The Moment in the Glass Castle Movie That Made Jeannette Walls Cry

Before Jeannette Walls sat down in a Los Angeles screening room to watch The Glass Castle, the movie based on her memoir of the same name, producer Gil Netter gave her a warning: “Gil told me I wasn’t going to like it,” Walls tells me during an interview at Manhattan’s NoMad Hotel. “He said, ‘People never like movies about themselves. It’s just too weird to see your life on screen.’”

But Netter was wrong—and likely thrilled that he was. “I loved it! I was ecstatic. I knew they’d get it right because I’d been dealing with them so much during the process of making the film, and I knew they were smart, sensitive people,” Walls says of the team that brought her book to the screen—Netter, director Destin Daniel Cretton, and a cast that has Oscar nominees Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts playing her parents, while Oscar winner Brie Larson plays Jeannette as an adult. (Walls still can’t quite believe that casting: “I mean, Brie Larson!”)

Like the memoir, the movie dramatizes how the author and her siblings—sisters Lori and Maureen and brother Brian—grew up dirt poor, spending much of their childhood and teen years living in a run-down shack without regular access to water or electricity in the coal-mining town of Welch, West Virginia. Their parents, Rex and Rose Mary Walls, were eccentric dreamers and wonderfully creative; the engineering-minded Rex, who died in 1994, had a vision of a glass castle he wanted to build for his family, and Rose Mary was a prolific painter. But they were incapable of providing any sense of normalcy or stability for their kids.

Resilient and hopeful, though oftentimes hungry, Walls knew even as a child that if she was going to have a better life one day, it would be up to her to make it happen. Eventually, she and her siblings left their parents and made their way to New York City—where Walls paid her own way through Barnard College, then became a New York City gossip columnist, chronicling the lives of the rich and famous for New York magazine, Esquire, and MSNBC.com. All the while, she kept her own past a secret out of shame until she finally wrote about it in her memoir.

More than a decade after that book was published, it’s finally a film.

Cretton wrote the screen adaptation of The Glass Castle with Andrew Lanham. “Destin was really smart about getting at the heart of the book. A couple of other screenwriters had taken a stab at it, and they were good screenplays, but Destin immediately said, ‘This is about the relationship between the daughter and the father,’ and he went into that, and I thought he cracked it right open,” Walls says.

She never considered writing the screenplay herself. “It is not my medium. It is so different,” she says. “It’s like playing chess—10 different games of chess all at once.”

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What works in book form doesn’t always play well on screen, so those who read Walls’s memoir will notice some differences in the movie. “Destin wrote certain scenes that weren’t in the book, but it was always in conversation with me,” Walls says. “He also made my first husband more of a character, but these decisions were always informed by what actually happened. He made smart choices and took certain liberties, and I thought it was brilliantly done. I learned a lot about storytelling from him.”

Walls was impressed by the attention Larson paid to the smallest details while filming. During one set visit, Walls remembers listening to Larson ask Cretton whether a “Why?” or a “Why not?” would sound more pointed during a conversation. (Cretton has worked with Larson before, directing her in the critically acclaimed 2013 film Short Term 12.)

The actress also talked to Walls about her life, her feelings, and her physicality. “Brie asked me if I had any physical habits. Do you touch your hair when you have anxiety? She wanted specifics. She wanted mannerisms. I couldn’t think of any, but she picked some up anyway,” Walls says with a laugh. “There is a scene [at New York magazine] where she picks up her bag, and I thought, ‘That’s how I would do it!’ Little things like that. Even just the way she cocked her head—I thought, ‘Oh my God.’”

Ella Anderson, who plays Walls in pivotal scenes as a child, also put a lot of thought into her role. “I got to hand it to that kid. We were talking, and she said, ‘I have a dumb question. That scene where your dad threw you in the pool—did you trust him?’ I thought, ‘That’s not a dumb question. That’s what that scene is about. That’s what the book is about,’” Walls says. “She kind of blew me away.”

