When the trailer for Hillbilly Elegy hit the internet last week it made waves in part because of the major transformations of its lead actresses. (The other part probably has something to do with it being another potential awards vehicle for both stars, who are long overdue for an Oscar.)
Glenn Close and Amy Adams dished on these transformations and their juicy roles in a post-screening Q&A of the forthcoming Netflix film alongside director Ron Howard.
In the film, which is based off of J.D. Vance’s bestselling memoir of the same name, Adams plays Bev, a woman struggling to raise her two kids while battling addiction, and Close plays her mother, Mamaw, who is resilient and whip-smart but who’s had a rough life of her own. The past and present are interwoven as J.D. (played by Gabriel Basso as an adult and Owen Asztalos as a child) — now a Yale Law student — returns to his hometown amid a family emergency and must come to terms with his own history, Appalachian values, and the American dream.
Close and Adams are nearly unrecognizable in their parts, something they both credit the makeup and hair departments for. Close is certainly no stranger to major transformations. “I played numerous characters where you really are in character when you’re in full drag,” she admitted, citing her 101 Dalmatians and Albert Nobbs roles as examples.
As Mamaw, she said she specifically didn’t want to see her own face in the mirror. “I wanted to change my face a little, mainly for me as an actress, because I did not want to be distracted knowing that it was Glenn Close’s face.”
In addition to the makeup, Adams also wore a wig, which she remembered fondly. “I always name my wigs, and that wig was ‘Beaverly’ because it was so hot it was like wearing a beaver hat on my head,” she joked.
For both Close and Adams, it was important to get not just the looks, but also the mannerisms and heart and soul of their characters right. They both got to speak to Vance’s family, and in Adams’ case, she got to speak with Bev herself.
“I think when I’m playing somebody who you know is out there that is going to see this, I’m glad that you can see deeper than just the mistakes that she’s made because that was something that was really important to me,” Adams said. She also shared how important it was to her personally to get Bev’s struggles with addiction right. “There’s been several people that have been really important to me that have been touched by addiction. It’s a story of a whole bunch of people who’ve really struggled and it was really important to me to find the humanity in that struggle,” she said.
The weight of that “terrified” her, she said, but at the end of the day, she was thankful she took on the role. “As hard as it was embodying the character, it was an uplifting experience,” she said.
The feeling was mutual for Close. “You are defining for yourself a whole landscape of psychology and emotion, and as an actor I don’t want to repeat myself, and this I went into it slowly step by step. It was one of the great experiences that I’ve had in my career,” she said.