Actor with Illinois roots plays Jack Kerouac in ‘Big Sur’
By CINDY PEARLMAN For Sun-Times Media October 31, 2013 9:26PM
Being Jack Kerouac “came out effortlessly” for Jean-Marc Barr, star of the new movie “Big Sur.”
Updated: December 2, 2013 11:18AM
In many ways, Jean-Marc Barr learned about Jack Kerouac’s American dream as a boy growing up on his grandfather’s farm Downstate in Rankin, Ill.
“My father grew up on that farm and then he joined the military, so I grew up everywhere,” says Barr. “I’ll never forget being sent to Rankin for the summers and working the fields. I’d be riding on the hood of my grandfather’s Ford Falcon with Grandpa driving.
“That was America for me.”
Cut to many years later as an actor, when he shot “Too Much Flesh” in Rankin. “It was about a guy discovering his sexually at 38 years old. I love Illinois. I love small towns.
“To see the tragedy of what happens to small towns today is heartbreaking,” he says. “It’s a piece of America being taken over by Burger King.”
These days, Barr is playing writing legend Jack Kerouac, a guy who was also disillusioned with the dream. “Big Sur” (opening Friday at AMC River East 21) is about the writer’s three trips to a cabin in Big Sur to figure out life after “On the Road” became a sensation.
“I decided not to imitate Jack, but be Jack,” says Barr. “The role really came out effortlessly.”
“We have similar genes being half French and half American. I read ‘On the Road’ when I was 18 and decided that’s how I’m going to live. Instead of joining the military like my dad, I took off to Europe.”
Barr beat out some Hollywood heavyweights to get the role. “It was one of those dream situations,” he says. “I was offered the part and suddenly the film was a go. We got the cast and started filming.”
The cast also includes Kate Bosworth and Josh Lucas, and Michael Polish directs.
The film captures an important part of Kerouac’s life. “He was looking for some kind of freedom and meaning to life when he hit Big Sur,” Barr says. “Then he realized that America, the empire and life is actually futile.
“That realization can be so important today. Our country is drunk in power and greed. That’s the kind of morality that the great writers warned us about so long ago.”
As for Barr, plans to join the priesthood or the Air Force were scrapped the summer before he was supposed to go to basic training. “I was listening to a song by Billy Joel who sang, ‘Slow down, you move too fast.’ I thought, ‘Wait, my life is being predetermined here for the next 30 years.’ ”
He took off to France, read Henry Miller and “took off the blinders. I started to realize there were a lot of doors I hadn’t opened yet, including acting. One night I saw a play in Paris and thought, ‘Acting is the kind of revolt I’d like to have in my life.’ ”
His filmography includes “Dogville,” “Breaking the Waves,” “Europa” and “The Big Blue.”
He still finds time to visit Rankin. “I go and take pictures of old barns and things,” he says. “It’s really special to me.”
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