Nick Hornby’s Wild racing from book to screen

Nick Hornby was “knocked over” by Cheryl Strayed’s account of how grief and a self-destructive lifestyle led to her walking the gruelling 1,100 mile Pacific Crest Trail, alone and ill prepared, in Wild.
Author Cheryl Strayed, actress Reese Witherspoon, and screenwriter Nick Hornby at a photo call for the film Wild, during the BFI London Film Festival in London, Monday, October 13, 2014. AP
Author Cheryl Strayed, actress Reese Witherspoon, and screenwriter Nick Hornby at a photo call for the film Wild, during the BFI London Film Festival in London, Monday, October 13, 2014. AP

Nick Hornby has a reputation for writing insightful portraits of men in novels including Fever Pitch and High Fidelity. Recently, however, he has proven to be just as adept on the subject of women. He turned a magazine article by Lynn Barber into an Oscar-nominated screenplay in An Education and could now receive a second nod for adapting Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild.

Hornby was “knocked over” by Strayed’s account of how grief and a self-destructive lifestyle led to her walking Pacific Crest Trail, alone and ill-prepared.

“I found it emotionally devastating,” says Hornby. “The directness of the prose really hooked me in. And it was written from the perspective of someone who didn’t know what she was doing, which really grabbed me.”

After learning that Reese Witherspoon had bought the film rights, he emailed the Hollywood star to ask if she had hired a writer yet. “We’d talked a couple of times about working together. So, when I said: ‘I really, really want to do this,’ she said: ‘Well, great.’ And that was it.”

Recognising the odds stacked against films being made, he gave Strayed a 10 per cent chance of Wild happening. “You can’t get the right script, or the right director, a million things can happen,” he told her.

“But we had the big advantage that I hadn’t experienced before, which was that we had an A-list star who was also the producer, and desperate to get this done. So I should probably have put it at 20 per cent.”

There was a gap of six years between the first draft of An Education and the finished film – “I wrote a book-and-a-half and had a kid in the time it took to develop the film,” says Hornby. Wild took just 13 months and that’s between Hornby’s first meeting with Witherspoon to the last day of shooting.

“It always felt like we were on this really fast track. You felt that it was going to happen in spite of you, as much as anything.”

artslife@thenational.ae

Published: December 7, 2014 04:00 AM

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