My life was made this week when I sat down for a one-on-one
date chat with the crazy talented actor, Garrett Hedlund. Between his crystal blue eyes, sandy hair and slight midwestern twang, 33-year-old Hedlund is the epitome of a Hollywood hottie IRL—and I was there for allllll of it.
But I wasn’t meeting with the Country Strong star at the bougie Shangri-La hotel to swoon; I was there to talk about his new film Mudbound, which was about to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. The movie is a film adaptation of Hillary Jordan’s 2008 novel about racial tensions in the Mississippi Delta following World War II, and tells the story of two families living on a swampy farm: one white, the McAllans, and one Black, the Jacksons.
Hedlund plays Jamie McAllan, the younger brother of cotton farmer Henry (Jason Clarke) and brother-in-law to Henry’s wife, Laura (Carey Mulligan). Jamie turns to heavy drinking after coming home from the war and also finds himself the object of a disenchanted Laura’s affections. While struggling to adjust to his post-war reality, Jamie strikes a secret friendship with fellow vet Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell), the son of Black farmers (Rob Morgan and Mary J. Blige) who work for the McAllan family. I won’t give away the film’s dark climax, but Mudbound’s themes of racism, poverty and PTSD are still scarily relevant today.
The film has been getting rave reviews since its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in January, with Variety speculating that director Dee Rees could become the first Black woman nominated for an Oscar for best director. Netflix scooped up the film ahead of TIFF, and will release it on November 17.
Between sipping tea and cracking smiles, Hedlund talked to FLARE about career advice, how he relates to his character and why he wanted to get the eff off his own family’s farm. I even scored a hug.
Mudbound tackles some heavy subject matter and your character is dealing with some personal demons. How did you get into the headspace of playing Jamie?
You know the book was there, and Hillary Jordan had painted such a wonderful world in this canvas she wrote. Jason Clarke and I have known each other for awhile. Obviously, he’s Australian, and wanted to get a sense of middle America—especially the South—so we did a road trip. We flew into Memphis, we stayed in a little cabin outside of Greenwood, Mississippi, called Tallahatchie Flats. We just hung out there. You know, I’m from the Midwest, and I grew up in a farming community as well, so that was quite easy. But Hillary also said that we should fashion Jamie after her uncle, and gave me a little sense of her uncle: he had come back from the war and was dealing with PTSD and was drinking all of the time. Within the war, [Jamie’s] mind and life changed dramatically. When you turn to the bottle to disconnect and run away from all of these things that [you] can’t get away from… There were a lot of aspects in that I could draw from, and a lot of people I’d knew that went through very similar things with wanting to shut the world off.
Do you feel that society has a bit of a better understanding of PTSD now compared to when this film is set?
It’s always existed. They classified it in a way that the generation from WWII were titled the “The Don’t-Talk-About-Its.” Vietnam, it was titled, “The Druggies and The Boozers,” and now it’s a little more like PTSD. When you experience something traumatic and have seen lives and countries destroyed by war, it’s always going to affect you. People have always dealt with it in certain ways. My grandfather got to sit on a tractor and plow fields and raise a family, and it’s so different from Los Angeles where I have pals that have come back from the war and they have jobs where they’re very successful now. A lot of them wish that there were more films about the positive sides about people coming back that suffer from PTSD; it’s not always that they’re getting f-cked up and shooting at the moon. They’re doing great things and they have things they’d love to talk about. I think no matter what you experience in life, there’s always going to be a psychological backlash to it and everybody handles it differently. American football has been going on for how many years, but it’s now that they’re talking about concussions and head injuries, but it’s been happening ever since the game started.
You also grew up on a farm in small-town Minnesota. Did you see parallels between yourself and your character Jamie?
It was very parallel. I grew up with a brother who was roughly four years older than me, and I left the farm at an early age, too. Not necessarily to pursue acting, but just to get the hell off the farm. It wasn’t my aspiration to take over the land and be working on the tractor for the rest of my life. I think it was because my mother [worked] in communications and got to travel and would send postcards from everywhere. When I moved to L.A., I didn’t know why but I got this acting bug. So while my brother was off working at the farm in Minnesota, I was in L.A. trying to pursue those dreams, which is kind of parallel to this story. There’s similarities between my brother and Jason [Clarke]’s character.
The film’s overarching theme of racism feels so relevant to today’s political climate. Was that a conversation you guys had on set?
I think for Dee [Rees], being an African American female director, there was a lot that was personal to her within this. Sitting with her in the moments we got to have—we’d all have one-on-ones—and being able to chat, we got to see how personal it was to her and a lot of the other actors in the film. It wasn’t much a discussion about today, but more of painting a portrait of a period that’s not really talked about a lot: post-war and the situations that were going on in the South and that are still going on. We sort of left it at that and made it about a story about these two families and what was in the book.
What was it like working with Dee Rees?
I smile every time somebody brings Dee up. She’s got this infectious charisma and drive and this artistic, intelligent, passionate, persona about her. She’s got an aura that really makes me want to do every single film she’s does.
She told a reporter that you should be the next James Bond.
Well that’s very sweet. She sent me a photo one day, it was early in the film, when she was editing the ballroom dancing scene where I‘m dancing with Carey Mulligan’s character. I didn’t get to see the film until Sundance, so getting to see that photo was very sweet. She was very protective of this film until Sundance. She didn’t want anybody to see it. We do a lot of interviews before, and [reporters] were like, “How was it working on this film? What did you think about the film” and we had known nothing about it. Managers were like, “Maybe we should see the film first, we need to know what to talk about.” But Dee was very wonderful in that nobody had seen it before Sundance. Carey wasn’t able to even watch it because, you know, everybody has their own issues with watching their films—especially for the first time—with an audience. I’m very proud Dee had the restraint that she did when it came to allowing everybody involved to see this film.
What was the best piece of career advice that you’ve ever been given?
I don’t know know if there was a piece of advice, but it was from watching certain performances. When I first started out, I didn’t have money for acting classes. So, I went online and read scripts of movies of actors that I had admired that I hadn’t seen before. I’d read the script before watching the film, and would rehearse the scene for a week like I was going to audition for it. Then, I’d watch the film and see what they did with that particular scene. That was part of the bigger lesson to show that there were no rules, that you can be as wild, and crazy, and spontaneous, or as minimalist, simple, and quiet as you want. It was nice to see that there were no rules to abide by when it came to wanting to surprise or affect an audience.
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