IAR INTERVIEW: Reese Witherspoon and Jean-Marc Vallee Talk 'Wild'

Wednesday, 03 December 2014 14:05 Written by  iamrogue
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IAR INTERVIEW: Reese Witherspoon and Jean-Marc Vallee Talk 'Wild'

Filming Wild, which opens in select cities today, Reese Witherspoon was far from the luxuries you might associate with a star of her stature.

"The shooting part was five weeks. It was fifty-five locations in thirty-five days," she told IAR during a roundtable interview. "We were going and going and going."

"I was tired. And this guy would not let me wear any makeup," she said, pointing to her director, Jean-Marc Vallée. "So you see it all on my face."

"One time he said, 'Cut. She looks like she is in a hair commercial. Put more grease in her hair,'" Witherspoon recalled. "Afterwards, I am like, 'Can I wash my hair?'"

"Do you see how raw and beautiful at the same time? It shows her, and we are like, 'Wow! They are not trying to show off here. They are not trying to make her look pretty and beautiful.' It is just trying to be real," said Vallée. "At the same time, this real, she looks amazing on the trail with the sun in her face. It is not backlit like it is supposed to give her a nice hair thing."

If you recognize the name Jean-Marc Vallée, it's probably because he directed last year's Dallas Buyers Club, which propelled both Matthew McConaughy and Jared Leto to Oscar glory.  For Wild, he teams with Witherspoon, who won an Academy Award of her own for her performance in 2006's Walk the Line.

She stars in Wild as a woman who, with a wake of bad decisions and recent catastrophes right behind her, decided to set out on a remarkable journey: a more than 1,000 mile solo odyssey on the Pacific Crest Trail from Southern California to the Bridge of the Gods separating Oregon and Washington.  Even more remarkable, she undertook this cathartic quest with zero hiking experience.

The film is based on the memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed.  The bestselling book has a passionate following and Witherspoon, who also produced, counted herself among them.

"I just thought the book was amazing. Not that she had gone on this journey, but the fact that she had reflected back on her life and what she had learned," she said.

"She had learned so much about what she sees as metaphors like that Greg left and she did not or she was capable of carrying her entire life on her back. So many little things. Just when you think you are drowning, you are actually pulling yourself out of the emotional wilderness. It was important to be told. So many people struggle. So many people do not have money. So many people do not have parents. So many people have no opportunity," the actress continued. "They do not know what they are going to do to get by. I really identify with that idea that you have to save yourself. No one is going to come in and save you."

The memoir, published in 2012, describes Strayed's experience from more than a decade earlier. "I do not think she recognized a change in herself until fifteen years later. She started going back and looking at her journals from when she was there," Witherspoon explained.

"She always knew she wanted to tell a story, but I do not know what her moment was when she actually decided to write the book, but said, 'I could not have written it when I was twenty-seven when I finished the hike. I did not have the pieces together that taught me.' I think she did not know how to put it into words, which is beautiful. I love that during the whole movie the voiceover is in real time when you are with her. And I love that the last voiceover is actually her older, reflecting on herself."

As Strayed, Witherspoon faced the unique challenge of portraying a real-life person.  Asked if she based her portrayal on face-to-face interaction with the real Strayed, Witherspoon answered, "Well I think it is fundamental to my performance. I was a little nervous about her being on set that it was going to be a distraction, but it actually ended up helping me a lot. I started to internalize her a lot, and being around her, you like her so much that you just want to kind of be like her."

For his part, Vallée was struck by the cognitive dissonance between the actual Strayed and his expectations of a woman whose life has included heroin addiction and all manner of self-destructive behavior.

"It is funny. There is a serenity, something surreal about that woman," he said. "When you meet her, you want to be friends with her first, and then you go, 'My God. She went through all of this.' The normal human reflex would be, 'I did not have it easy. No wonder I am not doing this and that. It is because of my parents. I got abused.' She acts like it never happened. And she acts like she is on top and in control. A beautiful wife. You see her eyes, her looks, her smile, the way she lives, the way she talks. It is impressive."

"She is funny too. You can say she is very funny," Witherspoon chimed in. "She is very self-deprecating, unapologetic about choices she has made in her life. Something about that is so liberating for me to see a woman unapologetic about her sexual experiences, about her drug past, about her naked desire and not apologizing for it. She is saying, 'That is part of who I am. Deal with it. Sorry.'"

Many reviews of the critically acclaimed film have noted that Strayed's journey is of a type usually reserved for male heroes onscreen.

"I think it is undeniable how much there is an audience for these films, and I think how much people are hungry to see real, honest women on film. Complex, not likeable, not palatable, not friendly. There are all different kinds of people in the world. And we see a great range of men in movies. Whether you like or do not like Amy Dunne in Gone Girl, she is a conversation starter," said Witherspoon, who also produced that sensational thriller.

With the source material, Wild already had a literary pedigree, but it didn't stop at Strayed.  The screenplay is credited to the novelist behind books like High Fidelity, A Long Way Down, and About a Boy

That's right, Wild was adapted by Nick Hornby, who Vallée said, "did an amazing first pass. He came up with the structure using voiceover in the present tense and using sixty-five percent of the structure on the actual trail while sometimes meeting people, but the main obstacle is first nature. Nature is an enemy. Throughout the film nature is going to become her friend. And the other major obstacle is her answer. So she is the hero and the villain, and her own demons. So we are going to find that out with the flashbacks."

Even despite the flashback structure of the film, Witherspoon is clearly the lynchpin of the whole operation.  As Strayed, the actress carried Wild on her back much like the hiker's pack piled high with gear that she more literally carried throughout the production in Oregon.

"I was never out of it," she said of the grueling shoot. "That was the thing because I am the only person on the trail pretty much a lot of the times, so it almost felt like a documentary. I literally have no makeup on my face, I am carrying the real backpack, I was not allowed to see or touch any of the props before you actually see me filming them try to put the tent together and start a fire. I literally do not know what I am doing. It was like National Geographic."

"I started to just forget the camera was there because you had to hike up and then you had to hike back down, hike up and then hike back down again. It starts to be this quiet meditation," she continued. "I am just by myself all the time really far away. Then I would have to wait for everybody to come get me."

Wild opens in limited release Wednesday, December 4th and will expand to more and more theaters in the weeks that follow, so check a theater near you.

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