Stars Come Out In Middletown For 'Hillbilly Elegy'

Aug 5, 2019

Seven-time Oscar nominee Glenn Close made her Middletown film debut in a most unglamorous way – chain-smoking cigarettes while wearing an oversized pink T-shirt and blue printed pajama pants.

Close, who won a Golden Globe in January for best actress in a drama movie for The Wife, stars as  "Mamaw," grandmother to J.D. Vance, the 2003 Middletown High School graduate who wrote the 2016 bestseller, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.

A production assistant holds an umbrella over Glenn Close before filming a scene Monday.
Credit John Kiesewetter / WVXU

Most of Monday morning was spent filming a Hillbilly Elegy scene with Close, cigarette dangling from her lips, taking a paper bag filled with groceries from the trunk of a 1970s Ford LTD sedan on Harrison Street. Mawmaw is the family matriarch who brought stability to Vance's childhood.

Director Ron Howard brought the cast and crew to Vance's hometown for the final four days of the $45-million Netflix production, after shooting since June 12 in Georgia. The film wraps Thursday, says publicist Andy Lipschultz.

Howard, who had scouted Middletown at least three times since October, directed exterior scenes at two homes on Harrison Street, in the 100-year-old Park Place neighborhood in the center of the city. The street was lined with cars from the 1970s, '80s and '90s for scenes from 1997, when Vance was living with his grandmother at age 13.

A red Buick was parked and ready to roll past the house while Glenn Close was being filmed getting groceries from her car.
Credit John Kiesewetter / WVXU

Howard could be seen giving instructions to cast and crew, and pacing around the location between takes.

Playing a young J.D. was Owen Asztalos, 14, from Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Wearing a black Metallica T-shirt, he helped Mawmaw carry groceries from the car into the house, after Mawmaw exchanged words with two other teenage boys on the front porch. The scene, which will probably be less than 30 seconds in the movie, took nearly two hours to film with multiple takes from various angles.

In the afternoon, Asztalos was filmed standing on the front porch of another house watching Jesse C. Boyd (MacGyver, Gone) - who plays Matt, one of J.D.'s mother's boyfriends - walk a dog.

Haley Bennett (The Girl On The Train, The Equalizer), who plays J.D.'s sister Lindsay, also shot a scene on the porch talking on the phone.

About a dozen production trucks were parked on nearby streets.
Credit John Kiesewetter / WVXU

Headlining the cast with Close is Amy Adams, a six-time Academy Award nominee (America Hustle, Vice, The Master, The Fighter, Doubt, Junebug). She portrays Bev, Vance's drug-addicted mother.

Little-known Gabriel Basso (The Big C, The Whole Truth) plays the elder J.D. Bo Hopkins (Dynasty, Murder She Wrote) plays "Papaw," J.D.'s grandfather who worked at Armco Steel (now AK Steel) and helped him with his math homework.

The cast also includes Helen Abell (Stranger Things, Orange Is The New Black), Ethan Suess (Fear The Walking Dead, Scorpion, Alex Inc.), Amy Parrish (Black Lightning, Homeland, House of Cards, Stanger Things), Frieda Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire, The Path) and  Sunny Mabrey (Snakes On A Plane), according to the Internet Movie Datebase.

Approximately 150 workers were involved in the production Monday, Lipschultz says.  Workers set up and moved the cameras and lighting rigs; hauled in and out props; touched up performers' makeup; passed out food; shuttled cast members from the basecamp trailers on Charles Street; and secured the perimeter.  

Trailers, tents, trucks and spare vintage cars were parked at "basecamp" on Charles Street, about five blocks from the filming Monday.
Credit John Kiesewetter / WVXU

Transforming the street for the movie started late last week. Here's a link to my "Middletown Ready For Its 'Hillbilly Elegy' Close-Up Monday" story.

Howard's Imagine Entertainment acquired the rights to Vance's book in 2017. Variety reported that Netflix is paying $45 million to finance the film. Vance and Julie Oh are executive producers, according to IMDB. Vance is an Iraq war vet who studied political science and philosophy at Ohio State University and law at Yale.

Most of the film was shot in Georgia, which offers unlimited tax credits to filmmakers. Ohio was out of tax credit funds when Netflix applied for an Ohio tax incentive March 7. The fate of the eight-year-old Ohio Film Tax Rebate program was uncertain until July 18, when Gov. Mike DeWine signed the new state budget which included an extension of the filmmakers' tax credit.