How Cheryl Strayed’s ‘Tiny Stunning Issues’ was tailored for TV

Expensive Sugar, how do I respectfully take possession of a supply of fabric that was created by one other author and has a neighborhood of admirers who really feel a extremely robust sense of connection to the work? It was the query Liz Tigelaar, a author and producer whose credit embrace “Little Fires In all places” and “Informal,” needs she might have posed as she got down to adapt a e-book of essays based mostly on Cheryl Strayed’s beloved on-line recommendation column.

Strayed started writing the column below the pseudonym “Expensive Sugar” greater than a decade in the past when she was a struggling author. She developed a loyal following by shelling out insightful and compassionate steerage on life’s onerous, messy and heartbreaking conundrums by mining her personal experiences. They had been the idea for the 2012 assortment of essays “Tiny Stunning Issues: Recommendation on Love and Life From Expensive Sugar.” (She later revived the column as a podcast and, extra just lately, as a publication.)

Within the new Hulu collection, titled “Tiny Stunning Issues,” Tigelaar prevented the temptation of getting the letter writers be a personality in every episode in orbit of its protagonist, Clare Pierce, performed by Kathryn Hahn within the current and Sarah Pidgeon previously, selecting as a substitute to construct out the memoir ingredient of the essays.

“I’m nearly much less interested in how she finds the recommendation within the current day, externally,” says Tigelaar, a self-described Strayed tremendous fan. “How does she discover the recommendation inside her from what she’s already gone by means of? And the way will we deliver these tales to the entrance? It ended up being constructed the place perhaps the letter author didn’t want to seem. “

In a video name this week, Tigelaar mentioned what it was like having Strayed within the writers room, deciding what letters would assist drive the narrative, and the enjoyment and heartbreak of ardour tasks like “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” and a shelved restricted collection on Tonya Harding.

“Tiny Stunning Issues” showrunner Liz Tigelaar, left, and director Desiree Akhavan throughout filming of the Hulu collection.

(Jessica Brooks / Hulu)

Earlier than we totally get into issues, can we simply begin by speaking in regards to the surprise that’s Kathryn Hahn?

I used to be watching someone inhabit a personality on the highest stage; each advert lib, each approach, she did it a bit of in another way. This was an element that was formidable with quite a bit to navigate, and to see someone giving such a gutsy efficiency and being so unafraid was such a pleasure. I imply, when she lays on the bottom in a scene, and he or she’s identical to, “I’m not OK” in a approach solely she will be able to — I imply, I feel each girl will get that.

You’re telling a model of Cheryl Strayed’s story, however you’ve named the protagonist Clare Pierce. What prompted that call?

We talked quite a bit about that. In “Wild,” Reese Witherspoon performed Cheryl Strayed. [Witherspoon, who worked with Tigelaar on “Little Fires Everywhere,” is an executive producer on the series.] And we actually needed the liberty. Cheryl is Clare’s age residing a model of Clare’s life. So am I. We didn’t wish to suggest that this was autobiographical. We’re not depicting Cheryl’s marriage now, Cheryl’s kids now. I named her Clare and we began to consider the model of her. It was like: That is Cheryl had she not hiked the Pacific Crest Path, that is Cheryl had she not develop into that author that she and her mom believed that she could possibly be. And it was humorous as a result of after I named her Clare, Cheryl stated, “I used to be Claire in ‘Torch.’” “Torch” was a fictionalized model of Cheryl with out the PCT. I learn it proper after “Wild.” I had not remembered that she was Claire. However I like that she was Claire there and Clare right here.

Nia Vardalos tailored the e-book for the stage and he or she stated that the fabric was life-changing for her. Did it feed one thing in you on the proper time?

I’ve mainly spent a 12 months not solely doing one thing that was, to me — particularly for a half-hour collection — a really narratively formidable story and a really structurally formidable story. And never understanding, like, are individuals going to get it? Are individuals going to love it? Or is it too formidable with all of this stuff? However to do that big artistic endeavor for this one that I like, whose tales have saved me, and to do it beside that individual encouraging you the entire time? Who could possibly be in higher palms?

Inform me extra about that. Along with having the e-book as a useful resource, what was the collaboration like with Cheryl?

Within the very starting, she stated, “May I come into the writers room? Can I be part of it?” And I used to be like, “Completely!” And at first I informed the writers, “Cheryl Strayed goes to be within the writers room.” And I feel some individuals had been a bit of bit trepidatious, like, “The creator goes to be there, are we going to have the ability to actually dissect it?” And it was not like that. She has these wealthy tales after which she has these wealthy tales inside these tales. We optioned an essay of hers referred to as “The Love of My Life,” which was the muse of Episode 5, this flashback story of how she and her mother went to varsity collectively and her mother died on spring break their senior 12 months. So we mined a lot of her writing and expertise as a author.

