- RatedM18 /GenreBiography, Drama
In 1995, 26-year-old Cheryl Strayed, carrying a backpack nearly half her weight, embarked on a soul-searching 1,770km solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, from Southern California's Mojave Desert to the Bridge of the Gods in Oregon, US.
But it is not the physical feat of the hike that made 'Wild', her 2012 memoir of her journey, a hit with readers.
It is about how Strayed hit rock bottom – losing her mother to cancer, becoming a heroin addict and splitting from her husband – and climbing out of it that captivated many.
‘Wild’ is more than just a hiker’s survival guide; it is a guide to surviving grief and addressing one’s fears.
A regular on The New York Times' bestseller list, ‘Wild’ has now been turned into a movie, produced by and starring Reese Witherspoon – who has been nominated for a best actress Oscar.
Laura Dern, who plays Strayed’s mother, is nominated for best supporting actress. The movie opened in Singapore 5 February.
Speaking to inSing from her home in Portland, Oregon, Strayed, now 46, cannot believe where her life has taken her.
“The biggest emotion I had watching and reliving my experience was thinking how far I’ve travelled and came from the life I had to this place where I’ve become the writer I want to be and having a movie about myself made.
“It exceeds any dream that I ever had,” she said.
Here, Strayed speaks about how Witherspoon and her are alike, the experience of watching her life on screen, and why stories like hers captivate people.
On the experience of watching her life unfolding on the big screen
"It’s the strangest experience you can possibly imagine, especially because the movie is so true to the book. I was watching scenes that are right from my life, so that was an uncanny experience.
I’m always surprised when I watch the movie again. I always think, ‘How can this be?’ How can this woman be playing me in this movie?’"
On Reese Witherspoon playing her in the movie
"It is such a great role for an actress. There are so many different roles for women that are not lead roles where they get to show their stuff.
I asked myself who would be good to play me. I thought about Reese Witherspoon. I knew that she’s a great actress with a great range."
Strayed in 1995 (left) and Reese Witherspoon in 'Wild' | Photos: 20th Century Fox
I also sensed that she’s also a real person underneath that Hollywood veneer. I wanted to have somebody who can bring her true self to the role."
On how she and Witherspoon have an emotional connection
"I think that Reese and I are very similar. We live our lives emotionally and we’re very intuitive. Even though we have very different life experiences, she understood my journey.
We’re both artistes – she’s an actress while I’m a writer – but we have to make our own way in the world. It felt like we’re sisters.
Her mother also lost her own mother very young. When Reese was playing me in the movie, acting out my grief over my mother, in so many ways, she is telling her own’s mother’s story.
(From left) Actress Laura Dern, author Cheryl Strayed and actress Reese Witherspoon at the 'Wild' premiere in Beverly Hills, US | Photo: AFP
She watched her mother experience the same loss. She brought that personal experience to the role and that’s why it's so real."
On Laura Dern’s performance as her mother
"Laura doesn’t look at all like my mother. They couldn’t be more different physically. But from the way they behave, it is so similar. They’re both so optimistic and full of life. If you meet her, she’ll give you this wonderful smile.
My daughter (Bobbi Strayed Lindstrom) plays the younger me in the movie. Watching Laura and her interact on set and in the movie, I felt that Laura really embodies my mother. Through Laura, my daughter got to know the grandmother she never knew."
On how she made sure the film feels authentic
"I was very involved in the movie. I was part of the team. I was on the set with the team. I read the script and weighed in on it. I helped edit the movie.
They always asked what I thought and they welcomed the feedback. I wasn’t a diva about it. I didn’t want to impose myself on the movie. I wanted them to carry out their vision. And their vision was really true to my story. It was a wonderful collaboration."
On the scenes that best captures her ‘Wild’ experience
"I love the scene where Reese is loading the backpack and then realises she can’t pick it up. It’s a funny scene but it shows how vulnerable I was. I have to lift that backpack so I can leave. It’s a beautiful metaphor for what we have to do to transform ourselves – which is that it is not easy but you still have to do it.
Reese Witherspoon is nominated for a best actress Oscar for her performance in 'Wild' | Photo: 20th Century Fox
I also love the scene where Reese reaches the Bridge of the Gods. I love that beautiful moment where you see a woman reach the end of her destination. She doesn’t have any money, no job and no man. She’s alone but we know that she’s going to be all right.
I love that the filmmakers chose not to give the movie a 'Hollywood' ending, where the woman at the end has to get married and live happily ever after."
On why audiences are captivated with stories of people who embark on journeys of self-discovery
"It’s a universal and ancient story of journey. Most of us need to, at some point in our lives, have some experience that takes us outside of our lives where we can learn more about ourselves and understand the world.
A lot of people relate to that. They’ve either done it themselves or feel the need to do it.
When I was telling my story, I was 'speaking' to an ancient human experience that goes all the way back to our earliest literature."
‘Wild’ opens 5 February 2015