The plot of Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur might not be the stuff romances are made of, considering it follows the three months he spent battling alcoholism and general melancholy that came from his breakout hit On The Road. As it turns out, director Michael Polish and actress Kate Bosworth met, fell in love, and were married all while adapting the 1962 novel for the big screen. Before the film’s release (it’s out today), Bosworth told me that she found herself as a woman while playing Billie–the mistress of fellow Beat poet Neal Cassady whom is stolen by Kerouac’s literary alter ego Jack Duluz, only to be quickly discarded. The film was also the start of a long collaboration with her new husband, one that includes a new collection for Topshop and an upcoming movie. She then talked about finding inspiration in all aspects of her creative life, and how fashion and costumes have shaped the way she approaches her characters.
What drew you to Big Sur?
The director. And I know now it’s ironic because now we’re married. But the draw for me was the visionary behind the piece. I think adapting Kerouac from script to screen is one of the most challenging adaptations to tackle and I was intrigued with Michael being the visionary of this movie because I’ve been a big fan of his work, and his wonderful grasp of the surreal in a very grounded sense. Whether it’s North Fork or Twin Falls Idaho, or any film he’s done, in a very surreal circumstance the viewer still feels connected to the characters and the relationships.
And how did you get into character for Billie?
There’s not a whole lot on her, so I read a lot about the women of the Beat generation and created an amalgamation of those women, their thoughts and experiences, and then interpreted it through Billie. The reason why Michael even wanted me to be a part of this film is because we saw her very similarly. I thought she was very smart, and had a groundedness that was very necessary to this story. Jack is careening off the cliff, Neal [Cassady] is ping ponging around, and Carolyn [Cassady] is just trying to hang on to Neal. So there was a grounded, stoic aspect that I wanted to bring to Billie.
It makes a lot of sense in the film because throughout the drunken chaos of these character, something shifts as soon as she enters the screen.
I agree. I read somewhere that the women of the Beat generation were known as the sober witnesses to the chaos, and that’s the sense I wanted to give about Billie.
What surprised you the most about playing this character?
It was the first role in which I felt like it had collided with my own age. It’s strange when you’re telling other people’s stories, because more often than not, it doesn’t connect exactly through where you are. There’s always going to be a part of you that connects with the character personally, but here, it was a moment where I was coming into my own as a woman and understanding my life in a way that she did. It was a nice cross over.
Michael and I met on this movie. It’s a real love story for us, and I think we’ll always feel that way. Even though it’s a very dark movie, it’s been really beautiful to see it come out and see how much everyone is responding to the film.
And I read that you’re going to be working together on a new project, too.
We completed Rememory. He’s composing sound for that now. It’s really an exciting one. It’s in the vein of Misery, and I would essentially be the Kathy Bates character. And yet he’s taken a very Hitchcockian approach in the style and the look. So it’s intriguing and frightening and mysterious, and it was a really fun space to work together in that way. To play this sociopath.
Can we expect you two to continue working together in the future?
Oh yeah. He is the visionary behind all the work that I’ve done in the fashion world. When I started up Jewelmint, he was the visionary behind all the films we did. He did a short film for each month. And with Topshop, he created the campaign with each of the three moments.
Tell me a little more about the Topshop collaboration. How does Michael fit into that?
Topshop is now in the second season. We started with a holiday campaign in which Michael came up with the concept to pay homage to Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys when she sang on the piano. Michael thought it would be really beautiful to have me recreate that as a winter wonderland, and sing it on the piano in a dress that I codesigned with their team. We’re very symbiotic in how we work, so I’ll show him the designs even if they’re halfway finished, and then he starts to think about the story behind them and what we want to interpret to the world.
Besides your work with Michael, where else do you garner inspiration?
In fashion, it’s very similar to starting any story you’re going to tell. It’s how I get dressed in the morning: How do I feel? How do I want to express myself to the world? You can feel dark and moody or you can feel light and airy and you can express that. The idea for Topshop this time started when I realized it would be great to visualize the festival girl in a way that we haven’t seen. It essentially just started with, What would I like to wear that I haven’t seen out there? That’s when I became obsessed with the idea of suede, this modern, western approach. I’m attracted to the classic Western cowboy, classic Americana world anyway so the idea of doing suede shorts and a top and a shifty suede dress. Every piece in the collection I’m a fan of. I’m not the type of collaborator that will just stamp their name on something and not care.
Given your fashion background, what effect does that have on the characters you choose and how you approach them?
When I’m able to collaborate with a great costume designer (and they are few and far between), it’s such a treat. And Bic Owen on this is a great costume designer. I’ve always believed fashion should express a story, because it should be revealing about the character. Anne Roth taught me that as well. We worked together on a small film called The Girl in the Park with Sigourney Weaver, and Ann Roth is just the greatest. She’s a legend. She and I talked at length about pieces of that character’s wardrobe, where it clicked for me that [in dressing a part] it reveals pieces of the character that you don’t ever have to say. So with Billie, Michael wanted her to be dressed in black in San Francisco–a very Beat generation wardrobe–and then in Big Sur, everyone wore shades of green, whether it was on the verge of grey all the way to something a big richer.
You also have the thriller Homefront coming out soon, which costars James Franco and Jason Statham, and was written by Sylvester Stallone.
Yeah, that comes out Thanksgiving with James and Jason and Wynona. It was a very intense character for me because she’s a meth addict, a mother.
So not one that you directly relate to.
Well, no. Listen, it’s easy to play the drunk. It’s flashy and a lot of actors are interested in that. I was more interested in why: why is she abusing herself in this way? If you strip all that back, who is this girl? Ultimately, she’s a very, very sad person. So to figure that out within the context of the film was what was most interesting to me.