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How 'Wild' it was: local influences in hit film

Jesuit High School graduate Will Cuddy acted alongside Reese Witherspoon in the film adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's memoir, 'Wild'


Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Will Cuddy, a 2010 Jesuit grad who graduated from the University of Oregon in June, plays Josh in Jean-Marc Vallee's 'Wild.' When he arrived at the Portland premiere of the film, he was the first actor to step onto the red carpet outside of Cinema 21 on Northwest 21st Street. Will Cuddy stands in a men’s bathroom stall with his hands on his hips. His legs held in an athletic stance, he waits for two minutes. He wonders if it will work, if standing like a superhero will give him the confidence he needs to nail his “Wild” call back like his friend said it would. And if not, well, it was just an awkward two minutes between him and the bathroom wall.

“The call back went really well — I walked out really confident,” the 2010 Jesuit High School graduate said. “I never feel like I nailed it, and I felt like I nailed it. I could tell just by the way (the director and I) talked afterwards, and he was kind of eying me, sizing me up.”

Two weeks of anxious waiting later, Cuddy heard back that he’d landed the role of Josh for the film, one of the Three Young Bucks mentioned in Cheryl Strayed’s best selling memoir. For two days during the fall of 2013, the Oregon native would be acting alongside Reese Witherspoon in the Mt. Hood wilderness as Jean-Marc Vallée directed. Also on the list of filming locations was Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center, where hospital scenes between Witherspoon and Laura Dern were filmed.

“Then things, in terms of the buzz around it died down, because they had finished filming,” Cuddy said. “There was nothing for months, so I was focused on school, finishing everything up.”Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Born and raised in Beaverton, Will Cuddy, 22, began acting at age 9. Ultimately, he hopes his involvement with the business will lead him to a directing career.

In June, the Beaverton resident graduated from the University of Oregon with an advertising degree and several film festival awards under his belt. For the 22-year-old, who’s been acting since age 9, directing is his true passion and what he ultimately hopes his involvement in the business will lead him to. He took advantage of this at U of O, and produced multimedia for The Daily Emerald, a job he landed randomly after staffers saw a video he made of a riot on his street. It seems that for Cuddy, things always tend to work out this way.

Against his initial inklings of wanting to leave Oregon for college, Cuddy ended up at U of O. At his friend’s dorm one day freshman year, he saw a poster for “On the Rocks” tryouts, the campus’s male a cappella group. They were being held on Oct. 5 at noon.

“What day is today?” Cuddy asked his friend.

“October fifth,” he said. It was 11:45 a.m.

“I gotta go!” Cuddy replied, zipping away to the audition, which got him a part in the group that ended up becoming No. 1 of its kind in the country. During his time at the Emerald, it was ranked among the best college publications. Two years in a row, Cuddy participated in the U of O Adrenaline Film Project, a 72-hour whirlwind of filmmaking — his first year winning the jury and audience awards, and his second year snagging the audience favorite yet again.

“I feel like I’ve just been really lucky in all of my life. All of these little things that didn’t seem like they’d be perfect turn out perfect,” he said. “It just seemed like everything revolving around this film worked out perfectly, as well.”

To land the role of Josh in “Wild,” a film for which Witherspoon has earned a best actress Golden Globe nomination, Cuddy had to beat out not only Portland actors, but Los Angeles actors, as well. He was able to attend both the L.A. and Portland premieres thanks to his networking along the way, and through those experiences got to know even more people involved with the film than he otherwise would have. But at the end of the day, he never really thought he’d get there in the first place; it was just another audition until it wasn’t, until he was waiting to see himself on screen at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in L.A. Unlike the parts of many actors with similar-sized roles, Cuddy’s hadn’t been cut at all.Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO - For two days in the Mt. Hood wilderness, Beaverton resident Will Cuddy acted alongside Reese Witherspoon.

“It was unbelievable. It was that moment where I caught the glimpse of the movie reflecting on the side of the Oscar statue that I looked around and was like, ‘I’m in L.A. at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I’m about to see myself in this movie that has an academy award-winning actress in it,’” Cuddy said. “Nothing had made me realize until that moment how big of a deal it was and how huge it was for me and my career and what I want to do.”

Several weeks later, Cuddy walked the red carpet in Portland, just miles away from where he was born and blocks from a bar he’d been at earlier that week. He was attending the premiere for one of the biggest movies ever filmed in Oregon, a movie he had a part in bringing to life. And when he stepped on the red carpet five minutes before any other actors had arrived, everyone knew his name.

“I was kind of feeling like I was totally going to get shut down. But then (a man) comes up, and he’s like, ‘Will Cuddy? Come this way.’ He opens the tent door, and I step in, and nobody’s on the red carpet except all the media,” Cuddy said. “I had nothing prepared to say, which was probably better. It was like baptism by fire. So I got to walk the whole red carpet by myself, and as I’m toward the end of the line Cheryl Strayed walks in and Reese Witherspoon and Laura (Dern).” Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Will Cuddy, 22, graduated from the University of Oregon in June with an advertising degree. His true passion, however, is directing, even after appearing in Jean-Marc Vallee's 'Wild.'

Rewind one year, and Cuddy was home watching Ted Talks over winter break. One talk, led by Amy Cuddy caught his eye because of their shared last name and its ranking as the second most viewed Ted Talk ever. He played the video, and listened as Amy Cuddy talked about first impressions and something she called “power posing,” before standing like a superhero to demonstrate. One email describing his success with the power pose later, Cuddy was being interviewed for Amy’s new book and having dinner with her and her friends in Boston.

For Cuddy, life lately has been one series of fortunate events after another, but it hasn’t all been random; he’s put himself in the line of success and worked hard to get where he is.

“I think the best thing to come from the movie has been the validation and the confidence that I’ve gained from being involved with such a large project,” he said. “I’m a pretty confident person, but to have that really grounded in something has been an amazing experience and something that I’ve been fortunate enough to land in the way that any actor would land it. Everyone’s like, ‘How did you get in the movie?’ Well, I just auditioned for it. I just got the role.”

Cuddy stands in a men’s bathroom stall with his hands on his hips. “Maybe this will work,” he thinks. Yeah, maybe it will.

"Wild" at Meridian Park

In November of 2013, Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center welcomed Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern, among others, to its facilities as they filmed scenes for "Wild."Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO - After filming at Meridian Park Medical Center in Tualatin, this signed photo was given to hospital staff by Reese Witherspoon to show her appreciation for providing space to film.

"At Legacy Meridian Park, we value our community partners and our job, as the only hospital in this community, is to keep people healthy. When we were approached by 'Wild,' we happened to have an open unit that by chance, ended up working out for filming," said Ashley Stanford Cone, a spokeswoman for the hospital.

Unit 1C, the Community Health Education Center, multiple hallways and a clinic were the workplaces for the cast and crew over a span of five days.

"In this case, we were able to provide an opportunity to support local businesses, which is an important part of the economic growth and vitality of Tualatin," said Stanford Cone.

In thanks for providing the space, a donation was made to Meridian Park Medical Foundation.

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