Jean-Marc Barr talks playing Jack Kerouac in ‘Big Sur’

Jean-Marc Barr as Jack Kerouac in Big Sur
Jean-Marc Barr as Jack Kerouac in Big Sur.

Having grown up in a Catholic, military home, Jean-Marc Barr was supposed to go to the air force academy. Instead he went of to Europe to become an actor, pushed forward by Jack Kerouac and his beliefs in the free life.

“I read ‘On the Road’ when I was 16 or 18 in college,” Barr says. “It was like someone had opened the door to something I had always been thinking about.”

The actor is perhaps best-known for his role in Luc Besson’s 1988 film “The Big Blue.” But instead of going the Hollywood way, he teamed up with the Danish director Lars von Trier and acted in films like “Breaking the Waves” and “Dancer in the Dark”. Now he is in Michael Polish’s “Big Sur,” based on Jack Kerouac’s book of the same name, where he plays Kerouac himself.

“When they offered me this part I started reading more of his work and I realized there was nothing to play,” he recalls. “I was living that. I was just playing myself and how Kerouac has inspired my soul and my passion about life, love, literature.”

The movie shows the Beat Generation at a time when they’ve exchanged the road for the home. Alcohol has destroyed most of them, and they are having trouble finding normal relationships. With his long career as an artist, Barr understands this part of living, and thinks it is a missing chapter in the Beat mystique.

“There is an intensity that comes with living on the road,” he says. “I think this was maybe the problem with the movie “On the Road” — that they really idealized the youthful part of it.”

In “Big Sur,” Kerouac reunites with Neal Cassady (Josh Lucas), and winds up mating with his love (Kate Bosworth). But he can’t be the person she needs him to be, which Barr recognizes.

“What I think Jack and many other artists have inspired in me is ‘know thy self,’” he says. “In relationships I will all of sudden have to start thinking for two. It becomes a routine and we fall into the same roles that we were told to fall into and love disappears.”

He is divorced himself, but still sees his ex-wife. “The love I have for my wife is as strong as it ever was. When we got divorced the judge asked me, ‘Why are you getting divorced?’ I said, ‘To make the relationship stronger.’ And that’s true.”

“Big Sur” may show that the Beats weren’t perfect, but Barr still thinks America has something to learn from them.

“They were farting in church. They took the chance to be pushed away from society. They chose to stand up for something that they believed in. That for me is something quite inspirational,” Barr explains. “Today, America is like the Soviet Union. We are so involved with our safety and we are so embarrassed by the empire, the crimes this country is committing. We are humiliated, and we need artists to stand up and say, ‘F—ing stop.’ You can do that with art. Instead of just making entertainment to eat popcorn, lets make a form where we can be humans together.”


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