I had the privilege of attending a truly special event last week, in celebration of THE GLASS CASTLE. Starring Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts, Max Greenfield, Sarah Snook, and Robin Bartlett, this new film is based on the best-selling memoir by Jeannette Walls. Lionsgate has put forth a triumphant story of a woman who both deeply loves her dysfunctional family yet also realizes she must grittily depend on herself, in order to survive & succeed in life. The film covers the family at three different points in life. In honor of the film’s premiere, I was invited to THE WHITBY HOTEL for a private luncheon & Q&A with JEANNETTE, BRIE, & NAOMI. Our Q&A was moderated by Rookie Mag creator, TAVI GEVINSON.
Steph attended as my guest (as you can see in the photos above). I love that photo of Jeannette with her arms raised ecstatically in the air; it represents the dynamic energy all four women exhibited that afternoon. Jeannette, as the author, gave deep insight into her own life, yet she was quick to praise the team that created the film. For example, she complimented the director, Daniel Cretton, saying “It’s real easy to make fun of drunks and make fun of crazy homeless people, and he was never going for the cheap shot. It was just brilliant from day one.” She praised the actors next, “It was stunning to me… [and] they leave me in the dust when it comes to observation about character. They’re fearless about the way they surround somebody psychologically. It just took my breath away.” Several times throughout the afternoon, it was evident that there were tears in Jeannette’s eyes. While Jeannette spoke, Brie & Naomi were strongly affected by her strong eloquence.
Brie, who plays Jeannette in the film, spoke intriguingly about playing characters where there is still mystery to be uncovered – the challenging fulfillment of an actor. She discussed how she takes on a role knowing that she is “still grasping for something and that there’s tons of room for surprise, that she can even surprise [herself].” She continued, “Ultimately, [the line through] every film that I want to make is just complicated and contradictory, and that’s what life is. And those are the characters that I enjoy watching. Those are the characters that I want to see the screen because that’s the people that I know.” Naomi, who plays Jeannette’s mother, Rosemary, described the film as “a cathartic journey”. She kept a journal which she covered in Rosemary’s paintings and cut out the emails that they sent back & forth to each other. She reinforced how her own experiences shaped this character. She said, “It wasn’t all just about Rosemary, but [also] my mom and what a powerful figure she has been in my life.”
When I was handed the microphone, I began by thanking all four women, expressing,”It’s always a privilege to be in the presence of powerful women who utilize their voices in storytelling.” After watching a screening last week, I asked the following question.
“I love how you spoke about the nuances in the film and the complex characters, and I wanted to know [about], both as someone who lived through that and having to play those roles, the tension between self-preservation and care for others. Because I was thinking about that theme throughout the entire film, and I would just love to hear your experiences.”
Jeannette replied almost immediately, “That is such a good question. It’s something I’ve wrestled with for most of my life because I’m a survivor, and the toughest scenes for me, one of the days that I was on the set was when the Maureen character told the Jeannette character that she was leaving New York and I burst into tears. Because I tried to get her to stay and we–‘Oh, we take care of each other.’ And she said, ‘No, we don’t.’ And I just–I burst into tears and Brie had to come out and like–you know?… It was very weird being comforted by me. But, we survivors, a lot of people say, ‘How could you forgive your parents?’ And the person I had to forgive was myself, because we who pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and have to make some tough choices to get by, I think of myself as selfish.
And that was one of the transformative things about watching this movie was seeing Brie Larson making these tough choices. I loved her and was, like, rooting for in a way that I never loved or rooted for myself. So it was kind of magnificent. What you said, that really hit home because it’s something that’s one of the reasons I thought people would hold me in contempt when I told my story and they don’t.I think we’re our own toughest critics sometimes. That you know, I thought that being a survivor, you do carry around survivor guilt.”
Brie continued, “Every time I see it, I cry. I cry. I think it’s something that–going back to kind of what Jeannette was saying before, too, the actors are very porous. I feel super-porous. I feel like energies and people and noises are–I’m very sensitive to them and sometimes I can get too serious because I get very worried about how other people are feeling and what they’re thinking… And it’s something that I used to beat myself up over. I still beat myself up over it. I’m not immune to it anymore, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m just gooey ad I want to stay gooey.
I don’t have any interest in shellacking myself or making myself harder to protect myself from things. I will always be curious. I will always be sensitive and that’s what makes me good at my job. And it’s what makes me me, and throwing that away would mean, like throwing away all of the inner workings that make me who I am. And that just seems kind of bizarre.
So my empathy is the thing that has brought me closer to people, has brought me all over the world and in crazy situations and beautiful situations. It’s also the thing that can leave me feeling kind of raw and vulnerable at the end of it. And so as I’m 27 and starting to learn more about myself and how to take care of myself, because I’m now my mother and father for myself, it’s figuring out how to do that and feel strong in that. And feeling strong and knowing when a boundary has been crossed or I’ve reached a certain limit and not beating myself up over it when I don’t find perfect balance, because I don’t think balance really exists. It’s just a concept to strive for that’ll never really happen…
Naomi followed, “Yes. I totally agree with that you’re saying, Brie. You have to have a thin skin, because you have to be able to tap into the truth of these people and be sensitive and absorb what’s going on with the human psyche and you have to study it and feel it. Although it’s weird, because when you’re trying to grow in this business and you’re getting rejection after rejection and it just hurts. It’s just constant wounding, you feel like, “Oh, I wish I had a thicker skin because I need to not take it all on so personally and think when they’re telling me I’m not funny or I’m not sexy or I’m not intense.”
You get these feedback reports that they land on your heart and you’re just like, “Ah! Next time, I’m going to be this,” and “What did they want? Who shall I be? How can I please?” You know, and then you’re just so far away from yourself, and that’s what I keep coming back to Rosemary, who is just always about “Embrace who you are and love who you are,” and “Who cares what they think?”And despite the fact that she wasn’t doing certain things that we consider conventional parenting, those are really valuable lessons to take with you, and I think she did that with you guys so beautifully.
Jeannette ended by saying, “Yes. An incredible gift.”
To me, this simple acknowledgement summarizes the entire message of THE GLASS CASTLE – to find beauty in the struggle. It is easy to imagine living a life of poverty & struggle & chaos, and as a result, see the world forever through a bitter lens. Yet, Jeannette’s story stands firmly in defense of hope, of forgiveness, & of believing in yourself. She discussed how she had to her to tell her story because her mother urged her to tell the truth. Despite “the jagged joy” of her childhood, she realized, “If there’s something so horrible and painful, you cannot imagine putting it down in words, that means you must, because it’s pivotal.”
If you are interested in watching the entire Q&A from the event, CLICK HERE. I highly encourage all to view this moving tribute to their complex family & her individual struggle. It is in theaters now. Thank you again to Lionsgate, Brie, Naomi, Jeannette, Tavi, and Her Campus Media for this opportunity. I am truly grateful.
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