Walls surprised herself by getting emotional while watching the scene in which a teenage Walls leaves home. “I cried when I saw Woody Harrelson in character for the first time on the set. It was a very dramatic scene. It was Brie Larson—that would be me—coming down the stairs, and he asked her to stay. I love Woody Harrelson. He’s a fine actor. I thought he’d do fine in the role, but when I saw him in character, I gasped. I gasped kind of loudly. Luckily, I was far enough away that he didn’t hear me. I was shaking,” Walls says, lifting up her hands and showing me how badly they were trembling, “because he had the body language.”

“It was the same with Naomi Watts—playing my mom was not an easy role, and she worked very hard. She listened to tapes of my mother, and she sounded like my mom, and it was more than just the voice,” Walls says.

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At the time we spoke, Walls’s actual mother—Rose Mary—had seen the trailer for The Glass Castle, but she hadn’t seen the whole movie. “I think I will get a screening copy. It might be a little weird for her,” Walls says. “The book was tough on her. But bless her heart—she said, ‘I don’t see it quite the way you did, but that’s the way you saw it.’ It’s crazy that she can see that.”

Revisiting her upbringing through the movie has gotten Walls thinking about her past again. “I had dreams last night about Welch, which I have not dreamt about in a long time,” she says. “But it was a very wise man who said, ‘Secrets are a little bit like vampires—they suck the life out of you. Once they’re exposed to light, they lose their power over you.’ And I have found that to be very true. So I kind of own the stories, and my past doesn’t haunt me the way it used to.”

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Full ScreenPhotos:15 of the Most Torturous Movie Shoots in Hollywood History
*Justice League*

Justice League

Making a massive superhero movie with a sprawling cast is never easy, but D.C.’s Justice League truly is in a league of its own. Not only did director Zack Snyder drop out due to the tragic death of his daughter, but new director Joss Whedon has had to oversee two months‘ worth of re-shoots, which is now causing a world of scheduling issues for the busy cast. He’s now also dealing with studio pressure to make the movie funnier and lighter in the wake of Batman v Superman’s horrible reviews.

Photo: Courtesy of Clay Enos/DC Comics.

*Cleopatra*

Cleopatra

The 1963 film about the iconic Egyptian queen has gone down as one of the most famously complicated shoots of all time. Cleopatra was not only the most expensive movie ever made at the time ($44 million, equivalent to $300 million today)—it also took multiple directors and years of embarrassingly fraught production to make, nearly destroying 20th Century Fox in the process.

Photo: Courtesy Everett Collection

*Heaven's Gate*

Heaven’s Gate

It’s the textbook example of a potential blockbuster gone wrong. Michael Cimino’s 1980 Western was supposed to be the post-Deer Hunter project that established his Hollywood prowess. Instead, it ran spectacularly over budget—a testament to his controlling nature—and was buried at first sight by ruthless critics, a devastating blow that haunted the filmmaker for the rest of his life.

Photo: From United Artists/Everett Collection.

*Ishtar*

Ishtar

A comedy starring Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty at the height of their fame should have been a home run. Instead, audiences got Ishtar, a critical bomb. It was a wreck behind the scenes as well, with the Moroccan setting proving inhospitable to traditional Hollywood production. Director and writer Elaine May also butted heads with cast and crew, and was nearly fired by the studio. Ishtar racked up a gargantuan $50 million budget and endured an incredibly tense 10-month post-production period, in which Hoffman, Beatty, and May all tried to make their own cuts of the film, which led to a screaming match between Beatty and May.

Photo: From Columbia Pictures/Everett Collection.

*Waterworld*

Waterworld

Every decade has its own Cleopatra–esque bomb; in the ‘90s, it was Waterworld, Kevin Costner’s bloated sci-fi adventure. The film ran up a $175 million bill and became one of the biggest flops of all time. Bad luck was everywhere: a pricey set sank under water, cast members got seasick, and Costner nearly died after a stunt in which he was tied to the mast of a boat went ferociously wrong.

Photo: From Universal Pictures/Everett Collection.

