Ron Howard talked about the making of his new film Hillbilly Elegy for Rolling Stone‘s The Breakdown series, discussing how he came up with the idea to turn J.D. Vance’s 2016 memoir into an Appalachian family drama.
“I liked that it was a conversation provoker — although I wasn’t interested in the sociopolitical aspect of it, in the sort of overt way in which J.D. presented it,” Howard said. “I found it interesting, but I didn’t see a movie story there. But what I did see was something that I’d been looking for, which was an interesting, complex family story that featured rural America, contemporary rural America.”
Along with his and his wife’s upbringings in middle America — Howard in Oklahoma, his wife in Wisconsin and Louisiana — Howard credits the film’s two stars, Glenn Close and Amy Adams, with coming up with their depictions of contemporary Appalachian women facing economic hardship. He stressed, though, that their characters are actually dialed down from what they are in Vance’s original account.
“We had to dial Mamaw back from everything that we heard about her,” he said, referring to Close’s character. “Everything that we understood — all the language, all the outrageous things that she did, Glenn and I just kind of looked at each other and realized that no one’s gonna believe this. They’re just gonna think that Glenn’s overdoing it, when, in fact, Glenn’s underdoing it.”