one scene, how many different angles and camera shots, and how to approach the scene with different colors of emotion each take.”
Brian Cox: “gave me the old films of Peter O’Toole and said, ‘Watch [these]. [These] will really inspire you.’”
Peter O’Toole: “threw his arm around me and said, [in mock Peter O’Toole voice], ‘Do you wanna hear how we shot this movie, my boy?’”
Mark Wahlberg: “was hilarious to watch, how he improvises throughout the film.”
Viggo Mortensen: “gave me a book of his photography and poetry during On The Road. It’s great to see people that never lose touch with that creative side of themselves, to meet that artist that never ceases to see the world in a different way.”
Garrett Hedlund nearly cried while reading The Road, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Cormac McCarthy, about a father and son surviving in a post-apocalyptic world.
“It fuckin’ got me,” he says.
Hedlund was alone, sitting with a broken arm on a beach somewhere in Mexico as he began to dig into an important scene: the desperate father and son stumble upon a home’s hidden shelter, filled with canned fruits and vegetables, the likes of which the young boy had never seen or tasted.
“That’s when I found myself starting to well up. I was really rooting for them.”
Garrett Hedlund has twice portrayed a Beat poet. Once, in On the Road, and again for Inside Llewyn Davis. Inspired perhaps by the spirit of that literary generation, he’s come to enjoy roles that require a bit of off-roading.
For Unbroken, the true-story of Olympic runner and World War II POW Louis Zamperini (written by the Coen brothers), he spent over two months in Australia, driving from the Gold Coast to Brisbane to Sydney.
For Mojave, written and directed by William Monahan (The Departed), the actor spent three months camping in the desert. Hedlund portrays an artist in the throes of a powerful existential dilemma. During a self-imposed exile, he confronts his homicidal doppelganger, played by Llewyn co-star Oscar Isaac.
As a teen, Hedlund developed a fancy for The Glass Menagerie, a film based on the Tennessee Williams play about a distraught son (John Malkovich) whose strained relationship with his overbearing mother and crippled sister forces him to fly the coop.
“At the time I was living with my mother and sister, so seeing John Malkovich portray that, seeing him out on the stairwells having a cigarette—just sort of deflated and wanting to go to the movies to escape reality for a while—I liked that.”
Years later, Hedlund would work with Malkovich on the making of Eragon. Filmed in Slovakia, the actor found himself holed up at a Best Western in the High Tatra Mountains, passing the time by learning how to play the violin, lessons courtesy of co-star Jeremy Irons.
Garrett Hedlund believes in privacy. He’s never had a Facebook or Twitter account, or a MySpace account, for that matter. He does have a secret Instagram account. Upon last check, he had three followers.
“The industry can be very small sometimes,” he says. “I think the only way to keep even the smallest amount of privacy is to just not participate.”
What’s to be known about Hedlund is primarily to be found in what he shares on-screen, in his obvious commitment to plunging into the unknown, his deliberate and persistent challenging of himself in order to take what he finds and bear it to the world. To find that truth he first left home to find.
“What first made me want to be an actor was the first time I found myself crying in the theater.”
Ladies and gentlemen, Garrett Hedlund.