Family drew Amy Adams and Glenn Close to 'Hillbilly Elegy.' (Family, and Terminators.)

By Glenn Whipp, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Glenn Close's turn as the ornery, larger-than-life and fiercely loyal grandmother Mamaw in "Hillbilly Elegy" wasn't even fully unleashed into the world before it took on a life of its own. A friend of Close's daughter, the actress Annie Starke, dressed up as Mamaw for Halloween. This friend, it should be noted, was a man, who donned a curly wig, big glasses, an oversize T-shirt and a dangling, lit cigarette — a costume pick not all that surprising since the Guardian already crowned Mamaw a style icon.

"I was so chuffed by that," Close says, smiling. Meanwhile, Amy Adams, who plays Mamaw's drug-addicted, unstable daughter Bev in "Hillbilly Elegy," which began streaming Tuesday on Netflix, can't stop laughing at Mamaw's unlikely ascent to sartorial stardom. We're talking by Zoom, of course, with Adams calling from her home in Los Angeles and Close connecting from Bozeman, Montana, where she moved last December to be close to her siblings.

"Hillbilly Elegy" is based on J.D. Vance's 2016 memoir, which detailed his Rust Belt upbringing and drew both praise and criticism for its cultural musings about the causes of white poverty. The movie, directed by Ron Howard, mostly steers clear of the author's conservative politics, concentrating on the family's story and Vance's escape from the destructive behavioral patterns that, he believes, mire poor people in hopelessness. (As Mamaw declares, "Family's the only thing that means a goddamn.")

We spoke a week after Election Day, but both actresses also dutifully avoid anything political when discussing the film. They say it was the book's vivid portraits of women struggling with dire circumstances and personal demons that appealed to them.

Some may call it obvious awards bait, and point to the fact that Adams, with six Oscar nominations, and Close, with seven, enjoy rarefied status among the most nominated actresses ever to not actually win Academy Awards. Surely they must make every career decision based solely on what could bring that trophy home, right?

But talking to Adams and Close, together and separately, it's easy to feel their connection to the material's domestic side. Their own families, particularly their daughters, are central to their lives. Emotions bubble up quickly during our conversations. Tears are constantly being dabbed away.


Close lays part of the blame on the pandemic; in COVID times, she says, the smallest things make her cry. That revelation itself makes Adams tear up.

Their current coping methods revolve around comfort food. Adams has noticed a "weird" amount of cheese in her refrigerator lately. Close has been devouring Doritos, Oreos and coffee ice cream, the same snacks, not coincidentally, that her character, Alex, ate in "Fatal Attraction" when things were going south.

"Doritos, I really have to stay away from," Close says. "I learned when you eat a Dorito, it lights up the same area of your brain as cocaine."

Adams doesn't miss a beat. "My daughter, of course, loves Doritos. So that makes sense."


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