It’s not fairly the identical because the “Expensive Sugar” neighborhood and others prefer it, however I do discover myself pulled into a selected nook of social media, drawn to individuals being susceptible and sharing points of their lives and the conundrums they face. It’s a bizarre factor to be invested in individuals you’ve by no means met and wish to see how they’ve moved by means of the same expertise you’re going by means of. What has this course of illuminated for you in regards to the human need to have a path lit indirectly?

Do you ever hearken to “We Can Do Arduous Issues”? It’s the Glennon Doyle podcast that she hosts together with her spouse, Abby Wambach [the soccer player], and her sister, Amanda Doyle. It’s my “Expensive Sugar” alternative proper now. Glennon and Cheryl are very completely different, however they’ve similarities, which is that they don’t act as in the event that they’re on a pedestal above you doling out knowledge. You are feeling their battle, and that they’re grappling and that they’re making an attempt to make sense of the world that all of us inhabit and try to make sense of, so there’s this big commonality. It’s so comforting having this deep knowledge and perspective on the world that we’ve got to navigate, and find out how to sort of really feel our approach by means of it. There’s extra entry to get home windows into issues. After I was youthful, you didn’t have a window into it. I feel what Cheryl does so nicely is that she, she says to individuals, “I’m not telling you something you don’t know; I’m simply validating the reply that’s already inside you that you understand, however perhaps want you didn’t know.”

How did you resolve which questions to incorporate within the present to drive the narrative?

That was onerous as a result of there have been so many good ones. I knew “Tiny Stunning Issues” needed to be the primary one. I knew “Like an Iron Bell” was the finale as a result of I used to be fairly positive I needed to inform the start, the center and the tip of her mom’s life. After which I knew I needed to leap round and never be fairly so linear. I attempted to carry to the concept it was OK to not know precisely the place you had been within the timeline, and that what you simply wanted to expertise was the story of that episode and the way it associated to the letter within the current. However I feel there have been simply iconic letters — “The Ghost Ship That Didn’t Carry Us” was a for-sure, the girl who writes in about her daughter within the pediatric NICU, and this query of religion felt so necessary. We tried to actually hit these iconic ones.

One of many extra putting sequences of the collection comes close to the tip. It’s this harrowing second the place you transition from Clare and Lucas [Nick Stahl] arguing about their childhood dwelling within the current day to flashbacks of them arguing about his absence within the aftermath of their mom’s deadly analysis. What did you need out of that sequence?

I like this concept of how all our selves reside inside us. So, it doesn’t matter what age we’re, I’m not simply 47; I’m 46 and 45 and 44 and 43 — all ages remains to be inside me. In any second, you will be jostled again to that age. And while you’re combating with someone, while you’re combating together with your youthful brother, you’re out of the blue the age of those very primal wounds. I needed to indicate that it wasn’t simply these two adults combating over this childhood dwelling, and their dad’s intrusion, that it was two susceptible youngsters who had been making an attempt to carry one thing that they didn’t wish to let go. And the way we might transfer round and really feel that. It’s most likely the scene that scared me probably the most. However I needed all of the flashbacks that had preceded it to construct towards that and particularly in that remaining episode. The backstory was fully Cheryl’s life and expertise.

What did Cheryl consider the ending? We get this dreamlike sequence of Clare and her mom.

I feel she liked it as a result of she was proper there with us crafting it. I feel it was onerous to be on set and watch probably the most painful moments of her life acted out. It’s a part of a journey of therapeutic and catharsis. To see how far she’s come from that 22-year-old and the way a lot she has needed to discover her approach — and the way she wasn’t Clare; she turned one thing completely different.

Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington in a scene from “Little Fires In all places.”


You’ve now tailored a number of works. Along with this one, there’s Celeste Ng’s “Little Fires In all places,” there will probably be Judy Blume’s “Summer time Sisters.” What have you ever come to understand in regards to the means of adapting different individuals’s work that perhaps you struggled with to start with?

