At the center of Jean-Marc Vallée’s newest film, Wild, is a love story between a mother and a daughter. Played by Laura Dern and Reese Witherspoon, respectively, it’s based on the autobiographical book by Cheryl Strayed who, after the devastating loss of her mother, Bobbi, went on a journey of redemption and self-discovery by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. It was a role Dern couldn’t say no to.
“After reading the book and hearing Jean-Marc’s passion to protect Cheryl’s story, I fell madly in love,” says Dern. The chance to bond with Strayed over her mother’s life only sweetened the deal. “Speaking with Cheryl is one of the greatest experiences anybody can have,” Dern says of the time spent with the author and her family at their Oregon home before shooting began, “I wanted to let her know that she could trust me with her mother’s memory.”
The role required Dern to delve deep into her own life experience as well, and the actress says she’s the better for it. “I’ve been learning what it is to really be a grownup in the last few years and that’s been very exciting,” she says. “Cheryl and Bobbi are reminders to be compassionate for our own choices and to be kinder to ourselves.”
The experience has also added valuable perspective when it comes to her career. “I was more fear-based and selective in my earliest years of being an actress because I felt every decision had to be of such value,” Dern says of how she approaches a role nowadays. “I’m still very picky about the kinds of people I want to play and who I want to work with, but I throw more caution to the wind.”