TIFF 2014: Jean Marc Vallee and Laura Dern Talk ‘Wild’

Wild had its world premiere yesterday at Roy Thompson Hall as part of #TIFF14.

Starring Reese Witherspoon, the film is directed by Canadian Jean-Marc Vallee (known for Oscar favourite Dallas Buyers Club) and also features Laura Dern.

So, you know it’s going to be good.

Based on the book of the same name, Wild centres on the real life journey of Cheryl Strayed (Witherspoon) and her solo, life-altering 94-day hike on the Pacific Coast Trail in the wake of personal struggles (drug abuse, destructive sex, and a subsequent divorce) and the death of her mother. Shot in natural light, entirely makeup-free  – there were no mirrors in the trailers – the film showcases Witherspoon in her rawest form yet. This is a gritty, fowl-mouthed, and rough-around-the-edges performance that could make her a frontrunner come award season.

Despite just a nine-year age difference, Dern plays Witherspoon’s mother, Bobby, in a powerful relationship portrayed through a constant series of flashbacks throughout Witherspoon’s journey. 

We caught up with Vallee and Dern to hear a little more about the film.

On the inspiration:
“It was really important to me to tell the story to the world. I lost my mom to cancer and it was a way to pay tribute to these strong female characters and to my mom. She was a little like Bobby – so optimistic all the time and always looking for beauty. She was such a powerful force in my life, like Bobby was in Cheryl’s.”

On telling the story:
“We were conscious that we had to make a film that takes place on a trail, in a vast landscape, and on a solitary journey, and wondered how were we going to approach that. The main concern was the emotional connection and making it as powerful and emotional as the book. There was a lot of prep work involved but we came up with this structure of the girl hiking on the hill with this constant voiceover and series of flashbacks. I think it was important to have that voiceover because it’s Cheryl’s words and they’re powerful and beautiful. She was meticulous in what quotes we used and what words she wanted heard. Then when you see shots of this tiny thing with this massive, heavy backpack and the shots become emotional.”

On getting raw:
“I wanted it to be shot handheld, with natural light and without a backlight. It needed to be harder. We didn’t want to soften it – the sun was in her face, she was constantly squinting, and we didn’t do the thing where we said, ‘ok, let’s put her here and the sun will hit her hair and it will be glowing.’ It’s raw, dirty, and not show off; but [intended] to tell the amazing, touching story.”

On Reese:
“The thing with Reese was that she is from Tennessee and she has an intolerance to cold, so she’d be like ‘I’ve got to be in shorts again, really? The heavy bag again, really?’ But the light bag wasn’t authentic. She literally lugged around this 70-pound bag and was freezing. There were some shots where we couldn’t get away with it – she had goosebumps. We had winter jackets, hats, scarf, and gloves and were cold. She is in a t-shirt and shorts pretending that it’s summer, wading through freezing water. She was great though. She’s in the mode to get out of her comfort zone and show the world that she’s ready to look and feel vulnerable.

On the story:
“With Cheryl being with us every day, it felt like we all got Bobby. She just carried her mother’s memory in her cells and it was really beautiful to witness. From that place, you try to pay tribute to the story, but it’s a very humbling place to start and one of a real authenticity. You need to stay out of your own way to tell Cheryl’s story.

On working with Valle:
“He is amazing. The women in the films are so honest and heartbreaking and beautiful and I think thing that moved me the most about him emotionally as a filmmaker and a person is that there was no conversation about the flawed protagonist. It’s so exciting to work with him as an actor because you need to speak to the character without analyzing the rights and the wrongs. He is so inventive and on the fly and improvisational. You’ll always shoot something you didn’t know you were going to shoot because he offers an environment to play and explore.”

On “women’s films”:
“I am hopeful that men see women on film and television and say, ‘oh my god, she taught me so much.’ We certainly have had that experience with male characters in film, but it should all be universal, and it’s a bummer that men’s movies are for everyone, but when it’s a women’s movie, everyone’s like, ‘well it’s for the women,’ like, really? But it is great that powerful women even in their 50s and 60s are making lots of movies that are leaving an impact and actually saying something. Films like Wild teach you just by being a part of them. Thankfully, there’s a strong voice from the audience saying we actually want these films.”

Wild screens again on Friday at 3pm at the Princess of Whales theatre.


Want more updates on the most Notable things happening so you know before your colleagues do? Get our exclusive newsletter here and follow us on Twitter for all the latest.