Who sit down to watch on Netflix Hillbilly, a rural elegy, the new Ron Howard movie starring Amy Adams, they probably won’t immediately discover that the actress who plays their mother is the very Glenn Close, who is truly unrecognizable as a mountain woman from the American Midwest who dresses and moves in a particular way. The actress, who seems doomed to leave the seven-time Oscar gala empty-handed, could finally indulge herself with this work in which she has once again shown that she is one of the best in Hollywood.
What drew you to Hillbily, a rural elegy?
Simply that it was territory that I hadn’t explored psychologically or emotionally before, so I knew it was going to be a huge challenge for me. I had read the book when it was published and I never thought it was going to be made into a movie. Ron was phenomenal in preparing the project and Netflix’s involvement allowed us plenty of time to go meet the royal family, which was crucial because I was able to ask very specific questions. I wanted to discover the essence of this woman. I ended up loving the character very much, Mamaw.
And how would you describe it?
Above all, she was a fierce mother, loyal and willing to fight to the death for her family. She had become pregnant at 13, left her town in southern Ohio with Papaw, because there was work for him in a steel plant. They were in an abusive relationship and divorced, but she never dated anyone again. In his later days he spent most of the day with her, so I think she was the love of his life.
How did you capture his way of moving?
I asked his family very specific questions, such as how he sat, how he smoked his cigarettes, how he held them, what his physical problems were, and so I discovered that he had a hip problem and suffered from emphysema. She was not a healthy woman. And anyway I tried not to exaggerate anything, because I wasn’t interested in it turning into a cartoon. But she was like that. She disturbed the air when she entered a room. He loved children.
Were you surprised to find that there are people who live that way?
No, because I know that culture closely. I think with Black Lives Matter we have finally started to see that inequality in this country is still in force and we have to do something to solve it. That’s why I liked this story, it’s a way to get to know each other better.
How did you avoid falling into stereotypes of America’s Midwestern Highlanders?
They have been quite pigeonholed, especially since the 1960s series, The New Rich. I remember that while I was reading the book I thought that I wanted to get to know this culture better. Participating in the film helped me to change some ideas. For example, when we went to Ohio to see where they lived, and we came across an ordinary neighborhood. It had nothing to do with the common image of mountain people.
The subject of mental health has always been very close to your heart, hasn’t it?
Absolutely. We had suicides in our family, there was a lot of substance abuse. My sister had the courage to speak up and ask for help, because she couldn’t stop thinking about committing suicide. So I felt very close to that aspect of this story. I also know that there are many women in the world like Mamaw who manage to keep their families together and raise their grandchildren if necessary. They have the toughness of spirit to save their families when necessary.