Cheryl Strayed on Reese Witherspoon, Tiny Beautiful Things
"Tiny Beautiful Things" Author Cheryl Strayed Praises Reese Witherspoon For Amplifying Women's Stories
People often imagine which actor they'd like to see play them in a movie or TV show about their life, but author Cheryl Strayed is the rare person who had that happen to her, twice. In the 2014 movie "Wild," based on her best-selling memoir, Reese Witherspoon plays her as she dares to hike the Pacific Coast Trail alone. And in Hulu's new series "Tiny Beautiful Things," based on Strayed's best-selling book of advice columns, Kathryn Hahn and Sarah Pidgeon team up to play a fictionalized version of Strayed named Clare.
Something else that connects "Wild" and "Tiny Beautiful Things" is that they were produced by Witherspoon. "Wild" came to be through Witherspoon's old production company, Type A Films, while "Tiny Beautiful Things" is one of many her Hello Sunshine projects. Strayed, talking to POPSUGAR, praises Witherspoon for one of "the women in Hollywood who have really blazed a trail."
"I love that Reese has used her power for good."
Strayed says that back when Witherspoon optioned "Wild" — before the memoir had even been released — the actor made it clear that she had a longer vision than just one film. "She read my book, we had a conversation," she recalls, "And she said to me, 'I want to tell these stories of real people.' What we call complicated women, but really they're just women." She laughs and adds, "They're just people who have full lives full of complexity and contradiction, like all the women we know." She says they have a "very similar vision" for how to tell stories.
"I love that Reese has used her power for good," Strayed says of Witherspoon's lengthy production resume. "She's, of course, such an admired and accomplished actress. And she said, 'I'm going to take this and expand it beyond myself, beyond just finding the good roles that I can play and really make great roles for a lot of women.'" Hello Sunshine, Strayed adds, has not just hired women in front of the camera, but also as writers, directors, and producers.
"Tiny Beautiful Things" is a bit different than a straight adaptation of a memoir or novel, since the series uses advice columns as an inspiration. Strayed says the experience of seeing the show come to life was "surreal." "It's already surreal to live it and then write about it," she says. "But then there's something bigger that happens when actors are reenacting scenes from your life." Clare, she emphasizes, is "far more fictional than autobiographical" but there are "many things" they share, mostly "formative experiences." It's mostly the part of the story that's told through flashback with Pidgeon as a younger Clare, she says.
"To see Sarah Pidgeon and Merit Weaver and Owen Painter act out some of those things that are from my life, not only is it surreal, it's really moving," she says. Strayed admits that at times it was painful to watch, too. When Claire's mom tells her kids that she has cancer, the grief was "palpable" for Strayed. There's a scene where young Clare and her brother lie in bed together the day before their mom dies, and Strayed says she and her brother did the same thing when their mom actually died. "To see that depicted, it shakes me to my bones in a way that ends up being very beautiful actually and healing," Strayed says.
"That [the book] actually has touched and moved and impacted people and made them think differently about themselves in the world is for sure my highest mark of achievement."
"Tiny Beautiful Things" isn't just the first time Strayed has seen her own life on-screen; it's also the second time her mom has been depicted, too. In "Wild," Laura Dern plays her mom Bobbi, and in "Tiny Beautiful Things" Merritt Wever plays the fictionalized version, Frankie.
"I always joked when Laura was playing her, my mom was five feet tall and all her life, she longed to be like tall willowy person," Strayed says. "And so I love that we got Laura, our tallest and willowy-est actress, to play my mom. She would be so proud." But Strayed adds that through some sort of acting "magic," Wever really captured the "essence" of her mom.
"She knew on some elemental level the way that my mother loved me and my siblings, the way she kept faith with the tiny beautiful things of life, the way that she believed in goodness and hard work and love, and that love that I got from my mom permeates everything I do," Strayed says. "And I just, you know, I so admire the way that Merit seemed to quietly capture that on the screen."
The book "Tiny Beautiful Things" was released in 2012, and its startling advice has continued to resonate with readers for over a decade. "That [the book] actually has touched and moved and impacted people and made them think differently about themselves in the world is for sure my highest mark of achievement," Strayed says of the book's legacy. "It's the thing I dreamed about when I dreamed about being a writer." The movie, the TV show, the best seller list: none of it comes close.
"I just feel great grateful for it and like the luckiest person ever."
"Tiny Beautiful Things is streaming now on Hulu.