My life was made 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 Toronto’s bougie Shangri-La hotel to swoon; I was there to talk about his new film Mudbound, which screened at TIFF this September. The movie is an 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 it comes out TODAY!
Between sipping tea and cracking smiles, Hedlund talked to FLARE about 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 (I haven’t showered since).
How did you get into the headspace of Jamie?
The book was there, and Hillary Jordan painted such a wonderful world in this canvas. Jason Clarke and I have known each other for awhile. 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. 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 who had come back from the war and was dealing with PTSD and was drinking all of the time. 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.
Did you see parallels between yourself and Jamie?
It was very parallel. I grew up with a brother who was 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 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 in today’s political climate. Was that a conversation you guys had on set?
I think for Dee, being an African American female director, there was a lot that was personal to her within this. 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 these two families and what was in the book.
Mudbound also sheds light on PTSD. Do you feel that society has a bit of a better understanding of PTSD now compared to when this film is set?
PTSD has always existed. They classified it in a way that the generation from WWII were called the “The Don’t-Talk-About-Its.” Vietnam it was “The Druggies and The Boozers,” and now it’s 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. I have pals in L.A. 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.
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.
I heard you didn’t see the film until it’s premiere at Sundance. Is that true?
Yes, I didn’t get to see it until Sundance. Dee was very protective of this film. We do a lot of interviews before, and reporters were like, “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.” (Laughs). 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?
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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