by Randy Mastronicola | portraits by John Russo
In a way, Garrett Hedlund reminds me of Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird. Obviously, not in the physical sense-that’s a Beauty and the Beast thing right there-but more in terms of how talent can sometimes sneak up on you.
Bird had a way of lulling his opponents to sleep by surveying the court, alternating the timing of his dribble and then-BAM-slipping right past them for a bucket. It was a sneaky first step.
While there’s nothing sneaky about Garrett Hedlund- he’s a thoughtful, gracious and open person to chat with-his career kind of sneaks up on you. One look at his CV and you realize those leading-man good looks and character-actor soul have been gracing screens now for nearly 20 years.
Garrett first jumped out at us in 2004’s epic film Troy. Subsequent roles in Friday Night Lights, Tron: Legacy, Country Strong, The United States vs. Billie Holliday and other projects have kept him in the public eye as an actor.
Garrett’s also an accomplished musician and singer- songwriter. He has legit chops as a musician, so it’s not an actor’s dalliance with making music. He’s written and sung tunes for his acting projects like Country Strong and Tulsa King. Garrett’s got the passion, and the music’s in him.
Garrett’s projects for 2023 showcase his diversity with the return of Tulsa King with Sylvester Stallone on Paramount+, and films The Tutor and Desperation Road, where he’s co-starring Mel Gibson. He also has music projects ready to drop later this year.
We recently had the opportunity to shoot the breeze with Garrett, one of our favorite actors.
Cigar & Spirits Magazine: Some of us at the magazine are addicted to your show, Tulsa King. We’re thrilled you’re gracing our magazine. But I know this interview is huge for you in a cigar sense.
Garrett Hedlund: Oh, definitely.
One of your cigar buddies on the show is Sylvester Stallone, but today you get to share a stick with the publisher of Cigar & Spirits Magazine. [laughs] The man, the myth. I’m just honored to say the least.
It’ll never get any better than this.
Yes, it’s the epitome of a cigar experience—right here. [laughter]
It’s memorable for me as well. I know you have a lot lined up the rest of the year. Let’s talk about starring in The Tutor first.
We shot The Tutor last spring. It’s myself and a young man by the name of Noah Schnapp from Stranger Things. And Victoria Justice, who’s a wonderful actress. It’s a psychological thriller. I think all the actors involved were so devoted to their characters that it really comes off as psychological drama on the wheels of a thriller.
During COVID, I got reeled into thrillers and true crime and everything. I think in this film, everybody’s going to get exactly what they crave out of a good thriller and a little more.
We needed the escapism during COVID.
Yes. Actually, when I finished reading the script, it really reminded me of thrillers that I loved along the lines of Primal Fear. I wanted to put a similar effort into the character and the role in this film.
You don’t want the twists and turns to be so obvious, not be so forced and double underlined, but to really feel for each character. When you watch this film, I think you’ll feel that way. I think everybody was quite organic and quite natural, and added a great deal of humanity into the roles.
Audiences are sophisticated and they know when it’s authentic or bogus. Right. This one doesn’t feel cheesy. It’s kind of a rollercoaster with a slightly different twist than most have encountered in the past.
Your character in the film has a very different look than we see you now. I just had a vision. Jordan Ross, our director, let me fly with my instincts and intuition within it. I got out to location a month before we started shooting. I was out there and went to all the thrift stores and clothing stores and everything and picked out the wardrobe, which I’ve done many of times. Eventually, it came to a point where I had to shave this receding hairline.
That’s a commitment. [laughs] I know the movie has garnered wonderful reviews.
Yes. Thank you.
You mentioned Jordan Ross. It seems you’ve been collaborating with other elite directors and actors like Taylor Sheridan and Sylvester Stallone on Tulsa King most recently.
Taylor and I have crossed paths quite a few times and have flirted with working with each other on a few projects. The stars aligned on this. One of the producers, David Glasser, has been very supportive for a few years. In fact, he bought this film, Burden, that I did that I’m quite proud of. It was wonderful to get on set with him as well on this.
What’s it been like working with Sylvester?
I’ve known Sly since I was 18. I was with my trainer for my first film Troy. I walked in and Sly was in there training. From that moment on, he’d always been a big brother to me. He was always curious about what I was shooting and how the experience was.
I ran into him one Christmas and he said, “How was that film On the Road?” It surprised me that he wanted to know my experience. It made me love him even more. He’s very keen, very wise to who’s who and who’s doing what.
It must be even sweeter working on Tulsa King then.
The experience has been fantastic. Paramount+ has been phenomenal. They put a lot behind these shows, Taylor Sheridan has proved over and over that the material he puts down just happens to turn to gold. He’s one of the best writers in the game, we also had Terrence Winter in on this.
Of Sopranos fame, of course.
Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire. We essentially had the dream team on this.
It was picked up for a second season.
Yes. I guess it’s my first series, but in the television world, the obstacle with the first season is really the introduction-grabbing the audience’s attention, making it full of surprises and then teeing it up to really get your hands dirty on the next season and the following seasons. We’re getting the opportunity to do that, which is going to be very exciting.
Desperation Road with Mel Gibson also hits in 2023. What was it like working with him?
Working with Mel was fantastic. We’d met years prior at a dinner, but just very briefly. We rekindled on this, which was actually a first deep dive of a meet.
We’re both passionate about this particular project. I signed on to it for about a year, I was really invested in it, and excited to bring it to fruition. I was really honored that Mel wanted to jump on. He plays my father.
