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If you click on Garrett Hedlund’s IMDB page, the biography section lists three distinct trademarks — “deep resonant voice, light bold blue eyes, muscular physique” — characteristics that, combined with genuine acting chops, make for a pretty undeniable movie star. It’s probably why Hedlund has worked consistently on the big screen ever since his breakout at 18 in Wolfgang Petersen’s 2004 epic Troy. He’s done just about everything since, like festival fare (On the Road), sci-fi franchise updates (Tron: Legacy) big-budget actioners (Triple Frontier), race-related dramas (Mudbound), and small-screen romantic tales (Modern Love).
But aside from the video game Eragon in 2006, Hedlund, now 36, hasn’t leaned on that deeply resonant vocal instrument for voiceover work — until now. Hedlund partnered with Audio Up Media, iHeartMedia and The Voice producer Lee Metzger to take a lead role in the just-released podcast Strawberry Spring based on a short story by legendary scribe Stephen King.
Unlike most of his work, King’s Strawberry Spring has never been adapted. First published in 1968 and later included in King’s 1978 short story collection, Night Shift, the story follows a journalist (Hedlund) who hears the name Springheel Jack while listening to the radio. He’s instantly transported to his college days working at the campus newspaper when he helped investigate the mysterious figure believed to be responsible for a vicious murder that devastated a small community. Hedlund’s voice can be heard alongside a cast that also includes Milo Ventimiglia, Herizen F. Gaurdiola, Sydney Sweeney, Ken Marino, Al Madrigal and Brec Bassinger.
For Hedlund, the podcast surfaced at a perfect time as he, like many actors, was waiting out the COVID-19 pandemic. But it also came around at an ideal creative moment as he was itching to stretch as an artist. Because while he’s done a lot, he’s never done genre fare. Strawberry Spring is Hedlund’s first thriller but not the last. He’s following it up with a lead role in the just-wrapped psychological thriller The Marsh King’s Daughter and, in a few weeks, he heads off to start filming The Bride. That film, inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, casts him opposite Game of Thrones star Nathalie Emmanuel.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Hedlund to talk the podcast, what he learned about himself during the pandemic and why Tron co-star Jeff Bridges left such a lasting impression on him.
I noticed you worked on the Eragon video game, but aside from that, I don’t see any other voiceover work. Why so?
That’s been it. Honestly, a lot hasn’t come across the path. There were a couple podcasts we were dealing with early on in the flux of COVID that got pushed. But no, obviously this is an issue we need to address in this interview because the more the merrier. I might be one of the few actors that really enjoys the ADR process, and being able to mess with a performance in post. Admittedly, there have been some grueling situations of having to sync lips to a full monologue, when you wish this wasn’t such a process, but I really enjoy it. When I was approached about doing this podcast, I heard the story and how it would be the first podcast based on Stephen King’s work, I knew it would be something sweet.
You said it — it seems exciting to be the first podcast adapted from a Stephen King work, and it’s the first-ever adaptation for Strawberry Spring in any format. Were you familiar with the story?
No, I read it for this. Lee Metzger, the producer, took the initiative and expanded the world tremendously to show hundreds of pages of material, all of which had to be approved by Stephen. He did such a great job with it. It was great to work across the board with everybody involved — the audio people, Jared Gustadt [Audio Up Media’s founder and CEO] who I’ve known for quite some time. It was nice to jump in and be a part of something that was a first for so many people. A lot of firsts going on here.
A lot of firsts going on, and I think your first time playing a journalist, which was fun to hear all of those references as someone who worked on a college newspaper like your character. What did you most like about the story?
For me, I became obsessed with true crime during COVID. I mean, obviously, everybody was able to watch everything that any streaming format had to offer during the time of isolation, but there were so many suspenseful, interesting stories that were out there that I was completely unaware of. The obsession with true crime is quite massive and so I thought it’d be a hit to do something in a [similar suspenseful world].
I remember during your On the Road days, you talked a lot about your love of literature and how obsessed you were with books growing up. Did that extend to Stephen King or what that a genre you ever spent much time with?
No, suspense, thriller and horror, it was never really my forte. Back in the On the Road days, I threw myself into the Beat Generation. I really have never been a part of many suspenseful films or anything in the thriller genre. I’ve started to dabble in it a little more. I just completed The Marsh King’s Daughter, a wonderful psychological thriller. That was the first one, surprisingly, that I’ve ever done in my whole career. It’s not that I never wanted to, I think that I’m now feeling up for taking on all kinds of challenges while still playing with the obstacle of making work that, no matter what it is, feels soulful, believable and heartfelt.
With this, it was fun because it deals with the character’s external and internal dialogue as well as his chaotic thought process as the audience is following his story. I’m open to any situation where you can kind of go as spasmatic and psychotic as possible — more than anybody imagined you could — and then reel it back to completely internal thoughts and making everything as completely still as possible. This situation was great to have that playground to let loose.
