Beyond ‘TRON: Legacy’: Exploring the Work of Garrett Hedlund

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In the latest installment of our Beyond actors series, we’re exploring the work of Garrett Hedlund. From growing up on a farm in Minnesota to being cast in his debut feature film — the Brad Pitt-led Troy — very shortly after moving to Los Angeles to pursue his acting career at the age of 18, Hedlund has built an impressive filmography for himself over the course of two decades.

Hedlund left his mark on various iconic titles of the early 2000s, ranging from things like Friday Night Lights, to the unforgettable Four Brothers, to Death Sentence. And when 2010 came around, he went big with Disney’s blockbuster TRON: Legacy — the epic sequel to the 1982 cult classic — in which he took on the leading role of Sam Flynn. While the planned third TRON film never quite came fruition, Hedlund’s career carried on with a diverse collection of films.

Regardless of the genre, over the years, Hedlund has proven he has a knack for consistently bringing characters to life with a deeply charming, emotionally honest edge, something which continues to set his work apart. Let’s take a look back at some of Hedlund’s other notable roles.

Country Strong (2010)

Leighton Meester and Garrett Hedlund in Country Strong
Sony Pictures

Hedlund stars alongside Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw (reuniting after playing father and son in Friday Night Lights), and Leighton Meester in Country Strong, a film that follows the story of Kelly Canter, a recovering alcoholic and country music star. Kelly embarks on a small tour in an attempt to reignite the smoldering embers of her career following a stint in rehab, bringing a couple of young musicians along for the ride with her. Hedlund is undoubtedly the heart and soul of the film, putting on a downright captivating performance (both on the stage and off) as the perpetually charming and fiercely talented singer-songwriter Beau Hutton.

While Hedlund may seem like an absolute natural at strumming the guitar and singing song after song with his deep, soothing country twang, he didn’t actually have experience as a musician prior to filming. Rather, he spent months taking lessons in order to be able to perform as skillfully as he did for the film (dedication which entirely paid off, given the final results).

Triple Frontier (2019)

Melinda Sue Gordon/Netflix

Triple Frontier follows a group of five former special forces operatives that reunite for a mission to take down a South American drug lord. The film touts an all-star cast lineup, which sees Hedlund reunite with co-star Oscar Isaac for the pair’s third film together. In addition to Hedlund’s longtime pal Charlie Hunnam, the movie also stars Pedro Pascal and Ben Affleck. When the operation doesn’t quite go as planned, the team finds themselves in over their heads, and there’s hardly a dull moment to be found in Triple Frontier as the men make their way across a dangerous, scenic landscape with far more money than they bargained for.

Hedlund portrays Benny Miller, an MMA fighter and younger brother to Hunnam’s Will “Ironhead” Miller. Triple Frontier had a long and winding road that took nearly a decade to make it to the big screen, and the faces attached to the film changed time and time again over the years. But when it finally came to be, it amassed the perfect storm of talent (the best part of the film is the chemistry between its actors), delivering an enthralling, high energy, globe-trotting heist story.

Where to watch: Netflix

On the Road (2012)

IFC Films

An adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s 1957 novel by the same name, On the Road touts an ensemble cast that — in addition to Hedlund — includes the likes of Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart, Tom Sturridge, Viggo Mortensen, and more. When Riley’s Sal Paradise meets Hedlund’s Dean Moriarty one fateful day in 1947, the trajectory of the young writer’s life is completely redefined. Full of road trips, good and bad decisions alike, and long days that turn into even longer nights, On the Road is a poetic whirlwind of a journey from start to finish.

Hey Sal … I love you as ever. – Dean Moriarty

Hedlund gives a no-holds-barred performance as the enthusiastic, free-spirited, easygoing Dean. He carries the film’s frenetically hypnotizing rhythm with ease as he alluringly captivates viewers in the same manner his character enraptured Sal — wildly laughing, kissing, loving, and dancing his way through life — until his disregard for responsibility and obsession with freedom make him the film’s most tragic character by its close.

Where to watch: Kanopy

Dirt Music (2019)

David Dare Parker

Dirt Music brings author Tim Winton’s novel to life on the canvas of a stunningly beautiful Western Australian backdrop. This romantic drama follows the story of Georgie Jutland (Kelly Macdonald), a woman whose life is turned upside down by a chance meeting with the town’s mysterious loner, Lu Fox (Hedlund). Endlessly haunted by the tragic loss of his family, Lu is a soft-spoken, broken man — and Georgie is understandably drawn to him like a magnet. Hedlund’s profound, sun-kissed performance, for which he dons an Australian accent, is both incredibly heartbreaking and entirely compelling.

I knew what it meant to touch you. – Lu Fox

And given the title, music does indeed play a part in the film, as Lu used to play in a band with Darkie and Sal before he lost them. Hedlund picks back up the guitar for Dirt Music, singing a collection of emotionally resonating tunes that will stick with viewers long after the credits finish rolling.

