Much like Avatar changed Sam Worthington's status from obscure to in-demand, TRON: Legacy promises to turn Garrett Hedlund into a hot commodity. It's not like Hedlund is an overnight success, though. Raised on smalltown farms in Minnesota and Arizona, the 26-year-old actor moved to Los Angeles after high school to give his big-screen dreams a shot. It didn't take long for the newcomer to land his first gig, a co-starring role in Brad Pitt's Greek warrior pic Troy (2004), which led to bigger roles in Friday Night Lights (2004) and Four Brothers (2005).
TRON: Legacy represents his first leading man role, and, if the film decimates the box office like Disney is hoping it will, Hedlund should become your little sister's new crush. He stars as Sam Flynn, the law-breaking son of a software tycoon (Jeff Bridges) who's trapped inside a video game world he created. Once he's in the CG land himself, Sam gets to ride wicked lightcycles, kick computer-generated villains' asses, and kick game to a fly program in a skintight latex suit (Olivia Wilde). Yeah, it's pretty much what every teenage boy dreams about while wasting away inside Game Stop. Hedlund took a break from filming the Jack Kerouac adaptation On the Road to chat about going from farmland to Hollywood, his new potential blockbuster, and why he's not anticipating a plethora of groupies...
Complex: Were you a fan of the original TRON growing up?
Garrett Hedlund: I grew up on a farm, and there's no TRON on a farm. We watched Roseanne and Cheers. We only had four channels there—48, 49, 50, and 51. That was what I grew up with, as far as television and movies. I watched TRON for the first time in 2003, actually. It was when I was filming on the island of Malta. I just watched it on the balcony off of some guy's laptop, and I dug it. Then, I was just really impressed with how the creator's [Steven Lisberger] mind worked. When you're at your age, you're really inspired by things.
Complex: What impressed you the most?
Garrett Hedlund: I was trying to crack Steven's mind, with his views on technology. Then of course you've got the young, energetic and maniacal Jeff Bridges. All I remember was I just wished I could've hung out with that guy. Still, to my benefit, I got to play father and son with such an incredible, wise actor. He's a brilliant person today, of course, but I wouldn't have minded hanging with Jeff of 1982 for a few days. [Laughs.]
Complex: Growing up on a farm, the film industry must've seemed so far away. Was there even a movie theater in your town?
Garrett Hedlund: We had one theater in our town. Our town was only 2,500 people, and we lived 30 miles out on the farm. Nobody went to the movies there, because they were all like, "That's gonna cost me 20 bucks in gas!" [Laughs.] "Plus, it's a round trip!" The one theater played only one movie Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and it was the same movie. So, when ten movies come out a weekend, we'd only get one of them, so that guy had to pick well. It was pretty silly. If I do a film, they don't even play my films in the town. [Laughs.] My dad has to drive to Fargo to see my films, and that's a three-hour drive.
Complex: Was it tough to break into Hollywood at first?
Garrett Hedlund: Well, from the time I was 15 to 18, I was flying from Arizona to L.A. to audition for anything, whatever I could. I was working at a restaurant as a runner, and all my paychecks would go right to Southwest Airlines. [Laughs.] I'd fly there, get in the cab, and go to the audition, then get back in the cab to the airport and fly back home and go to school the next day. I went on 25-30 auditions in that process.
Complex: You've been in a lot of high-profile films, with Brad Pitt (Troy) and Mark Wahlberg (Four Brothers). How does TRON: Legacy fit into the career trajectory that you're hoping to reach?
Garrett Hedlund: In an odd way, it's kind of a weird little thing. I was sitting in a little town called Durbin, North Dakota, once, and it's a town with a population of eight—there's a grain elevator and three other houses. We were watching A River Runs Through It, and my mom said to me, "That one is you," referring to the Brad Pitt's trouble-making character. So I had a fear that she knew I was always mischievous and in trouble, but then I had another fear that I'd be killed after a bad poker hand in an alley at some point in my life. [Laughs.] And then, for my first film to be working with Brad, it was just incredibly surreal. Nothing really unbelievable had happened to me in my life until then.
Complex: And now you're acting alongside Jeff Bridges.
Garrett Hedlund: Jeff has always been one I've had this weird notion with that I'd work with him some day. It's weird to talk about, I guess, but it was there. I've always been inspired by his work, so being able to work with him fills me with such incredible disbelief, but at the same time incredible gratification and thrill.
Complex: Bridges has talked about how impressed he was with your physical work in TRON. How tough were all of the stunts and fight scenes?
Garrett Hedlund: They actually scan you into a computer, while you're wearing some skivvies. They scan you from head to toe, and if you're a shy person, you might get a little pink-cheeked. [Laughs.] But I was alright. So the suit fits you completely precisely, to where it looks like a part of you, and you have to maintain that state throughout the whole film, as well. If you gain an inch or lose an inch, the suit isn't going to fit you the way it did, and people will start barking at you.
Complex: That's gotta be challenging as hell, no?
Garrett Hedlund: Yeah. The physical preparation for this film was hardcore. These are talents that take time to acquire. For Parkour, which I had to do a lot of, you don't realize how much strength it takes, in the shoulders and upper region. The hand-to-hand combat, you have to get really smooth with that. It's all about preparation. Being able to move around in that suit is tough enough.
Complex: The chicks must dig it, huh?
Garrett Hedlund: [Laughs.] Watch this. [He stands up and sticks his gut out.]
Complex: We didn't need to see that.
Garrett Hedlund: [Laughs.] I don't know. Well, I'll just have to find a gruesome character to play next, to counterbalance that scale. The suit was nice, though, yeah. [Laughs.] I won't have to worry about becoming a sex symbol, I don't think, but Olivia [Wilde] might. You've seen the movie, right?
CHECK GARRETT OUT IN THE TRON: LEGACY TRAILER: