The road to turning Nico Walker’s semi-autobiographical novel Cherry into a film had some interesting hurdles that the author would need to clear in order to make the deal happen. But in the end, a $1 million option was awarded to directors Joe and Anthony Russo, who would then turn to co-writer Jessica Goldberg to adapt the novel into the Tom Holland-starring drama that opens in theaters today. As an author, and the inspiration for his own work, there’s a bit of a blurry line that’s implied between where Nico ends and Cherry begins. Which is why, when Goldberg got into contact with Walker, she received one important instruction for adapting Cherry: it had to be seen as a work of pure fiction.
While speaking with Jessica Goldberg on behalf of CinemaBlend’s attendance of the press day for Cherry, our discussion dug into the finer points of her adaptation process. Along with fellow credited writer Angela Russo-Ostot, Goldberg tackled the tale of our titular antihero as he navigates through an identity crisis and an addiction in post-9/11 America. The complications of that process, and Nico Walker’s wishes, were described by Jessica Goldberg as follows:
Well, you know, he really wanted [Cherry] to be seen as a work of fiction. I exchanged a few emails with him in the beginning, he was in prison. In fact, I think it took him a long time to even option the book for the Russo Bros, because they had to have minutes to talk to him on the phone. So they had to wait until he had enough minutes. I think it was a tricky process to speak with him. We did exchange a few emails, but like I said, it was deeply important to him that this project was seen as a work of fiction.
Nico Walker’s life story followed a very similar trajectory to his fictional counterpart in Cherry, as he also served as a medic in the Army during the early days of the Second Iraq War. With his own past of criminal misconduct and substance abuse stemming from then-undiagnosed PTSD, it seems that part of exorcising Nico Walker’s demons was to write Cherry. The novel, which was a smash success with critics, eventually struck a chord with the Russo family, as Joe, Anthony and Angela all wanted to tell a story that took place close to home.
This led to Jessica Goldberg being hired as a writer on Cherry, as she was already working on another project with the Russos. With work on that project getting all parties involved acquainted, Goldberg was recruited to look at the book and decide whether or not she would be interested in cracking the story. From that point on, the rest was history, and Cherry became a distinct project that marks a special place in the Russo filmography, as well as Jessica Goldberg’s writing career.
Cherry is a film that takes a look at some of the darker issues that have been discussed in the modern age in a greater, more public context. Through Angela Russo-Ostot and Jessica Goldberg’s writing, Joe and Anthony Russo’s directing, and Tom Holland’s persuasive performance, this is a movie that is definitely going to have people talking about it once they’ve seen it. And while the opinions may vary, what can’t be questioned is the work that went into bringing an authentic, yet clearly fictional picture of Nico Walker’s experiences to the screen.