Where to watch: Hulu

Burden (2018)

Garrett Hedlund and Forest Whitaker in Burden
101 Studios

Hedlund stars alongside Forest Whitaker, Andrea Riseborough, Usher, and Tom Wilkinson in Burden. Inspired by true events, the film follows the story of Hedlund’s Mike Burden, a member of the Ku Klux Klan. When he falls in love with single mother Judy Harbeson, he finds himself at a crossroads, eventually making the decision to leave his life with the hate group behind — though his fellow Klansmen are hesitant to let him do so in peace. A compelling look at the power of hope, love, and faith, Burden is hard-hitting film that doesn’t shy away from telling a difficult and painful story.

Mike is a complicated character torn between the ideals of hatred and violence that he was raised on as an orphan and the path of love and forgiveness that the patient and devout Reverend David Kennedy has selflessly presented to him. Hedlund dives headfirst into this gripping portrayal, laying himself bare and wringing himself dry as Mike ricochets through a turbulent whirlwind of emotions on his path to redemption.

Mudbound (2017)

Steve Dietl/Netflix

Mudbound is a historical drama, based on the novel by Hillary Jordan, that follows the story of two World War II veterans as they return to life in rural Mississippi. Hedlund stars alongside Jason Mitchell, Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Mary J. Blige, and Rob Morgan. The film explores themes of racism and PTSD while Hedlund’s Jamie and Mitchell’s Ronsel find friendship in one another by bonding over their war experiences, despite the segregation and hatred that runs rampant across the muddy patch of land they inhabit. Critically recognized, the film received four Oscar nominations in addition to various well-earned accolades across other award ceremonies.

Hedlund’s Jamie McAllan is the polar opposite to his brother Henry, all easy smiles and confident charisma — something which, unsurprisingly, doesn’t fail to catch the eye of his brother’s wife Laura. However, after his time spent flying B-25 bombers overseas, there are deep cracks to be found surface of Jamie’s swaggering exterior when he makes his way back to the United States, not quite the same man he was before. Hedlund displays an impressive range as he pivots from endearing Southern gentleman to an emotionally frayed, traumatized war veteran, putting his all into the film’s riveting and poignant final act.

Where to watch: Netflix

Mosaic (2018)


In 2017, Steven Soderbergh launched the unique entertainment experience known as Mosaic. The murder mystery — which follows the death a children’s author named Olivia Lake (Sharon Stone) — began as a mobile app that functioned like an interactive film, providing audiences with materials to investigate the case and view the plot from various perspectives to determine what really happened. Shortly after the launch of the app, Mosaic was released as a six-part HBO series in 2018, condensing the app’s content into a singular viewing experience.

Hedlund stars as Joel Hurley, an aspiring artist living on Olivia’s property at the time of her death. Years later, when the nature of the author’s death is re-examined, Joel finds himself taking an unwanted walk down memory lane as his own whereabouts on that night are called into question. Hedlund’s standout performance as Joel is equal parts harrowing, intense, and entertaining.

Where to watch: HBO Max

Honorable Mentions

  • Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) – A must-watch Coen brothers masterpiece
  • Mojave (2015) – A brooding director crosses paths with a homidical drifter, what could go wrong?
  • Pan (2015) – A fun, whimsical departure from Hedlund’s usual fare
  • Lullaby (2014) – Worth it alone for Hedlund’s heart-wrenching performance of the song “Fall Apart”

Strawberry Spring (2021)

Strawberry Spring Podcast
Audio Up Media

Based on Stephen King’s short story, Strawberry Spring is a scripted horror podcast set on the campus of New Sharon College in New England in 1968. The eight-episode series, which follows the tale of the horrific acts of a modern day Jack the Ripper — Springheel Jack, sees Garrett Hedlund in its titular role alongside Sydney Sweeney, Milo Ventimiglia, and Herizen Guardiola. Hedlund dives into a mysterious, enthralling, and downright chilling character study in his ASMR-worthy portrayal of Henry Denton.


Cover artwork by Bryan Douglas

Hedlund’s remarkable musical talents on-screen finally led him to begin releasing music as a solo artist in 2022. Starting off the year with his first single, “The Road,” he has since released “Tulsa Night,” “More Like Home,” and most recently, a lovely track called “Best Ones.” Additionally, he collaborated with Scarlett Burke on two songs for her scripted country music podcast Make It Up As We Go. Fans of Hedlund’s music can look forward to an upcoming duet version of “Tulsa Night” eventually as well. (And because we’re all thinking it, let’s hope for a full album next!)

In addition to Hedlund’s most recent film, Hulu’s The United States vs. Billie Holiday, he also appeared in an episode of Reservation Dogs and Prime Video’s New York Times column-inspired series, Modern Love.

Hedlund has several projects in the works, with the next being Taylor Sheridan’s Tulsa King starring Sylvester Stallone — which recently wrapped production. The series is due to premiere on Paramount+ on November 13.

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By Lindsey
Lindsey joined the Nerds and Beyond team in 2018. If she's not writing or out and about with her camera, she's probably watching anime, nerding out over Star Wars, reading manga, and definitely forgetting to water her plants. And waiting for the Genshin loading screen to pop up. Contact:
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