TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL–The book by Cheryl Strayed Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail came out in 2012 and stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for 74 weeks, hitting number one in July of that year. It is a story of courage and fear and how one woman found herself again after losing it to heroin and infidelity, anger and sadness.
Eleven months ago, the script made it to Jean-Marc Vallée – the Oscar-nominated director from last year’s “Dallas Buyers Club” – and in Hollywood time, less than a year for a film to hire a director and make it to premiere at TIFF is a very short time.
Vallée had lost his mother to cancer and could relate to the loss Strayed had experienced, but mainly he was attracted to her story of how life can be tough and cruel and how she healed and saved herself from those depravities.
“I knew I had amazing, powerful, emotional material, but also material that allows the director to have fun with the language, the camera, the editing and the music,” offered Vallée at the TIFF press conference yesterday. “I wanted to be wild with this toy.”
It is quite the emotional ride the audience gets to take with Strayed on her quest for happiness, and even Witherspoon – admitting to crying with the director in their initial conversations about how to develop this story – teared up when saying that her singular goal with this film was to honor Strayed’s life and make her happy with the film.
Here are a few other poignant moments from Witherspoon, Strayed, Vallée, screenwriter Nick Hornby and co-star Laura Dern at the press conference:
Reese on why she wanted to make this film: “My agent sent me the book and I read it in 24 hours. I told my agent, ‘I don’t’ know who this woman is, but I have to talk to her, I need to hug her.’ I knew it’d be one of the most important books in my life, and it really has been. It’s such a beautiful journey to save yourself. I told her if she’d give me the option to the book, I’d promise to honor her life and I will get it made quickly.”
Cheryl on why Reese was the right one to make a movie about her life: “It all started with Reese. She read the book before it was published and called me. She’s an incredible actress and has brought something really interesting to all her roles, but I wanted to know in particular why she wanted to bring this story to the screen and why she thought it could be adapted. Everything she said thrilled me to the bone. We connected and felt like old friends pretty quickly. I trusted my gut, and it was a good feeling with her.”
Reese on the physicality of her role: “When I first showed up on set, I thought for sure they’d just stuff newspaper in the backpack. Immediately Jean-Marc asked why it didn’t look heavy. I said, ‘Well, I’m gonna pretend it’s heavy,’ and he said no way. They made it actually really heavy. But it did change the way I walked and how it dug into my shoulders and how quickly my body got tired. After the film I missed it. It had been like an appendage.
“Also, Jean-Marc had asked that all the mirrors be covered on set. He told me in the makeup tests that we weren’t going to have makeup for me, and I thought well maybe just mascara, a little cover up. He said no, no makeup. I’m willing to try anything once, and it was raw. I never saw myself in a movie like that before. But if Cheryl is brave enough to tell every part of her story, then I had to be brave enough to throw away my vanity and go for it.”
Laura on the frequency of getting scripts with this depth: “Never. [she laughs] It speaks so much to Cheryl’s extraordinary authenticity as a person and a woman, and this shared beauty between Nick [Hornby] of diving deep fearlessly into the truth, which is something actors long to be inspired by and very rarely get. Before you’ve even started, they’ve already required you to be your most honest self. It’s one thing to get to be on this as an actor, it’s another to learn about being a human being from Cheryl’s story, and that was a blessing.”
Cheryl on who this film is for: “One of the things I was adamant about from the beginning is that this isn’t a book for women. I am a feminist. I love to tell stories of women, but I also think a woman’s story is a human story. That’s what I am interested in as an artist. I’m interested in answering what does it mean to be human? I just insisted from the beginning that the book not be marginalized in this way. And it wasn’t. At least half of my fan mail is from men. It helps to have a hiking boot on the cover, fyi.
“It also mattered to me that the film had that integrity and was pleasing to the people that loved the book. This [wasn’t] a book for women, and it’s not a film for women. It’s a film for people.”
Jean-Marc: “Chick Flick my ass!”