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Exclusive: Lisa Cholodenko Confirms She'll Direct 'The Abstinence Teacher' & Heads Into The 'Wild' With Reese Witherspoon

by Jen Vineyard
May 11, 2012 5:44 PM
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Lisa Cholodenko

Director Lisa Cholodenko recently sat down with The Playlist moments before her panel with fellow alum Shari Springer Berman and Nicole Holofcener at the Columbia University Film Festival this week, to debate the glass ceiling and how it affects making their films -- during the course of which, Cholodenko let slip a couple of her yet-to-be announced projects among her other updates.

First up, the director and co-writer of "The Kids Are All Right" confirmed that she's taking over the adaptation of Tom Perrotta's book "The Abstinence Teacher," which at one point was to be directed by "Little Miss Sunshine" team Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, with Steve Carell and Sandra Bullock circling roles. Previous Perotta adaptations include "Little Children" and "Election" (which starred Reese Witherspoon).

Witherspoon is also slated to produce and star in one of Cholodenko's other new projects, an adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's memoir of her 1,100-mile solo hike in the wake of personal tragedy, "Wild: Lost and Found on the Pacific Crest Trail."

"The author sent it to Reese, going, 'I can't imagine who else would do this,'" Cholodenko said. "And then I sniffed around it, without realizing 'Wild' had already been given to her [to produce], and then I somehow got involved in it, and now I'm doing that." Chodolenko will write and direct, while Strayed confirmed over email that she's acting as a resource and a consultant as the script is developed, and that she will be an associate producer on the film as well.

While it remains unclear whether Carell would still be attached to "The Abstinence Teacher," he is on board the more family-friendly of Cholodenko's next films, the adaptation of Judith Viorst's classic kid's book "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day." "He just kind of has a nutty schedule," the director said, "so that's what we're trying to figure out, the when and where." As well as the co-stars. "It's at a studio, so it's getting the right adult cast attached."

In the meantime, Cholodenko is doing "a couple of things for HBO," including writing a pilot for the TV version of "The Kids Are All Right," which would act as both a prequel and a sequel for the Best Picture Nominee. Cholodenko hopes the concept will intrigue the original cast enough to reprise their roles. "You never know!" she said. "I'm just writing it as if they're going to do it, because that makes it easier to write it."

Granted, some of the cast might not be in the right age range anymore -- something Josh Hutcherson recently pointed out. Plus he might be a tad busy with "The Hunger Games" franchise, just as Mark Ruffalo might have too much work on his plate. "Nobody's offered me that yet," he told me recently. "I think I'd probably let someone else do that one at this point. But who knows? When that happens, I might want that job. But right now, I've got a full plate -- because of that. The sad irony is, I won't be able to do the HBO 'The Kids Are All Right' because the movie 'The Kids Are All Right' has made me unavailable!"

In response, Cholodenko said, laughing, "They're probably just anxious about reprising their roles! We'll see if somebody comes out of the woodwork to do it with me. If not, a new incarnation of it will be fun, too." While scripting the pilot, Cholodenko turned to her friend Holofcener for advice and feedback. "It's just very different writing episodic television," Cholodenko said, "and I was having a hard time."

"You know, you can drive yourself crazy with these things," Holofcener said. "I was a sounding board for her, I think."

"She told me, 'Take it easy, man,'" Cholodenko recalled. "And she helped me with a seminal scene. I really liked what she wrote, she had written something for HBO before, and I found her template really inspiring. So I said, 'This is what I have,' and she kind of helped me through it. She was really helpful."

"I want a credit!" Holofcener added, laughing.

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  • Chris Roberts | May 14, 2012 1:19 PMReply

    All this talk about Witherspoon naturally flows into Strayed's work, which is inherently flawed, There isn't a script doctor in the world that can salvage it:

    A junkie in the woods, dry heaving as she walks along makes for repetitive reading. The Cancer Devil who stalked Strayed is the same Demon that hunts those in an urban environment, both are the same, nothing original about them. Cancer kills, car accidents too and the ever methodical serial killer. Cause and effect leads to the casket. No death is special or exclusive.

    Strayed's Walden fueled journey fails as Walden's did: both were escaping, not embracing the truth of nature, it is merely a colorful backdrop serving a pseudo-epic purpose. And the boulders, creeks, the wide sky above have erased every trace of her passage, the hiker that never was. She is that little before the trees that swayed their disapproval, she was a trespasser.

