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Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedlund Discuss the Long Road to 'On the Road' at L.A. Premiere

Amy Adams, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart

The "Twilight" star tells THR that when she read Jack Kerouac's novel as a teen, “there was no way I could have ever possibly imagined that I could play a part like that.”

On the Road, Walter Salles’ film adaptation of Jack Kerouac's cult classic novel, follows a group of young adults who are searching for freedom through travel, drugs, sex, adventure and music. While the novel defined a generation, it was a long and arduous journey to get the story moved onto the big screen.

PHOTOS: Behind the Scenes of 'On the Road' With Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedlund

At the end of 2008, Salles, who had been attached to the project for several years already, was about to get the greenlight when the American economy fell apart, and his dream project was stalled. He had to talk the actors he had cast in 2007 into staying onboard until – through a series of luck, hard work and good fortune – he was able to finally get the financing and film the project in 2010.

The long road came to an end with the world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May, and now the L.A. premiere at AFI Fest 2012 on Saturday, Nov. 3, at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. In one of the most star-heavy events at the festival, Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedlund, Amy Adams and Salles all attended.

PHOTOS: Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedlund Get the Show 'On the Road' at L.A. Premiere

Stewart, who will wrap up her duties as the lead in the Twilight film series with the release of the final film this month, plays the free-spirited MaryLou in On the Road.

“We were allowed to know so much about the people who stood behind the characters,” the actress, wearing a black and white Balenciaga jumpsuit, told The Hollywood Reporter on the red carpet before the premiere.

While Stewart walked the red carpet solo on Saturday, she was joined by her Twilight co-star (and current beau) Robert Pattinson at the AFI Fest afterparty at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. They mingled with friends and Stewart’s co-stars around a large fire pit near the pool area.

Stewart says that Salles enrolled the main actors in a four-week “beatnik bootcamp” of rehearsals before shooting the film. Stewart’s character in the book was based on Kerouac’s friend Luanne Henderson, and Stewart got to spend a lot of time talking to Henderson’s daughter while researching the role.

STORY: Cannes 2012: Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst Help Tout 'On the Road'

“We were allowed to know things about her that people do not know,” she tells THR. “I think as soon as you know the people who inspired those characters, everything makes so much more sense. It’s not the easiest thing to live that life. It takes a really particular person to carry that out.”

Stewart says she first read the book when she was 14 or 15, and it’s been a pivotal piece of literature in her life.

“She definitely helped me break down a few walls,” Stewart said of playing MaryLou. “But I think that project actually started when I read the book.”

“At the time, there was no way I could ever possibly imagine that I could play a part like that,” she added. “I thought that the characters in On the Road were people I wanted to be able to find in my own life. I wanted to find people who really stirred me up and kept me moving and kept me pushing. And she’s that type of that person."

Salles, who helmed 2004’s The Motorcycle Diaries, tells THR that Stewart understood that MaryLou was “several decades ahead of her time.”

STORY: How 'On The Road' Slashed Kristen Stewart's $20 Million Paycheck and Finally Made it to Screen

“I think Kristen likes to play these roles that defy the circumstances that somehow define the time you’re living in,” the Brazilian director adds. “She did that very bravely and with complete passion and dedication.”

Salles adds that the most difficult role to cast was that of Dean Moriarty, the charming, yet destructive friend of narrator Sal Paradise. Moriarty was, in real life, Neal Cassady, the author’s friend.

Salles says that Hedlund had gone on a road trip of his own, driving from Minnesota five years ago to audition for the part.

“When he finished reading the scenes, there was such electricity in the air that we were all completely taken by it,” he tells THR. “And that electricity never disappeared. We’re still in love with Garrett.”

Hedlund, who was part of the same four-week “beatnik bootcamp” as Stewart, describes Cassady as an intellectual whose thirst for exploration was an admirable quality.

“To me, I feel that he’s one of my heroes in the way that he approached life in terms of the yearning for adventure,” he says. “I grew up with storytellers all my life, and the knowledge that he could shed and the stories that he told, that comes from a wonderful life experience and that’s what he had.”

AFI Fest 2012 runs Nov. 1 - 8 in Los Angeles.

On the Road opens in theaters on Dec. 21.

Email: Rebecca.Ford@thr.com; Twitter: @Beccamford