J.D. Vance shares with Aleteia what the movie got right about his memoir.
Netflix’s Hillbilly Elegy may not get the awards consideration that its makers may have hoped it would when signing perennial Oscar contenders Amy Adams and Glenn Close to starring roles. But the movie, based on J.D. Vance’s best-selling 2016memoir, has nevertheless become one of Netflix’s most-watched films. It details Vance’s difficult upbringing with his drug-addicted mother (played by Adams) and how his grandmother—whom he called “Mamaw,” played by Close—helped turn his life around. And throughout it all, the film, like the book, revolves around themes like forgiveness, faith and, most especially, family.
Aleteia had a chance to talk with Vance shortly after the movie was released. A convert to Catholicism, Vance discussed his faith, both then and now, and how well the film captured the essence of his upbringing—especially his delightfully raw and deeply principled Mamaw. (The conversation has been condensed here for length and clarity.)
Aleteia: I watched and reviewed Hillbilly Elegy, and one of the most delightful characters was Mamaw, your grandmother. She was a pretty amazing character. How well did Glenn Close capture her spirit?
J.D. Vance: She did very well. Mamaw was such a big figure. When she died, we made this CD collection of all of her favorite songs: some Elvis and some Sam Cooke, some gospel songs, things she just really liked. And we titled it, “Bonnie Vance: A Force of Nature,” because that’s how we understood and thought of her. It’s impossible to do full credit to her, especially in a two-hour movie. But I think Glenn Close did about as well as anybody could’ve done, and certainly better than I expected anyone to do. She really internalized Mamaw’s character.
We were able to watch a big part of the movie process. We looked at some of the script drafts and participated on set, and one of the first times we saw Glenn as Mamaw was in Macon, Georgia [where much of the movie was filmed], and my aunt, my uncle and my mom were sort of breath-taken. They couldn’t speak. They were really emotional. My aunt was crying. My uncle, who’s not a very emotional man, was on the verge of tears.