When Jeannette Walls goes to readings, she’s introduced as the author of “The Glass Castle,” a memoir that sold more than 6 million copies and was on the New York Times bestseller list for seven years.
From backstage, she can sense a “ho hum” from the audience. But that changes when it’s revealed that the book will “soon be a major motion picture.”
“They go, ‘oh!’” laughs Walls, recently in The City to promote the movie, which opens Friday.
“The Glass Castle” stars Oscar-winner Brie Larson as Walls, with Naomi Watts and Woody Harrelson as her creative, dysfunctional parents.
“Brie is one of the most perceptive human beings I’ve ever met,” says Walls. “She’s got extra nerve endings or something, and she has these laser eyes. She sees everything.”
In the beginning, Walls never imagined a movie coming from her work.
“I was just purging this story that I was sick of holding inside,” she says. “I wrote the first version in six weeks. I never thought anyone would read it.”
Perhaps worse, Walls actually was ashamed of her story. She says she once tried to tell a close friend about her turbulent childhood, and the friend cut her off.
“She was so horrified that I was living on Park Avenue and I had parents who were homeless and I didn’t do anything to help them,” Walls says. “I tried to explain to her, but it’s so complicated. You need to get into the deeper story.”
What eventually stirred her to take pen to paper is the fantasy that maybe someday, some “kids from the wrong side of the tracks would get a glimmer of hope from the story, and that maybe the rich kids would be a little bit nicer to them.”
The road to getting a movie made has been a long one. The book was optioned almost as soon as it was published, but many screenwriters couldn’t figure out how to adapt it to the screen.
Then, Destin Daniel Cretton — whose outstanding 2013 gem “Short Term 12” takes place in a group home for troubled teens — signed on to write and direct “The Glass Castle.”
“I really lucked out,” says Walls, who had not seen “Short Term 12” at the time but now refers to it, mostly jokingly, as “the second greatest movie ever made.”
With the “Glass Castle” movie completing some kind of circle, Walls says she finds herself in a deeply satisfying place: “It’s gone from this story that I was ashamed of, to this movie that I’m really proud of!”
IF YOU GO
The Glass Castle
Starring Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts, Sarah Snook
Written by Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham
Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton
Running time 2 hours, 7 minutesBrie LarsonDestin Daniel CrettonGlass CastlesJeanette WallsMovies and TV