Interview: Laura Dern on playing the upbeat mom in 'Wild' - Metro US

Interview: Laura Dern on playing the upbeat mom in ‘Wild’

Laura Dern
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Laura Dern has been playing moms recently, and while the ones in “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Wild” are both loving, they’re still very different. In the former she was taking care of her cancer-plagued daughter (Shailene Woodley). Here she’s Bobbi, the once-abused, now upbeat mother to Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon). Bobbi’s sudden death causes Cheryl to descend into self-destruction, then try to rebuild herself — by going on an 1,100-mile solo hike.

Playing a character who’s so optimistic: “I’ve played characters who want to be happy, and so they fake it until they hope to make it. And I’ve played people who have a bit of a Pollyanna thing. When I was younger I would play the sweet girl or the girl next door, who’s so happy and so innocent — even in ‘Blue Velvet.’ But to experience the impact that Bobbi seems to have on all of us — whether it’s through Cheryl’s book or seeing the film — is to get this sense of earned gratitude of having walked through hell. We each have to have our own walk through hell, but she had a pretty full plate of it.”

Bobbi’s backstory: “She was willing to leave horror and abuse in an era when there were no hotlines and no one was saying there is something called ‘domestic violence.’ That she went through all of that and could say the positive things she said to her daughter with such genuineness — it’s very inspiring to play someone like that. I certainly now wake up most mornings thinking of life that way. By four or five o’clock I’ve lost it. [Laughs]”

Cheryl’s need to transcend her dark past: “You’re seeing a woman explore all those places, and you’re also hearing her feel and express that she is shame-free — that she is willing to honor herself and even her choices, because they got her back to herself — or to herself for the first time. That’s so refreshing, to be reminded by a film that one doesn’t need to have shame. Everyone’s walking around with it.”

The pain of Bobbi’s passing: “I think we all feel [her lifeforce] when he read Cheryl’s book. Jean-Marc made sure we got to know her so you longed for more. You can feel the grief of the loss of this woman.”

The film’s view of strong but vulnerable women: “It’s about revealing a woman’s strength and a woman’s independence and bravery — but also her vulnerability. The circumstances she put herself in were really beautiful and scary and poignant. Let me tell you, you ain’t seeing me do it. I told Cheryl, ‘I’m so excited you went on this hike and I never have to.’ I’ll take a few hour hike, but I’d like a few friends to go with me. [Laughs]”

How director Jean-Marc Vallee (“Dallas Buyers Club”) made Witherspoon fumble with the tent for real: “When they shot that scene Reese said, ‘Great, let’s go over how to put a tent together.’ Jean-Marc was like, “No, no, no, no. You do it on camera!” He made her do it and he filmed it — 35 minutes of filming her trying to put it together, seeing her frustration and not having a clue how to do it. Cheryl didn’t prepare, she didn’t know what she was supposed to have in her pack. She’d never put a tent together. She didn’t know what she needed to cook the food. All that is so funny and real because he made sure for Reese it was the same as it was for Cheryl.”

Playing real people: “I’ve played a few real people, and one or two were living but were not part of the movie — and probably wouldn’t have wanted us to tell their stories. It’s a such a different experience when the greatest champion on the set is the person you’re telling the story of.”

“Wild” is set in the ’90s but doesn’t always feel it: “Jean-Marc cared so deeply and the story of grief and healing that he wanted it to feel timeless. Even though he told Cheryl’s story through music, with the death of Jerry Garcia and these moments that lock us into time, I thought he really carefully navigated it so the larger story was what you saw more of. The fact that nature was a character in the film makes it timeless.”

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

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