Let’s go back to the recording booth. What was that process like?
It was actually quite fluid. It was me, Lee and somebody reading the primary opposite lines together. We’re all in a room with the editor. They let me dabble with certain ideas of going completely ballistic and then reeling it all completely in. We had fun with all of it. At the end of the day, it becomes an obstacle for the editor to sort out and choose what rhythm to ultimately go with. I was completely happy leaving it up to them. I always like to play, especially while filming, and never really like to do a single take the exact same way. I don’t really go in and say, “This is absolutely how it goes,” and not budge. I like to play and find new ways into the performance. It was just a couple of days on this, and we cruised through.
This may be a dumb question, but do you feel like you have a different grasp of what your voice can do?
I’ve always done some crazy voices, anything from Gollum, to what have you, but I’ve always been willing to play ball. Do I feel well-versed on what the voice can do? I just enjoy getting in a room and sort of playing, no matter if it’s on-screen or this. Playing pretend is the best way to pass the time creatively. When I worked with Jeff Bridges on Tron, what inspired me so much about him is that whether he was pulling out a clown nose or showing me what a bird fart sounded like, everything was about making someone else laugh or making sure to enjoy the time with another person. That’s why after working with him, he would say to you, “Nice playing with you, man.” I enjoy the play.
I love that. You mentioned that some podcasts had come up during COVID and I know there have been many high-profile narrative ones that have come out. Are you a podcast fan or have you listened to any?
I hadn’t listened to a lot. I’ve listened to certain documentary-style ones, about old Hollywood stories and Marilyn Monroe, stuff like that, just while going on hikes. But I hadn’t been searching them out. I listened to Rami Malek’s and I really enjoyed hearing the process behind that one, the way the characters played off one another and the sound effects they used. I really got sucked into that one. I think this one is quite similar to a narrative one like that, in that it tells the story of a catastrophic happening in a town and the impact it has on the community. Once you start, you get sucked in and you’re along for the ride. I thought they did that one remarkably well and I hope this one stands up to those.
It’s nice talking to you this week of all weeks because as I was sitting down to go over questions, at that moment Barry Jenkins tweeted about your performance on this week’s episode of Reservation Dogs. I watched it immediately and while some of your work like Mudbound and Burden have centered on race relations, this is different. It’s lighter and funny but also has something to say. Why did you decide to take this on?
When I read it, I thought it was so out there comedically. And with [Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi] involved, I thought it was going to be something great. It was fun to pop in for such a bizarre scene. I’d never really had the opportunity to jump in and out and do one of these [episodes before]. I’d been waiting for a couple of passion projects to get up and running but because of COVID, there were delays. So, when this came in with Sterlin and Taika doing it, I said, “Fuck, of course, I’ll come.” It goes back to what I was saying about playing. “I’ll come play with you guys, man.” I trusted the captains of the ship and said, “I’ll do anything ask me to.”
Speaking of playing, I read that you’re doing The Bride, [the Dracula-inspired project with Nathalie Emmanuel]. I would imagine playing Dracula has got to be a dream for any actor although I don’t know for sure if you are Dracula…
I’m not allowed to say but what I can say is Jessica Thompson, the director, is so interesting. Her previous film, The Light of the Moon, she wrote, directed, edited and produced. It was such a standout at South by Southwest. I would go into the trenches for her on anything. I just wanted to work with her, no matter what her next film was, and this is kind of flipping the switch on some previous things I’ve been involved in. This is going to be fun. She’s got such a confident take on what she wants to do with the story and I am standing by her. We’ve got a great crew already setting up and I’m excited to go to school and see who we get to play with.
Is that your next project?
Yeah, I jump out in a couple of weeks.
Back to Strawberry Spring. So much creative work has already gone into it so the obvious question would be if it were to be adapted for film and television, would you do it?
Of course. In a heartbeat, in a heartbeat. I definitely would be honored. Man, I have such a slew of quite dramatic and beautifully heartbreaking films that were all sort of lined up for COVID or thereafter. So, I took the liberty of jumping into this for the chance to be a part of something that ended up being so much fun, at the same time. Not that I don’t enjoy some of the dramatic or the intense pieces, like the ones you brought up, Mudbound or Burden. Some of my closest friends for years have watched the films and been so supportive, but they’ve all said the same thing: “Man, when are you going to do a fucking comedy?”
So, I’m looking at comedies and more challenging projects in different genres like this. I’d love to. I found that for so many years, I was taking every performance and experience so seriously. Finally, when you have the chance to jump on something like one of these projects, you’re having such a great time and you realize, life’s too short. You don’t have to always be pulling your hair out on every performance, you know?
On that note, what did you learn about yourself during the pandemic?
That, and also because [the pandemic] was so Jurassic and there was so much going on, not only in the world but with friends, family and everybody who was affected — by fear but also by something that was life or death — I learned that life is short. Why not enjoy every minute of it, no matter what.
Strawberry Spring is now streaming.
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