LOS ANGELES - Author Jeannette Walls already scraped away at the dark truths, joy and hardship of her eccentric upbringing to write her memoir “The Glass Castle.” Now she’s living it all over again, but this time as an audience to her own life as her memories and words are acted out in a big screen adaptation of her book starring Brie Larson as herself and Woody Harrelson as her father.
With some 2.7 million copies sold, odds are most people know at least something about Walls’ story. Born to charismatic, bohemian and occasionally distracted parents, Rex and Rose Mary Walls, she and her three siblings spent their youths bouncing around from state to state and house to house, always either teetering on or deep in a state of poverty. The family later settled in Welch, West Virginia where Rex Walls fell further into his alcoholism and the children plotted, and eventually executed their escapes.
The film, fanciful as it might still sound to its author, has been a long-time coming. Walls’ book was optioned around the time it hit shelves in 2005.
Walls never even indulged in the “who would play me” game.
“It would have seemed like hubris,” she says.
Plus, bestselling status aside, it wasn’t an entirely straightforward path to theaters. There were a few screenwriters who Walls says didn’t quite know what to do with it, or poked fun at her unconventional parents and the rural environs. “The Glass Castle” the movie seemed as far-fetched as the one Rex Walls kept promising he was going build for his family.
Then, producer Gil Netter swooped in to save the day.
Netter had made both “The Blind Side,” a true story turned Oscar-nominee, and the “unadaptable” “Life of Pi.”
As Walls says, “If he knew how to make a movie about a Bengal tiger and an orangutan and a boat maybe he’d know how to make a movie about my family.”
For Netter it was a simple call.
“There’s kind of a general theme with my movies. I like to give people hope. I like triumph of the human spirit. I like people to feel like their lives can prosper,” he says. “I just love that there was a sense of hope that came out of this book, either because of how you were raised or in spite of how you were raised.”
The key for both was in the choice of Destin Daniel Cretton to direct. Cretton had previously made the indie “Short Term 12,” which put both himself on the map as a humanist director and also made audiences take note of Larson as a talent to be reckoned with.
Larson would eventually come on board to play Jeannette as an adult in the film.
“As soon as it got in his hands I felt safe,” Walls says. “There’s no cheap emotional blackmailing, it’s this bizarre combination of love and hate and joy and despair and triumph and you feel all of these things simultaneously and that’s kind of what my life was like.”
And while the movie is very much her life, Walls chose to take a supporting role in the production — always there to help with a question, or to fight for a particular moment to be included, but ultimately letting the filmmakers drive the ship.