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Cheryl Strayed On 'Wild'

Reese Witherspoon, who plays “Cheryl” in the new film “Wild,” gathered with her fellow actors and actresses at Cinema 21 in Portland to celebrate the premiere of the movie with a red carpet event.

The latest major feature film shot in Oregon premiered in Portland Monday night. “Wild” is the film adaptation of Portland writer Cheryl Strayed’s  2012 memoir.

It chronicles her hike along the Pacific Crest Trail after the death of her mother.

Cheryl Strayed, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, "Wild."

Cheryl Strayed, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, “Wild.”

Alan Sylvestre/OPB

Writer Nick Hornby, who gained fame for his novel “High Fidelity,” adapted the book for the screen. The film was directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, the Canadian director behind “Dallas Buyers Club”.

Here are some highlights from our conversation:

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What was it like to see the very personal moments of the memoir represented 40 feet tall on a screen in front of you?
It was something. It was startling…and moving…and beautiful. And there are sometimes that I sort of wince. [Director] Jean Marc Vallée had to very quickly convey the fact that I had been quite promiscuous in the years after my mom’s [death]. So he chose to have some scenes that weren’t actually things that I did in real life that made me go, “ooooh.”
But more often than not, the things that were so real and so true were what caused an emotional reaction in me.  The way that Laura Dern - who plays my mother - the way that she is lying there in the bed [after she dies], with these surgical gloves stuffed with ice that were on her face. And Reese comes into the room and sees her like that. That is the way I found out my Mom died. The words that the nurse says to her in that moment are the words that were said to me. That is I think really both the hardest and the most beautiful thing for me to watch.
To the extent that you wrote “Wild” to come to a sense of closure, how incredibly odd that this scab would just keep getting ripped off again and again through discussing the book and seeing the film made…
Absolutely, but my experience of it…it doesn’t feel like a scab being ripped off. What it really feels like to me — and this is so glorious — is, it feels like, wow, this is how far my mother’s love has travelled. I mean really. I cannot believe it. I cannot believe that. I mean, my mother lived an ordinary life. She was unknown. I don’t think she was ever on the radio.  I don’t think she was ever on TV. I don’t think she was ever interviewed f or anything but a job. And every day people talk to me and write to me and they use her name. They say “Bobbi.”
A lot of the people who worked on the film had never hiked the Pacific Crest Trail before…

No no. No. Not just hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. They’d never hiked.

Never hiked. No pack. No boots. Not a part of this. What do you think was the hardest thing to convey about what this experience was like?

I mean it began with [screenwriter] Nick Horby. He is not an outdoorsman, and he would be the first to admit it. He would email and would say, “Well, tell me some things that might happen on a hike.” He always jokes that when he got the book he was disappointed to see there was a hiking boot on the cover.
But what was really important for me to convey was how hard it was, on this micro level. Just things like my feet hurting, my back hurting, being hungry, craving food, being thirsty, having the cold and the heat and all those extremes. And in the midst of that, having the time of my life. I always would say to Reese, “Look around. Look at this beauty. Isn’t this amazing? Aren’t you lucky?” And that’s what I always felt on my hike and it was really important to me that she carried that sense of wonder in her performance.
The Cheryl Strayed that we read about in “Wild”, was so young and skittery. By the time we get to  “Dear Sugar”, “Torch” and “Wild”, you seem so much more grounded now. Do you have that feeling of security?

It’s a really interesting conundrum. When I’m writing about myself, there is always a slight difference between the person on the page and the person I am in real life. Because remember, the person I am on the page is me the writer telling you the whole candid, fearless truth of what is happening inside.
Trust me, if I decided to write about my interior life right now, I would come off as more skittery than maybe my calm exterior might belie. They’re both the true me. One is the private space that I’ve crafted into literature and one is the public self that I’ve crafted for public consumption and my own sense of security and well-being.
You’ve been on tour almost non-stop. What’s your time at home in Portland like?

It’s blissful. And kind of chaotic. I have been traveling so much. Sometimes my family can come with me and other times they can’t. And that’s really tricky. I mean I would say that’s the hardest thing [about the experience]. I say to my husband a lot ‘I think we’re going to look back at this time of our lives and just laugh and shake our heads in astonishment that we made it through.’
 And also just be grateful. You know, there are so many imperfections in my life. There are so many things that I meant to do and didn’t do, and emails I didn’t return. But in the end what matters is that I rose to this occasion. My mom always taught me to rise to the occasion. And I tell my kids that too when I explain to them why I have to travel or why I have to get up early to go to this interview or that. I say, ‘listen this wonderful thing happened in my life’ — and it’s part of their lives too, you know, they’ve had so many adventures because of “Wild” — ‘And I just want to be present for it. I want to be there for it. I want to show up.” And so I’m just getting through it. And then I’m going to rent a cave and go live in it.

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Strayed says she’s at work on two new stories, including a novel set in Portland.