In his exhilarating new adventure epic, Wild, director Jean-Marc Vallée brings best-selling author Cheryl Strayed’s acclaimed memoir to the screen based on screenwriter Nick Hornby’s powerful adaptation. Reese Witherspoon delivers a riveting performance as a woman who wants to change her life and decides to do it in an extraordinary way by embracing the call of the wild and embarking on a journey of self-discovery and redemption along the Pacific Crest Trail. Opening December 5th, Wild stands out from other wilderness epics in the remarkable way it takes a woman’s moving, transformative experience in a different, less expected direction.
At the film’s recent press day, I had the opportunity to sit down with Vallée to discuss why he chose Wild as his follow-up to last year’s Dallas Buyers Club. He revealed how the film changed from the initial script to the final version, the length of his first cut, the deleted scenes and extras we can expect on the DVD, how Hornby’s script and Witherspoon’s performance kept things interesting by refusing to play into stereotypes, what Witherspoon brought to her role, and his upcoming romantic drama, Demolition, written by Bryan Sipe and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper, and Judah Lewis. Check out our interview after the jump.
JEAN-MARC VALLEE: Thank you.
I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about why you chose this film as your follow-up to last year’s Dallas Buyers Club?
VALLEE: It came my way. It came across my desk and I just couldn’t refuse it. I mean, look at the film, look at the material – what great material, like this, so powerful on all levels, so emotional, and the kind of material that allows a director to have fun with the medium, to play with the medium, with the language, with editing, with thoughts, voiceover, flashbacks, sound, music. It was a dream project. I was supposed to shoot Demolition after Dallas Buyers Club, and then came Wild. And I asked the producers of Demolition if they would mind if I shot this one first, and they were nice enough and said, “Yes,” and here I am.
Did the film change a lot from inception to the final version?
VALLEE: From the script to the final version? No. I think Nick Hornby wrote a screenplay and a structure that is pretty much what you see on the screen right now. We just pushed a little bit further all the flashbacks use. There’s more to it, but it’s similar. And according to Cheryl, it respects [the source material]. It’s a good adaptation.
How long was your first cut and did you end up with a lot of deleted scenes?
VALLEE: The first cut is always long. You just put everything into it. It was close to 2-1/2 hours or something like that. I think you will find a couple of deleted scenes on the DVD and the bonus material, a few of them, maybe five or six, something like that.
Can you talk a little about how Hornby’s script and Witherspoon’s performance keep things interesting by refusing to play into stereotypes?
VALLEE: Well, it’s a blend. It’s a team effort. It’s not just two persons. Yes, it starts first with a script adapted from a book. So, it starts from Cheryl. It’s her words, her world, her characters, and it’s all based on real persons. And then, there’s a script adapted from the book, and then Reese and Laura (Dern), and all the actors, and myself, and the producers. So, of course, we’re always trying to avoid stereotypes, to stay away from stereotypes and clichés, although sometimes you’ve got characters that you feel look so real and so familiar that they almost look like stereotypes or some sort of archetype. But always, when you try to be true to the sense, to the emotion, to the material, to what you’re doing, I think you just get out of it and touch the heart of people.
VALLEE: Everything. Reese is Cheryl, became Cheryl, and was meant to play this part and chose this part herself. She first bought the option on the book, and then made it happen, and worked on the screenplay with Nick, and then got it financed with her partner, Bruna Papandrea, and she was ready. She loved the material so much. She loved Cheryl’s story and met with Cheryl. We all liked the girl so much, too. Yes, Reese was in a place in her life where she was ready to get out of her comfort zone, and be humble, and serve the thing, be naked out there literally or not, and just do it.
Can you tell me a little bit about Demolition?
VALLEE: I just finished shooting. There’s not a lot to tell right now. I’m still in the process of creating it, but it’s an amazing, beautiful script. Another one. I’m the fortunate guy who has to direct these wonderful scripts, this one from Bryan Sipe, and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper and Judah Lewis. To be continued.