August 11, 2017
Director Destin Daniel Cretton Talks Building ‘The Glass Castle’ Starring Brie Larson [Interview]
After the critically acclaimed success of 2013’s “Short Term 12,” director Destin Daniel Cretton already knew what he wanted to tackle next — an adaptation of Jeannette Walls‘ 2005 best selling memoir “The Glass Castle.” The book is chalk full of dark and heavy themes about Walls’ childhood but primarily focused on the dysfunctional relationship she had with her mentally unbalanced parents. Walls had to deal with an alcoholic father that could snap at any moment (played in the movie by Woody Harrelson) and an eccentric, uncaring, but quiet mother (Naomi Watts), both trying to live bohemian lifestyles in a world changing against their own beliefs.
“I was writing the odd thing here and there, but once the film was greenlit it was basically the first thing I officially worked on post-‘Short Term 12,’” the writer-director told us in a recent interview.
The project all started when Cretton was given the book by his producer Gil Netter, saying, “The same day he sent it to me I started reading it and couldn’t put it down, I just felt so connected to the material.” For good reason, Walls’ book spent 262 weeks on The New York Times best seller list and has sold over 2.7 million copies. It’s also developed an incalculable number of devotees that will likely be very invested in how accurate the adaptation bears out.
The balance between fact and fiction when making a movie based on a true story is never easy, but Cretton tried to deliver something that was faithful to the source. “We tried to stay as close to the book as we could, but there were things we had to cut down due to this being a movie and there is a limit as what we can show, we worked closely with Jeannette to try and discover what the heart of the book was. Once we landed on the relationship between Jeannette and her dad it became pretty clear what we had to do,” he explained.
What’s a director to do when there is so much pressure to satisfy a novel’s fans, but to also do justice to its author, whom also happens to be the main character? Well, you hire one of best actresses of the moment, Brie Larson. “She actually came in and read through some of the scenes. We based the movie on her being in it, so it was cool to have her in the room and work on some of these scenes…she felt like the perfect match for Jeannette because she was able to capture that combination of strength and vulnerability.”
Cretton kept in touch with Larson, whose career has had a major boost after her brilliant performance in his “Short Term 12,” though they didn’t necessarily think they would work again so soon. “We just kept talking as friends and just hoped that maybe there will come a day when our schedules will overlap so that we could work again on something together, but it just happened sooner than we thought it would,” he shared.
Although Larson does a commendable job of portraying Walls, and the mentally draining challenges that come with living under stressful situations for more than 20 years of her life, Woody Harrelson is equally strong as Jeannette’s unstable, alcoholic dad Rex. “We sent the script to Woody and he connected with it. I honestly couldn’t think of a more perfect match to play Rex because Woody can be fearsome, but also charming and sensitive. That’s the biggest trait of Rex Walls, in that he can flip on a dime, he does some pretty cruel things in this movie, but he also has some sweet loving moments as well. That’s how Jeannette was describing her dad, walking the line between those two extremes,” Cretton said.
Like all successful adaptations, Cretton felt personally involved with Jeannette’s story, especially the relationship she had with her three other siblings as their world was literally falling apart due to her parents’ lack of responsibility and selfishness. “I felt connected to every aspect of the story. I think a lot of us did, there is so much of ourselves on the screen. I grew up in a family of six kids, so the bond of Jeannette and her siblings, through thick and thin, is something that I really connected with,” he shared.
It seems like tackling memoirs is a thing these days for Cretton as he’s about to embark on another project of the same nature. “I’m adapting ‘Just Mercy‘ by Bryan Stevenson, I’m hoping it’s going to be the next thing. I’m not chasing down memoirs or anything [laughs], it just happened like that. It’s just another book that rocked me, got into my head and I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” he said.
“The Glass Castle” is now playing.