I really feel so lucky to be at some extent in my profession the place I can work on the issues that I’m a fan of. I imply, Judy Blume‘s “Summer time Sisters” — I wrote her a letter after I was 22. I informed her why I ought to adapt it despite the fact that I used to be a author’s assistant on “Dawson’s Creek.” I like collaborating with authors as a result of I like their tales, and I would like them to have a tremendous expertise within the adaptation course of. I would like them to see one thing that they love dropped at mild on this completely different medium. One factor I’ve realized is that not each creator needs the identical factor. Celeste needed to go to the room — she didn’t essentially wish to be in it — however we had actually in depth artistic conversations up prime so she knew precisely what I used to be doing, after which she might give notes on scripts as we went by means of. Cheryl needed to be in the room. And that was excellent too.

You’re additionally set to adapt “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” right into a characteristic movie for Netflix. The place are you at in that course of? And the way would you describe that collaboration with Taylor Jenkins Reid?

I completed the script proper earlier than “Tiny Stunning Issues,” truly. And that was unimaginable. That was the identical expertise the place I learn the e-book, I talked to Taylor and I couldn’t imagine that it was someway coming my approach. It felt so resonant for me, that story, when it comes to my very own marriage and relationship and understanding that on only a actually deep stage. I simply thought the story was epic. As soon as I used to be achieved with my draft, she got here in and did her cross, which was superior. We needed to make it possible for the screenplay felt like Taylor, that it felt just like the voice of the e-book. And it did. She’s so clever and he or she has such a mild contact, however I felt that sort of elevated the script to that stage. I feel they’re in director levels now.

BookTok has many opinions on who must be forged.

I’m all the time tagged in stuff that’s pushing Jessica Chastain — she’s most likely like, “Who the f— is Liz Tigelaar?” Additionally, Brittany Snow. I like that individuals find it irresistible. They need to. The e-book is unimaginable.

I wish to pivot to a different venture of yours. I learn your current interview within the Hollywood Reporter, and in it you talked about a ardour venture of yours, which was a Tonya Harding restricted collection that received scrapped. And all I might assume was: What have I been denied?

One thing nice. You will have been denied, the world has been denied.


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Is there no technique to revive this venture? Are you able to inform me extra about it, the tone it had — one thing?

To begin with, this was Amy Talkington’s. She had written a characteristic referred to as “The Ice Queens” and proper as she completed it, “I, Tonya” received arrange. And so Larry Salz, our mutual agent at UTA, was like, “What about making it a restricted collection?” And so I met with Amy. This was her genius that I received to return onto. We mainly set it up as a six-episode restricted collection. We wrote all of the episodes with one other author, Rosa Handelman, who I wrote with on “Informal” and “Little Fires In all places.” It was Tonya Harding as feminist icon. It was quite a bit about how violence begets violence. It actually examined the entire story from Tonya Harding’s perspective, not in any approach making Tonya Harding the butt of the joke. It was extra like: Put your self within the coronary heart and thoughts of her and now have a look at every thing from her perspective — and the way does the story change? Why has it not been arrange? I don’t know. There’s six excellent scripts. I’ve by no means had a lot enjoyable.

While you stated in that interview that one episode opened with Connie Chung and Maury Povich having intercourse, I used to be identical to, “Wait, what?

Oh, yeah. Every episode had a novel teaser that may set the time, and one in every of our episodes opens with a intercourse scene between them. Maury Povich is hands-down probably the most likable man in your complete collection. You’re like, “Maury Povich is our male North Star?” It’s superb. It’s such a popular culture examination. I’m like: Hulu, that is gold on a silver platter, let’s go! FX, come on!

It can go down as my favourite factor I’ve ever labored on. I felt like I ought to have been paying somebody to do it as a result of that’s how a lot pleasure it introduced me. Consider me, I’m prepared to shoot it myself. If I’ve to placed on skates and play Tonya Harding myself, I’ll do it. I needed Kieran Culkin to be Jeff Gillooly [Harding’s ex-husband].

Unrelated to Tonya Harding, however a callback nonetheless: How did you land on Nelly’s “Experience Wit Me” for the the opening episode of “Tiny Stunning Issues”?

That’s so humorous. I imply, it’s the one Nelly track I do know. I really feel like everytime you’d roll into Vegas or one thing, while you try this four-hour drive, you’d be cranking it up. I don’t know, that track all the time caught with me. We truly needed to have Ingrid Michaelson cowl it. After which we appeared on the lyrics and we had been like, “She will’t cowl this. This can be a terribly, terribly misogynistic track.” So, as a substitute, we had her cowl “Nearer to Fantastic” by the Indigo Ladies, which is superb and the place my coronary heart lies. And it was excellent.

‘Tiny Stunning Issues’

The place: Hulu

When: Any time, beginning Friday

Score: TV-MA (could also be unsuitable for kids below the age of 17)