‘Tiny Beautiful Things’: Cheryl wandered in the Hulu series, book changes

The celebrated author sat down with IndieWire and series showrunner Liz Tigelaar to discuss their ambitious new Hulu series.

Cheryl Strayed likes to get to know people, so maybe it shouldn’t have been all that surprising when she started our interview by asking me questions. The lauded author, screenwriter, columnist and podcast host wrapped up his previous press assignment a few minutes early and instead spent a busy day alone at Austin’s SXSW Festival — where he later contributed his performance of “Tiny Beautiful.” Things” showrunner Liz Tigelaar – Strayed invited me to her table. Pleasantries were exchanged, coffee was ordered, and the weather was mentioned, but after five minutes the perfect interlocutor opened up about my parents, my relationships, and my career.

It’s a strange feeling to hear topics you’ve been sent to elicit from someone else spill out of your own mouth, but Strayed probably has a similar reaction to questions from reporters. While she’s no stranger to sharing — perhaps best known for her memoir “Wild” and its 2014 film adaptation — the writer has long proven she’s as inquisitive as she is introspective. From the “Dear Sugar” advice column published in the early 2010s to the subsequent New York Times podcasts inspired by these pieces, Strayed has long invested heavily in people and their stories, which helps build a close relationship with the subjects and readers. , and for students alike.

“I’ve had experiences where I’ve been in a grocery store or something and someone shows up,” Strayed said. “They will say, ‘I heard you speak! I was in the other aisle and I said, “That’s Cheryl’s voice!”

Liz Tigelaar felt a similar connection long before she met the author. Our last lunch companion (who arrived on time, unlike this anxiously early reporter) said he first came across Strayed via ‘Wild’, but a friend recommended ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’, which in turn turned out to be ‘Sugar Calling’ led to a podcast. (“Cheryl told me to say (friend’s name), so it was Michaela Watkins,” said Tigelaar, who was working on the Hulu series “Casual” at the time.) From that point on, Tigelaar listened to episodes as he went. a lengthy commute from Los Angeles to the location deep in the San Fernando Valley.

“Dear Sugar” saved me, she said of the hours-long trips. “I listened to it every day when I drove out, every day when I drove back.”

“So you knew my voice?” Strayed said.

“I knew your voice and I felt like I knew you.”

Creating such an intimate relationship can be powerful, and Strayed has done it multiple times across multiple mediums. But what happens when Hollywood wants to develop that sound? How can an author who has built such an unbreakable bond with his fans entrust new writers, producers, and studio executives to maintain it? How can that sound knownnot just recognizable, authentically recreated on the screen?

The author said he considers himself “incredibly lucky” in the way Hollywood has treated his work.

“I worked with some really good people,” he said. “When we were making ‘Wild,’ Reese (Witherspoon), Laura (Dern), Jean-Marc Vallée, and the whole team were like, ‘Cheryl, this is not normal.’ We became like family. We are friends to this day.”

Strayed recalled that the late director sent him cut by cut of the film, asking for his opinion after each viewing.

“He sent the film and then said, ‘Watch it and then we’ll Skype,'” she said. “Then we’d Skype for hours, and he wanted me to tell him everything on my mind,” he fucked seven times.

A trip to Telluride for the film’s premiere highlighted the rarity of such a collaboration.

“A famous director, who I won’t name, told me, ‘I’ve adapted nine books into movies, and I’ve never spoken to the author once until the movie came out,'” Strayed said. “He couldn’t believe how cooperative and open Jean-Marc was—that Jean-Marc really, really cared what I thought.”

Tiny Beautiful Things -

Merritt Wever in “Tiny Beautiful Things.”

Courtesy of Elizabeth Morris/Hulu

Now that she’s seen “Wild” turned into an Oscar-nominated movie and “Tiny Beautiful Things” turned into a Nia Vardalos stage show, Strayed has a blanket rule about who can interpret her words.

“The one that covers everything is that you can’t be assholes, and that’s what really matters,” he said. “But I can put it in less harsh terms: I mean we can trust that someone has good intentions, we can trust that someone is emotionally intelligent and developed enough to know how to be kind – they know how to be compassionate. , they know how to listen and they also know how to speak.”

