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Glenn Close: 'Hillbilly Elegy' role is 'everything I long for'

Glenn Close found Hillbilly Elegy to be a fulfilling film acting experience. File Jim Ruymen/UPI
Glenn Close found "Hillbilly Elegy" to be a fulfilling film acting experience. File Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 11 (UPI) -- Seven-time Oscar nominee Glenn Close said her latest movie, Hillbilly Elegy, was everything she longed for in a film thanks to the story line, the experience of working with director Ron Howard and the freedom she had to approach her character.

Close also loved that she had more time to rehearse because extra days were added to the production schedule for rehearsal.

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The actor, whose filmography includes some of the most popular and acclaimed movies of all time, including The Big Chill, Fatal Attraction, Dangerous Liaisons, 101 Dalmatians, Air Force One and The Wife, thanked Howard and Netflix for giving her that gift.

"Hillbilly Elegy fulfilled all of it," the 63-year-old said on a panel during the recent American Film Institute Fest.

The story, based on J.D. Vance's memoir, follows Vance (Gabriel Basso) as he reflects on his upbringing with his mother, Bev (Amy Adams), and grandmother, Mamaw (Close).

"We actually went to Middletown, Ohio," Close said. "We saw the streets that we were going to be shooting on. We met as many members of J.D.'s family as we were available. We all had sessions with each member of the family."

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Close said the Vance family answered her questions about Mamaw, who died in 2005. She asked them how Mamaw gestured with her hands, how she kept her house and dressed, and what her posture and voice were like.

"We were able to slowly construct these characters, really guided by the reality of the family," Close said.

The film depicts a day in 2011 during which J.D. returned home to Middletown, Ohio, because Bev was hospitalized for a heroin overdose. While tending to Bev, J.D. thinks about growing up in 1997, when Mamaw was around to shelter him from some of Bev's drug-related episodes.

Adams said she did not want to approach Bev as someone succumbing to her addictions. Rather, the 46-year-old said she considered Bev to be someone who was surprised by how deeply she felt her emotions. According to the film, Bev is sober for six years and working as a house cleaner and bookkeeper.

"Coming at her from a place that was deeper than just her mistakes was really important to me," Adams said.

Mamaw was not always there to intervene between Bev and J.D. There are scenes in which Bev hits young J.D. (Owen Asztalos) and his sister, Lindsay (Haley Bennett), and drives erratically to endanger their lives. When J.D. starts shoplifting and breaking into stores after hours, Mamaw starts to discipline him.

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"I think Mamaw knows she made big mistakes," Close said. "She wasn't a perfect mother, but she also sees the trajectory that J.D. is on. She moves to do something about it."

To transform herself into Mamaw, Close enlisted makeup artist Matthew W. Mungle. Close says she needed to make "really subtle changes" to her face so she would not recognize herself in Mamaw.

"The real Mamaw was taller than me, bigger than me, had big hands," Close said. "If anything, I kind of downplayed how larger than life she was because I thought it would unbalance the movie in a way."

The transformation was a success. Close received validation when Mamaw's own son visited the set of Hillbilly Elegy.

"Mamaw's son came to the set, and when he saw me, he had to leave because it was such an emotional experience for him," Close said. "He actually thought he saw Mamaw."

Close said she also was moved by some of Adams' scenes, citing, for example, one of J.D.'s flashbacks in which Bev cuts her wrist after the death of her father, Mamaw's husband.

"At one point, she looks up at the sky and she says, 'Can't anyone help me?'" Close said. "It just tore me up because I think of all the people around the world right now saying exactly that."

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For Adams, the most harrowing scenes were when Bev lashes out at young J.D. Adams said she has remained close with Asztalos since filming, keeping in touch via Zoom.

"I was so protective of him, and then I'd be calling him names," Adams said. "It was devastating to be swearing at this very sweet, very open young man."

Hillbilly Elegy is in theaters Wednesday and on Netflix Nov. 24.

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