Gone girls, found

Gone girls, found

Gone girls, found

The pairing of Gillian Flynn and Cheryl Strayed seems at once too obvious and not obvious enough. Too obvious because both are female writers who happen to have had bestselling books optioned by Reese Witherspoon and made into high-octane films.

And not obvious enough because Flynn specialises in probing dark, unsavoury recesses of the human psyche, like her antiheroine Amy in the 2012 novel Gone Girl. Strayed rocketed to fame the same year with her memoir Wild, about her redemptive 1,100-mile trek along the Pacific Crest Trail as a brokenhearted divorced 26-year-old grieving the early death of her mother.

Yet the authors share similarities that run deep. Feminists both, they create bluntly authentic, deeply engaging stories through characters that defy stereotypes. They have also forged roads to Hollywood gold. Directed by David Fincher and adapted by Flynn herself, the film Gone Girl has earned more than $300 million globally. Wild, directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, adapted by Nick Hornby and starring Witherspoon, is one of the season’s most anticipated films.

Excerpts from their conversation.

Witherspoon wanted to create better roles for women, but has Gone Girl shown women in a better role?

Flynn: I’ve been asked that a lot, and my answer is always: “Of course, it’s not misogynistic.” Women shouldn’t be expected to only play nurturing, kind caretakers. That’s always been part of my goal — to show the dark side of women.

Cheryl, Wild is your story, but did you get blowback from people, or was it a relief having told an honest tale?

Strayed: It never occurred to me that the book would be read as an inspirational tale. I really have no interest in likability when it comes to characters. It’s always about credibility to seem human. One of the most difficult things reading about the movie Wild was when people started writing about it and me in this shorthand way.

What kind of stuff were you getting?

Strayed: They’ll say my problems were self-inflicted. And really the two biggest problems I began the trail with were the opposite of self-inflicted: the dead mother and the abusive father who wasn’t in my life. Those were my two most significant wounds, which I had to heal in myself.

It’s interesting what Gillian is saying. I think the lazy interpretation of Amy is she’s this evil psychopath and she’s all darkness. I think so much of the reason Gone Girl is so successful is that all of those winning passages where Amy writes about her romantic life, falling in love with her husband, the way she constructs herself as a woman in the world. Those are recognisable to us.

Flynn: I think we wouldn’t have heard as much anger about it if she was more dismissible. She’s understandable, and that makes her a little harder to just write off.

Is there a double standard, where male characters don’t get that level of scrutiny?

Flynn: The likability thing, especially in Hollywood, is a constant conversation, and they’re really underrating their audience when they have that conversation. What I read and what I go to the movies for is not to find a best friend, not to find inspirations, not necessarily for a hero’s journey. It’s to be involved with characters that are maybe incredibly different, but feel authentic.

Flynn, Is Gone Girl being talked about as a feminist or an anti-feminist film?

Flynn: To me, it’s neither. It’s about two specific people who are battling and who happen to be a man and a woman. I certainly enjoyed playing with those gender roles. Amy is certainly a character who understands every single female stereotype — and uses it. So when people say she’s embodying awful stereotypes about women, I say, “Yes, exactly, and that’s kind of the point.”

I want to talk about that move from book to screen. Cheryl, were you OK with Nick Hornby and was that difficult for you, turning it over?

Strayed: He read Wild the first week it was out. I didn’t know him, and he wasn’t being considered as the screenwriter at that point. He just wrote me the world’s nicest fan email. So when Nick came on the project, I felt he understood the book on a deep level. It was always clear that I would read the screenplay, I would weigh in on it, I would be listened to, and I was.

You were working with David Fincher, who is known to be thorough.

Flynn: I was on the set, but the script was locked by then. When you hear David Fincher is going to direct your movie it’s, “Oh my God, I’ve got to step up my game.” But I wanted a David Fincher version of Gone Girl, so I was inclined to step back.

Strayed: With Jean-Marc, I told him: “I give you my book. The only thing I ask is that you make a perfect film.” And he laughed. I gave him my opinions only when he asked for them. And I told Reese the first time we talked, “You need to make this your story, not mine.”