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Woody Harrelson On 'Glass Castle' Dad Whose Rages And Redemptions Loomed Large

<em>The Glass Castle</em> shows the different stages of Jeannette Walls' life, from early childhood to adulthood. (Pictured: Eden Grace Redfield, Woody Harrelson, Charlie Shotwell, Sadie Sink and Naomi Watts)
Jake Giles Netter
The Glass Castle shows the different stages of Jeannette Walls' life, from early childhood to adulthood. (Pictured: Eden Grace Redfield, Woody Harrelson, Charlie Shotwell, Sadie Sink and Naomi Watts)

The film The Glass Castle is based on Jeannette Walls' best-selling memoir of the same name. It's the story of her family's tortured upbringing moving around the country and living in poverty with parents who were obsessed with being free of convention. The film stars Brie Larson as Jeannette, Naomi Watts as her mother and Woody Harrelson as her dad, Rex, an alcoholic whose rages and redemptions loomed large over his family.

Harrelson tells NPR, "Rex Walls was kind of a complicated fella. He was actually a great dad in many ways. He loved his kids and he did a lot to show them kind of unconventional things and ideas, and definitely not rear them ... to be indoctrinated by the society that he resented. But in other ways he was not so great. You know, he did drink a lot and he'd have some bad moods and take it out on the kids."

Harrelson spoke to NPR from London, where he's working on a new Star Wars movie, one of several films he's appeared in recently, including War for the Planet of the Apes and Wilson.

Interview Highlights

On trying to get Rex right

I couldn't do an impersonation of him — he had a very distinctive way of talking. But I tried to approximate it and I definitely had the vibe of who he was, so I thought that's what I was working with, you know.

I used to go over to see Brie on a daily basis before we started, and she was staying at an apartment and I'd come over for lunch and she'd fix me lunch — she's actually a pretty good chef — and she would also, you know, talk me down off the ledge because I was just concerned that I was just not getting it right. ... She'd tell me, "Don't worry that much about the accent." She said, you know, "You got him. You got him. You don't need to worry about all these extraneous things." Which is true, you know? Obviously Jeanette and others who knew him would know that this is how he talked, but other people wouldn't. So I tried to just get the vibe right.

On how the film tackles the different stages of Jeannette Walls' life

The way this movie works, it jumps back and forth over different time frames. ... So we got, you know, all these kids from three different age groups that cover this whole span. ... It was incredible the way [director Destin Daniel Cretton] could make it all work and where it was just completely seamless.

And also, I do feel like when you do these movies where you have kids and then the kids grow up, you are either attached to the older or the younger version — well, typically the younger, just cus kids are so fascinating. .... But in this, they're all great and you never doubt that they're the same person. You know, it always feels like the same person even when it's a different actor. So there's a lot [Cretton] did about that that's kind of seamless, that was really magical. But I just think he told a story. According to Jeannette, he really nailed it.

On the personal toll of appearing in so many films when you have a family at home

I feel like I've probably just spent too much time running around doing these movies. I'm proud of all of them — I'm very psyched about these movies — but I just need, I think, to chill out and spend some time at home. 'Cause by the time I leave here, I will have been home one week in a year, in the past year. ... So, yeah, it's just not fair to my family. ... I'm not feeling very pleased with myself over all this. ...

Nobody wants to listen to movie star blues in D minor, you know what I mean? I don't know, I guess I'm just a little knackered from the whole process, to borrow one of the great English words here, and just ready to go home.

Sarah Handel and Cindy Johnston produced and edited this interview for broadcast, and Nicole Cohen adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.