Photos From Another Day At 'Hillbilly Elegy' In Middletown

Aug 7, 2019

Shortly after noon, actress Glenn Close and director Ron Howard relaxed together in front of a Middletown house which has played a central role in filming Hillbilly Elegy this week.

While more than 50 production staffers set up the next shoot down Harrison Street, and another crew filmed in the alley behind the house, Howard and Close appeared to be doing an on-camera interview Wednesday likely for the Netflix media kit for Hillbilly Elegy.

Glenn Close as "Mawmaw" prepares for a scene getting groceries out of her car on Monday.
Credit John Kiesewetter / WVXU

On the next-to-last day of filming, the director and star could take a break and chat about the production that started June 12 in Georgia, and moved to Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance's hometown on Monday.  

Close looked like, well, Glenn Close (but they were too far away for me to get a legible iPhone photo). Just 48 hours earlier, she was in front of the same house dressed as "Mawmaw," Vance's chain-smoking grandmother, wearing an unflattering oversized pink top, blue pajama pants and a curly blonde wig for the $45-million Netflix movie.

I would have loved to hear what they were talking about!

On Day 42 of the 43-day shoot, production visibly was winding down Wednesday. By mid-afternoon, many of the 1980s and'90s cars and pick-ups for background purposes had been removed from Harrison Street.  The final scenes will be shot Thursday.

Owen Asztalos, who plays 13-year-old J.D. Vance, bikes on a North Street sidewalk Wednesday.
Credit John Kiesewetter / WVXU

The hardest-working cast member Wednesday was Owen Asztalos, 14, who plays Vance as a young teen-ager growing up in Middletown. Asztalos (Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul; Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) was filmed tossing a garbage bag in a trash can in the alley behind the house, cleaning up a mess in the alley, and riding a bike.

Neighbors say set designers junked up the alley with abandoned chairs, part of an old lamp and other stuff. "It's a little trashier than before. Not real bad, but it's worse than before," says Teresa Rivers of nearby Monroe Street.

Young J.D. Vance bikes past his grandfather "Pawpaw" (Bo Hopkins), as he burns trash in his backyard.
Credit John Kiesewetter

When a mobile camera mounted on an ATV-type vehicle filmed Asztalos biking on the sidewalk, his grandfather "Pawpaw"  – played by Bo Hopkins (Dynasty, Murder She Wrote) – sat in a lawn chair in the backyard watching trash burn.

Six blocks away, another crew filmed a background scene on Liebee Street. On Tuesday, a "second unit" shot scenes on Main Street by the historic Sorg Opera House – a drunk passed out against the building, a man on the fire escape, and pedestrians walking past the theater, says Chuck Miller, president of the Sorg Opera Revitalization Group.

After Howard and Close finished their conversation, production shifted from Mawmaw's house to a grey house down the street used as the home for J.D.'s mother Bev, played by Amy Adams.

Adams (second from right) and Asztalos (far right) wind down after filming a scene on a Harrison Street front porch.
Credit John Kiesewetter

Adams and Asztalos filmed a scene where they spoke on the porch, and then walked to a blue Jeep parked on the street.  After takes from multiple angles, the actors and crew took a break to set up another shot.

That's when Adams surprised onlookers by walking across the street and talking to several women 50 feet from where I was standing. She showed the women that her shoulder-length red hair was a wig.

Adams chats with women across the street from the filming location Wednesday afternoon.
Credit John Kiesewetter

By the time Adams left the group, all of the camera and lighting equipment from Mawmaw's house up the street had been hauled to one of a dozen Netflix trucks lining Manchester and North streets.

One more day, and Harrison Street will return to normal.

Here are my photos and story from Monday, Stars Come Out In Middletown For "Hillbilly Elegy."