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Cheryl Strayed says ‘Wild’ faithfully tracks her memoir of a solo hike

Author Cheryl Strayed, left, and actress Reese Witherspoon appear on the red carpet last month at the London premiere of “Wild.” (Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images)

When author Cheryl Strayed wrote “Wild,” her memoir about her solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, her intentions were clear: “to transfer life experience into literature,” she says.

Then Reese Witherspoon — who stars in and produced the film by the same name, out today — called, and changes started happening.

“With film, what you have is not yourself at home in a room mining the truth,” Strayed says. “But handing it over to other artists to interpret.”

Strayed doesn’t pretend “Wild” is a documentary about the 1,100-mile hike she took after the death of her mother (played by Laura Dern). She was surprised, though, at how closely the film captured her life, to the point where Strayed stumbles over exactly how she should refer to the film’s protagonist.

“Like the scene where Reese … me … Cheryl … loads her backpack for the first time,” Strayed says. “Every time I watch it I laugh my head off because it really is how it was.” (The overloaded pack leaves her trapped like an upended turtle on a motel room floor.)

“Then other, darker moments: The death of my mother is very accurate. The way that Reese finds out that her mother is dead is the way I found out my mother is dead, everything down to the surgical gloves filled with ice on her eyes [to preserve them for donation.] And so I can’t watch that scene without weeping.”

Why, then, would Strayed watch that scene at all?

“I wrote that scene. That scene is in the book. In order to write it, I really had to relive it,” she says. “Each breath, each word is something I went over and over and over again, literally hundreds of times before the book was published. I became used to revisiting that image. It does make me cry, but I don’t feel traumatized by it.”

Though Nick Hornby adapted the book for the screen, Strayed was involved in the production, spending time on the set as both a producer and a quasi-consultant on her own life.

“When I sat down to watch the movie for the first time I was terrified. Suddenly I realized ‘oh, wait a minute, this is a movie.’ I kind of didn’t think it all through,” she says.

“When I put the memoir out into the world, I was in control,” Strayed says. “Watching the movie, I realized how vulnerable I was, that I had handed over this very personal thing. I wouldn’t envy the author of a memoir who wasn’t involved in the making of a movie.”

More film interviews:

Director Bennett Miller’s ‘Foxcatcher’ studies the deadly hold of John du Pont

Eddie Redmayne conquered his self-doubt to play Stephen Hawking in ‘The Theory of Everything’

‘Birdman’ was a lesson in high-wire acting for actress Andrea Riseborough