The morning after their first night out together, his costar Riley says, Hedlund startled him by announcing that he'd written something about their evening and wanted to read it to everyone on the set. Because the night had been a long one, Riley joked to Hedlund, "Garrett, I hope this is an edited version." But the poem, Riley says, was "amazing. He made me look bad. Walter's looking at me like, 'So, what've you got?' I'm like, 'Uh, the dog ate mine.'"

Separating the Beat character from the Beat-inspired actor wasn't always easy. "Every time I'd see him," Stewart says of the years-long interim between casting and filming, when financing stalled production, "I'd be like, 'Are you already doing it?' He just never let up." That "free spirit" cited by Salles manifested itself after filming, when Hedlund would "just take off walking," Stewart says. Once, after Stewart let him lead her on an aimless 4 a.m. exploration of Montreal, she finally protested, "Dude, you don't know where you're going!" "But he just kept on walking," she recalls.

That's how Hedlund wants to live: with eyes wide open, scanning for the unknown, tilted toward fresh experience, ever the farm boy wondering where the highway ends. He ventures onto the sidewalk outside the Ear Inn for a cigarette and resumes his exultant barrage of road stories (Hedlund's just as fond of driving into nowhere as walking there). The particular story he's telling places him in a small town in Idaho several years back, his car impounded after a speeding violation, deep into the night. "I was outside with a phone book trying to call a cab," Hedlund recalls, "and there was this guy out there in a beat-up Oldsmobile, asking if I needed a ride. I was like, 'No thanks.' He's like, 'But this ride's free.' So I said, 'I'll take that ride.' The guy tells me to get in back, that he's waiting on a friend. Then this Indian guy comes out of the jail, with a shaved head, tattoos all over. Pops open a 40-ounce beer in the front seat. This guy had just been arrested for riding 48 hours on the rails. And I'm like, 'This is the greatest thing that's ever happened to me!'"

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