Dunst joins Stewart ‘On the Road’

Kerouac adaptation moves forward after years in development

Kirsten Dunst has joined the cast of “On the Road,” Walter Salles and Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s 1957 novel.

Cast also stars Kristen Stewart, Sam Riley (“Control”) and Garrett Hedlund (“Tron: Legacy”) who have stuck to the project through its long evolution, in some cases for a couple years, said Salles.

French mini-major MK2, which exec produces and handles international sales on the $25 million pic, has inked the first major distribution deals with European outfits — Concorde Filmverleih for German-speaking territories and Cineart for Benelux. It’s in negotiations for several major territories, including the U.K., Australia and the Middle East.

Concorde has released upscale arthouse movies such as “The Class,” as well as films by acclaimed auteurs such as Claude Chabrol and Michael Haneke, and will release Woody Allen’s Out-of-Competition pic “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.”

Cineart has had a long relationship with Salles, notably handling “The Motorcycle Diaries,” “Central Station” and “Linha de Passe.”

Pic has long been a passion project of Salles and Coppola, who acquired the rights three decades ago. Salles started developing the project in 2005 with Focus Features and Pathe Intl., which were set to handle worldwide distribution rights. But the pic couldn’t get financed.

Now set up at MK2, pic is produced by Nathanael Karmitz and Charles Gillibert, whom Salles said “bring a vital, fresh, creative look into producing the film, and a very European approach based on their past experiences with independent directors.”

Karmitz and Gillibert set up the film as Franco-Brazilian co-production to keep the budget in a reasonable range. “That allows us to tap into subsidies and ink some TV pre-sales.”

Added the producers: “We anticipated a penury of indie films with strong commercial potential on the market, and ‘On the Road’ we think fits that bill perfectly.”

In the long haul to getting “Road” to the screen, the director traveled in Kerouac’s footsteps across the U.S. and gathered enough material for a documentary, “In Search of On the Road,” which is in production.

“The film greatly benefited from the extra time we had to conceptualize it,” said Salles. “The unedited scroll version was published recently and inspired a new version of the screenplay written by Jose Rivera that is at the same time more luminous, daring and muscular than the one we had at the start.”

Coppola will produce via his San Francisco-based American Zoetrope. Salles’ Rio de Janeiro-based Videofilmes and the U.K.’s Film4 will co-produce.

Salles, who will direct, reunites with the creative team behind “The Motorcycle Diaries,” including Los Angeles Film Festival director Rebecca Yeldham, who will produce, scribe Jose Rivera, d.p. Eric Gautier, production designer Carlos Conti and composer Gustavo Santaolalla.

Shooting is due to start in August.