Creating “The Glass Castle” with Jeannette Walls

Walls discusses the process of adapting her New York Times bestseller for the big screen

The Glass Castle,” a memoir by Jeannette Walls, recounts her life growing up in poverty in an unconventional household with dysfunctional parents. After having sold millions of copies worldwide and spending 261 weeks atop The New York Times bestseller list the book's film adaptation is anticipating its upcoming release on Friday, August 11.

In an interview with Walls, she revisits how unprepared she was to see the incredible cast and crews hard work, how the filming process changed her and how trash equals trust.

The cast for this movie was phenomenal. I don’t know how you could’ve done better.

I couldn’t have done better. It’s not humanly possible to have had a better cast.

During your Q&A for the film, you mentioned your fantasies for writing the book. Did you have a fantasy for writing the film when you were going through the filming process?

My fantasy for the film was that they would be able to capture the complexity of it. I wasn’t sure that that would happen. It’s so horrible, but so joyful at the same time. Such despair, yet such hope and the fantasy was, “Are they going to be able to pull this off?” And they did in spades.

I suppose my other fantasy for the film – well this isn’t a fantasy, this is a reality, this is a hope – so many young people in schools who have read the book start out the conversation, “I don’t usually read books and I wouldn’t have read this book unless it was assigned in class, but I loved it.” I think we all love books, we all love stories, but there are people out there who have an aversion to reading books. Nobody has an aversion to seeing movies. So my fantasy for this is that it will reach a wider audience.

There are rich kids and poor kids who need to know this story, who would not pick up a book. Books can do things movies can’t, movies can do things book can’t. It’s a very powerful medium. As someone who loves the written word, but grew up without a television, I wonder if I’d had a television if I would’ve gone into movie making because it’s so powerful. Being on the set and watching these amazing people take my words and turn it into something visual…

The people who worked on this movie were so passionate about getting it right and all of the details. It exceeded my wildest dreams, my very high hopes for the movie.

I love that you mentioned complexity. You’ve got this incredible cast, like you said you couldn’t have done better. Were there still fears they wouldn’t capture this?

Okay, Brie Larson. The woman was so smart in my conversations with her. She kept asking these really good, really direct questions about things like posture. “I noticed you have really good posture, most tall people don’t. Could you talk about that?” and I thought wow… you actors are pretty clever. I knew Brie Larson could handle it. I’d never had any fears.

I also dealt a lot with Naomi Watts and her questions were so smart, she was so good: just fearless about getting inside this really complicated, contradictory woman. And I knew that Woody Harrelson would be good. I was totally unprepared for how over the top spectacular he was.

Even some of the other actors like the person who plays what they call, the Middle Jeannette, Ella Anderson. Oh. My. Gosh. I know they spent a lot of time auditioning these child actors and the producer told me the thing about child actors was they are rehearsed within an inch of their lives. They have that scene down solid. What you’ve got to do with them is have them go off the script and see who can adlib.

So they actually adlibbed with the wonderful actor who played the guy who molested me, Dominic Bogart and he and Ella were adlibbing and she had the camera people crying. This kid, I don’t know how old her soul is, but she was phenomenal. Phenomenal.

One time we had a conversation and she said, “I have a dumb question: during the pool scene did you trust your dad?” I was like, “Oh my gosh, that is not a dumb question that is the heart of not only this scene but the entire movie.” They were all so smart that I just sat back and let these geniuses do their job. It wasn’t just the actors either, but also the set designer.

I got an email from the woman who did the set design and she said we have a bit of a dilemma. “We’re filling up the foundation for The Glass Castle with garbage so we have to put together a substantial amount of garbage and there was a discussion going on about what kind of things would the Walls family throw away. Here’s what were thinking…” and I was like who worries about garbage? If they’re worried about garbage, you can kind of breath a sigh of relief. So I trusted them.

That being said, I was unprepared for how much I loved the movie. Watching it on a couple of occasions I was thinking, “That was really smart,” because Destin had the unenviable challenge of taking this big mess of a story and putting it into a story. I just thought he was utterly brilliant.

There’s so much good in this movie. Was there a scene for you in this film that resonates with you more emotionally or painfully that you were unprepared for?

Painfully? Ella Anderson watching my father detoxing and the look in her eyes of love and fear and confusion and "What do I do?"

Scenes that I love, the moment I loved? The howling. Owwoooo. It sort of captures it doesn’t it? It captures the joy and exuberance, but also the crazy wild quality.

You’ve said in writing your book, you learned something new about yourself. Was there something new you learned about yourself in creating the movie?

I think I forgave myself a little bit more. I think seeing Brie Larson and Ella Anderson doing these things I just love them so much, in a way I never really loved myself. They are just really neat people. 

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