Comic-Con: Celebrating TRON, Crowning the Arrival of Garrett Hedlund

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There were plenty of big announcements at 2010 Comic-Con. Guillermo Del Toro said he was going to direct a Haunted Mansion remake. Marvel gave loyalists the biggest headline of the fest with the on-screen appearance of all the Avengers standing side by side, even Mark Ruffalo as Edward Norton’s replacement.

But I said all the way back on Thursday that TRON: Legacy was the biggest title of 2010′s party. And that point only became more clear during Friday night’s A-list TRON party, when the dancing came to a halt each and every time they showed any footage of the movie.

Make no mistake: This is the movie of the year for the Comic-Con world, and just as last year Avatar made an overnight star of Sam Worthington, so it is this year with Garrett Hedlund – or who we will soon come to celebrate as Sam Flynn. Check him out:

There was certainly the sense that this movie star was being born Friday afternoon in San Diego. Around 2 p.m., in the middle of the bustling Comic-Con foot traffic, Hedlund made a surprise appearance on the floor of the convention, to get his first look at the action figures made in his likeness. The young movie star, the talk of the town as the TRON buzz has spread like a virus, checked out his own line of toys, as a crowd started to gather, snapping photos and bringing the flow of passersby to a standstill.

I was the first one allowed to jump into the TRON booth – cameras still clicking away – to ask Hedlund a few questions about the big-screen reboot, and what it was like to work side by side with the great Jeff Bridges (be sure to check out our complete Bridges interview). And it was instantly clear that Hedlund, suave as he is, was a little taken aback by the crowds, the flashes and the cheers that lifted up from the crowd. This is the year of TRON, and Hedlund is in the eye of the storm, struggling to process all the jubilation surrounding his biggest movie to date. A couple highlights from our conversation:

I saw that they whisked you away pretty quickly from the first panel yesterday, is this your first time in the middle of the floor, where you can see the excitement that’s bubbling around here?

Yeah, man, this is powerful, but it’s great (he paused to look around the mobbed TRON booth). I came to Comic-Con once before for another film, but this is a whole other vehicle, a whole other ride and TRON: Legacy wouldn’t exist without all the support of people at previous Comic-Cons.

And also Jeff Bridges – I can’t tell you how many people have been buzzing about him. What was it like to get to work with him, side by side, in returning to the universe that he helped to make so famous?

I’ve had a lot of surreal moments in my life. Some have been eerie in the way of psychic things, I’ve always had weird feelings about things. And I always had the sense that I’d work with Jeff Bridges and to get to work with him in a father-son sort of duo is beyond anything I ever hoped for. Back when I did Friday Night Lights, the director Peter Berg had said, ‘You remind me of someone,’ and this was the very first day, ‘I can’t get it, it’s right on the tip of my tongue.’ And then on the last day he said: ‘I got it: Jeff Bridges.’ And that’s why when I got the part, actually working with Jeff, I really flipped out.

As for being on the set with him, I don’t know any other word but ‘Blessing.’ I’m trying to think of other words but that was it, working with him – he made me a much stronger actor – a much happier person, much happier actor, and to see him and how he composes himself on the set, it sets an example and a bar for anyone who is questioning. He makes you want to aspire to his level. He lives a happy life out of L.A., he’s not in the press, he works incredibly hard in every role that he does, and that’s what I took away. If you’re going to work on a film, work harder than everyone else. Take more notes than anyone else.

Did you find it easy to build a chemistry with Jeff, in the father-son setting? Or was it hard with a movie like this, where there’s so much special effects and computer graphics?

We spent a lot of time on that back and forth. A couple weeks of rehearsals, and even before that all started, we would meet up, Jeff and I and (director) Joseph Kosinski and the producers, and we would sit around a roundtable, and improvise scenes and the writer were there and we tried to use some of that – infuse that improvisational feel into the script, even as we started to understand each other more as actors.

Now I know you did some re-shoots back in February or March…

Those were actually just like a month and a half ago.

Oh, I didn’t realize it was that recent. Was it hard to get back into those roles after such a long break?

No, not at all. It was actually exciting. They got with Pixar, and tapped into some of their insights, and then collaborated with Skywalker Ranch, too, to get some insight with the sound. And you could see it was all just very smart, with how these guys dealt with it and found inspiration.

Did they add a lot of meatier stuff between you and Jeff?

There were a bunch of little tweaks, but they definitely infused more of the father-son dynamic, which I think will add a lot. It was just another step though in a really incredible experience – this whole thing has been the ride of a lifetime. Blessing is the only word I can think of.

Steve again: As Garrett shook my hand and smiled one of those happiest-moments-in-my-life grins, I gave up trying to ask a couple more questions as I was drowned out by screaming women who were trying to get a quick snapshot of the new Mr. Flynn. Garrett was only too happy to oblige. I stepped back, gave him the stage, made a quick exit, and joined the crowd.

As the cameras clicked away, there was no mistaking the fact that Garrett Hedlund is a name we will be hearing a whole lot more about.