Interview: Reese Witherspoon experiences life in ‘The Wild’

By Ed Symkus More Content Now
Posted Nov. 28, 2014 @ 7:50 am
Updated Nov 28, 2014 at 8:39 AM

When Reese Witherspoon first set eyes upon and quickly devoured Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 memoir “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail,” she knew it was the right stuff for a movie.
A young woman, empty, miserable, living a life with no direction, decides to do a solo hike, covering the 1,100 miles along the West Coast between Mexico and Canada, and comes out of the experience a profoundly changed person.
The film adaptation, written for the screen by novelist Nick Hornby (“High Fidelity,” “About a Boy”) and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (“Dallas Buyers Club”) had its title shortened to “Wild,” but it remains a bigger-than-life story.
Witherspoon produced the sometimes grueling, ultimately uplifting film, and stars as Strayed. She spoke about the experience of making it at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Q: What was it about the book that made you want to turn it into a film?
A: My agent sent me the book. I read it within 24 hours and immediately called her back and said, “I don’t know who Cheryl Strayed is, but I have to talk to her. I feel like I’ve known her and I need to hug her.”
So they got me her telephone number, and I called her. I already knew it was one of the most important books of my life. It’s about a beautiful journey to save yourself.
I said to Cheryl, “If you give me the option to the book, I promise I will honor your life, and I will get the movie made and get it made quickly. I won’t let it languish around Hollywood.”
She agreed to do it, and I was really fortunate.
Q: The hike lasted three months, and the film goes for a feeling of reality. So you don’t exactly look like your usual glamorous self up there on the screen.
A: Jean-Marc asked that all the mirrors be covered in the hair and makeup trailer and in my trailer. That was fine. When we were doing the hair and makeup tests, he said, “I want to make sure you don’t have your hair done and you don’t wear any makeup.”
I said to him, “Well, how about just a little makeup? Like, mascara and a little cover up, like a no-makeup look.” And he said, “No. No makeup.” I said, “OK, I’m willing to try anything.” They showed me the dailies, and it was raw. I’d never seen myself like that in a movie. But if Cheryl could be brave enough to tell every part of her story, I had to be brave enough to throw away my vanity.
Q: You appear to be struggling with your huge backpack in the film. Did it really weigh 75 pounds?
A: When I first showed up on-set, I figured, “It’s a movie, they’ll just stuff newspaper in the back. It won’t be heavy. It’s no big deal.” But Jean-Marc immediately said, “Why does the backpack not look heavy on your back?” (laughs) So I said, “Well, because I’m gonna pretend that it’s heavy.” But he said, “No, no, it actually has to be heavy.
I thought, “You’re kidding, this is a joke.” But it was great. Because it dug into my shoulders and it actually changed the way I walked, and my body got tired so quickly from carrying the thing. But after five and a half weeks of carrying it on my back, I got so used to it, it was like an appendage, and I really missed it when it was gone.
Q: What did you end up learning about yourself from this experience?
A: I learned what my body was capable of doing. I had a lot of fear before I started the film that I wasn’t going to be able to physically accomplish a lot of the things that Jean-Marc was going to want me to do. But I was able to do it, which was exciting.
Moreover, I was really struck by what a universal experience it was for so many people who were connecting to the story, whether it was people on the crew or people who had read the book. Cheryl was on set a lot, and I was struck by how many women and men came up and told some part of their story to her.
That was profound for me. Because when you read a book, it feels very personal to you, and I didn’t know if everybody was as interested in this material as I was. So it was really a revelation for me to see how far-reaching it was.
Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now.

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