*Titanic*

Titanic

James Cameron’s $210 million epic was a logistical nightmare, thanks to its high budget and his perfectionist ways. He had massive set-pieces built to make the film look photo-realistic, and was picky about the smallest of details—like requesting real wallpaper instead of painted sets. Cameron’s famous temper also flared up on the stressful shoot, often putting him at odds with his crew and studio execs.

Photo: From 20th Century Fox/Everett Collection.

*Suicide Squad*

Suicide Squad

Speaking of superhero movies . . . Suicide Squad was a perfect case of actors going a little too method. Jared Leto, in character as the Joker, would send his co-stars horrible gifts like rats and used condoms. Jai Courtney did shrooms and burned himself. Director David Ayer encouraged the chaos, turning the set into a miniature fight club to help the actors bond through beating each other up. It’s no wonder they needed an on-set therapist.

Photo: By Clay Enos/Warner Bros./Everett Collection.

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<em>Justice League</em>

Justice League

Making a massive superhero movie with a sprawling cast is never easy, but D.C.’s Justice League truly is in a league of its own. Not only did director Zack Snyder drop out due to the tragic death of his daughter, but new director Joss Whedon has had to oversee two months‘ worth of re-shoots, which is now causing a world of scheduling issues for the busy cast. He’s now also dealing with studio pressure to make the movie funnier and lighter in the wake of Batman v Superman’s horrible reviews.

Courtesy of Clay Enos/DC Comics.

<em>Cleopatra</em>

Cleopatra

The 1963 film about the iconic Egyptian queen has gone down as one of the most famously complicated shoots of all time. Cleopatra was not only the most expensive movie ever made at the time ($44 million, equivalent to $300 million today)—it also took multiple directors and years of embarrassingly fraught production to make, nearly destroying 20th Century Fox in the process.

Courtesy Everett Collection

<em>Heaven&#39;s Gate</em>

Heaven’s Gate

It’s the textbook example of a potential blockbuster gone wrong. Michael Cimino’s 1980 Western was supposed to be the post-Deer Hunter project that established his Hollywood prowess. Instead, it ran spectacularly over budget—a testament to his controlling nature—and was buried at first sight by ruthless critics, a devastating blow that haunted the filmmaker for the rest of his life.

From United Artists/Everett Collection.

<em>Ishtar</em>

Ishtar

A comedy starring Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty at the height of their fame should have been a home run. Instead, audiences got Ishtar, a critical bomb. It was a wreck behind the scenes as well, with the Moroccan setting proving inhospitable to traditional Hollywood production. Director and writer Elaine May also butted heads with cast and crew, and was nearly fired by the studio. Ishtar racked up a gargantuan $50 million budget and endured an incredibly tense 10-month post-production period, in which Hoffman, Beatty, and May all tried to make their own cuts of the film, which led to a screaming match between Beatty and May.

From Columbia Pictures/Everett Collection.

<em>Fitzcarraldo</em>

Fitzcarraldo

Werner Herzog’s jungle drama was so needlessly complicated that it was nicknamed the “conquest of the useless.” He tasked his crew with building bizarrely complex sets, at one point requiring at least 700 people to pull a boat up a mountain for one of the scenes. A handful of people were injured, including one man who was bitten by a poisonous snake and had to cut his own foot off to staunch the venom. On top of that, Herzog was working with actor Klaus Kinski—someone he once lightly considered having killed because of their volatile relationship.

From New World/Everett Collection.

<em>The Shining</em>

The Shining

Poor Shelley Duvall. The actress was tormented while making Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic, calling the experience “almost unbearable.” The director would play psychological mind games with her and force her to cry for hours on end, shredding the young actress’s nerves and even causing her hair to fall out.

From Warner Bros./Everett Collection.

<em>The Island of Dr. Moreau</em>

The Island of Dr. Moreau

Problems began before the cameras started rolling on this critically reviled 1996 flick—original star Bruce Willis dropped out, Val Kilmer made dramatic demands, and Marlon Brando retreated after the shock of his daughter’s death. Just three days into filming, director Richard Stanley was fired. Things only got worse from there, with Kilmer ramping up his diva tactics and Brando lazily checking out, delivering his lines via earpiece.

