TheWrap Screening Series: ‘Wild’s’ Laura Dern on Emotional Role: ‘My Heart Was Cracked Open’ (Video)

The actress and producer Bruna Papandrea both open up about adapting Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling book

Last Updated: December 10, 2014 @ 4:06 PM

Playing author Cheryl Strayed’s emotionally generous mother Bobbi in “Wild” has generated Best Supporting Actress Oscar talk for Laura Dern, previously nominated for the lead actress Academy Award for her turn in 1991’s “Rambling Rose.”

The film featuring Reese Witherspoon was based on Strayed’s memoir, which documents her confrontation of her troubled past — including drug use, divorce and the devastating loss of her mother — during a 1,100-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail.

“My heart was cracked open — just like anyone who’s had the pleasure of reading her words,” Dern said of reading the novel, which was adapted by “About a Boy” author Nick Hornby, at TheWrap‘s Award Series screening on Tuesday night at the Landmark Theater in Los Angeles.

Moderated by TheWrap’s Awards Editor Steve Pond, the Q&A session after the screening featured Dern and “Wild” producer Bruna Papandrea, who recounted the early steps in acquiring rights and funding for the project.

“This [film] is the thing that jump-started our company,” she said, referring to the production company Pacific Standard that she started with Witherspoon, who stars in “Wild” as Strayed. With a SAG Best Actress nomination announced Wednesday morning, Witherspoon is also fielding her own Oscar talk for her work in the film.

“The thing that was most important to Nick and to us was to not reveal upfront like she does in the book what the kind of big trauma was that led her to the Trail. We wanted to treat it more — for dramatic purposes — as an emotional mystery of sorts,” Papandrea said, noting that the book lays bare the details of the author’s damaged psyche from the outset.

The producer and star both noted Strayed’s involvement from the beginning; in fact, Dern recounted that in talking to Strayed, she discovered that the author was more concerned about how her mother was portrayed than herself, which put more pressure on the actress than she anticipated.

Papandrea noted that the young actress playing Cheryl at six years old is the author’s own daughter, Bobbi Strayed Lindstrom, who is named after her grandmother, who died of lung cancer in 1991.

Pond went on to ask about the rigors of making the film, which features remote desert and mountain locations. “It was a physically gratifying movie to make,” Papandrea said, noting they used 54 locations, so “we knew we had to be portable.”

The producer said she’s proud of the production’s reverence for the natural environment they were working in and noted that director Jean-Marc Vallée (“Dallas Buyers Club”) avoided using lights: “We left a really small footprint.”

Dern confessed that she left the physical exertion to Witherspoon: “I love to hike — a good hour or two with friends,” she joked.

“Wild,” now in theaters, made the rounds at international film festivals before its limited official release by Fox Searchlight on Dec. 5.

Strayed’s novel, “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail,” was published by Knopf in 2012, reached No. 1 on the New York Times Best Seller list and was the first selection for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0.