    Chris Roberts

    Memoirs fail because the genre is a self-important ego trip. Nobody that lived is nearly enough intriguing to write out their life for public consumption. When you think memoir, think better and jot your musings in a diary. Lock it in a desk drawer and throw away the key and to be safe, throw the entire desk out the window.

  • A Baby Named Jesus | May 14, 2012 10:11 AMReply

    "F" seems very touchy by Witherspoon's career choices.

  • JS | May 12, 2012 2:42 PMReply

    I happen to be acquainted with the author and I think you're reading too much into Cholodenko's comment when you say the author "pursued" Witherspoon. Strayed went through normal channels that any author goes through, via her film agent (who no doubt strongly advised her about who might want to option the book for film). You can read more about it here and other places:

  • f | May 13, 2012 10:24 PM

    if you were talking to me, I was just repeating what the film's director said. My understanding of the word "pursue" is pretty much the same as yours.

  • A Baby Named Jesus | May 11, 2012 7:16 PMReply

    Alright, question: how the fuck is Reese Witherspoon going to play Cheryl Strayed in this movie when she was only 23-26 during the events depicted in the book? This is an example of people remembering what Reese Witherspoon USED TO BE rather than what SHE IS now. I'm guessing, due to her other committment, WILD won't even start production for two years? This will make Witherspoon, what? 38 to 39-years-old? A mother of three? You can't even say that they'll make the character older because that would defeat the whole purpose of the story which is about a woman who has a prolonged-type of adolencent crisis after the early death of her mother. You can see how a woman 23 to 26 would get dragged into such a situation, a woman of 39 would be ridiculous. It'll destroy the entire story. Egos are running amok here. I think Witherspoon is having some sort of female mid-life crisis. I think she`s finding it difficult to transition into adult roles appropriate for her age, while maintaining the same degree of fame and success she once had, and she`s beginning to freak out. When I first heard of this I thought the idea of Witherspoon starring ridiculous, but then I thought maybe she`ll use it as a directing vehicle for herself, which would have been interesting. Pursuing it as a starring vehicle is STUPID to the extreme. Who is advising this woman?

  • f | May 14, 2012 5:47 PM

    And you called ME touchy. Jesus. "do you feel that Witherspoon ... can believably play a 23-26 year old? That was the actual issue at hand here, right?" I was responding to the second half of your comment, so no. I don't know if she's miscast in this movie (I've never read the book) or Water for Elephants or This Means War (never seen either). "Just because other actors make equally dumb decisions doesn't excuse the stupidity of Reese's decision." When did I say that? I just wondered if you, psychic that you are, knew what was going on in the heads of these particular actors just as you did with Witherspoon. And after all your celebrity psychologizing, you're telling me to go back to reading my US Weekly? Funny how that is.

  • A Baby Named Jesus | May 14, 2012 4:37 PM

    What are you, Reese's biggest fan? I've read the script TO A LOT OF MOVIES you dumbfuck, not just Reese's. I've read enough that I would never have advised her to drop PTA's THE MASTER to do McG's THIS MEANS WAR, not for $12.5 million or $12.50. Because, honestly, that's probably the last 8 figure salary she ever gets now. Be sure to have Reese thank Will smith for that. Let me ask you a question though, do you feel that Witherspoon, now in her mid-to-late 30s, can believably play a 23-26 year old? That was the actual issue at hand here, right? That was what I was writing about. I surmised that Witherspoon was having a mid-life crisis because she refuses to play characters her own age for some reason and you got all bent out of shape, but that wasn't really the issue. It was about the choices she has made and the outcome of those choices are making her look every bit as ridiculous as 50 year old man driving a porche and dating a 21 year old girl. Her dropping out of THE MASTER was a dumb decision because the film she did has nearly ruined her career. Just because other actors make equally dumb decisions doesn't excuse the stupidity of Reese's decision. That is my assessment, alright, get over it. Now go back to reading your US Weekly's, because you're out of your element here.

