Wild is based on a hiking memoir by Cheryl Strayed, which was adapted to the screen by Nick Hornby. In the film, Cheryl (played by Reese Witherspoon) is shown going on a solo 1100-mile hike across the Pacific Coast trail. This trek is a journey that helps her go beyond the reckless lifestyle she’s led and lets her come to terms with a disturbing past. The film is a journey about finding oneself in the company of nature and just letting go.
Watch the video of the press conference and our questions to the panel (24:16):
Or read what they said here:
I have two questions here. One is for Cheryl. In the scene where you are seen letting go of your items you’re travelling with, I kind of also symbolically interpreted this as almost a sign of letting go of things. In real life, was that symbolic of that?
And my question to Nick is what technical criteria did you set aside so that you can adapt something that’s been written as a book onto the screen? It could have been like a geography book. And if not a geography book, it might not have been adaptable to the screen perhaps. So what technical criteria did you use to decide what things would stay and what would go?
Cheryl Strayed: The beauty of writing about an experience like a hike or backpacking trip is yes, the physical world lent itself or the literal world lent itself very easily to the metaphorical, which is so often what you are working in as a writer or trying to. If anything, I had to tone down what happened in real life because it was so metaphorical. I would say I had this weight that I couldn’t bear. I had to bear the unbearable. It can almost become heavy handed. That is what Wild is about. How is it that we bear the unbearable? One step at a time. So you can pretty quickly become a book of aphorisms or a little bit trite. So I was very conscious of that.
On the other hand, I had this great material that lent itself to it. I really did not want to write a book about my hike. I really did not want to write a book about myself because nobody wants to read that. Nobody needs to read that. What I really wanted to do was tell a story that was about all of us. How is it that we survive what we think we can’t? How do we move forward even when we suffer? Those were the big questions I was reaching for in writing Wild. I had this wonderful literal experience that I could use. And so, I did. Nick?
Nick Hornby: I’ll tell you a little story about how I got involved in this project. Cheryl and I were friends on Facebook before Wild was published. And I didn`t really, in the way that Facebook friends can be, I have to say that I didn’t really know her or who she was.
Cheryl: (Laughing) I knew you though.
Nick: (Looking towards me) Maybe she knew me. I was looking at my feed and a friend of Cheryl’s had posted a review that appeared in the New York Times as well. And quite often, if you have got a lot of friends who are writers on Facebook, they quite often post reviews. And quite often, these reviews are by their mum or by their best friends and you think, here’s a writer posting a review on her web page.
I looked at it and it was the New York Times. And I thought ‘Oh, Okay’. The review was unbelievable. It was just an incredible review. And I immediately ordered the book from America. It hadn’t been published in the U.K. at that stage. And then this book came and when Cheryl said, “It helps to publish if you put a pair of hiking boots on the cover.” When that book arrived, I thought ‘Oh God’. It’s about bloody hiking. And you know, I am not a hiker. I don’t go outside very often. I have no interest in the natural world at all. I like my music and my books and television. I watch a lot of television. And I thought, okay, alright, this book’s supposed to be so great. And then I started reading it and I thought, ‘Oh my God.’
And for me, it was a really loud, angry beautiful song. I was thinking all the way through about the tour that Bruce Springsteen did in America in 1978 where the shows night after night after night were just incredible. That was the tone of Wild for me. And it’s written from the point of view of someone who understands that I wouldn’t like this book actually. Cheryl’s not saying, ‘Okay, I am going to tell you all about hiking and why it’s so great and this is the equipment you need.’
I promise you I would not have adapted that book. It was a book about a person and a person put in an extraordinary situation. And I was on that walk with her. And it made me very unhappy and uncomfortable to be on that walk with her. But I was desperate to try and adapt this for the screen. Tonally, there’s so much that was fantastic. It’s a funny book and it’s a desperately sad book and it’s an angry book and I thought the minor characters were fantastic. I thought the central relationships were fantastic. There was so much that I wanted to see on screen. There was no technical criterion that I had. I just wanted to get in as much of it as I could and to put it an order that would make sense for the audience. So that was it really. Sorry that was a long answer but thank you.