PHOTOS Real Cheryl Strayed, the woman portrayed by Reese Witherspoon in Wild

Reese Witherspoon Wild as Cheryl Strayed

Reese Witherspoon is getting a lot of early Oscar buzz for her role as Cheryl Strayed in Wild. The incredible story is based on the real Cheryl Strayed’s self-discovery journey in 1995, which she wrote about in the 2012 memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Real Cheryl Strayed and Reese Witherspoon together

Cheryl began her 1,100 mile trek in 1995, four years after her mother (played by Laura Dern) died from a quick battle with lung cancer. At the time, Cheryl was on the heels of a divorce from Marco Littig (called “Paul” in the book and film) and had turned to heroin.

“I sort of lost my way and needed to gather my strength back,” she told Oregon Live this week. “I knew that I wasn’t meant to be somebody who ruined my life, and I felt that I had ruined my life. I just thought I had to collect myself.”

Cheryl Strayed Horse Tattoo
Cheryl, who changed her name from Cheryl Nyland, with the horse tattoo she got in her mom’s memory.

You’ll have to read the book or watch the movie to see how it all played out — but it isn’t giving too much away to say Cheryl eventually landed on her feet. Her book was on the New York Times Bestseller list for seven consecutive weeks and was Oprah’s first selection for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0. The story also captivated Reese, who received an advance copy from Cheryl in 2012.

“Yeah, I chose Reese,” Cheryl, now 46, said of Reese, who is 12 years older than she was at the time of her hike. “Really when you look at her roles she’s played so many different roles, and behind each one I sensed an authenticity… She seemed like a seeker to me.”

Reese added, “It was one of the most profound books I’d ever read about dealing with loss and grief and that idea that no one’s coming to save you in your life.”

Real Cheryl Strayed Wild Hike

Cheryl now lives in Portland, Oregon, with husband Brian Lindstrom and their two children. Daughter Bobbi (named after Cheryl’s mom) even plays the younger version of Cheryl in the film.

Cheryl Strayed Husband and Kids

Wild premieres in theaters nationwide on Friday, Dec. 5.

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