Jeannette Walls and Naomi Watts on bringing Walls’ best-selling memoir, The Glass Castle, to the screen.
US journalist Jeannette Walls made a household name for herself dealing in celebrity gossip while all along hiding one of the most scandalous scoops of a lifetime – her own real life story.
Raised by an alcoholic father and a narcissist mother, Walls and her three siblings spent their childhood dragged around the US in a random nomadic lifestyle with several periods of homelessness. Coming of age amid poverty, disaster and estrangement from society, it’s a miracle Walls was able to reinvent herself as a successful media woman.
Sweeping her past beneath the proverbial rug, it was only after she chose to publish her memoirs, The Glass Castle, in 2005 that she finally found freedom, connecting with millions of readers eager to share their own childhood struggles.
Fast-forward 12 years and Walls‘ best-seller is now a movie, starring Brie Larson as her adult self, with Naomi Watts and Woody Harrelson as her irresponsible parents.
When STACK meets with Walls, 57, not only is she delighted with her dream cast, but she hopes audiences will find some peace from sharing her experience.
“There are so many people out there with stories that, while not identical to mine, share something essential in common. In telling this story of both great hardships and great abundance, I not only reconnected with this childhood that I tried to pretend did not exist for a long time; I also connected with other people,” says Walls who has since built a home for her mother Rose Mary on her 200-acre Virginia property, her father Rex having died from a heart attack in 1994.
Joining us, Watts shares the viewer’s natural outrage at how Walls and her siblings were raised, although she is perhaps a little more sympathetic having spoken with the real Rose Mary Walls. “Rose is her own person so she’s just always going to be who she is, and that was one of the most wonderful things about playing this character; she instilled that in her children – like be who you are, own that, and don’t apologise or try and reinvent yourself because that’s what you think somebody wants to see. Just be you.”
“Rose is her own person so she’s just always going to be who she is, and that was one of the most wonderful things about playing this character”
As most viewers will ask themselves, Watts likewise wondered why Rose Mary Walls even stayed with her alcoholic and abusive husband?
“It’s certainly a question I had. Sometimes when you’re playing real life people, there are questions that are more delicate than others, and that was definitely one that I was more curious about,” admits Watts, herself the mother of two sons. “I think there were times when she really considered doing it, but there was just no money. With those limitations she chose something that was incredibly admirable, which was to soldier on through it, despite her unhappiness, and maintain this incredibly positive spirit. And I think that’s what kept them going. Like dealing with Rex’s illness, it was a struggle for all of them, but Rose Mary just kept saying ‘It’s ok‘. She would always see the good side of things; an incredible optimist.”
As harrowing as the story is, the 30-day shoot – filmed with three sets of children to depict the Walls siblings at different ages – was filled with joy.
“It was filmed during summer and I brought my two boys. With so many kids there it was like a summer camp, and was actually the point where they both started saying ‘I want to be an actor’, and I was like ‘Argh’,” Watts laughs.
While The Glass Castle has been through several castings – Jennifer Lawrence once attached to star and produce, while Mark Ruffalo and Claire Danes were previously set to play the parents – Walls feels she has found the best version with writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton at the helm.
“From the beginning, Destin saw all the light, the happiness, the joy and the lessons,” she says. “He hasn’t whitewashed anything. He hasn’t left out the bad things. They’re all there. His script captured exactly what I tried to do with the book: to show the beauty and the ugliness, the bright and the dark of my childhood.”
The Glass Castle is in cinemas on September 7.