  • f | May 14, 2012 2:20 PM

    Ha. I seem touchy? I barely wrote a word about Witherspoon's career; you're the one who's read the original scripts of her movies. I just thought you sounded crazy, and regrettably took the time to refute your arguments. But I wonder, if they changed the script for How Do You Know, why does it matter? She was playing a 30 year old, she was 33 when she made it. So what? Seemed believable to me. Scripts are rewritten for people all the time: Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris, for instance. People also make dumb career decisions all the time: Christoph Waltz dropped out of A Dangerous Method to make Water for Elephants, Colin Farrell dropped out of Cosmopolis to make Total Recall, etc, etc. What must be "going on with them to make such dumb career decisions?" Anyway, let's end this.

  • A Baby Named Jesus | May 14, 2012 10:20 AM

    In the original script, the AMATEUR softball player Reese played in HOW DO YOU KNOW was supposed to be 26. They changed it to 30, to accomodate Reese, and even then she was three or four years older than that. The character of Marlena, from WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, was 23 in the book. I'm not sure how old she was supposed to be, but her character in THIS MEANS WAR was supposed to be some young hottie. Did you know that Reese had been offered the part of Mary Sue, wife of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, in THE MASTER? Now there was an awesome project she could have done. An age appropriate role, with a stellar cast and director. The film was Oscar bait all the way. Instead she chose to do the part of the young hottie in the universally panned, THIS MEANS WAR, where she was ridiculed for her part. Something is going on with her to make such a dumb career decision.

  • f | May 13, 2012 10:22 PM

    Yeah, I was referring to the second point. "Apparently the book was brought to Reese to produce, she's the one who wanted to also star in it." According to what? I don't care either way, I'm just wondering where you read that in the article JS linked to above. The only movie I've seen out of the ones you mentioned is How Do You Know, and since her whole storyline revolved around the fact that she's too old to play softball, she seemed well-cast age-wise. Maybe you're right that she's miscast in this one. I have no idea. Doesn't make your comment (about how she "pursued the starring role" in this because she's having a "female mid-life crisis" and "beginning to freak out") any less crazy; it states in both this article and JS's that Strayed not only pursued Witherspoon (again, not the other way around), but "couldn't be more thrilled," "can't imagine who else would do this," and thinks Witherspoon is "the perfect person." As for this: "Also, i'm sure the 'pitch' Cheryl made to Reese was similarly made to others. However, Reese was probably the only 39-year-old predisposed into believing she could play a 23-26 year old woman." How do you know any of this? What reason do you have to believe it? Don't answer that. I'd rather not continue this convo.

  • A Baby Named Jesus | May 13, 2012 7:30 PM

    After all, there isn't anyone forcing Reese, a 36 year old soon-to-be mother of three, to play 23 to 26 year olds, is there?

  • A Baby Named Jesus | May 13, 2012 7:27 PM

    Oh, "F", I wasn't aware you had a point. The original comment was that I was crazy. If the point you were making was that the book was brought to Reese and not the other way around, I recommend you read JS' comment above. Apparently the book was brought to Reese to produce, she's the one who wanted to also star in it. Also, i'm sure the "pitch" Cheryl made to Reese was similarly made to others. However, Reese was probably the only 39-year-old predisposed into believing she could play a 23-26 year old woman. See: HOW DO YOU KNOW, WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, THIS MEANS WAR.

  • f | May 13, 2012 7:18 PM

    And what does that make you? An actress who badly wanted the role? Anyway, you didn't address my point. You just insulted me and repeated what you said before. But whatever. Have fun being outraged. :)

  • A Baby Named Jesus | May 13, 2012 4:03 PM

    I'm assuming that "F" is Witherspoon's manager, agent or best friend, so I will suggest to "F" that s/he advise Witherspoon to stop seeking roles that she is unsuitable to play. There's nothing wrong with playing 35-40 year old characters. Witherspoon's involvement will probably sink this project.

  • f | May 12, 2012 5:20 AM

    You're welcome. As it states above, the author sent the book to Witherspoon, saying she "can't imagine who else would do this." So Witherspoon didn't pursue it, the author pursued her. With that in mind, re-read your long paragraph about what you think are her motivations. Then maybe you'll see my point.

  • A Baby Named Jesus | May 12, 2012 2:11 AM

    Does "F" even know what this book is about? If not, then shut the fuck up please. Thank you.

  • David | May 11, 2012 7:45 PM

    Not crazy; in Hollywood parlance, she's just an, um, agent.

  • f | May 11, 2012 7:23 PM

    You're a crazy person.

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