According to Strayed, knowing how to deal with conflict in a healthy way is key, which goes hand-in-hand with one’s emotional intelligence, listening skills and overall communication skills.

“I fell deep into Liz,” Strayed said of Tigelaar when they were first introduced as possible colleagues. “I watched the movie “Life Unexpectedly”…

“Oh my God, ‘Life Unexpected’?” Tigelaar said in amazement.

“I just found everything from Liz and looked at it,” Strayed said. “And then maybe a few months after that I came to L.A. and Laura (Dern) and Reese (Witherspoon) were like, ‘We’re going to have dinner and Liz is going to show up.’ And we said, ‘Let’s do this.’ That’s how it started.”

“It” is the Hulu adaptation of “Tiny Beautiful Things.” Inspired by Strayed’s 2012 novel, the 10-episode series stars Kathryn Hahn as Clare, a struggling writer who works at an assisted living facility to pay the bills, tries to patch up her rocky marriage and is still reeling from her mother’s death. When asked to take over the “Dear Sugar” advice column, readers’ requests for help prompt her to comb through old memories and tell her own stories to give better advice to others. The story takes place in two timelines: one when Clare has grown up with her own daughter, and the other when she is a late teenager and still lives with her mother (played by Merritt Wever).

Strayed was part of the adaptation from the beginning, joining its first writers’ room (via Zoom) and working on various drafts of the script. While Tigelaar said the author was the team’s “north star” in terms of the show’s creative direction, Strayed was careful not to be overly protective of his original story.

“I didn’t have an agenda,” Strayed said. “I went in and said, ‘Let’s see what this can be.’

Small Beautiful Things Michaela Watkins Hulu

Michaela Watkins in “Tiny Beautiful Things”.

Courtesy of Jessica Brooks / Hulu

“When we got stuck or confused (while writing the episodes), we said, ‘Cheryl, can you tell me again what really happened?’ Tigelaar said. “And he would tell us, but he might tell us something we didn’t know before, like, ‘Well, my mom took us out to this horse field on the summer solstice and we slept under the stars. bags, then they let the horses out into the field and they come to smell our hair. And we say: ‘What?! This happened?! Obviously, this is what we’re writing. You can’t make that up.”

“There were only two horses in the (actual) field of horses,” Strayed said, “but Liz said, ‘This is television. This is Hollywood. We get eight horses. We don’t have two damn horses.

Tigelaar also cited a scene in the second episode when a younger version of Clare tries to prepare for her mother’s funeral, but the coroner tells her that they can’t bury anyone without underwear. So Clare must leave the funeral, go to a local pharmacy and buy whatever she can find for her deceased parent – a true story from Strayed’s own life.

“That’s not in the book and it’s going to be in the TV show,” he said. “I never wrote about it. It was just a little story and Liz is like, “Holy shit.”

Strayed’s trust in his showrunner allowed truths like this to enhance the adaptation, and the eagerness Tigelaar had to work with the author helped the series reflect the same honesty readers felt in the book. However, the question remains: why bother with an adaptation in the first place? It’s clear from their collaboration that ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ has evolved from its original form, making it a rewarding venture for long-time fans and newcomers alike, but what is the appeal of film and television for an author like Strayed who has achieved such incredible success which reinforce it. his voice alone, through columns, books and podcasts?

“My answer is not very deep. I enjoy the stories told, and once you write a book, it’s done. It’s just this document. For me, as the person who wrote this book, it’s very exciting to see other creative minds tell a story based on the book. And I don’t just mean Liz or Kathryn, I mean the wonderful costume designer and musicians. After all, the reason I am a writer is a very almost childlike impulse. I just like making things. And making exciting things, telling stories, and that’s what’s happening in this show. Essentially, other people share their ideas about this work of mine.”

Strayed has a unique relationship with his fans. While other, more auteuristic storytellers worry that too many outside voices will drown out their unique words, she longs for more—more stories, more points of view, knowing more people as many have known her.

“Tiny Beautiful Things” premiered Friday, April 7 on Hulu. All eight episodes are available.

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