Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.
In 2005, Jeannette Walls published The Glass Castle and welcomed the world into her unique family. With the film adaptation in theaters, Walls is on the road sharing her story and her thoughts on the cinematic version of her life. Bookish had the chance to listen to her speak at a stop in New York, and get her thoughts on the movie.
The path to adapting The Glass Castle has been a long but worthwhile one for Jeannette Walls. Her first attempt at writing her family history started in her 20s, but the memoir didn’t take shape until her husband entered the picture. “My husband pulled the truth out of me,” Walls confesses. “He thought I was exaggerating when I first told him about my childhood.”
The first draft took six weeks to write and five years to rewrite. Walls sought honesty and truth in those rewrites more than anything else. “If there’s something so horrible and painful you cannot imagine putting it down in words, that means you must, because it’s pivotal,” Walls says. “And then you confront [it.] You say, ‘Am I being honest? No. I need to go a little bit deeper.’”
Walls admits there were days when she’d cry under her desk after writing, but she still recommends it. “It was extremely cathartic… you have to be fearless about it… [and] once you write something, you kind of own it and it doesn’t affect you the same way… The trick is not pretending that you don’t have those issues. It’s kind of owning them.”
Once published, the book caught the attention of quite a few filmmakers, but none of the scripts seemed to truly capture what Walls’ childhood and family life had been like until Gil Netter, who produced Life of Pi, entered the picture. “I figured if he knew how to make a movie about a Bengal tiger and an orangutan in a boat, then he would know how to make a movie about my family,” Walls joked.
Netter brought on Destin Daniel Cretton to direct, and after watching Cretton’s Short Term 12, Walls knew that she could trust him with her own story. “It’s real easy to make fun of drunks and make fun of crazy homeless people and he was never going for the cheap shot.” Walls says of Cretton’s direction. “It was just brilliant from day one. He consulted with me on a regular basis.”
Walls was invited to the set multiple times, though seeing the final product still blew her away. “I had a bit of a meltdown watching it,” she says. “They didn’t gloss over the weird, ugly stuff, but they also didn’t ignore the joy… I was just so grateful to Destin and each of the actors for doing layered, nuanced storytelling.”
She hopes that the film affects viewers in the same way. After the publication of the memoir, Walls was often sought out by readers who were touched by her story and felt it connected to their own. This, she shares, is why she felt so compelled to write. “When one person tells a story, it opens up other people to tell stories and that, to me, is why we tell our stories. It’s for those emotional connections that [show] we’re not alone.”
As the conversation wound down, Walls shared the new insight the film had given her about her family and her relationship with them. She confessed that it allowed her to support herself in a way she hadn’t before. “One of the transformative things about watching this movie was seeing Brie Larson making these tough choices. I loved her and was, like, rooting for [her] in a way that I never loved or rooted for myself.”
The Glass Castle hit theaters on August 11, 2017.