We sat in a hotel room prior to shooting-discussing and reconstructing some of these scenes and just reading through them. It was a glorious experience. I think Mel’s not only one of the best of his generation, but one of the best there’s been. One of the bravest, most fearless. It’s impossible to work alongside him and not feel honored doing what you’re doing.
I noticed the three roles we’ve talked about are a nice stretch for you. You get to show some different colors?
Yes. The funny thing is a lot of times when this happens, one of those films tends to come out like two years later. One comes out, and the other one for whatever reason comes out a year later than the other. It’s happened to me before, and you’re like, “Shit. Nobody’s going to know we did this back-to-back.”
You have an acting career and you’re an acclaimed musician making records and videos. Is there a connection between crafting a great music performance and crafting a great film or television performance?
There’s an undeniable connection. It all just comes from an overwhelming compulsion to create. Acting, which was the first and foremost passion, was the first one that paved the way for me to work.
You started modeling and acting at a young age. Was the music always there?
No, not at all. I was in chorus in high school, but it was only because I thought I could get an easy good grade. [laughs] I did this film, Country Strong back in 2010. I started prepping in August of 2009 and it was a journey. I’d never played the guitar before. I sang in chorus, the boys acapella group and stuff like that. I truly fell in love with the experience when I did that film. I grew up on a farm with one radio station that was country, and that was pretty much all you got. As a teenager, you get rebellious, you move to rock, rap and whatnot. I reeled it in on this film and came back to the country roots.
When I was in Nashville, prepping that film, I got up on so many stages, and just through living that life of an aspiring successful country musician-I loved every minute of it. I formed a lot of relationships with a lot of very talented musicians who became some of my strongest and truest relationships to this day. But I did put it away for a little bit.
But it pulled you back in?
Yes. I was writing from the moment of Country Strong. I was always writing. The first song we released last year and snuck out there was On the Road. I wrote it in 2011. I was never going to record it. I played it for a producer I’m working with, Luke Wooten, and he was like, “Why aren’t we recording this?” I was like, “It’s just the first one we put out, which was interesting.”
That’s a nice bit of validation right there.
Yes. There’s so many of those moments. I did this film, Dirt Music, in Australia. Me and this beautiful gal, Julia Stone. We ended up writing a plethora of songs for that. We gathered so many but only used a couple for the film. Then there were all these ones left over.
I’ve always been a writer. I’m always writing about what’s going on geographically, psychologically, where I’m going to, where I’m coming from, and this and that. All these things sort of just effortlessly turn into tunes. There’s going to be a lot more coming out, and it just fills me full of joy to get them down. People’s reactions have been so kind and sweet. I’d be denying something that fills me up so much if I didn’t.
We can get single-minded sometimes and forget to be open to other creative sides of ourselves.
Definitely an openness to experience. After we did Country Strong, there were a lot of offers for record deals and everything. At that point, I was like, “No, it’s just a role.” That’s good news, they’re inviting us to come along, but maybe that just means I was good in the role. But then I said. maybe I was depriving myself of something.
Maybe it was a little more fear-based of, “No, I’m not going to step out there and do this.” Over that time, I’d get up with Dierks Bentley and shows across the states and with Tim McGraw, and with a lot of other pals.
Not too shabby friends you have there.
Yes. Tim’s my son’s godfather. He is one of my dearest friends, and he means a lot to me. He’s one that I run a lot of these songs by prior to getting out.
I know there are more music projects coming soon that you can’t talk about just right now, so we’ll follow up with you and keep our audience looped in.
I always love asking this one. Was there ever a moment in in your career when you thought, “You know what, I trust my instincts. I can do this.” The light switch went on.
Yes. Like “I got this.”
It was around the time when I did this film Mudbound with Dee Reese, Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Mary J. Blige and Rob Morgan. Then shortly after that, I did Burden with Forrest Whitaker, Tom Wilkinson, Andrea Riseborough and Usher. It was back- to-back with these two films. I was lucky enough to have two directors that really wanted to experience the characters through us. That’s one of those things that you get out of it what you put into it. I’m proud of those two films back-to-back.
It was from that moment. Now at this point, I’ve worked with directors like Wolfgang Petersen, Peter Berg, John Singleton, Walter Selles, the Coen Brothers, Ang Lee, Steven Soderbergh and Joe Kosinski.
Validation that you’d arrived and subsequently had staying power.
It was just a wonderful stamp of approval to follow your instincts and intuition. Now, it’s time to fly. Before, after each take, maybe I’d be looking around or hoping and praying that they thought maybe I had boundaries, that I couldn’t go further or do less. I couldn’t be more sadomasochistic, or I couldn’t be more minimal. That’s all I ever wanted was for each director to know that I have no boundaries. Please, marionette me.
[laughs] What a great way of putting it. We’re all fear-based to some degree. I think telling yourself “it’s time to fly” is a very powerful statement.
Absolutely. I saw this video the other day and it really epitomized the description of this—the difference between a buffalo and a cow.
A buffalo and a cow walked into a bar. [laughs] Not quite. They can both sense when a storm’s coming, but the buffalo runs towards the storm and the cow runs away. The cow keeps running, gets exhausted and drained. It’s beat and it’s weak and the storm hasn’t even hit yet. It’s gone through hell before the storm even hits. Then the storm tosses the cow around, leaves him somewhere far away, whittled and weary. He went through the worst.
But the buffalo ran toward the storm. He was in the storm. It sucked for a bit, but he got out the other side and was happy again quite quickly.
I like throwing myself towards the storm.
Coming out the other side emerging stronger that you survived.
Randy Mastronicola is the editor and publisher of Cigar & Spirits Magazine.