From New Line/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock.

<em>Silence</em>

Silence

Martin Scorsese’s dream project took decades to get financed, and it was still an uphill battle from there. The 2016 film about Portuguese priests trekking to Japan was actually shot in Taiwan under grueling weather conditions, including high heat, humidity, and monsoons that nearly shredded the skeletal set. Actors Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield also pushed themselves to the brink, with Driver admitting he lost nearly 40 pounds for his role.

Courtesy Of Paramount Pictures.

<em>World War Z</em>

World War Z

In some ways, Heaven’s Gate has nothing on Brad Pitt’s epic zombie adaptation. World War Z had just about every problem a film can have: a wildly overblown budget (around $225 million), scheduling issues, the departure of key behind-the-scenes members (writers, producers, visual-effects artists), and personality clashes between the star and director Marc Forster, all of which was detailed in a 2013 cover story.cover story.

By Jaap Buitendijk/Paramount Pictures/Everett Collection.

<em>Apocalypse Now</em>

Apocalypse Now

The heady Vietnam War film was the biggest gamble of Francis Ford Coppola’s career. He sank $16 million into it, and had to grapple with extreme weather conditions on the Philippines-based set. His cast was also dealing with their own setbacks—Marlon Brando couldn’t remember his lines and was severely overweight, Harvey Keitel had to be fired and replaced, and Martin Sheen had both a heart attack and a nervous breakdown while filming.

From United Artists/Everett Collection.

<em>The Revenant</em>

The Revenant

Leonardo DiCaprio would have done anything to win an Oscar, so The Revenant put him to the test. The grueling film saw the actor eat raw bison liver, sleep inside a dead horse carcass, and suffer through miserable freezing temperatures on the Alberta, Canada set. Not only that, but director Alejandro G. Iñárritu and co-star Tom Hardy often feuded off-camera, with tensions rising over creative disagreements. In the end, DiCaprio got his precious statuette—so it was all worth it, right?

By Kimberley French/20Th Century Fox Film Corp./Everett Collection.

<em>The Canyons</em>

The Canyons

Lindsay Lohan’s worst habits came to the forefront while working on this 2013 drama, directed by tempestuous former Scorsese collaborator Paul Schrader. In a straightforward New York Times exposé, it was revealed that Lohan disappeared for days before filming began, and would often clash with Schrader, as well as co-star James Deen. It was a precarious set, with the scrappy $250,000 film running into problems around every corner.

From IFC Films/Everett Collection.

<em>Waterworld</em>

Waterworld

Every decade has its own Cleopatra–esque bomb; in the ‘90s, it was Waterworld, Kevin Costner’s bloated sci-fi adventure. The film ran up a $175 million bill and became one of the biggest flops of all time. Bad luck was everywhere: a pricey set sank under water, cast members got seasick, and Costner nearly died after a stunt in which he was tied to the mast of a boat went ferociously wrong.

From Universal Pictures/Everett Collection.

<em>Titanic</em>

Titanic

James Cameron’s $210 million epic was a logistical nightmare, thanks to its high budget and his perfectionist ways. He had massive set-pieces built to make the film look photo-realistic, and was picky about the smallest of details—like requesting real wallpaper instead of painted sets. Cameron’s famous temper also flared up on the stressful shoot, often putting him at odds with his crew and studio execs.

From 20th Century Fox/Everett Collection.

<em>Suicide Squad</em>

Suicide Squad

Speaking of superhero movies . . . Suicide Squad was a perfect case of actors going a little too method. Jared Leto, in character as the Joker, would send his co-stars horrible gifts like rats and used condoms. Jai Courtney did shrooms and burned himself. Director David Ayer encouraged the chaos, turning the set into a miniature fight club to help the actors bond through beating each other up. It’s no wonder they needed an on-set therapist.

By Clay Enos/Warner Bros./Everett Collection.

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