J.D. Vance opens up about movie adaptation of ‘Hillbilly Elegy’

Middletown native J.D. Vance, who penned a best-selling memoir about his upbringing locally and in rural Kentucky, said it took some time for him to agree to the book’s future on the big screen.

“Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” will become a movie to be directed and produced by Ron Howard.

FIRST REPORT: Ron Howard to make movie on Middletown grad’s book

Vance told the Journal-News he was approached as far back as six months ago by several directors looking to make “Hillbilly Elegy” into a movie.

“I’m a pretty private person and felt uncomfortable by it,” Vance told this media out during an exclusive interview last week. “It was hard enough for me to write the book, but a movie is a much bigger stage. It’s a much larger invasion of privacy.”

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Vance, 32, said he also had issues over relinquishing control over what was “a very personal story.”

“You write a book and you have complete control over it, over what goes into it, over how you present your family … and then a movie is really somebody else’s project,” he said. “You’re sort of necessarily trusting a complete stranger to tell a story that you think needs to be told.”

MORE: Middletown native J.D. Vance’s book started with simple question

After denying “a few relatively famous filmmakers,” Vance said he shifted gears and agreed to talk with a few of them.

That included Howard, the director of award-winning blockbuster movies like “Backdraft,” “Apollo 13” and “A Beautiful Mind.”

“Ron was just … this incredibly kind and thoughtful guy, but he also was doing something that I was trying to do with the book, which was tell a story about a group of people who don’t get stories told about them very often and he seemed very interested about approaching the project carefully and thoughtfully and compassionately and really just revealing … what he thinks is an important story and I obviously think is an important story, too,” Vance said.

MORE: Here’s what Vance’s next book will focus on

Asked if he had any actors in mind to play him in the movie, Vance laughed.

“No, no,” he said. “The process that we’re in right now is trying to find a writer who will adapt the book into a script that will hopefully turn into a really successful movie. I think until they have a writer on board and the script is done, there’s not going to be much in way of conversations about actors or anything else.”


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Vance recently moved back to Columbus from California to launch Our Ohio Renewal, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing high-quality employment and educational opportunities to Ohioans and addressing Ohio’s destructive opioid crisis.

MORE: Vance’s non-profit to tackle problems addressed in ‘Hillbilly Elegy’

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